The upcoming contest against the University of Massachusetts is one of just four more guaranteed games for No. 5 Georgia, although the Bulldogs have been preparing for this moment all season long.
They’ve been practicing for this moment not because of anything to do with the Minutemen. Instead, they’ve prepared simply because it is what’s happening next.
“It’s not really about them,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said on Nov. 12. “It’s just about how we work, because we worry about us. And that way when you get to this week, it’s not different.”
Georgia has wins over rivals Tennessee, Auburn and Florida, with games against in-state rival Georgia Tech and defending national champion Alabama left on the schedule. A bowl game looms as well. But going by what the Bulldogs said on Nov. 12, they can’t look back or forward right now.
“It’s not really about them. It’s just about how we work, because we worry about us."
- Kirby Smart, Georgia head coach
Bulldog wide receiver Tyler Simmons revealed Georgia coaches have “not really” placed any moratorium on the mentioning of Alabama, but that’s because they haven’t needed to. When asked about keeping the focus only on UMass this week, linebacker Juwan Taylor explained the Minutemen have his full attention.
“It isn’t tough at all,” he said. “It is the next game for us, the next opponent.”
Saying the fifth-ranked Bulldogs are heavily favored is somewhat of an understatement, as UMass is allowing its opponents to score 40.8 points per game and is coming off a 19-point loss to BYU on Nov. 10. Still, the offensive numbers the Minutemen have managed to accumulate were enough to grab Georgia’s attention.
The Bulldogs are focused on themselves this week, as Smart says they are every week, but they are also focused on UMass players such as wide receiver Andy Isabella. Georgia is expected to win by a large margin, but that does not eliminate the possibility of mismatches at certain position groups.
“Offensively, I think they’ve scored 120-something points in the first quarters of their games,” Smart said. “They’re really a fast-starting team. They have an explosive passing game.”
The aerial attack will give Georgia’s secondary a test, and it will be a specifically useful experience for redshirt freshman cornerback Eric Stokes. But while the game could possibly help younger Georgia players gain needed playing time, Smart also outlined the benefits for UMass players and the program as a whole.
“I think football is very good for young people to be involved in, to feel like they are part of a team, to feel the failure, to feel the success,” Smart said. “And you don’t get that at some of the levels without these games. Some of these programs financially can’t sustain without it.”
Even with the lopsided expectations, there are plenty of nuances to the Nov. 17 matchup that make the game special. It’s the second-to-last home game for Georgia, and it is still a must-win in order to remain in playoff contention.
The Bulldogs can either complicate the game by looking ahead to the tougher challenges and opportunities that await them, or they can simplify the moment by focusing on what they can control. Quarterback Jake Fromm said Georgia is trying to do the latter.
“You’re still playing football,” Fromm said. “So that’s kind of our mindset this week: How are we going to get better?”