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Playing at Auburn always a monumental challenge, just ask Georgia’s Kirby Smart
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Playing at Auburn always a monumental challenge, just ask Georgia’s Kirby Smart

Playing at Auburn always a monumental challenge, just ask Georgia’s Kirby Smart

Playing at Auburn always a monumental challenge, just ask Georgia’s Kirby Smart

PLANNING FOR THE OPPONENT

ATHENS – Next to Sanford Stadium, there is not a football venue with which Kirby Smart is more familiar than Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium. He has coached and played in that stadium more than any place other than Alabama, where he spent nine years as an assistant.

In fact, Smart has been on a sideline opposite those blue-and-orange-clad Tigers more than any team he has faced in his football life. He has gone against the Tigers 18 times in his lifetime or every year but four since he left Bainbridge as UGA football signee in 1994.

His team’s record in those games is about is even as it could get: 9-8-1. That includes a tie in 1994 when Smart was being redshirted as a Georgia defensive back and 1999 when he was an administrative assistant for the Bulldogs under then head coach Jim Donnan.

So, yes, Smart knows a thing or two about Auburn. In his case, you could definitely say familiarity breeds contempt. You could also say it breeds respect.

“I have been there a lot throughout my coaching career,” Smart said earlier this week. “They get loud in there, and they do a really good job of creating an environment. They feed off of that. So, the challenges are in front of us. We will find out a lot about this team playing on the road. It’s a tough place to play against a really good football team.”

Certainly, Smart has participated in games of varying magnitudes at every placed he worked. As a player, he was a part of the Bulldogs’ 56-49 victory in four overtimes and was actually 2-0 on their field. As an assistant coach at LSU, his first on Nick Saban’s staff, the No. 5-ranked Bengal Tigers’ lost a 10-9 heartbreaker to 14th-ranked Auburn on The Plains.

Of course, they had all sorts dramatic tussles while Smart was with Alabama. The Crimson Tide were 6-3 against Auburn with Smart on the defensive staff, 3-2 at Jordan-Hare.

Of course, that record would be 4-1 if not for the infamous “Kick Six” play that nobody will likely forget any time soon. Smart hasn’t. He said that’s really all he remembers as far as vivid details of the matchups.

“That haunts you forever, but that’s really it,” Smart said.

But all that’s in the past. The ranked Bulldogs (9-0, 6-0 SEC and No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings) hope to make some new memories for Smart and the Georgia fans when they visit Jordan-Hare for the 30th time in the storied history of the “Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.” And this one is shaping up as an instant classic as the teams meet as Top 10 teams.

The Tigers (7-2, 5-1) rose this week to No. 10 in the College Football Playoff rankings released. That makes Auburn the highest-ranked two-loss team in the country and keeps its championship and playoff goals alive.

So, it will be an extremely motivated team and fan base that Georgia will encounter on The Plains on Saturday. The good news is Smart and the Bulldogs know exactly what to expect. Doing something about it, as they’ll tell you, is a different story.

“It’s the same challenge it is at most SEC places, it’s just a little bit louder,” said Smart, speaking from experience. “And they have a good team. The better the team is the tougher the place is to play. Their fans get loud, get rowdy. They are there pregame until the end. There have been some really loud moments playing in that stadium. I would not expect it to be any different on Saturday.”

We wouldn’t either. Here’s how it breaks down:

THE FROMM FACTOR

To date, freshman quarterback Jake Fromm has risen to every challenge that has been laid before him. This one will be the biggest.

By far.

You can start with the noise factor to which Smart alluded. Jordan-Hare is typically one of the loudest venues in the SEC, especially when the Tigers put a good team on the field, which they are this season. But that’s just the half of it.

In Auburn, Fromm and the Bulldogs will be taking on the best defense they’ve faced this season. That goes double for the defensive line. The Tigers feature the SEC’s sack leader in junior defensive end Jeff Holland (6-2, 249), who is tied with Vanderbilt’s Charles Wright with 8. He also has 13 quarterback hurries, 11 tackles for loss, has forced four fumbles and recovered one

But it’s not just Holland. Sophomore defensive tackle Derrick Brown has three sacks, defensive end Marlon Davidson has 2.5 and the Tigers have 26 as a team, which is fourth in the SEC. And Auburn is just stingy on defense besides. It has forced 50 three-and-out on 114 drives this season, or 5.56 per game. That ranks fourth nationally.

