ATHENS — Red Zone efficiency and third downs are always stressed, but Kirby Smart said especially so for Georgia’s game at Kentucky.
The cold weather and the Wildcats’ past ability to match the Bulldogs’ physical style of play put an emphasis on efficiency for No. 1-ranked Georgia in today’s 3:30 p.m. game in Lexington.
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“We talk about it all the time if the mission means enough to you, it doesn’t matter the circumstance, and the circumstances are, ‘I’m sore, I’m tired, I am beat up, it’s cold,’ it doesn’t matter, nobody cares,” Smart said.
“What they care about is being there for each other and being prepared to play in a tough environment against a tough team coming off a loss.”
Georgia appears to have a big advantage at the line of scrimmage in today’s game, as Kentucky ranks tied for last among Power 5 schools with 3.9 sacks allowed per game.
The Bulldogs’ defensive line, meanwhile, has surged with the return of projected Top 5 NFL pick Jalen Carter the past three games.
Carter’s resurgence led to him recently being named a semifinalist for the Outland Trophy, and NFL analysts moving him up in the draft rankings as he proves his toughness and resolve.
Smart said there’s added motivation for his defense because Kentucky runs an NFL offense, in addition to featuring a projected first-round pick at the position in Will Levis.
The Wildcats, coming off a 24-21 home loss to Vanderbilt, could struggle to get the ball deep into Georgia territory.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, will be looking to score touchdowns and not fields goals inside the Kentucky 20.
Smart objects to the accuracy of the NCAA ranking the Bulldogs No. 1 in the nation “Red Zone Offense.”
“It just shows you stats are wrong, because that’s not the way we look at it,” Smart said, dismissing the NCAA’s system of ranking teams on the percentage of times they score inside the opponents’ 20-yard line without differentiating between field goals and touchdowns.
“Red Zone opportunities are how many times you score a touchdown in the red area, because it’s really a failure if you kick a field goal,” Smart said. “That stat is misleading because we have a lot of times we kick field goals and that’s not a successful trip.
“So the Red Zone touchdown percentage is a much better stat that’s reflective of what we want to be really good at, and I think we’re 26th or 27th in the country at Red Zone TD percentage.”
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To Smart’s point, the Bulldogs have scored touchdowns on 39 of 56 Red Zone trips (.696).
Here are the Red Zone TD percentages of other top-ranked CFP field contenders:
Ohio State (.816)
Smart said there have been different reasons at different times Georgia has not been consistent enough to become elite in this area, but he summed it up in October.
“If it all had to boil down to one thing, I would say accuracy in the passing game,” Smart said. “And then being effective at running the ball at the heavy boxes.”
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Smart noted that, on defense, the Bulldogs rank among the top two teams in lowest TD percentage allowed in the Red Zone.
That bodes well against a Kentucky team that has struggled in the Red Zone with a TD percentage of just .564.