JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Kirby Smart’s message following a 42-20 win over Florida was direct and sobering.
“We have to keep improving, we’re not there yet,” Smart said from the bowels of TIAA Bank Stadium after Georgia improved to 8-0.
“People want to put us there, but we’re not there.”
The Gators scored 17 straight points in the third quarter, a reminder that this Bulldogs team isn’t as perfect as its record.
Smart is proud of the poise and resilience shown by his team, but those close to the program credit him for ensuring there is no room for complacency or the feeling of arriving in the locker room or the Georgia football community.
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The hype train for the first-ever Top 5 showdown between Georgia and Tennessee at 3:30 p.m. next Saturday started early with ESPN’s College GameDay and SEC Nation announcing that they will be on campus at UGA.
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Smart’s routine, however, will not change.
The Bulldogs will focus on themselves first, fixing mistakes in the game against Florida while noting the good before moving on to game week.
Here are three takeaways from Georgia’s win over Florida on Saturday:
line of scrimmage
Georgia won ahead of Florida, which is still the most important game of all.
The Bulldogs held off a Gators team that entered the game leading the nation in yards per carry (6.36) on 100 rushing yards on 34 carries – just 2.9 yards per attempt.
Georgia also recorded three sacks on the elusive Anthony Richardson, a feat considering Florida had allowed five sacks to the SEC in its first seven games.
Georgia racked up a series-record 555 rushing yards on what has been a terrible Florida defense this season, yet the Gators were within a score in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs were reminded of how deadly they can turn turning the ball around, as a third-quarter fumble led to a field goal and an interception led to a Gators touchdown.
Kenny McIntosh and Stetson Bennett rallied with solid play after their mistakes, but Georgia knows some opponents might not be so forgiving.
Malaki Starks has a Freshman All-American campaign at safety, but the Bulldogs’ youth showed when there was a communications breakdown on the side that Starks was working with sophomore cornerback Kamari Lassiter.
Smart’s defenses don’t often produce explosive plays following a coverage breakdown, but seeing Florida’s Xavier Henderson open wide for a 78-yard touchdown will raise awareness in meetings this week.
Key defensive wound
Georgia fired an elite defensive lineman with Jalen Carter back in action after missing two games with a sprained MCL and lost another when sack leader Nolan Smith left the game.
Smith, who was on course for another dominating performance against Florida for two quarters with a TFL and QB rush, left the game with what CBS reported was a shoulder injury in the second quarter.
Smart was unsure of Smith’s status after the match, but the preliminary report didn’t look promising for an immediate return.
Bumps and bruises on the offensive line
Starting right tackle Warren McClendon is out with a shoulder injury, Smart said, and left guard Xavier Truss has had his shots limited by aching toe pain.
Georgia also saw giant relief offensive tackle Amarius Mims leave the game with a sprained knee, though Smart noted that it didn’t seem as bad as MCL Carter’s sprain.
The power of Brock Bower
Bowers was sensational again, rattling off a career-high 154 yards on five catches, including a spectacular juggling that led to a 72-yard touchdown.
“This guy, he’s one of the best players in the country now and probably one of the best for how many years, right?” Florida coach Billy Napier said.
“He’s a one-game player, and they’re doing a good job, you know they’ve got other good ones too, it’s not like you can worry about him.”
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