Off­sea­son of work pays div­i­dends for driven Ge­or­gia

Calhoun Times - - SPORTS WEDNESDAY - By Pete Ia­co­belli

COLUMBIA, S.C. —

No. 3 Ge­or­gia is con­fi­dent its dominant win over South Carolina won’t be the only ma­jor state­ment it makes this sea­son.

The Bull­dogs (2-0, 1- 0 South­east­ern Con­fer­ence) made quick and easy work of the pre­vi­ously ranked Game­cocks (1-1, 0-1) in a 41-7 vic­tory on Satur­day. The game fig­ured to be an early test of whether Ge­or­gia, which lost stel­lar NFL play­ers like line­backer Ro­quan Smith and tail­backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, could build and move for­ward from its Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off run in 2017.

“We knew we were go­ing to have to make a state­ment,” Ge­or­gia of­fen­sive line­man La­mont Gail­lard said. “And that’s what we did.”

Ge­or­gia took con­trol early with De­an­dre Baker’s in­ter­cep­tion and re­turn in the game’s first minute (Baker’s sure pick six turned into a fum­ble re­cov­ery score by team­mate Juwan Tay­lor af­ter Baker dropped the ball early) and Ge­or­gia rarely let up. Three third quar­ter touch­downs where the Bull­dogs out­gained South Carolina 226 yards to 35 put the game out of reach.

Ge­or­gia coach Kirby Smart was pleased with his team’s fo­cus and ex­e­cu­tion much of the con­test. It won’t mean much, he added, if his team does not main­tain a sim­i­lar drive to achieve he’s seen since the Bull­dogs’ de­mor­al­iz­ing over­time loss to the Crim­son Tide in the na­tional cham­pi­onship game this past Jan­uary.

“They’ve got to con­tinue to get bet­ter for us to be the kind of team we need to be, for us to go where we want to go,” Smart said. “We’re not there yet.”

Al­though, the Bull­dogs’ path to get there seems clearer, even this early in the sea­son.

Many thought South Carolina and coach Will Muschamp’s thirdyear pro­gram would pres­sure the Bull­dogs in the SEC East­ern Di­vi­sion through­out the year. In­stead, Ge­or­gia ap­pears the clear-cut, un­ques­tioned fa­vorite to make At­lanta to de­fend its league ti­tle.

Once there, it will need to show the same re­lent­less of­fense and suf­fo­cat­ing de­fense to play with one of the SEC West’s heavy­weights, most likely the same Alabama team that ral­lied from 13 points down against Ge­or­gia to take the crown.

One of the big­gest ques­tions Ge­or­gia faced from many out­siders was if its lat­est group of run­ners could live to the team’s legacy of tal­ented, smart run­ners with Chubb and Michel the most re­cent ex­am­ple. D’An­dre Swift, Eli­jah Holy­field and Brian Her­rien more than lived up to that against the Game­cocks.

Be­hind Ge­or­gia’s mas­sive, ex­pe­ri­enced of­fen­sive line , the team piled up 271 yards rush­ing (South Carolina had just 54) as all three tail­backs scored touch­downs. Holy­field led the way 76 yards on nine car­ries, an av­er­age of more than eight yards a rush. Swift had 64 yards, in­clud­ing a 17- yard rush­ing TD. Her­rien added a 15-yard scor­ing run in that de­ci­sive third quar­ter.

“I think we see how we can be,” said Swift, a sopho­more. “Yeah, we made a state­ment, but we’ve got more to do.”

Quar­ter­back Jake Fromm said the Bull­dogs have been work­ing, im­prov­ing and plan­ning since last win­ter. They tuned out doubters and got to work, cer­tain, he said, the play­ers to achieve great things were on cam­pus and ready to do what was re­quired to achieve big things.

“Our guys are special,” said Fromm, who com­pleted 15 of 18 passes for 194 yards and a touch­down.

Smart sees that, as well, but knows how dam­ag­ing be­liev­ing you’ve ar­rived too soon can be for pro­grams.

Smart said his team had a so-so prac­tice this past Thurs­day lead­ing up to South Carolina, some­thing that both­ered him and some­thing he knows needs fix­ing. “We’re not do­ing the things we need to do to get where we want to be,” he said. “I’ve told the play­ers that.

“I’m just happy and con­tent with this (win),” Smart con­tin­ued. “But we’re look­ing for­ward to getting a lot bet­ter.”

JOSHUA L. JONES / The As­so­ci­ated Press

UGA coach Kirby Smart (right) re­acts on the side­line dur­ing last Satur­day’s game vs. South Carolina.

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