ATHENS — A relaxed Georgia football coach Kirby Smart sounded very much at easy with the week of preparation his Bulldogs put in before their trip to Tuscaloosa on Friday.
Smart’s No. 3-ranked Georgia team (3-0) plays at No. 2 Alabama (3-0) at 8 p.m. on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium (TV: CBS).
“They’ve been focused, and they are excited about the game. There’s a little more awareness and focus,” Smart said on his coach’s show. “Focus is easy in a game like this. The attention to detail is there.
“It’s fun because you feel like you can do more, share more information because they are into it and really engaged, and it’s the way it should be every week,” Smart said. “I told our guys at the start of the season, it’s going to take mental agility and focused stamina.”
The Bulldogs tunnel vision is being tested this weekend like never before upon learning the Halloween weekend they thought they would have off will now be filled by a noon game against Kentucky.
Georgia will be off next Saturday instead with the league shuffling its schedule on account of Florida’s extended COVID-19-related stoppage in activities.
Smart said before leaving for Tuscaloosa that the team would be locked into the game with the Tide and shared some keys to the game.
Georgia’s offense has given up more points (7) than its scored (6) on drives to open the first and second halves this season.
Amazingly, the Bulldogs have gone backwards on three of their six drives to open halves. They’ve also turned the ball over twice.
“I think we have to start better and do some better things when we get turnovers,” Smart said, reflecting on how his team managed itself against Tennessee.
“I think a lot of the composure part was going into the locker room having not scored (at halftime after getting stopped twice from the Vols’ 1-yard line). We had to jog through the end zone where we got stopped on fourth down.
“To not get the points out of it (there) was deflating.”
Georgia’s offense went backwards on its first two drives of the second half after the defense created positive field position at the Vols’ 15 and 36-yard line. Still, the offense was able to convert the turnovers into field goals.
It’s always a staple for Smart, but there’s added importance against an Alabama defense that thrives on keeping opponents in disadvantageous down and distance situations.
“When you play Alabama, that’s what kills you. If you’re second-and-14, or third-and-15, you just can’t be successful,” Smart said. “There’s probably 10 plays in that (Ole Miss) game where they should of had a sack, or it’s a busted play, and (QB Matt Corral) gets the ball to the line of scrimmage, and he makes it manageable.”
A good run game on first down helps keep the defense guessing, along with neutralizing pressure.
“It’s huge, when you can run the ball there’s a lot of things you can do to keep them off balance. It sets up the play-action pass, it makes them play you differently,” Smart said. “The run game is key, but it’s something teams in the SEC try to take away.”
Smart said there’s a trend for some teams to not even bother with run game but added that an effective ground game “slows down rushers.”
Georgia’s head coach sees progress in his team’s ground game.
“I don’t know anybody in our league that just comes out and runs roughshod over people. It’s hard to do that,” Smart said.
“Especially when they load up on you, but we’ve got a young O-Line that’s still growing. I still think we’ve got real good backs, and we have an ability in the intermediate passing game that we haven’t had before.”
RUSH THE PASSER
Georgia has the No. 1 defense across the board, but Alabama has the nation’s No. 1 offense, and Smart isn’t taking anything for granted.
“You better rush good, and you better not give them long because they eventually are going to find a way to get open,” Smart said, asked about the Tide’s pass game. “They have a good distributor and gunslinger, and they have talented wideouts.”
Smart has known DeVonta Smith since he was going to Alabama football camp. He got to know Smith even better after Smith de-committed from Georgia and came back to haunt them in the College Football Playoff Championship Game with the game-winning touchdown.
“DeVonta, everyone knows, seems like he’s been there forever,” Smart said. “They lost two first-round picks, and it’s still the strength of their team, if that tells you anything.
“The game we played two years ago, Jaylen Waddle made plays all over the field. We had Mark Webb and Eric Stokes covering him, so it’s the same guys,” Smart said. “Both those two were significant players before.
“The (John) Metchie lll kid has played well. People have tried to take the others away, and he’s exposed them.”