No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs Will Be Tested By No. 10 Auburn Tigers Saturday

The Battle Of The Two SEC Powers Begins At 3:30 P.M On CBS

Thursday, November 9, 2017 - by special report
The Bulldogs have their hands full stopping Auburn running back Jarrett Stidham
The Bulldogs have their hands full stopping Auburn running back Jarrett Stidham
- photo by Auburn Athletic Dept.

This is uncharted territory for Georgia football and its players.

 

The last time the Bulldogs were 9-0 was in 1982 when Herschel Walker was running over people and Georgia played in the Sugar Bowl.

But those are just distant memories now. The Bulldog players weren’t alive to experience the glory days of the 1980s and, quite frankly, it’s been awhile since some of these players have been a part of any football team that is this good.

Just ask Georgia punter Cameron Nizialek, a graduate transfer from Columbia. In his four years at Columbia, he won five games.

The last time inside linebacker Reggie Carter was undefeated on a team this late into the season was his junior season at Stephenson High School, and senior John Atkins had to take his time trying to remember the last time he was undefeated. He cited his senior year in high school back in 2011.

But this group of Bulldogs has already clinched the SEC East.

“I always take it as it’s a blessing and a burden,” Atkins said. “It’s a blessing to win the East, but also a burden. You’ve got to show up every game, every week to show you should be in the East race.”

While Georgia’s players may be inexperienced in being a part of an undefeated SEC team contending for conference and national titles, there is a key member of the staff who has been around a few of those teams.


Head coach Kirby Smart helped lead Alabama to a number of accolades, including six SEC West division titles, three SEC championships, three BCS championships and one College Football Playoff title.

So it’s fair to say he’s been in this position before. But do those familiar experiences not too long ago really help him? Smart said he thinks it does, but there’s more to it than that.

“I think a veteran team that has had it happen before manages it better than a team for the first time,” Smart said. “But sometimes, it can work in reverse where you come to expect that and you get comfortable with that and you don’t respect it.”

Even though this Georgia team is unfamiliar with this situation, Smart said the players have handled it well.

“They’ve taken ownership and they really tried to own the burden of this by preparing the right way,” Smart said. “We try to manage it as coaches. We don’t want to labor the point. But they get it.”

They “get it” so much that, for at least one player, Smart’s philosophy even trickles into family conversations.Carter’s mother told him on the phone on Nov. 4 that Georgia had clinched the SEC East. His response was not one of excitement though.

“I was like, ‘That’s good, but we got Auburn next,” Carter said. “They’re a tough opponent and a great team and they’re the next team we have to play against. I told her she could do the cheerleading and leave it up to me to keep playing.”

No matter if a team is having a successful season or a miserable one, most of the praise and blame will fall on the shoulder of the head coach. And for now at least, Smart is on the right side of that equation.

“Coming from a coach with a successful background is good but Coach Smart, he’s an intense coach and he’s a very grounded and humble coach,” Carter said. “He just motivates us to be better each and every day. That’s one thing I love about him.”

With a big game like No. 10 Auburn approaching for the Bulldogs, their head coach will at least have some idea of what to expect moving forward.

“He’s going to keep us grounded because he’s been there before and he knows what it takes and he also knows what it takes to get over that hump,” Atkins said.

Georgia's running backs move past the 2,500 yard mark

When Georgia running back Nick Chubb carried the ball for a gain of 2 yards on a first down in the

fourth quarter of the Bulldogs’ 24-10 win over South Carolina on Saturday, he didn’t accomplish much.

The run didn’t move the sticks, and it didn’t score any points. After two other short runs, Georgia was forced to punt the ball back to South Carolina.

But what Chubb’s run did do was allow the offense to pass a major benchmark: 2,500 rushing yards on the season. Ahead of Georgia’s upcoming game against Auburn, the Bulldogs have accumulated 2,514 rushing yards since the season began on Sept. 2.

What is most impressive about that mark is Georgia is only nine games into 2017, with three regular season contests, a SEC Championship and at least a bowl game waiting for the Bulldogs. In 2015 and 2016, Georgia’s run game did not break 2,500 yards in the entire season.

While a deep running back corps consisting of Chubb, Sony Michel, D’Andre Swift and others deserves much of the credit, Georgia’s improved run blocking is as much of a reason for the success running the ball.

“I wouldn’t say [we’re] where we want to be,” said left tackle Isaiah Wynn. “Of course, we’re always trying to get better, but it’s definitely a great start and a great place to be at this point in the season.”

One of the reasons the offense has improved in its run blocking abilities is its increased familiarity with the offensive scheme, said tight end Charlie Woerner.

“Just knowing our scheme, like knowing what to do, what looks they give us and just being better technicians at blocking, we’ve gotten a lot better as an offensive unit,” Woerner said.

In addition, blocking is being taken more seriously as a whole, Wynn said, with more than just offensive linemen getting involved.

“Everybody bought in to the more physical part about it,” Wynn said. “You got wide receivers coming down and cracking linebackers who may weigh more than him, so it’s a little bit of everybody buying in.”

Even quarterback Jake Fromm has done his part in run blocking. In the first quarter of Georgia’s matchup with South Carolina, Fromm applied a block in the end zone which helped Michel run in for Georgia’s first touchdown.

Seeing his quarterback laying a block was an encouraging sight, Wynn said, and a sign the entire offense is concerned with the success of the run game.

“It shows you that nobody’s selfish,” Wynn said. “He could have just stood there [like], ‘I’m a quarterback. I don’t have to touch anybody,’ but he did his thing.”

The Georgia Bulldogs face the Auburn Tigers on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

 


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