Over the course of Kirby Smart’s first four seasons at Georgia, there aren’t many games he hasn’t won. He’s won a Rose Bowl, an SEC championship, beaten Notre Dame twice and defeated Florida three times running.
But when No. 4 Georgia travels to No. 12 Auburn, Smart will get a fourth crack at something he’s never done with the Bulldogs: beat an SEC West opponent on the road.
Smart is 0-3 in his career in away games against SEC West opposition, and none of the games have been close. His teams have been outscored 121-47 across all three losses.
In 2016, it was a 45-14 blowout at then-No. 21 Ole Miss. The next year, then-No. 10 Auburn ended the Bulldogs’ perfect season in a 40-17 beatdown in Jordan-Hare Stadium. Last year, Georgia fell victim to the other SEC West Tigers in Death Valley, losing 36-16 to then-No. 13 LSU.
“I would chalk it up to good teams,” Smart said. “The teams we’ve played have been good. [We] haven’t figured out a way to win one, and we’ve got to do that.”
That’s true for the LSU and Auburn losses. Both of those teams finished with at least 10 wins the year they beat Georgia. But the same can’t be said for the defeat at the hands of the Rebels in 2016.
After handling the Bulldogs in Oxford, Mississippi, Ole Miss lost its next three games to Arkansas, LSU and Auburn and limped to a 5-7 record after losing quarterback Chad Kelly to a season-ending injury.
But regardless of how these teams’ seasons ended up, there’s an ominous theme between Georgia’s recent disappointments out West. Just like this season’s matchup against Auburn, Georgia was the higher-ranked team in all three of those losses.
Georgia linebacker Monty Rice believes there’s an added level of difficulty when traveling to the west side that has given the Bulldogs fits.
“It’s a different type of environment [in the SEC West],” Rice said. “There’s some hostile environments in the East, but the West, they’re a little different over there.”
In 2017, Jordan-Hare Stadium was rocking to the tune of 87,451 screaming Auburn faithful when Georgia came to town. And last season, with a hostile crowd of over 102,000, the Bulldogs found out why LSU’s Tiger Stadium is called Death Valley.
“Oh, LSU last year — that was crazy,” defensive lineman Michael Barnett said. “Their whole fan base was wild.”
The Bulldogs are undefeated away from home this season, having beaten Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Florida. But like Rice said, the SEC West is different.
“Did you watch Alabama-LSU on Saturday?” Rice said. “Did you see the last time we went to Auburn [and] how crazy it was? No offense to Vanderbilt, but Vanderbilt’s stadium wasn’t like that. That’s the difference.”