BATON ROUGE, La. — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart saw this one coming, and as it turned out, there was nothing he could do to prevent it.
The trap at LSU was real.
The Tigers (6-1, 3-1 SEC) were a hungry, talented team with the athletes to match up with the Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1). LSU had the quarterback and coaching staff capable of exploiting Georgia weaknesses that surfaced throughout a 6-0 start that had some observers whistling by the graveyard.
LSU’s 36-16 victory Saturday at Tiger Stadium was as thorough as it was convincing, across the board, offense, defense, special teams and in the coaching booth.
There were signs: Missouri rushed for four touchdowns on UGA, Tennessee held Jake Fromm without a TD pass and sacked him three times, and Vanderbilt had 91 yards rushing in the first half a week before.
Smart called his team out at the time for its deficiencies, and he brought them back up after the loss in Baton Rouge after accepting blame for the defeat.
“Look guys, we didn’t play real physical at Missouri, we didn’t play the way way we needed to play at Missouri, Vanderbilt ran the ball on us,” Smart said. “Look, this is not just popping up out of the ground.
“We’ve been telling our guys. And I really think they’ve listened and they understand, we just have to keep getting better.”
Smart challenged his team at the start of the week to match the Tigers’ physicality, and he and his players said in the days leading up to the loss that they would need to play their best game.
“They better knuckle up,” Smart had said. “We’re going to find out a lot about our team.”
It might just be a case of LSU being a better football team at this point of the season.
That would at least explain why Smart felt he needed to press with a fake field goal in the first quarter and his team down 3-0.
Georgia lost seven starters off last season’s SEC championship defense, leaving a suspect front seven and some youthful spots in the secondary.
The Tigers exposed both with bold play calling, a relentless run game, and chunk plays through the air.
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It was going to be a tough matchup for the Bulldogs, even if Smart had chosen to kick a field goal on the first drive and Jake Fromm had a better day throwing the football.
Smart recognized this team’s deficiencies in spring drills and put the players through a rigorous fall camp filled with lots of ones on ones scrimmaging against one another.
The physical practices have continued into the season, Smart recognizing the Georgia team’s need for more growth and toughness.
The Bulldogs have been focused and prepared in each outing, but they are also the youngest team in the SEC with more than two-thirds of the roster freshmen and sophomores.
“We’ve got what we’ve got and we’re going to keep getting better, that’s the only thing we can do,” Smart said. “Our kids acknowledge we didn’t play our best game, and then today we have not gotten out of this team what we should get out of them, and that’s on me as the leader, us as the coaches, and all of the players have to buy into that.”
Smart said he’ll challenge his players during the bye week to define their identity, the desired one having not been completely on display since a third quarter dismantling of South Carolina the second week of the season.