ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart is not one to hold back when assessing performances, even at the risk of offending rival schools.
That’s what happened on Thursday night, when Smart bluntly stated he expects the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs (2-0) to get more of a challenge from No. 14 Tennessee (2-0) on Saturday afternoon than they got from previously-No. 7-ranked Auburn (1-1) last Saturday night.
“It’s going to be another level up,” Smart said on his Thursday coach’s show, “because these guys are really good.
“The kids have been sharp and focused. They understand what’s at stake, and they know how good Tennessee is.”
Georgia and Tennessee rank second and third in the SEC in rushing, the Vols at 182.5 yards per game and the Bulldogs averaging 161.5 yards on the ground per contest.
Tennessee didn’t have any ballcarriers get tackled behind the line of scrimmage in a win over Missouri next Saturday, and Smart explained why.
“I respect the way they run. They don’t tippy toe through the hole. It scares you. They break through that first level and to the second level really fast. They don’t run through timid at all,” Smart said.
“They are a play-action team, they are a two tight end team, an inside-outside zone team,” he said. “They are physical; the offensive lines are similar, (but) they are probably bigger than us as far as O-Lines across the board.
“Their quarterback has played a lot of football, he’s been there forever,” Smart said referencing Jarrett Guarantano. “He’s played through some tough times ….. they were (once) struggling to protect him, (but) he’s got a better supporting cast, and he’s playing really well.”
Smart shared his keys to the Saturday CBS game, and to no one’s surprise, it starts up front.
1. Line play
“It’s going to boil down to effort and toughness,” Smart said. “The line of scrimmage is always important, and they’ve got a good one, and we’ve got a good one.
“Who can wear who down?”
2. Ball security
“Who can protect the ball in the weather and the conditions?” Smart said, referring to forecasts that project rain.
Georgia fans remember the last time UGA suffered a home upset, last season, when South Carolina became the first unranked team to beat a Top 5 UGA team in Sanford Stadium in a 20-17 OT game.
The offense moved the ball all day, out-gaining the Gamecocks 468-297, but there were four turnovers. Two of the three picks came as the result of receiver miscues, one receiver turning the wrong way on a timing route, and another allowing a ball to bounce off his chest and into the air.
If UT wins the turnover battle 4-0 like the Gamecocks did last season, its chances of winning greatly increase.
3. Special teams miscues
Smart is clearly worried about Tennessee’s special teams, which he knows to be excellent because Pruitt also plays many starters on those groupings.
Indeed, Georgia also missed two field goals in that 20-17 overtime loss to unranked South Carolina last season.
The Vols feature a senior kicker, while the Bulldogs are riding with walk-on sophomore Jack Podlesny, who has yet to deal with a true pressure kick yet.
Georgia-Tennessee game week