The good news for Georgia is it’s not trotting out a Bambi at quarterback. Sure, Fromm is young, but he has experienced challenging environments before. His first career start came on the road at No. 3-ranked Notre Dame in a nationally televised night game. And while the caliber of opponent can be questioned in retrospect, Fromm has played road games at Tennessee and Vanderbilt and in a neutral-site venue against a salty Florida defense in Jacksonville.

Though he’s undefeated, Fromm has been far from perfect in those contests. Three of his four interceptions this season came on the road. But overall he has performed well. He has completed 54.8 percent of his 62 passes for 430 yards and five TDs.

It will likely be more of a challenge for Georgia’s offensive line. Five of the seven times Fromm has been sacked behind them came on the road. Keeping Fromm upright will be their toughest task to date.

WHICH TEAM CAN RUN?

Both of these teams like to run the football, and which one does it best likely will emerge victorious.

Georgia has taken over the top spot in the SEC in rushing offense. Behind the strength of Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and three other tailbacks, the Bulldogs are averaging 279.3 yards per game, which bests Alabama by about a yard a game and the rest of the league by nearly a football field on average.

But Auburn can run the ball a bit, too. In fact, the Tigers are fourth in the league with 259.3 yards per game and feature the SEC’s leading rusher in Kerryon Johnson (124 ypg). The chief difference in the two ground attacks is Johnson is doing most of the work for Auburn. The 6-foot, 212-pound junior had 29 carries last Saturday versus Texas A&M and is averaging 23.6 attempts per game.

On the flipside, both of these defenses are very good at stopping the run, and very few are better at it than Georgia. The Bulldogs rank fifth nationally and second in the SEC against the run at 89.0 yards per game. Auburn is 26th and fourth, respectively, at 126.4.

Meanwhile, it could be a very special day for Chubb. The Georgia senior needs just 13 yards to move into fourth on the SEC’s all-time rushing. The person he’d pass? Auburn’s Bo Jackson.

GETTING AFTER STIDHAM

Auburn infamously gave up 11 sacks against Clemson in the second game of the year and 14 in the first two games. While the Tigers have definitely made great strides in shoring up that deficiency, it’s still an issue for that offense and something Georgia will look to exploit.

The Bulldogs have some work to do in that regard, too. Certainly senior outside linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter are forces to be reckoned with on the edges, their quarterback harassment numbers have flattened out from the middle to this point in the season. After combining for three sacks and two fumbles in the win over Notre Dame in the second game of the season, they come into Saturday’s contest with only 6.5 sacks between them. Carter leads the team with 4.0 and Georgia has just 18 as a team, an average of 2 per game.

While Georgia’s nationally-renown “Junkyard Dawg defense” is not necessarily predicated upon sacking the quarterback, it’s imperative that the Bulldogs disrupt and move Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham. The sophomore transfer from Baylor is completing well over 70 percent of his passes when he is not pressured and he leads the SEC in completion percentage as it is at 66.8.

Meanwhile, the Tigers feature one of the most talented receiving corps in the SEC and certainly the best Georgia has faced this season. Ryan Davis is tied for the SEC lead in receptions per game (5.3) and Atlanta native Darius Slayton is coming off games of 149 and 99 yards against Arkansas and Texas A&M. The Tigers can flat out get open downfield and the Bulldogs need to make sure somebody’s in Stidham’s face to keep that from being constant matchup issue.

SPECIAL TEAMS SHOWDOWN

For the first time in a while, the Bulldogs will meet their match in the place-kicking game. While Rodrigo Blankenship has proven to be Mr. Reliable this season, both on kickoffs and placement kicks, there is arguably no better kicker in America than Auburn’s Daniel Carlson.

Nicknamed “Legatron,” Carlson is the SEC’s career scoring leader with 440 points and was a preseason All-American choice because he ranks in the top six in 12 SEC kicking categories. And while Blankenship is on pace to break Kevin Butler’s record for touchbacks in a season with 44 to this point, Carlson has 54 already on 65 kickoffs. Like Blankenship, Carlson is one of 12 semifinalists for the 2017 Lou Groza Award, which goes to the nation’s top kicker.

