Georgia head coach Kirby Smart walks on the sidelines. Action from the first half at Vanderbilt Stadium as the Georgia Bulldogs take on the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday, Sep. 25, 2021. (Photo/Zachary Tate, ztate@randb.com)

Head coach Kirby Smart and Georgia football players spoke to the media on Monday as they turned the page from the 62-0 victory over Vanderbilt and began preparation for Saturday’s matchup with No. 8 Arkansas.

Washington and Smith ready to roll

Perhaps the biggest information Smart provided was another positive update on the health of tight end Darnell Washington and defensive back Tykee Smith.

“Darnell and Tykee are back,” Smart said.

After missing the first four games of the season, the duo is ready to return from foot injuries that have sidelined them since the middle of August.

“They’re back in drills, they’re practicing this week, everything full go, so that hopefully we have them available,”' Smart said. “We haven’t seen them physically practice yet, so we still have to see that, but our expectation is they’ll be able to go and play and be able to help us.”

On injured wide receiver trio Dominick Blaylock, Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint and Arian Smith, Smart sounded hopeful but uncertain about their chances to play this week.

“Dom [Blaylock] is still nursing a hamstring, hopeful to get him back,” Smart said. “[Marcus] Rosemy is just an ankle–we don’t know how fast it’s going to turn around, but we’re certainly hopeful to get him back. Arian [Smith] ... has been bothered by a shin contusion that he had prior to the South Carolina game. He’s been working his way back and we got good recovery by not taking him last week, and we’re hopeful he’s able to go this week.”

Preparing for Arkansas

On Arkansas, Smart emphasized that this year’s team is very different from the one Georgia defeated 37-10 in the 2020 season opener and had high praise for defensive coordinator Barry Odom’s defense.

“Make no mistake about it, this is not the Arkansas that we played last year,” Smart said. “Those guys up front, he’s got three transfers. They are extremely physical and they create an immense amount of problems for the people they play. They will not be taken lightly by this group because they are doing an incredible job of creating problems for offenses.”

Linebacker Nakobe Dean echoed Smart’s sentiments on Arkansas, noting that Georgia needs to be ready to match the physicality of the Razorbacks.

"This is the kind of game that we here at Georgia look for, a game that we can be physical,” Dean said. “We pride ourselves on our toughness and physicality. I am sure everyone on the team is excited for the game as I am.”

Smart emphasised the need for an energetic atmosphere in spite of the early kickoff, imploring the fans in Sanford stadium to bring the noise.

“That’s the challenge that’s issued to our fans to prepare for [a noon kickoff] and to be able to help us because you know we got this game at home,” Smart said. “So, that’s supposed to be an advantage and we got to try and make it an advantage.”

The last time Georgia lost at home was against South Carolina in 2019, a game that also kicked off at noon.

Asked about that loss to South Carolina, Dean said he thought this year’s team is better prepared for a noon game, having kicked off against Vanderbilt at that time last week.

“I feel like the energy was alright [for the 2019 South Carolina game] but we could’ve had more,” Dean said. “This year, us already having a 12 o’clock start under our belt and knowing what we have to do for that game, I know we’re going to be good.”

Looking for big plays in the run game

Georgia had a statistically good day running the football against Vanderbilt with 241 rushing yards, but has still struggled to create big plays in the ground game. Smart said he thought it was the same way last season, and emphasized the importance of efficiency.

“You’ve got to be run efficient, and we’ve been run efficient,” Smart said. “But for our rushing average, and our run efficiency, we've been on par with where we should be. We just haven't been explosive. And I would love to be explosive but it’s not more important than being efficient.”

Wide receiver Ladd McConkey had Georgia's longest run of the season with his 24-yard score on a reverse against Vanderbilt. James Cook’s 23-yard touchdown against South Carolina is the longest run by a Georgia running back this season.

Sophomore Warren McClendon acknowledged that the offense has struggled to produce big runs, and the line as a whole needs to do a better job getting to the second level on their blocks.

“Big runs are hard to get,” McClendon said. “Just the little things we have to work on to get to them, just linebackers and just finishing blocks and stuff like that.”