ATHENS – When Nick Saban used the term “rat poison” to describe positive media attention on his Alabama team, his protégé thought it was great. And Kirby Smart soon showed the Saban comments to his own Georgia team.
“I thought it was epic Nick. I thought it was good stuff,” Smart said last week during a radio interview on 680 The Fan. “It hit home and made sense to me because if [the players] believe what’s said about them the players think they’ll never lose.”
Saban and Smart can’t stop the outside world from writing and tweeting great things about their teams, especially as they remain undefeated and on a collision course for the SEC Championship Game.
Smart also seems to know he can’t block his players from hearing and reading what’s being said. The goal, it seems, is to discount it and focus on how they got here – but also on what has changed.
“We don’t like to think of ourselves as the hunted. We like to think of ourselves as the hunter,” senior linebacker Davin Bellamy said. “Coach Smart likes to end practice [saying that]. But I even tried to impress the same message to the guys pregame. At this point now in the season we can’t look at any team’s record and think we’re going to come in and just beat them handily, because we’re going to get everybody’s best shot. That’s what comes with being 7-0 or being a top 5 team. You’re going to get everybody’s best shot.”
That begins with Florida, which will come into Jacksonville, Fla., limping, missing players through injury and suspension, and thus a 14-point underdog. Florida comes in having lost two straight at home, and its only two SEC wins were relatively close against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, two teams that Georgia routed.
Georgia has beaten its four SEC opponents by an average of 31 points. It has risen to No. 3 in the AP and coaches polls, squarely in the national playoff picture.
Bellamy was asked how this team is special.
“You can kind of feel it in the air a little bit,” Bellamy said. “This team’s different. We work really hard. I think Coach Smart has instilled a new threshold for work here. In the past, you thought you were working hard, but you could’ve worked harder.”
There was an effort to continue that in the bye week, according to Bellamy. While Smart said the effort was on recovery – Georgia has been dealing with some short-term player injuries – Bellamy said they spent their three practice days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) going hard.
“Oh, man, I want to go undefeated,” Bellamy said. “We’re 7-0, and we don’t plan on losing any games. I think that’s why Coach Smart is trying to make the emphasis that this week is the week we can get better. Because a lot of teams right now they kind of take it back a little bit and try to get players back to 100 percent. But we’re doing something different here. [The bye week was] a workweek for us.
“Coach Smart said for five weeks, these last five weeks you’re going to remember this for the rest of your life – if you do it right.”