COLUMBIA — Kirby Smart was ready to see his No. 1-ranked Georgia football team get tested on the road at South Carolina.
Instead, all the banged-up Gamecocks could offer was a late-arriving crowd and a quiz at Williams-Brice Stadium.
The Bulldogs rolled to a 48-7 win over South Carolina, seemingly separating themselves further from the rest of the teams in the nation.
“We haven’t had a lot of ups and downs in our games, we haven’t played a team that’s given us that,” Smart said on Bulldogs Live, his coach’s show on Thursday night.
“How we respond to that will say a lot about how we are, as far as how we handle it.”
The Gamecocks, featuring one of the most talented quarterbacks in the nation and one of the best receiving corps on UGA’s schedule, were missing five starters on defense and couldn’t stay close long enough to make a game of it.
But there were two big plays Smart noted that Georgia responded well to: A 46-yard pass completion and a successful fake punt.
“We made some plays today and didn’t back down,” Smart said. “We gave up the bomb on Kamari (Lassiter), boom, get a pick two plays later.
“We give up a play fake punt, nobody panicked; they (defensive) were happy they could go out and play some more … let’s get our snaps in. Let’s go stop them. That’s the way you have to approach it.”
In machine-like fashion, and there’s no indication this woodchopper of a Georgia football team will be slowing down anytime soon when one looks at the next four games on the schedule:
• Kent State – 1-2 with losses to Washington (45-20) and Oklahoma (33-3)
• at Missouri – 2-1 with a 40-12 loss to Kansas State
• Auburn – 2-1 with a 41-12 loss to Penn State
• Vanderbilt – 2-1 with a 45-25 loss to Wake Forest
Smart will say UGA can’t control its schedule and focus on the things he and his staff can control.
Scary as it might seem, the Bulldogs can actually get even better.
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1. Defensive line can improve
Jalen Carter didn’t start and played only 11 snaps on account of a lower-body injury, but beyond that, Smart said Georgia needs to be better as it did not record a sack.
“Look, we’re not where we need to be,” Smart said. “We have young players that can help us. They can’t help us until they go against our (starting) offensive line about 1,000 more reps. And I can’t get 1,000 more reps in two weeks. We have to get them ready faster. We don’t have the depth there that we had.”
Smart said Bill Norton, Bear Alexander and Christen Miller are players who need to grow.
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2. Receivers lack depth
Georgia played without starting “X” receiver Adonai Mitchell and didn’t seem to miss a beat, posting its third straight game with at least 10 players catching a pass.
Brock Bowers dominated with 5 catches for 121 yards and 2 touchdowns along with a 5-yard TD run and Ladd McConkey paced the receivers with 4 catches for 52 yards.
“De’Nylon (Morrissette) and Dillon Bell are talented players that have to grow up — they can’t grow up fast enough,” Smart said. “We needed them to play really well today. I thought both of them had some freshman jitters and we have to get that out of them because they’re talented players.”
An Even More Steady Stet
The Georgia quarterback has solidified a place in the 2022 Heisman Trophy race with his improved level of play and execution, but Smart continues to raise the bar.
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“You flirt with danger there, the decision by Stetson to reach the balance out, not the smartest,” Smart said of Bennett’s lunge for the pylon on a 16-yard scramble near the end zone.
“The screen throwaway that he floated — there are decisions there that can be fatal or they can focus you to use your composure muscle if you’re not careful. We got to be smarter there.”
Perhaps, but Bennett’s gritty play through his vomiting session, and his Heisman Highlight 12-yard TD run, will be the takeaway for most.