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Georgia Football

Why Is Kirby Smart, UGA Football So Successful On The Road?

November 14, 2023

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ATHENS - Kirby Smart and the UGA Football team have another challenge ahead of them this weekend.

Playing on the road in the SEC. Smart says it every time the Bulldogs play in a tough road environment.

“Guys, it’s hard to play on the road in the SEC. I’ve told ya’ll a hundred times. It’s really tough to play on the road in this league.”

Or something like that.

He’s right, but it’s not something Georgia’s done a ton of this year. They’ll be playing in a hostile road environment for just the second time this season. The first time was against Auburn, and you could make the case that was Georgia’s biggest fight so far this season. That was a terrific environment, and Neyland Stadium should be just as wild with the top-ranked Bulldogs coming to town.

The last time Georgia lost on the road during the regular season was when they lost to Alabama in Tuscaloosa back in 2020. This team knows how to play well on the road, and Kirby Smart spoke this week about what it takes to play at a high level in a tough road environment.

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“You’ve got to find ways to run the ball. You can't sit there and think you're going to be able to just throw it every down and win the game. You’ve got to win the line of scrimmage. The keys to winning on the road are the same as keys to winning at home. It's just more difficult. I mean, it doesn't change. The game doesn't change. You’ve got to be able to take a punch. You’ve got to be able to take momentum changes. But the people in the stands aren't playing in the game. So, the outside elements of all the undisciplined penalties and all those things, we try really hard to avoid those when we go on the road, because they're self-inflicted wounds sometimes. But that's the challenge. The challenge is win the line of scrimmage, win the turnover battle, win the explosive battle. And you do that by blocking and tackling people.”

Georgia’s good at all those things. Not only are they disciplined, committing just 44 penalties in 10 games (10th best in the country), but they also tackle well (9th in total defense nationally), and will bring the nation’s No. 5 total offense with them to Knoxville.

Tough, physical, disciplined football. That’s how you win on the road, and those are three components that have built this team and this program.

They don’t get rattled. They can play in the noise. They can take some punches on the road and fight back. That’s how you stay undefeated. You do whatever it takes to win, and only special teams can get the job done consistently. 

This is another opportunity for the Bulldogs to make a big statement across the country. To go up to Knoxville, in that environment, and come out with another top-25 victory late in the season. 

Tennessee doesn’t have much to play for anymore, but make no mistake, this is still a giant game. Tennessee isn’t a traditional rival, but this game means a lot to a lot of people. This is revenge for the 90s. This six-game win streak over Tennessee is Georgia’s longest in the series, and Smart wants to make it seven in a row this weekend.

“It's a big game every year we play Tennessee, because it's a big game”, Smart said. “They're a good program, and we're a good program, and the two are going to match up. So as far as our focus on it, our players respect the hell out of Tennessee. They know how hard it is to play them. We had to play them up there two years ago, and it's tough. It's a tough prep. So, we'll be focused.”

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Series Flashback: Bulldogs Wins Historic Meeting On Dooley Field

The 2022 contest in Athens marked the first 1-2 (Associated Press ranking) matchup in Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium history and was just the third ever top five matchup. The Bulldogs, No. 1 in the polls but No. 3 in the initial CFP rankings, faced off against Tennessee who was No. 1 in the CFP. Along with CBS broadcasting the game, ESPN College GameDay and SEC Nation were all in Athens. Georgia emerged with a 27-13 victory. UT entered the contest ranked No. 1 in the county in points per game (49.4). Georgia’s defense limited them to 289 yards on 75 plays.

The Bulldogs lead the all-time series with UT 27-23-2 including winning the past six meetings. This is the longest streak of Bulldog success in the series. The Bulldogs are 6-1 against the Vols under Kirby Smart, the lone defeat coming in 2016 on a Hail-Mary by Josh Dobbs in Athens. He completed a 43-yarder to Jauan Jennings as time expired to lift No. 11 Tennessee past No. 25 Georgia 34-31.

Balance Signals Success

The Bulldogs are one of only three teams in the country who are ranked in the top 10 in both Scoring Offense and Scoring Defense. The Bulldogs rank sixth in Scoring Defense at 15.6 ppg and sixth in Scoring Offense at 40.6 ppg. The other two teams are Michigan (10-0) and SMU (8-2).

One of the keys to Georgia’s success is its third down defense. The Bulldogs are ranked seventh nationally with opponents converting just 28 percent of the time. In SEC action, Georgia opponents are a combined 26-for-84 on third downs (28 percent). The Bulldogs lead the country in converting third downs (56 percent). Georgia has converted 47 of 86 third downs (55 percent) against league opponents.

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