ATHENS — It’s football time between the hedges, and Kirby Smart says it’s time to go.
“I want to see relentless effort,” Smart said on his coach’s show Thursday. “I want to see composure and the Georgia brand of football.
“We’re very thankful to play, and I want to see us play our best.”
The No. 7-ranked Auburn Tigers (1-0) figure to pose a significant challenge for the No. 4-ranked Bulldogs at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday (TV: ESPN).
Smart has been measured throughout the week, aware Georgia essentially had a mulligan in last Saturday’s 37-10 win at Arkansas.
The Bulldogs rallied from a 7-5 halftime deficit, overcoming 11 first-half penalties and inconsistent play in each offensive position groups.
“We had a lot of things to work on, (but) I was pleased with how hard the guys worked, especially on Monday and Tuesday,” Smart said.
“We’ll find out Saturday …. we’ve got a test.”
Here are five things to watch for in Saturday night’s game against Auburn at Sanford Stadium:
Make big plays
Smart is looking for some big plays offensively against Auburn.
Georgia took the top off the Auburn defense early last season when Dominick Blaylock scored the opening touchdown on a 51-yard catch as UGA built a 21-0 lead.
The Bulldogs, however, couldn’t manage a play longer than 26 yards against the Razorbacks — a pass to freshman tight end Darnell Washington.
Georgia’s version of the Air Raid was impressive in many respects: UGA led the SEC in plays run (89) and most players to catch a pass (12).
“The bottom line is you want to be explosive one out of every eight plays,” Monken said at the start of fall drills. “You’re looking at about 10 a game.”
Monken identified a 12-yard run or 16-yard pass as explosive plays, of which Georgia had seven last Saturday out of 89 offensive plays.
Prevent big plays
“We can’t give up the explosives,” Smart said. “Arkansas did not have the weapons on the outside that Auburn has.”
And yet, the Razorbacks struck for a 49-yard touchdown to cap a 91-yard scoring drive and jump out to a 7-0 lead.
The play started to go wrong for Georgia when Azeez Ojulari lost contain on his pass rush, allowing QB Feleipe Franks to get out of the pocket and buy time.
Safety Richard LeCounte got caught with his eyes in the backfield, allowing a receiver to slip behind him for the long touchdown pass.
That can’t happen against Auburn, which has considerably better receivers in Seth Williams and speedster Anthony Schwartz.
The Tigers, however, will need a better run game to set up their pass. QB Bo Nix was Auburn’s leading rusher against Kentucky with 34 yards.
Smart attributed last Saturday’s first half struggles to a cumulative effect, with several different players missing assignments and failing to execute early on.
“We always say on offense it takes 11 people operating efficiently, and if you have one step out of line, you can’t overcome it,” Smart said.
“I’m looking for some excitement, we have to play better offensively.”
Smart pointed out that losing three junior offensive linemen to the NFL takes its toll.
“When you have juniors leave your program, it’s hard to replace them because offensive line is a developmental position,” Smart said. “It’s how fast do you turn those (young and new) guys around.”
Junior Trey Hill was moved from center to guard last Saturday after having troubles with the shot gun snap, and Warren McClendon replaced Owen Condon at right tackle.
Georgia also needs to take care of the football against an opportunistic Auburn defense that was plus-3 in turnover margin in its 29-13 home win over Kentucky.
Stop New Auburn
Smart’s Georgia defensives have held Auburn to 14 points or fewer in four of the past five meetings.
That bodes well when one considers Gus Malzahn is 1-16 at Auburn when scoring under 20 points.
Smart, however, points out that new Tigers’ coordinator Chad Morris has given Auburn a different look.
“I’ve seen a lot of non-traditional Auburn,” Smart said. “I feel like I’ve watched Auburn more than any team in college football because of the overlap, coming over from (Alabama) in the West to the East.
“It was the most different Auburn I’d seen, much more conventional from protection, routes, structure …. I think Chad will bring a lot, and he has a quarterback to bring it.”
Effective QB Management
Smart said he’s been move involved in the offense, and that puts him in the middle of the quarterback derby decision.
From all indications, redshirt junior Stetson Bennett will get the start on the heels of his 20-of-29 passing performance that netted 211 yards and 2 TDs in a little more than 30 minutes of work.
Redshirt sophomore JT Daniels has been cleared and is expected to be available.
Smart has also said he has confidence in redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis who started last week’s game.
Until Daniels is comfortable and confident on his rehabilitated knee, the QB situation will remain fluid and require careful and effective management to keep the Bulldogs in the win column.