Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Kelee Ringo (5) and defensive back Malaki Starks (24) prepare for an offensive snap by Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) during the first half in a NCAA football game at TIAA Bank Field, Saturday, October 29, 2022, in Jacksonville, Florida. Georgia won 42-20. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Kirby Smart confident in Georgia football secondary: ‘I’m looking forward to the opportunity’

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Georgia football secondary ready for big Tennessee test

Maybe it’s something, maybe it’s nothing, but when senior defensive back Chris Smith was talking about the Tennessee offense, the first position group he brought up was the wide receivers.

The matchup between the likes of Jalin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman and Bru McCoy against Smith, Malaki Starks and Kelee Ringo is going to go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday’s game between the top-two teams in the country.

“They go so fast,” Smith said after Georgia beat Jacksonville. “It’s going to be a tough week of practice for us. They have tremendous receivers, great quarterback, great running back. good o-line.They have the whole package. We have to take the steps we need to take against them.”

Related: Winter is here for the Georgia defense as it battles Tennessee tempo: ‘They go really fast’

No receiver in the country is having a better season than Hyatt, who leads the sport with 14 touchdown catches. Five of them came in Tennessee’s win over Alabama. There is some thought though that Tillman is even better and Tennessee just got him back this past week against Kentucky. He missed several games with an ankle injury.

In Tillman’s absence, McCoy emerged as a trusted second option. He was the highest-ranked recruit of the three and this season has finally given him the chance to showcase his talent.

Making it all go is quarterback Hendon Hooker. He’s been nearly flawless this season, tossing 26 touchdowns to two interceptions. Were the Heisman Trophy to be handed out today, he’d probably win it.

Tennessee torched a talented Alabama defense to the tune of 52 points, the most ever given up by a Nick Saban defense in Tuscaloosa. This offense has proven itself, so much so that it is legitimately getting comparisons to 2019 LSU.

Georgia saw that LSU team, giving up 37 points to Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson in a loss in the SEC championship game. The secondary that day, which featured Richard LeCounte, Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell and others, couldn’t keep a lid on the explosive LSU offense.

That is the challenge for the Georgia defensive backfield this week against the No. 2 Volunteers.

“We’re excited to see them go compete,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of his secondary. “I think they’ve gotten better each and every week. Grown some depth in the secondary playing some other guys. I’m looking forward to the opportunity. I mean, they’re going to -- one thing is for sure, they’re going to get to cover.

“They’re going to find out. Because there’s no hiding anybody when you play these guys.”

Georgia should feel confident in its safety play. As stellar as Starks has been this season, Smith has been even better. He earned SEC defensive player of the week honors for his play against Florida. He’s also made a number of huge plays in his career, often doing so in Georgia’s biggest games. He has interceptions against the likes of Clemson, Alabama and Oregon.

Related: Georgia football safety Chris Smith racks up multiple midseason All-American honors

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