ATHENS — Kirby Smart knows enough about football not to kid himself when it comes to scheming up the Alabama offense.
The Xs and the Os of the dynamic Tide attack are one thing, but when the Georgia head coach turns on the film he’s more impressed — and concerned — with the players running around in those crimson colored jerseys.
“What’s made (Alabama) succeed is players, they’ve got really good players,” Smart said on his Monday Zoom call. “Sark (Steve Sarkisian) does a great job of implementing the system …. it’s based on really had guys to cover outside.
“They’e got one of probably the best backs in the country, Najee (Harris) runs the ball really hard, and they are massive up front.”
Smart’s No. 3-ranked Bulldogs (3-0) will travel to Tuscaloosa to face No. 2-ranked Alabama and it’s No. 1-ranked quarterback at 8 p.m. on Saturday.
For all of the aforementioned supporting cast members, it’s Tide redshirt junior quarterback Mac Jones stirring the offensive elixir.
Jones has only seven starts under his belt, but he leads the nation in QB rating (220.35), passing yards per attempt (13.3) and is No. 2 in completion percentage (79.5).
Jones, amazingly, is off to a convincingly better start through seven games than his predecessors Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts.
Stats courtesy University of Alabama
And while Georgia’s offensive is still feeling itself out with surprise starter Stetson Bennett making only his third start, a rotating backfield and evolving receiving corps, Alabama knows exactly who it is on offense.
It’s Jones handing to Harris or looking for DeVonta Smith (27 catches, 316 yards) or Jaylen Waddle (19 catches 396 yards).
“Offensively, they are not built like some of these teams that go tempo the whole time and go hurry-up the whole time,” Smart said. “They can go up-tempo and they do tempo well, but they are really big, they can take shots down the field with explosive wideouts they have.
“They make you defend the entire field.”
Junior cornerback Eric Stokes said the Georgia defense, which continues to lead the SEC in every major statistical category, is looking forward to the challenge.
“Devonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle, they are very explosive with their passing game and their run game,” said Stokes, who has two interceptions through three games this season.
“(Jones) is a tremendous quarterback. We have to be on our Ps and Qs, we cannot bust on the back end. We have to watch film do all the little things that we have been doing so we won’t give that up.”
Smart said one of the focuses for Georgia this week is to get off to a fast start, something the team has struggled with in two of the first three games.
The Bulldogs trailed Arkansas (7-5) and Tennessee (21-17) at halftime of those games before roaring back for victories.
“It shows me what we can be if we do that the whole time,” Smart said of UGA outscoring opponents a cumulative 62-6 in the second halves.
“My focus is on why are we not doing that from the start. Why are we not executing better from the start and dominating the opponent instead of keeping people in the game?
“We have to do a better job of dominating from start to finish.”
Alabama has won 36 consecutive games when it has scored on its opening offensive drive, which was the case in last Saturday night’s 63-48 shootout win over Ole Miss.
The win over Kiffin’s Rebels made Saban 21-0 against former assistant coaches, two of those victories coming against Smart.
“Everybody always makes it about the assistants, and I always laugh because I don’t think anybody in the last 10 years that has a really good record against him in terms of that,” Smart said. “It is not something I try to focus on. I focus on what’s going to allow us to play good.”
Smart is indeed not in any sort of mood for light-heartedness, surely recognizing UGA will lose most major components of this championship caliber defense he has built after the season.
It’s possible the Bulldogs and Tide could meet again in the SEC Championship Game on Dec 19 in Atlanta.
But amid the uncertainty of these COVID-19 times, not much can be taken for granted.
UGA nose tackle Jordan Davis said the Bulldogs know the task before them.
“It’s an amazing challenge, I’m ready to go in there,” Davis said. “I can’t say I have (more) motivation, we take every game as a business trip. So we just want to focus on us this week and go up there, and hopefully do our thing.”
Smart said his players have competed in enough big games to know how to manage things.
“They don’t need motivating,” Smart said. “It’s No. 2 versus No. 3. It’s Alabama versus Georgia. They realize what’s at stake.”
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