Georgia gets the edge in the all-important punting game. The Bulldogs and Cameron Nizalek are second in the SEC in net punting at 42.8 yards. Auburn is last in the league at 46.1.

The post Playing at Auburn always a monumental challenge, just ask Georgia’s Kirby Smart appeared first on DawgNation.

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  • ATHENS – Nick Chubb wasn’t himself Saturday. Oh, he ran hard and he gained a lot of yards and he scored some touchdowns. That we’ve all seen before. What we haven’t seen was Chubb celebrating and dancing. Well, sort of dancing. He climbed up on top of the cheerleaders’ platform in front of the UGA student section and celebrated Georgia’s 42-13 win over Kentucky with Sony Michel and the Bulldogs’ other seniors. Arm-in-arm, they sang and cheered and barked and laughed a little and smiled a lot and posed for a few thousand pictures. “Believe it or not, that was my first time ever doing that,” Chubb said in a postgame interview underneath the East End grandstands at Sanford Stadium. “I kind of saved it up for this moment.” Oh, we believe it, Nick. It was unlike anything we’ve seen before from the usually stoic tailback. For 42 games at Georgia, we’ve watched him smile and wave politely to the crowd as he jogged off the field after another one of his 100-yard rushing nights. No matter the gravity of the victory or how much he contributed to it, Chubb was never one to jump up in the stands or even dance some kind of jig. Usually, he’d slap a few hands on his way to the nearest field exit and maybe toss a sweatband or some gloves a kid’s way. “I had to convince him,” Michel, his roommate and backfield mate, said afterward. “It’s hard to convince him to do things like that.” It’s about time the kid showed some emotion. He deserved it. There was much to celebrate on this unseasonably warm and fuzzy Senior Night, much of it Chubb’s on doing. Let’s review. So he busted loose on a 55-yard touchdown run. That was a season-long run and gave Chubb 45 rushing TDs for his career (12 for the season).  That moves him to second on Georgia’s all-time list behind Herschel Walker (52), a theme you’re going to hear a lot in this space. That was Chubb’s second TD of the night, making it the 14th time he’s scored two or more in a game. That run also put him at 151 yards on the evening, making it the 23rd time he’s gone over the century mark. And it also put him over 1,000 yards for the season. He has 1,045 yards this year, so he stands now with Walker as the only two backs in Georgia history with three 1,000-yard seasons. It seems appropriate to interject here that Chubb had 747 yards when his sophomore season ended after five games with a knee injury. Else, he would’ve had four. “It’s an honor,” Chubb said of sharing a few more marks with Herschel. “That’s great company to have. Just to be with him, me and him, man, I’m happy about that.” You might note that it’s now really the only comparison to make with Chubb anymore, him and Herschel Walker. He’s eclipsed everybody else in Georgia history. What’s more, he’s doing it in this day and age. Not to take anything away from Walker or Bo Jackson or Marcus Dupree or any of those guys who thought nothing of carrying the ball 30 times a week. Chubb is doing what he’s doing in an era when SEC defenses don’t fall far down from NFL squads in terms of athletic pedigree and dedication to stuffing the run. And he’s also doing during a time in which coaches prefer their back share carries with others. While Chubb enters the 12th game of his fourth season with 686 carries, his best buddy Michel has 546 himself. That’s what I was thinking about when I asked Georgia coach Kirby Smart if he thought Chubb is underappreciated in terms of national acclaim. Smart went on a rant. “Yeah, I certainly feel like he’s underappreciated,” he said. “I don’t know how you guys feel but I appreciate what he’s done in an era where rushing the ball is really, really hard. It’s gotten harder and harder and harder. I’ve got no statistics to prove it but I’d venture to say Herschel ran for his (yards) in an era where a people were rushing the ball for a lot of yards. I’m not diminishing what Herschel did. I’m just enlightening people to Nick Chubb has rushed for three thousand-yard seasons in the SEC, the toughest conference in the country to run the ball. That’s pretty remarkable. “And he did alongside another back that is maybe just as talented as he is. What would he have done with 30 or 40 carries? Who knows. But I’m sure his body appreciates it.” Everybody is starting to appreciate a little more. It’s kind of like the old adage, you don’t really appreciate something or somebody until they’re gone. Well, Chubb’s not gone yet, but he’s almost out the