Georgia head coach Kirby Smart understands the implications of Saturday’s game against No. 2 Alabama.
Saturday will feature many firsts. It will be Smart’s first return to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, since coaching for the Crimson Tide for nine seasons, Georgia’s first return since its 26-23 overtime victory in 2007 and Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s first-time absence from the sidelines due to testing positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
But the first that most concerns Smart is to somehow win after falling short in his previous two tries against Alabama. Finding a way to motivate players for Saturday’s game was far from necessary.
“The guys are excited,” Smart said during the SEC coaches teleconference on Wednesday. “It certainly is a lot easier in terms of preparation for your kids when you have a game of this magnitude. It doesn’t get down to motivation.”
Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was selected by Saban to take the reins while away from the team in self-isolation. Sarkisian’s offense enters Saturday averaging 51 points per game, which is the highest in the country. The Bulldogs will have plenty to concentrate on as Alabama quarterback Mac Jones will be throwing to wide receivers Jaylen Waddle, DeVonta Smith and John Metchie, who have a combined 1,010 receiving yards in three games.
There’s also Alabama running back Najee Harris, who ran for 206 yards and a school-record five touchdowns on just 23 carries in last Saturday’s game against Ole Miss. He also added 42 receiving yards on three receptions and was selected as the SEC Offensive Player of the Week.
Since the 2018 season with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama has used an up-tempo offense to near perfection, and that’s continued throughout the first three weeks of 2020.
“What’s made [Alabama] succeed well is players,” Smart said on Monday. “[Sarkisian] does a great job of implementing a system that the kids can execute. It’s based on really hard guys to cover [on the] outside. They’ve got ... probably the best back in the country, if not one of the best running backs in the country.”
The good news for Georgia is that through three games, its struggles in previous years to pressure the opposing quarterback have seemingly dissolved. The Bulldogs are second in the SEC with 10 total sacks, led by redshirt sophomore Azeez Ojulari with three and junior Adam Anderson with two.
But Georgia is one of the few teams in the country with enough depth to rotate most if not all of its players throughout the game, given it earned the No. 1 recruiting class in 2018 and 2020. Like Alabama’s offense, Georgia’s defense relies on its multiplicity. Perhaps it’s the biggest reason Georgia has held opponents to just six total points in the second half of games this season. But Alabama, who earned the No. 1 recruiting class in 2016, 2017 and 2019, leaves Georgia with no real advantage.
“I think a lot of it is [having] good players,” Smart said. “Obviously, the challenge this week is like no other because they’ve got really good players on the front line, really good players at running back, really good receivers and a really good quarterback.”