One of the story-lines that has been building this 2019 college football season for Georgia is their big regular-season home game against non-conference opponent Notre Dame on September 21st. As the game looms closer, the energy and hype, the “outside noise” surrounding the game has grown exponentially; so, one of the big questions this week has that “hype” affected the Bulldogs?
Redshirt freshman outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari‘s comments in his Tuesday post-practice interview should put that question to rest. When asked about Saturday’s game versus the Fighting Irish, Ojulari had this to say.
“Every day, it’s getting closer and closer. We’re just trying to stay locked in at practice. We’re directing our focus to the game plan,” said Ojulari. “And just trying to eliminate any distractions and focus on Notre Dame.”
Of course, with Georgia ranked No. 3 and Notre Dame No. 7, the fact that the game is also a top-10 primetime matchup just intensifies the buzz around Saturday’s game. In turn, there was more media attention to start the week on Monday and Kirby Smart’s press conference and the player interviews. On top of that, ESPN’s College GameDay is set to come to Athens on Saturday. That means more cameras and more people to ask questions which means more distractions, but Coach Smart said the outside noise should not be a factor for the players during his Tuesday post-practice press conference.
‘’We have interviews with our players every week. Yeah, it’s a bigger game. Yeah, there are more people here,” said Coach Smart. “But the amount of time we commit to those people and those groups really is the same.”
“There’s more of them, and we try to manage it for them,” Kirby added. “Claude does a nice job of trying to bundle it together so that it’s 20 minutes at this one time instead of four times five minutes. That is what it is.”
And Georgia plays in the Southeastern Conference. There are big games every season in the SEC. For example, the Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville, FL or the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry with Auburn.
“We’ve talked to the kids about that. We’re kind of used to that,” said Kirby Smart. I mean, in the SEC you have that almost every week you play an SEC game, you have that kind of coverage.’’
On Monday, sophomore offensive lineman Cade Mays was asked if the “outside noise” ever becomes too much or overwhelming to block out.
“I don’t think it is impossible. We’ve been on the big stage before. We’ve played in huge games. A lot of guys that have played on this team have played in bigger games than even I have,” said Mays. “A lot of these guys went on that national championship run.”
“And we’ve been in big games before,” added Mays. “When Saturday comes, I think we’ll be able to block out all that outside stuff and just go play. It is just another football game. It’s another game on our schedule.”
Senior safety J.R. Reed and graduate transfer tight end Eli Wolf have echoed Mays and Ojulari as well as their Head Coach when asked about their ability and their teammates’ ability to stay focused on the task at hand. Wolf perhaps summed it up best during his Monday interview.
“I just stay laser-focused in my preparation. You won’t get nervous if you’re prepared for a game,” said Wolf. “and I think that’s the biggest point of the week going into it is preparation. If you’re prepared, you won’t be as nervous.”
Of course, those are just words. The proof will be in the pudding, but here is some food for thought. In Kirby Smart‘s Tuesday press conference, the Head Coach who is not often one to give out praise to the players and team often had this to say…
“I thought the kids pushed through it well and had a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” said Coach Smart. “I like the enthusiasm, but that’s to be expected. They’ve had a couple of weeks where they’ve been pushing through practice, and this one they’re obviously more excited for.”