door. Saturday was his last game in Sanford Stadium. He was one of 31 seniors the Bulldogs honored during Senior Day ceremonies before the game. That, Chubb said afterward, already had him feeling a little different before the game. He blamed Georgia’s slow start Saturday on those emotional proceedings, a rite of passage for seniors playing their last game between the hedges. The Bulldogs finally shook loose from its early doldrums. They needed Jake Fromm to hit a few passes downfield to get the running game going. When it finally did, it was devastating to Kentucky’s overmatched defense. Chubb’s teammates sensed something from him on Saturday. He seemed a little quicker, a little more shifty than usual. He busted through for his first TD on an eight-yard run midway through the third quarter. On the second play of the fourth, Chubb bounced an off-tackle dive outside and down the left sideline. Three Kentucky defenders who seemed to have angles to run him down did not. It was a 55-yard touchdown and gave the Bulldogs a 35-13 lead. “He looked fast on that run,” chirped Michel, who likes to tease Chubb about being faster. Chubb sounded very Herschel-esque in describing the sensational play. “It was great blocking,” he said. “I don’t think I got touched. I kind of hit the sideline wide open, so it was great blocking up front.” Same old Chubb there. But we’d learn later it was a different kind of night. There he was, the muscle-bound captain who never mugs for cameras or does touchdown poses, grinning from ear-to-ear and laughing and glad-handing fans and hugging teammates. For a few minutes, he seemed almost like a regular college student. But as we all know, he’s anything but. “It was a great moment,” Chubb said of his uncharacteristic celebration. “I know that’s my last time leaving that field as a Georgia Bulldog. That’s something I can never have back, so I had to enjoy it.” We did, too, Nick. We did, too. The post That was no ordinary Nick Chubb we saw running over and around Kentucky appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS – Admit it, Georgia fans. Your Bulldogs had you a little nervous there for a minute, didn’t they? No worries. It was Kentucky that Georgia was playing. The seventh-ranked Bulldogs won 42-13 for their 57th all-time victory over the Wildcats. Only Georgia Tech (67) has lost more times to Georgia. Speaking of Georgia Tech, Georgia improves to 10-1 (7-1 SEC) just in time to face its rival next Saturday in the series that has come to be called “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.” The Yellow Jackets won in overtime last year in Athens. They fell to 5-5 with Saturday’s 43-20 loss at Duke. Saturday was a milestone game for Georgia’s Nick Chubb. With a 55-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter, Chubb had 151 yards rushing in the game, 1,045 for the season and 4,469 for his career. Chubb and Herschel Walker are now the only UGA backs to rush for more than 1,000 yards in three seasons. With the victory, Georgia’s seniors finish undefeated at Sanford Stadium for the first time since 2012, when it last went to the SEC Championship Game. The Bulldogs also finished with a perfect record against Eastern Division opponents for the first time in school history. Before all that, UGA found itself trailing in the first quarter for the second straight week and managed just 21 yards on its first two possessions against the Wildcats. But then Kentucky remembered it was Kentucky. The Wildcats roughed Georgia’s punter and the Bulldogs took the ball the rest of the way for a touchdown and a lead they’d never relinquished. Kentucky kept it interesting. It received the second-half kickoff and went 75 yards in eight plays that mostly featured tailback Benny Snell to make it 21-13 on Snell’s 1-yard run. But the Bulldogs answered quickly with a long, scoring drive of their own, and order was restored. Somewhere in between, Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney realized it was not against the rules to pass on first down. After calling runs on nine consecutive first downs, Chaney flipped the switch in the second quarter and turned Jake Fromm loose. The result was three consecutive completions and back-to-back touchdown drives to open up a 21-6. Georgia controlled the game from then on. The post Nick Chubb, No. 7 Georgia Bulldogs run over Kentucky appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS – One million, eight hundred and sixty thousand. Dollars. At the very least, that is how much “The Big Four” left on the table to play for the Georgia Bulldogs this season. Probably would’ve been more. As far as I know, nobody has ever referred to Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel as The Big Four. But how can you not? That is essentially certainly what they’ve been for Georgia this season. I’m not talking about statistical contributions, necessarily. Yes, they’ve all contributed significantly to the Bulldogs’ cause in terms of what they bring to the team on the field each Saturday. But it’s really a more intangible effect that the Big Four has had on the 2017 squad. It started with them walking away from that pile of money last December. “Those four guys (coming back), it just shows their commitment,” said fellow senior Jeb Blazevich, a tight end. “I think that really set the tone for the rest of the team. It said, ‘hey, we’re investing another whole year into this.’