Georgia’s Smart preps No. 3 Bulldogs for big-game atmosphere
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Georgia coach Kirby Smart is not worried about the loud, raucous atmosphere his team faces this week at No. 24 South Carolina.
After spending plenty of time talking to the third-ranked Bulldogs about how to properly handle their first big test and Southeastern Conference opener, Smart believes they’re ready.
“You either control it or it controls you,” Smart said. “I’m a big believer in you control it by what you do.”
Georgia (1-0) has won its past three games and four of the last five over the Gamecocks (1-0). He understands his players have heard a lot of outside noise about not losing focus and feeling overwhelmed by the sold-out crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium. He’s prepped his players on how to stay poised despite distractions.
“You just try to show examples of people that have played in tough environments and struggled and made bad decisions, and guys that have played in tough environments and never been affected by the environment,” he said.
Sounds simple. But it can be difficult.
Smart understands nothing will come easy against the improved Gamecocks, who feature one of the premiere playmakers in the SEC in receiver Deebo Samuel.
Samuel missed the Georgia game last year, a 24-10 Bulldogs victory, with a broken leg that cost him 10 games in 2017.
A healthy Samuel returned for South Carolina and picked up where he left off with seven catches, including a one-handed grab for a touchdown late in the 49-15 win over Coastal Carolina. He also had two kickoff returns for 45 yards and an 11-yard run.
“He’s probably the most underrated player in all of college football, because I don’t know that everybody in the country knows what the SEC knows about Deebo Samuel,” Smart said. “I mean the guy is phenomenal.”
Samuel did face the Bulldogs two years ago and was hard to contain with four catches for 90 yards.
Samuel said it was hard to sleep the night before the opener because he was so anxious about playing.
“It has been 11 months not being able to play against another opponent. I was just glad I was able to get back out there and play,” he said.
He’s ready to keep that going.
Other things to watch for when No. 3 Georgia plays No. 24 South Carolina
Georgia’s Kirby Smart and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp were Bulldog teammates and longtime friends who worked together as young coaches at Valdosta State after college. There, they were involved in some hard-hitting three-on-three pickup basketball games. “I remember it was a bloodbath about every day,” Muschamp joked.
Georgia maintains a sizeable edge in its series with South Carolina, but the Gamecocks have won three of the past four games when both teams were ranked entering the game. The last time was 2014 in South Carolina’s 38-35 win.
NEW RUNNING GROUP
Georgia’s breaking in its latest group of runners after the successful stints this decade of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, and Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. Last week, it was a trio of runners who led Georgia’s 45-0 win over Austin Peay in D’Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien. Swift and Holyfield had TD runs while the three had nine catches for 60 yards.
South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley has led his team to wins in seven of its past nine games. The two losses, though, have come against top-five teams in No. 2 Georgia and No. 4 Clemson last November. Bentley gets his latest chance to topple a highly ranked team in the Bulldogs this week. He set a career best with four touchdowns in the win over Coastal Carolina last week.
Georgia has one of the biggest, most experienced and dominating offensive lines in the country, according to Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp. They’ve got four of five starters back from last year’s SEC champions and the starters in the opener — tackles Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson, guards Solomon Kindley and Ben Cleveland, center Lamont Galliard — average 327 pounds.
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