As much as you may want to roll your eyes when you hear Kirby Smart spout off the cliches about being elite and playing to a standard, there is a point that Smart makes. It’s why Georgia is particularly well suited to handle being the No. 1 team in the country.
In many regards, the Bulldogs were already that. Georgia has physically dominated every team it has played so far this season. Through six games, the Bulldogs have given up just 33 total points. Entering the week, the Bulldogs were the only team to rank in the Top-10 in both scoring offense and scoring defense. If you’re into point spreads, Georgia is 5-1 on the season now against the spread.
Now Georgia will actually carry the mantle of the No. 1 ranking, thanks to Alabama’s loss to Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide flirted with a loss earlier in the season, pulling out a 31-29 win over Florida. On Saturday, they went into College Station, Texas and just outright did it despite outgaining the Aggies.
One of the older Smart sayings is that pressure is a privilege. The No. 1 ranking figures only to amplify the pressure. But Georgia has been under different kinds of pressure every week. The pressure of taking on a top-5 Clemson team. Playing a top-10 Arkansas team at noon. Going on the road against a top-20 Auburn team.
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The Bulldogs showed in all three of those games not only could they handle the pressure but thrive off of it. Consider in the last two games, both against ranked opponents, Georgia won by a combined 61 points. It was playing with its backup quarterback in both of those games.
Georgia has now actually started as many games with Stetson Bennett at quarterback as it has with JT Daniels this season. And it hasn’t mattered. Sure the offense may not click to the same degree under Bennett as it did Daniels. But Georgia is winning all the same, often by massive margins.
“I’m really proud of the way Stetson led the team,” Smart said. “Our players, I’m telling you, they believe in whoever is back there.”
Let’s also consider that this opening half of the 2021 season has been far from a stroll through North Campus. Georgia has been dealing with injuries beyond the ones to Daniels since the start of fall camp. Tykee Smith finally made his Georgia debut this week, though that only came after Georgia had to reshuffle its secondary when starting safeties Chris Smith and Lewis Cine left the game. Cine was able to return and Smart expressed some confidence the injury to Smith wasn’t too serious.
Though it feels like we’ve been saying this for a while, Georgia stands to get healthy at some point. Perhaps the off week will help with that. Of course, Georgia faces the best Kentucky team since 1950 before that happens, as the Wildcats are 6-0 on the year after a 42-21 win over LSU. It will be Georgia’s third-straight ranked foe. The schedule has been tougher than anyone could’ve imagined back in August.
Pressure is nothing new for Smart at Georgia. He was born into it as a head coach at Georgia, considering the Bulldogs moved on from Mark Richt and his routine 10-win seasons to bring in Smart. He was molded by a 2017 season that saw Georgia come so painfully close to winning a national championship.
He’s been under pressure his entire time as the head coach at Georiga. So have many of the top-ranked recruits he’s brought in as well. Pressure is not a problem for this team.
Through six weeks, Georgia is now clearly the best team in the country. It’s okay to recognize it. Sure there’s the Georgia sports curse and the fact that this program hasn’t won a national title since 1980. But this team isn’t burdened by those past failures, nor is their head in the clouds following their dominant start.
This Georgia team knows it isn’t playing against Alabama or Iowa or Oklahoma or any other top-ranked team. It’s playing against itself and the weekly opponent.
For the coming week, it will be Kentucky. Even with the No. 1 ranking, this Georgia team will still have the same goal.
“We always try and carry ourselves as elite. We never try to get too high or too low on ourselves,” defensive tackle Jordan Davis said. “I feel like being elite is just doing whatever you have to do to win. At the end of the day, if we win, that’s elite in my book.”
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