HOOVER, Ala. — Georgia’s head coach doesn’t believe there will be any issue when it comes to his team’s motivation in 2019.
The Bulldogs have gone 24-5 over the past two seasons, a mark that is cause for excitement but with 13 straight wins over SEC Eastern Division opponents and a pair of league title game appearances in two years (one SEC championship), it stands to reason that the regular season might lose some of its luster.
That won’t be the case according to Kirby Smart. After finishing the 2018 season with two consecutive losses, both in post-season play, his team should be locked and loaded when they travel to Vanderbilt for the season and conference opener on August 31.
“It’s easy. You turn it on and see,” Smart said Tuesday at SEC Media Days. “It’s more than the fourth quarter. It is the performance against Texas which we’re not proud of up. We have to grow and get better. There’s learning experiences all across the board. Going to Baton Rouge, tough experience. We didn’t play our best game. We have to go on the road in the SEC this year and play in some really tough environments.”
The losses Smart mentioned have provided a plethora of lessons for his squad. The Bulldogs simply didn’t show up in Baton Rouge last October. With LSU coming off a loss, UGA uncharacteristically allowed big plays, couldn’t get off the field defensively, and got poor quarterback play from Jake Fromm, who missed open receivers early in the game and the offense was never really able to get on track.
With the Bulldogs coming off a loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship game and watching the Crimson Tide, Oklahoma, Clemson, and Notre Dame battle it out in the College Football Playoff, they also laid an egg against Texas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. If it could go wrong, it did for Georgia in New Orleans. There were special team miscues, turnovers, and the strong, steady quarterback play the Bulldogs were getting post LSU wasn’t there either.
Making it all even tougher to deal with was how UGA players had taken to Twitter for a little College Football Playoff trash talk as Clemson was dousing Notre Dame by a score of 30-3. Those who tweeted felt like they had been snubbed and should have been in the four-team field, but they didn’t prove it when the time came.
The reality of the situation is that Alabama, where Smart coached for nine years (one as defensive backs coach and eight as defensive coordinator) prior to taking the head job at UGA, has stood in the way in each of the past two seasons. A 26-23 loss in overtime of the National Championship game put a sour taste in the Bulldogs’ mouths at the end of the 2017 season. A fourth-quarter comeback in the 2018 SEC Championship game kept Smart and company out of the playoff in 2018.
Reporters at SEC Media Days asked Smart and his players about the Crimson Tide early and often and they entertained those questions to an extent. But when it comes to the program’s in-house focus, the Bulldogs understand that they’ve got to start fast before they can even think about finishing strong.
“Well, the next step for us, and I don’t mean this to be trite, but it’s Vanderbilt,” Smart said. “You have to get to that point because we don’t have Alabama on our schedule. We know Alabama has been very powerful in this conference for a long time. We respect the job they do. I got a lot of respect for Coach Saban and his program. I probably wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for him. I also understand we have a really good program too.We have been able to recruit at a high level. I’m excited about this team coming back. The biggest thing is concerning ourselves with us and not concerning ourselves with somebody else.”