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Bob Andres / AJC
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm must continue to complete passes downfield and grow comfortable with his receivers to elevate the Georgia offense.

3 key priorities for Georgia football against Arkansas State

ATHENS — Kirby Smart has done everything he can to make sure his team doesn’t overlook Arkansas State on Saturday, even if most everyone else in George is looking ahead to the Sept. 21 Top 10 matchup with Notre Dame.

The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs are 2-0 on the strength of wins at Vanderbilt (30-6) and at home against FCS Murray State (63-17,) entering the noon kick against the Sun Belt Conference member Red Wolves at Sanford Stadium.

Smart and his players are saying all the right things about Arkansas State, but the reality is this is a game that was scheduled to give Georgia one final scrimmage before the action picks up this season with the Irish.

Alabama beat Arkansas State 57-7 last season in Tuscaloosa, and while the Bulldogs aren’t likely to win by 50 points, they are favored to win by 33.

Here are three keys to a successful Saturday for Georgia football.

Keep everyone healthy

Yep, the No. 1 priority is the same as last week, and that’s why it’s not likely Jake Fromm plays beyond the first series of the second half, if that long. Against Murray State, Fromm came out in midway through the second quarter after playing  seven series — and taking a hard hit — with UGA up 35-7.

It’s why D’Andre Swift only got six carries, Brian Herrien got four carries, James Cook touched the ball five times and all four of Eli Wolf’s catches came in the first half.

Smart used the second half to give other players opportunities to compete and gain game experience. Look for more of the same on Saturday.

Continue downfield attack

Smart wanted Jake Fromm to go downfield more often against Murray State, and that should once again be on the agenda. Fromm is among the best at decision making and taking care of the football, but if there’s an area the Georgia offense has plenty of room to improve, it’s with its execution and willingness to throw intermediate and deep vertical routes.

Yes, Fromm can complete the short throws all day, and with explosive playmakers, it’s an effective game plan. Against an overmatched Arkansas State, anything is an effective game plan.

Sooner or later Georgia will play teams that will force third-and-long situations, and Fromm will need to have established trust with his most talented downfield threats, George Pickens, Demetris Robertson, Matt Landers and Lawrence Cager.

Fromm and UGA ran the clock out in too many games the first half of last season. When the downfield pass game was tested in the final minute against Alabama last season, it failed.

To review, Georgia got the ball at its own 36-yard line with two timeouts, 57 seconds left and four NFL draftees in its receiving ranks in the SEC title game needing a touchdown.

In nine plays UGA  drove 25 yards without a completion longer than 10 yards.

Sharpen special teams

There were four punt returns and two kick returns against Murray State, and none were taken back for touchdowns.

Georgia has the talent to be excellent in the special teams game, and Smart has said he makes it a point to attend every special teams meeting so that his players know how much it matters.

Indeed, special teams were a letdown last season, from botched fake field goals against LSU and Auburn, to a missed 30-yard field goal and poorly executed fake punt against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Special teams is an area UGA needs to elevate to a championship level.

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