… Even the younger guys are thinking, ‘this season is special.’” And it has been special. Still is, despite that aberration that occurred last Saturday at Auburn. With a win Saturday against the Kentucky Wildcats (7-3, 4-3 SEC), the No. 7-ranked Bulldogs can improve to 10-1 on the season and finish the year undefeated at home. They’ve already punched their ticket to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the SEC Championship Game. With that in hand, all other possibilities remain in play. That’s right, College Football Playoffs and national championship. Scoff if you like, but that remains these seniors’ objective. “We made a decision; we came back for a reason,” Carter said after the Bulldogs’ practice on Wednesday. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job so far. But all of us seniors – even the underclassmen – we let them know we’re not done yet.” We never got an exact assessment of what The Big Four were told by the NFL when they asked for a draft evaluation after last season. It’s a very formalized and private process nowadays. Essentially, underclassmen can inform the NFL’s college advisory committee that they’re considering foregoing their college eligibility to play professionally. Made up of high-level NFL personnel evaluators and individuals from scouting organizations, the advisory committee then reviews data and video provided by the players and their schools and offer a generalized assessment. They receiver either a “first- or second-round evaluation” or a “stay in school evaluation.” Not everybody accepts their assessment. In 2016, 107 underclassmen entered the draft. Of those, 30 of them went, according to the NFL. Without the benefit of these guys telling us the exact evaluation they received, there’s no way to know how much money The Big Four left on the table. But based on where I’m sitting, it’s at least the number I mentioned above. That’s based on my personal view that each one of these guys would have made an NFL roster, regardless of their draft position. The NFL minimum salary for 2017 is $465,000. Multiply that by four and you get $1.86 million. I don’t know what The Big Four’s presence has meant financially for UGA. I guess you could say without them, the Bulldogs probably aren’t eyeing a “New Year’s Six bowl” and certainly not an SEC Championship Game or playoff berth. All those come with their resident monetary rewards. Intangibly, though, it’s hard to put a number on. “That’s a group of guys that have been really special to me,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who advised the Big Four to come back. “But they’ve been really special to the DawgNation and the legacy they leave behind.” Of course, it’s not just The Big Four who have made the Bulldogs into what they are this season. In fact, there are a bunch of seniors that have contributed to the cause this season. That goes beyond those who receive full-ride, grants-in-aid. Including walkons, there are 31 seniors who will honored during Senior Day before Saturday’s game. Not all of them have been here the last four years, but most of them have. Guys like safety Dominick Sanders, who needs one pick to tie the school record for career interceptions; like Aaron Davis, who has started 41 games, most ever by a non-kicking walkon; or tackle Isaiah Wynn, who has played in all but two games the last four years, most of them starts. Including a year at prep school, John-John Atkins has been pledged to Georgia since 2012, and has likewise been a block of granite for the Bulldogs at noseguard. Together, they’ve amassed a 37-12 record (.755). A couple more wins and they’ll finish among the Top 10 most successful teams of all time, which span 125 years. As for the money, Carter has maintained that it really wasn’t about that for him or the other seniors that came back. “We didn’t go out last year like we wanted to,” he has always maintained. “I feel like I had a lot more to do here so I couldn’t leave yet.” Nevertheless, Carter may have benefited the most in that regard. