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Lauren Tolbert / UGA Sports
Georgia middle linebacker Monty Rice has been a team leader Kirby Smart has invested time into.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart: Leadership steps up, players challenging players

ATLANTA — When Georgia football coach Kirby Smart trotted to the halftime locker room at Georgia Tech up 17-7, there was plenty on his mind.

The Bulldogs had just fumbled twice and failed to recover an onside kick, missed a field goal and were outscored 7-0 in the second quarter.

Georgia went on to a 52-7 win, and the game was never really in doubt at Bobby Dodd Stadium, but the team didn’t generate the sort of first-half momentum one might associate with a championship program.

Smart said he didn’t have to say much at halftime because the leaders on the team took charge of the situation.

“It wasn’t a big message; some players challenging players and that’s what it’s about,” Smart said. “When you’ve got leaders on your team and they don’t think you’re playing to your capabilities, we’ve got guys willing to challenge guys, and as a coach, I love it. When guys challenge each other, I don’t have to.”

Quarterback Jake Fromm and linebacker Monty Rice will surely be heard this week, as will D’Andre Swift and J.R. Reed.

Fromm is already taking a positive mindset where the loss of the team’s top two receivers for the start of the SEC Championship Game against LSU (4 p.m., Saturday) is concerned.

I think it’s more of an opportunity for guys to step up and make plays, like we saw today,” Fromm said. “Tyler Simmons was showing up and making spectacular plays, and guys are ready to step up and take that role.”

Lawrence Cager is out after having ankle surgery on Friday, and freshman George Pickens lost his composure and was ejected for fighting at Georgia Tech, mandating a suspension for the first half of next Saturday’s game.

The Georgia team leaders will likely get the point across to Pickens — if they haven’t already — that his lack of poise has cost the team a shot at their season-long goal.

And Smart said when his leaders take over and speak, he will step back.

I don’t mess with them, when the leaders talk and they want to, I love it,” Smart said. “Because when players challenge players, there’s no price tag on that. None. That’s all I would say on that, because it’s not about who, it’s not about what was said, it’s not about any of that. It’s just real.

“I don’t have to do it when they do it. That’s when you’ve got your culture right.”

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