For the University of Georgia football team and senior defensive lineman Michael Barnett, they have an “unfinished goal” of winning the SEC Championship title and what would likely mean being selected as one of the four teams in the 2019 College Football Playoffs. However, standing in their way is an undefeated LSU squad. On Monday, Barnett talked about the challenge the Bulldogs faced going up against LSU for the conference title.
“Going into a game like this is really about honing in on your fundamentals. If you focus on the little things, the big things will come,” said Barnett. “As a defensive line, we’re supposed to know what we’re doing up front. Linebackers making the right calls and safeties making the right adjustments. If we’re all in the right place, good things will come.”
And how does Barnett evaluate Bayou Bengal’s offense and what they do well?
“I feel like their offense is well rounded. They pass the ball really well, their receivers know where to be, their quarterback knows where they’re going to be. Timing is really well. Their running game is good. Their running back number 22 [Clyde Edwards-Helaire] is really good. Their offensive line is pretty solid up front,” said Barnett.
LSU’s offense is No. 2 nationally when it comes to putting up points on the scoreboard, averaging 48.7 points per game. The Tigers are also top two in the country in total offensive yardage output with 560.4 yards per game. Part of that success comes from their ability to convert third-downs. LSU is No. 8 nationally, converting 1 out of every 2 third-down opportunities, a 50% clip. And the Tigers make the most of their trips into the red zone, scoring over 96% of the time, one of the top two teams in the country doing so.
But despite that seemingly monumental task of taking on such a challenge, Barnett said it is something that the Dawgs have to embrace.
“You have to embrace the challenge because if you don’t embrace the challenge, then what are you doing?” said Barnett. “You are just out there playing. No. You just have to embrace the challenge and go face it headfirst.”
Bulldawg Illustrated editor, Vance Leavy, asked Barnett to share his thoughts on how disciplined and even-keeled the Georgia defense has been this season and how that will translate on Saturday as they face the challenge of trying to slow down and stop LSU’s offense.
“Coach Smart preaches about that all time, ‘Don’t be selfish. Don’t do anything to hurt the team,’ ” said Barnett. “You see some guys celebrating, doing this and that… You’re supposed to make the tackle. You’re supposed to be in that gap. You’re supposed to be in a certain coverage. You’re supposed to be this area. So if we’re doing your job then all the other things are going to happen.”
Barnett added, “At the end of the day, we have an unfinished goal and that’s to win the SEC and make it to the playoffs. We’re just focusing on what we need to focus on which is our fundamentals and technique and executing our plays at a high clip.
Barnett was also asked whether or not being an underdog against the Tigers was a motivation.
“Ever since the year started, I feel like people have been counting Georgia out,” said Barnett. “So this is like, ‘What’s new?’ People have been saying all year that we weren’t going to win, even when we were playing well and were favored, and then people started hopping on the train. It’s really about focusing on us and doing what we need to execute.”
Head coach Kirby Smart was asked a similar question during Monday’s UGA football press conference.
“No, we really don’t bring that up. What we worry about is what do we have to do to execute well. And I don’t get into who is favored by how many or underdogs. It’s just not important because the people that make those decisions aren’t in this room,” said Kirby. “They’re not, like, in our meeting rooms, they’re not in our meetings, they don’t go there through our practices. So we try to control what we can control with how we practice and how we get ready. And as many of the games we’re favored in, it doesn’t matter, so if you’re not favored in it probably doesn’t matter either.”
So will Michael Barnett and Georgia be up to the challenge? We will find out this Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA at 4:00 p.m. ET after four quarters of play and the clock hits 00:00.