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound outside linebacker from Norcross has been mentioned as a potential NFL first-rounder for next April. Regardless, each of the Big Four has left an indelible mark on this program: Chubb became just the second rusher in Georgia history to exceed 4,000 career yards and will finish as UGA’s second all-time behind Herschel Walker in rushing yardage, rushing scores (39), and all-purpose yardage (4,669). His 4,318 rushing yards are the fourth most in SEC history. Michel is the fifth-leading rusher in Georgia history with 3,142 yards and could finish as high as third. He’s on pace to finish among the top five in all-purpose yards (3,755) yards as well. Bellamy has played in 33 games, collecting 108 tackles and 19.5 tackles for loss. He ranks third on the team with nine quarterback pressures this season. And Carter, he had a team-high nine tackles and a sack in the 42-7 win over Florida, a couple of huge sacks and fumble recoveries in the win at Notre Dame and 13.5 sacks in his career so far. Except for that stinging loss at Auburn last Saturday, senior year has been nothing but a blast for Carter and his classmates. But it’s not over yet, Carter points out. That’s why, if you’re going to Saturday’s game at Sanford Stadium, you really need to be inside and sitting in your seat by 3 p.m. Kickoff between No. 7 Georgia and Kentucky is not until 3:37 p.m., but setting aside an extra half-hour to honor these 2017 seniors rather than gulping down another cold one will be time well spent. “These guys have meant a lot to this program, meant a lot to me personally, meant a lot to the staff, and they’ve meant a lot to this university,” Smart said. “I think we all owe it to them, as a fan base and as a coaching staff and as a team, to make sure that we give them our best effort.” You can be assured that Georgia’s seniors will be bringing it. The post If ever there was a UGA senior class to see honored, this 2017 bunch is it appeared first on DawgNation.
  • We are on the eve of the final home football game of the Georgia Bulldog season: the seventh-ranked Dogs host the Kentucky Wildcats in tomorrow’s SEC finale. Kickoff for UGA Senior Day is set for 3:30 in Sanford Stadium, with national television on CBS.   The senior ceremony will begin at 3:16 p.m. ET at Sanford Stadium. Kickoff for the Bulldogs’ final home game of the season is set for 3:30 p.m., with the contest nationally televised on the CBS.  The 31 seniors to be recognized are John Atkins, DL, Thomson, Ga.; Davin Bellamy, LB, Stone Mountain, Ga.; Jeb Blazevich, TE, Charlotte, N.C.; Aulden Bynum, OL, Valdosta, Ga.; Lorenzo Carter, LB, Norcross, Ga.; Reggie Carter, LB, Stone Mountain, Ga.; Nick Chubb, RB, Cedartown, Ga.; John Courson, LS, Athens, Ga.; Aaron Davis, DB, Locust Grove, Ga.; Jordan Davis, TE, Thomson, Ga.; Alex Essex, DL, Richmond, Va.; Turner Fortin, RB, Johns Creek, Ga.; Trent Frix, LS, Calhoun, Ga.; Jacob Gross, RB, Thomaston, Ga.; Carson Hall, OL, Dallas, Ga.; Daniel Harper, LB, Atlanta, Ga.; Matthew Herzwurm, LS, Augusta, Ga.; Tim Hill, DB, Atlanta, Ga.; David Marvin, K, Charlotte, N.C.; Miles McGinty, TE, Savannah, Ga.; Sony Michel, RB, Hollywood, Fla.; Cameron Nizialek, P, Chantilly, Va.; Malkom Parrish, DB, Quitman, Ga.; Christian Payne, RB, Athens, Ga.; Brice Ramsey, QB, Kingsland, Ga.; Dominick Sanders, DB, Tucker, Ga.; Dyshon Sims, OL, Valdosta, Ga.;Thomas Swilley, OL, Athens, Ga.; Shakenneth Williams, WR, Macon, Ga.; Javon Wims, WR, Miami, Fla.; Isaiah Wynn, OL, St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • ATHENS — The best thing about what happened to Georgia last week on The Plains and what might happen Saturday against at Kentucky at Sanford Stadium is that the Bulldogs happen to play football with 18-to-22-year-olds. “Kids are more resilient than the adults and the fan base, I can promise you,” explained coach Kirby Smart, talking about the 23-point loss to Auburn on 680 The Fan’s Bulldog Roundtable on Thursday. “They live in a generation of ‘onto the next thing.’ They want 60 seconds; they’re two or three lines on Twitter; they go on SnapChat. That’s all they think about. So for them, it’s onto the next one.” There are some objectives for the Bulldogs beyond just winning the next game. Starting with that ill-fated trip to Auburn, this is the most challenging stretch of the season, and the SEC Championship game awaits, whether Georgia is ready for it or not. It will be paramount that the Bulldogs shore up some things, mentally as well as physically. “It’s important to gain some confidence in how they play, especially early in this game, so that they can get back to believing in themselves. At the end of the day, it’s the next opponent, a good opponent and an SEC opponent, so they’ve got to go out and perform and be ready for a four-quarter