The Georgia Bulldogs are in a familiar place: Win, and they’re in the College Football Playoff.
By Matt Zemek
A 12-1 Georgia team will still get in the playoff even with a loss to LSU in the SEC Championship Game (unless UGA very improbably gets blown out).
Georgia has put itself in position to make the playoff because it has become the third SEC team to go 8-0 in the conference regular season in consecutive years. The other teams were the 1995 and 1996 Florida Gators under Steve Spurrier, and the 2008 and 2009 Alabama Crimson Tide under Nick Saban. Notably, the 2008 Alabama team did not win the SEC title, so the 1995-1996 Florida teams are the only previous SEC teams to go 8-0 in the league in consecutive years and win the conference title. Georgia will have a chance to become the second team to pull off that feat … next week.
This week, Georgia must deal with Georgia Tech. The main key for the Bulldogs is to not look ahead to LSU in Atlanta. Beyond that, here are the big points for Kirby Smart to convey to his players:
1 – Georgia Tech energy and belief
Georgia Tech was down 17-0 to Heisman Trophy candidate Drake Maye and the North Carolina Tar Heels this past weekend. At that point, no one gave Tech a chance to win, and moreover, no one SHOULD have given the Yellow Jackets any sort of chance. They were 21-point underdogs to begin with. They got smoked in the first quarter and a half of play. North Carolina had lost just once all season long and had not yet lost a game in ACC play. Of course Georgia Tech was done and dusted. The Yellow Jackets were thoroughly outplayed by a bad Miami team earlier in November.
Someone forgot to tell Tech the game was over and that the Yellow Jackets needed to go home. They rallied from that deficit and shut out North Carolina – and Maye – over the final 35 minutes of the game. They did not flinch on defense. They refused to give up. They forged a stunning 21-17 comeback victory which gives them five wins on the season and therefore enables them to make a bowl game if they can pull off the upset here. Georgia Tech will have total belief and maximum energy for this game. Georgia, which did not play a high-energy game against Kentucky, needs to be ready to meet Tech’s intensity. That’s the first and biggest key to this game. Tech can win if UGA drags through the motions.
2 – Stetson Bennett sharpness
Bennett can be very, very good. He did win a national championship, after all. He has proven that he can be a national title-winning quarterback. He has above-average speed and mobility. He has shown he can make the right throws. However, he will dip in and out of form, sometimes being noticeably inaccurate and off his game, as he was against Kentucky. Bennett needs a crisp performance here – partly to beat Tech, but also to get into form for the SEC title game. Build back winning habits. Regain command. Bennett needs that, and so does Georgia.
3 – Downfield pass coverage
The defense played well against Kentucky, but it did allow some downfield passes which frankly should not have been completed. Defensive backs and safeties lost focus at times. That has to be nipped in the bud. UGA has to eliminate those kinds of lapses in the secondary before the bigger games which lie ahead.