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(1) Georgia

Georgia’s biggest opponent this preseason may not have been North Carolina

UGA defensive end Michael Barnett (94) takes a water break at Wednesday’s practice. (Joshua L. Jones/Special)

ATHENS – Nearly every afternoon this month, members of the Georgia football team have piled onto busses for a 10-minute ride to practice. They can’t take their phones, so they either have to talk to each other or just think.

“Exactly. Craziest thing ever,” senior center Brandon Kublanow said. “It’s an adjustment at first, but I’ve come to like it. It gives you a couple minutes just for your mind after meetings, relax, get ready for practice.”

There’s another reason that ride over is bliss: Once the Bulldogs get off the bus, it’s two hours of practicing in the searing heat, which would be bad enough, but throw on jerseys, pants, shoulder pads, helmets and a month of record heat, and it’s even worse.

“Those fields are like 130 on a good day,” Kublanow said, only exaggerating slightly.

Georgia has had a lot to deal with in the run-up to its season opener on Saturday. A never-ending quarterback competition. A number of freshmen who have to be worked into the lineup. But this one shouldn’t escape notice: Tough practice conditions that, in a cruel twist, don’t match the environment they’ll play in on Saturday.

“That’s my biggest frustration, is you don’t get to practice where you play, which is inside,” coach Kirby Smart said. “It’s not so much just the heat, because you can control that by how much you do out there, cut back on what you do, how long you’re out there. But I like to be able to practice on the same turf, inside a building.”

The good news for the Bulldogs is this doesn’t leave them at a competitive disadvantage: North Carolina also doesn’t have an indoor facility yet – it’s in the process of building one – and it has yet to visit the Georgia Dome or hold any indoor practice. Georgia did go to the Dome last Saturday for its final scrimmage.

Kirby Smart has been battling through the heat right along with his players. JOSHUA L. JONES / SPECIAL

So Georgia may actually have a slight advantage there. But given the heat, have the Bulldogs been able to have quality practices the past month?

This has been a hot August, in case you didn’t notice. And Georgia doesn’t have an indoor facility yet, so while one is being built they’ve been bussed to makeshift (but nice) fields, which have little to no shade.

By comparison, when Smart was at Alabama the team would use its indoor facility about once every three days, even if it wasn’t raining, because the deep South summer heat would take a toll and have an adverse effect on practices.

“Here’s my experience: When you go inside you practice faster, timing’s better, everything’s faster,” Smart said. “We were that way in the Dome the other day. You have a faster practice, that’s a good thing.”

Smart acknowledged that it hasn’t been easy. But he and several players claim it’s something they’ve been able to overcome.

“We’ve been pushing through it,” senior linebacker Davin Bellamy said. “Coach Smart always likes to say that heat is not a factor. I think it’s getting us in better shape, because we have a lot of outside things that other teams don’t have, practicing in that heat every day.”

The team also has a mechanism for keeping players at or near their best in the heat: GPS. The Bulldogs have a system that monitors player’s legs, checking whether they’re slowing down, or whether they’re “dipping” or “rising,” to use Smart’s terms.

Kublanow also said the practices have been productive. He even called it “great hours.” Smart said practicing through the heat has built “mental toughness.”

Of course, the only test whether that’s true will be Saturday.

“It’s not a perfect world, but we know there’s an end in sight,” Smart said. “So we’ll do the best we can with it, and control the things we can control.”

NextBig game, Week 1: That’s why Smart is here
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