Kirby Smart consistently challenged the Georgia fanbase to be “ELITE” this week by showing up early, loud and electric. Sanford Stadium was absolutely rocking by the time kickoff came around with Lee Corso picking the Bulldogs to win on ESPN’s College Gameday in front of a full stadium.
The team on the field was certainly elite when the game started too. Once again, the No. 2 Bulldogs got out to a hot start, scoring 21 first-quarter points by excelling on offense, defense and special teams.
“I think it’s Coach Smart and all the coaches and us believing that we’re not good enough to not take teams seriously,” said Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett on the early mentality in games. “Every single week, we go in and we focus and we watch film. We think that that other team is good enough to beat us so we gotta be good enough to beat them and we go out there and execute. The problem is now when we get off to those hot starts, keep going with them.”
Georgia has scored 91 first-quarter points in its last four games, outscoring opponents by 85 points in first quarters this year. Most of those touchdowns have been through the air this season, but Georgia’s run game finally broke out against the No. 8 Razorbacks’ interesting defense.
Arkansas often goes with only three down linemen on the line of scrimmage defensively, relying on the athleticism of its linebackers and defensive backs to come downfield to make plays. The Bulldogs adjusted their offense to the Razorbacks style of defense and ran for a season-high 273 yards on the ground.
“The best teams I’ve ever been around can take on the personality of what they need to take on,” said Smart after the game. “I’m proud of the offensive line. I’m proud of the offensive coaching staff. We did an incredible job of game-planning against what is a very good defense, in my opinion.”
Georgia’s raucous atmosphere also deserves credit for the early pressure that the Bulldogs applied to Arkansas. The noise helped contribute to Arkansas’ 13 penalties that resulted in them losing 100 yards as well. Both Georgia’s players and coaches noticed the impact the crowd had on starting fast.
“The crowd today was amazing,” said defensive lineman Travon Walker. “It impacted the game a lot. Coming out, that first series just by them jumping offsides those two times back-to-back, it was kind of hard for us to hear… but that was very special for all the fans to be out that early.”
Even when the crowd simmered down, Georgia’s defense did not. Dan Lanning’s unit has pitched back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 2006, and back-to-back conference shutouts for the first time since 1980. Did something special happen that year too?
It also marked the first time that Georgia has shut out a top-10 opponent since they shut out Bear Bryant’s 1976 Alabama squad at Sanford Stadium. Players on Georgia’s defense have kept the same mentality, allowing them to succeed regardless of the time and score.
“We play to a standard that we have to uphold if we’re up by 60 or, God forbid, we’re down by 60,” said linebacker Nakobe Dean. “We play to a standard and everybody is expected to uphold that standard no matter who’s on the field.”
Georgia (5-0, 3-0) and its touted defense will now have to face the first hostile environment that the Bulldogs will see this year on the plains in Auburn. There will be questions about Georgia getting more conservative down the stretch with play calling and who will be the starting quarterback for next week’s game.
However, the Bulldogs resoundingly proved that they can score early and often and the defense can dominate from start to finish in an important win over an Arkansas Razorbacks team that looked like anything but the eighth-best team in the country.