ATHENS – It was “Smash the Hype Monday” at Georgia’s football complex.
That wasn’t an official name or anything, it was more of a mentality, a movement, if you will.
The Bulldogs awoke Monday with a No. 4 national ranking and enough excitement and optimism among their fan base about what’s ahead the rest of the season to paint Stone Mountain Georgia red. The Bulldogs are now fully part of the College Football Playoff conversation. They’re in the center of the debate about who else might get in beyond Alabama and Clemson. Folks are predicting and prognosticating right and left, coming up with scenarios and pathways, like losing to Auburn but beating an undefeated Alabama in the SEC Championship game might be a realistic route to the semifinals.
But as much as UGA second-year coach Kirby Smart’s coaching philosophy is about run game and defense, it’s also all about “the process.” And that doesn’t mean entertaining such scenarios or discussing possibilities. It’s about immediately reprogramming and refocusing Georgia’s players through hard work and an intense practice environment.
That much was evident when the Bulldogs ran out onto the fake grass inside the Indoor Athletic Facility Monday. Forced into its $30 million building because of two days of rain, the enclosed environment did nothing but ratchet up the noise of coaches yelling instructions and chastising players. It was a “fundamentals day,” with the Bulldogs going through ball-security and form-tackling drills and each position group was getting a heavy dose of back-to-basics training.
Keeping the team grounded heading into the seventh week of the season “will be a big directive and motive for us as coaches today,” Smart said at his news conference on Monday.
That’s probably a good idea since Georgia finds itself not in an unprecedented situation but certainly in rare territory. The Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0 SEC) have been undefeated through six games just four times going back to 1980 – 2005, 2002, 1982 and 1980. Not coincidentally, they won the SEC championship in each of those years.
Meanwhile, Georgia was installed Monday as a 31-point home favorite over Missouri (1-4, 0-3), which visits Sanford Stadium Saturday at 7:30 p.m. That means the overwhelming expectation is that the Bulldogs will be 7-0 when they enter next week’s bye. Georgia hasn’t started 7-0 since 2005. It lost that next game to Florida.
Smart was the Bulldogs’ running backs coach that season. They lost that day in Jacksonville not because of hype or distractions, but mainly because quarterback D.J. Shockley was injured and couldn’t play.
But right now Missouri has 100 percent of Georgia’s focus. The Bulldogs need look no further back than this past Saturday when No. 3 Oklahoma fell to 30-point underdog Iowa State to find evidence for what can happen if a good team doesn’t play at its best.
“You address it with the kids,” Smart said. “We don’t talk about what we’re ranked. We didn’t talk about what we were ranked last week. There’s really no difference because none of it matters.”
Missouri does have some dangerous traits. The Tigers, as always it seems, are among the best in the SEC at moving the football and throwing it in particular. They’re second in the league in passing (294 ypg) and total offense (469.8). Quarterback Drew Lock is a third-year starter who might be the best pure passer in the conference.
The Mizzou defense has been awful, however. The Tigers are giving up 459 yards and 40 points a game, which last in the SEC and 121st nationally.
Naturally, the masses are singing the Bulldogs’ praises and forecasting their future.
“You see those things running across your news feed, but that’s not going to change anything we do here,” senior linebacker Roquan Smith said of records and rankings. “It’s nice when people think very highly of you. But at the end of the day that stuff can go away just like that [snaps fingers]. So you just have to keep going level-headed and stay the course.”
That’s what the Bulldogs were doing in practice Monday, and one can be sure they will Tuesday and the rest of the week as well. While it’s not exactly uncharted territory, UGA is breathing some rare air right now and the coaching staff is going to their best to make sure the team doesn’t choke on it.
“All we talk about is a race,” Smart said of the Bulldogs’ goal to win the East. “The race is at the 50-meter mark. I don’t know one person that ever talked about (Justin) Gatlin being ahead of (Usain) Bolt at the 50-meter mark. Nobody cared. They only care about where you finish and they only care about what you do next.
“That’s our objective — to do what’s next.”