ATHENS — Kirby Smart has built a machine at Georgia, to the extent opposing coaches like Shane Beamer openly admit they can’t find a weakness.
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But when Smart looks across the field and into his own team huddles on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in South Carolina, he recognizes challenges, even as his team is a monstrous road favorite.
For openers, it’s an SEC road game, and there’s always the potential for difficulty if players don’t handle the environment adequately.
Smart sounded confident in his team’s ability to handle the daytime crowd, the game kicking off shortly after noon on Saturday (TV: ESPN).
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“Playing on the road in the SEC is one of the toughest environments there is,” Smart said. “Our freshmen group, this will be the first time getting to see that raucous and rude rival and white towels.
“It is something that our kids embrace and look forward to playing in that environment.”
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Smart noted other tests his team will face, too.
The South Carolina quarterback is one of the better talents Georgia will face and poses an immediate threat to defenses.
“He’s an extremely good athlete with an arm where he can throw it about 75 or 80 yards,” Smart said. “When you have a guy that can scramble and make plays in the pocket and distribute the ball to a really good wide receiving corps, it creates difficulty.
“He’s played a lot of football, so I always think the game starts when you look at the quarterback of each team, and you talk about starts, experiences, passes, atmospheres played in, he’s done that.”
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Georgia Front Seven
The Bulldogs lost four first-round picks and the Butkus Award-winner out of their front seven and are still growing to the extent teams will test them.
“They need to get under the lights, make calls, and make things happen unexpectedly to them and react to those things,” Smart said, asked about the development of his fresh starters at inside linebacker.
“There is not an offense this year that we are going to play that is going to run the plays the way they did the week before. They’re going to move people around, and then tweak and hide things. You have to play on principle.”
The defensive line, Smart said, has to finish plays better and that certainly applies Saturday against Rattler.
“They’ve affected the quarterback, (but) I would say I wish we finished a little better on the ones that we’ve had that got away,” Smart said. “They had free runners and didn’t finish. Our goal is usually to bat 60 to 70 percent on free runs, because you’re not going to get them all.”
Gamecocks’ pass attack
South Carolina has better pass game personnel than Oregon, although not as good of an offensive line.
“They have some really big wide outs and some challenging guys to cover, (so) we will have to play well,” Smart said. “There are two or three ways to look at that. You have to affect the quarterback. It is not just covering people. It is how do you disguise? How do you rush the passer? How do you affect the quarterback? Can you negate big plays and run after catch?
“They have some great big guys who can catch the ball and run with it afterwards.. They certainly have a tremendous quarterback and a tremendous skillset out there on the perimeter to get the ball to.”
Antwane Wells leads the Gamecocks and the SEC with 244 yards receiving this season, while Josh Vann — who had 3 catches for 128 yards in last year’s meeting — is off to a slower start with just one catch this season.