ATHENS — Kirby Smart might have done a double take when reviewing the Week One boxscore.
Had his Georgia defensive front really given up 132 yards rushing to the FCS-level UT-Martin Skyhawks — and at 4.4 yards a pop?
To put that into perspective, Georgia has only give up more yards rushing three times in its previous 47 games:
• 2021 Florida (39 attempts, 161)
• 2020 Alabama (43 attempts, 147)
• 2022 Oregon (31 attempts, 140)
It’s a sure bet Smart will have his Georgia football team zeroed in on stopping Ball State from getting anything going on the ground when the teams meet at noon on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
The Cardinals were held to just 72 yards rushing and 1.8 yards per carry in their 44-14 loss at Kentucky last Saturday.
Georgia, meanwhile, will look for better contain after Smart admitted UT-Martin surprised his defense by allowing its quarterback to run.
“No disrespect to UT-Martin, but they made a decision that if they were going to run the ball, they were going to do it through the quarterback,” said Smart, who saw the former Ole Miss backup gallop for 47 yards on 6 carries.
Smart later shared why the Skyhawks had success, “It was couple times linebacker, one time the safety.”
UT-Martin backs Sam Franklin and Jordan Castleberry also broke off runs of 10 and 11 yards, finishing with 46 and 31 yards, respectfully.
It was certainly not the start Georgia’s defensive front was looking for as they look to maintain a standard after first-round picks Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith moved on to the NFL.
Defensive tackle Warren Brinson, a media favorite, said in the preseason ‘you’re going to seen people wreck games” in response to Smart noting a lack of “train wreckers” on this year’s roster.
The head coach maintains he’s “pleased” with his current defensive linemen, even as the numbers indicated they were not as dominant as expected in the opener.
“We have guys that can be disruptive, but we just don’t know if they can consistently do it and stop the run as well without guessing sometimes,” Smart said. “I’m very comfortable with the guys we’ve got …”
Perhaps, but it’s a safe bet Smart is not comfforbtale with his defense giving up 132 yards rushing to any team, much less an FCS-level school.
It will be paramount for Georgia to return to its run-stopping dominance if the program is to repeat as SEC Champions.
Smart explained how stopping the run is also the key to stopping the sort of explosive plays that get teams beat.
“I think it’s hard to run the ball against us,” Smart said. “Historically, if you say over the history of seven or eight years, we’ve been really high in run defense.
“When you do that, you force people to throw the ball, and we say you do more with less. So, you can cover more with less in the box and occupy gaps if your defensive linemen have the ability to strike and play the run. So, we have been good at that, and we have to continue to be good at that.”