ATHENS — Percentage football is most often the name of the game, and Georgia coach Kirby Smart indicated the team that stays ahead of the chains next Saturday will win in Jacksonville.
“You’ve got to be able to tackle and knock-back tackle, and create advantageous down-and-distance situations, and that will be the key to this game,” Smart said. “Can we cover them outside, and can we tackle their backs.
“We have to get a little bigger when we tackle …. we get contact made and drag them down for another 2- or 3-yards gained and that brings up a third-and-3 instead of a third-and-7, and that’s important.”
Georgia junior safety J.R. Reed reinforced the head coach’s message to the younger players, saying the lesson learned at LSU was that the SEC “is a man’s league”
The down-and-distance issues on offense are well-documented: QB Jake Fromm is 3-of-20 converting in third-and-9 or longer situations with three interceptions and four sacks.
The No. 7-ranked Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1 SEC) weren’t able to rise to the challenge on offense or defense at No. 4 LSU in their last outing.
Georgia allowed a season-high 475 yards to the Tigers including 275 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns — this, after entering the game No. 1 in the SEC in total defense.
It was a team loss on the bayou. Georgia turned the ball over four times on offense, failed to stop LSU on fourth-and-1 on four occasions, and the staff called an ill-advised fake field goal in the first quarter.
But of all the things, the defensive effort seems to have stuck in Smart’s mind.
Georgia’s head coach, a two-time All-SEC safety in his day, talked throughout the bye week about the importance of the Bulldogs improving their hitting and tackling.
Smart is aware the No. 9-ranked Gators (6-1, 4-1) will present another physical challenge, and he respects improved Florida QB Felipe Franks.
“Felipe is playing a lot better, just as every quarterback in this league when you get experience you gain the ability to make decisions, and I’ve seen this young man grow from a kid that I recruited a long time ago to become a better player,” Smart said.
“He’s very sharp, he’s much more disciplined with the ball, he protects the ball better, he has better playmakers, so he has people around him and he’s got really good wideouts that make him right.
“He’s got good tight ends and when you’ve got an arsenal like that along with the run game, it makes you a weapon, and we’ll have to do a really good job of tackling.”
The Georgia players said last week that tackling was one of the things being emphasized during the bye week.
Smart said there’s only one way to get better at it, in his opinion.
“I believe to be a good tackler, you’ve got to tackle, and our guys early in the season didn’t take a lot of reps,” Smart said. “A lot of the games we were averaging 30 to 40 snaps for the interior defensive line and linebackers, and then the secondary was playing from 60 to 70 snaps, so we monitor how many snaps they get and we monitor how many reps they get to make sure they don’t do too much.
“The only way to be a good tackler is to put your body in position to make tackles, and you have to practice that, you can’t fake it, you can’t simulate it you got to go do it. We have to do a better job of doing that.”