battle. I fully expect it to be that way with Kentucky.” Whether it could help or hinder that objective remains to be seen, but the Bulldogs will be honoring a huge group of seniors. They’re led the high-profile foursome of Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, but there are numerous others who have distinguished themselves with their service in games or in practices. A whopping 31 players will be honored during Senior Day ceremonies, which will start promptly at 3 p.m. That group has logged a 37-12 record over the last four years. With a couple more wins, they have a chance to finish among the Top 10 most successful classes of all time in the 125-year history of Georgia football. “These seniors have been a tremendous asset for our staff,” Smart said. “They’re a lot of high-character kids who care a lot about the University of Georgia. We can give back to them and their families by honoring what they’ve done for the university. Here’s what has to happen to send them out the right way: Back to Bulldog Basics The Bulldogs have to find a way to get back to what had made it successful before Auburn humiliated them 40-17. Primarily, that is establish the run and stop the run. Georgia was overwhelmed in both of those respects against the Tigers, recording season lows in rushing on offense and defense. When Nick Chubb leads the Bulldogs with 27 yards rushing, you know it’s a bad day. There is nothing automatic about being able to do that against the Wildcats. They’re actually similar to Auburn statistically when it comes to stopping the run. They’re fourth in the SEC at 121.9 yards, or 3.5 yards more a game than the Tigers’ vaunted defense. So Georgia has to address its newly-exposed issues on the offensive line. The Bulldogs were experimenting in practice this week with big Ben Cleveland (6-6, 340) getting some looks at left guard. On the flipside, Kentucky already has called out Georgia to some degree. Sophomore Benny Snell promised the Bulldogs that he was going to be “bringing it” against them on Saturday. And he has more than a little something to bring. Snell (5-11, 233) is the SEC’s third-leading rusher (101.3 yards per game) and is coming off his third consecutive game in which he has scored three touchdowns. Snell had 114 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia last year when the Bulldogs eked out a 27-24 victory. Throw the ball downfield As much as the Bulldogs need to establish the run, they also have to prove they can throw the football. They’ve done that with some success this season, but not consistently and certainly not in the fashion that makes a defense respect it and change what they’re doing. Georgia’s freshman quarterback Jake Fromm not only has been extremely good at completing third-down throws and occasionally hitting defenses with big plays in the passing game. His yards per attempt continues to be one of the best in the country. But where the Bulldogs are lacking is in a consistent downfield attack that utilizes the middle of the field and give the safeties something else to think about. To date, most of Fromm’s attempts and completions have come on 50-50 plays against one-on-one coverage in the short to intermediate flat and up and down the sideline. That limits the risk of a turnover within the chaos that is the middle of field. If there’s a team Georgia might be able to exploit in this regard, it’s Kentucky. The Wildcats struggle in pass coverage. In fact, they’re last in the SEC against the pass, allowing 282.3 yards per game and giving up 18 touchdowns through the air.It may be time for Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to show more trust in the freshman Jake Fromm and let him try to exploit the middle of the defense. This, in turn, could get the Bulldogs’ impressive group of tight ends more involved in the passing game. Tighten up special teams It could be argued that Georgia has won the special teams matchup in every game it played this season. Well, up until last week’s game at Auburn. Actually, the Bulldogs remained dominant when came to the act of kicking and returning kicks. But they were flagged for two devastating personal-foul penalties on special teams plays, committed a turnover and missed a field goal. That undid all the good work displayed by return specialist Mecole Hardman, who had 183 yards in returns but muffed a punt that led to an early second-half touchdown by the Tigers. Kentucky is decidedly average on special teams, and is especially vulnerable on kickoff returns. This area of Saturday’s matchup is a clear advantage for the Bulldogs, and one of which they need to take full advantage. The post Planning for Opponent: Millennial mentality should serve Dawgs well vs. Kentucky appeared first on DawgNation.