No. 5 Georgia's focus to be tested in visit from UMass
By CHARLES ODUM
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) There's never been a better time for Kirby Smart to tell his Georgia players the focus is on them, not the opponent.
It's a much-repeated mantra for the Georgia coach that should hit home with players as they begin preparation for Saturday's visit from UMass.
After completing a stretch of seven straight Southeastern Conference games, including last week's 27-10 win over Auburn , No. 5 Georgia (9-1, No. 5 CFP) will close its regular season with nonconference games against UMass and Georgia Tech.
Players might be tempted to look ahead to the Dec. 1 SEC championship game against No. 1 Alabama even before the state rivalry game against Georgia Tech.
It could be even more difficult to remain locked in on the Bulldogs' first game against the Minutemen. The opening betting line listed Georgia favored by 45 points for its first meeting with UMass.
Smart recognizes focus could be a challenge this week.
"I think that's leadership," Smart said Monday. "I think we'll find out a lot about our team this week because it's never about who we're playing. ... I've told you all every week that it's not about Florida, it's not about Kentucky. It's not really about them. It's just about how we work, because we worry about us. And that way when you get to this week, it's not different. And we focus on us."
UMass (4-7) is coming off a 35-16 home loss to Brigham Young . The Minutemen lost at Boston College 55-21 on Sept. 1 in their only game this season against a Power Five team.
It is clear Smart's players have practiced their answers about not looking ahead.
"The next one is the biggest one," said wide receiver Tyler Simmons.
Bigger than Alabama?
"I wouldn't say it's the biggest one, but it's the biggest one right now," Simmons said with a smile.
"We take every game like any other one. Like Auburn, like Alabama, we're going to take UMass the same way."
Georgia has won three straight games, including against No. 15 Florida and No. 20 Kentucky, since its only loss at No. 10 LSU on Oct. 13.
The Bulldogs' biggest motivator the next two weeks is to protect their national championship hopes. Quarterback Jake Fromm doesn't want to see the Bulldogs stumble against UMass.
"The team has definitely taken strides right now," Fromm said. "You can tell with the caliber of opponents we've been playing and how well we've been able to run the ball and play as a team. The defense has been playing real well now stopping the run and getting off on third down. Let's just keep going, keep chopping away at it and hopefully it can pay off for us."
This could be a week where Smart gives more playing time to backup players, though he said, "I think that's a large assumption."
Apparently that assumption has made its way through the roster.
"I've heard the buzz a little bit about young guys being excited to play," Simmons said. "... I know they look forward to it a lot. ... It's just good to have a chance to see them play."
NOTES: Georgia could have a patchwork offensive line for the game. Smart said RG Kendall Baker, who left the win over Auburn with an apparent left knee injury, and OT Cade Mays are day to day with injuries. C Lamont Gaillard, who left the game in the fourth quarter, and LG Ben Cleveland also have battled injuries. ... LB Brenton Cox may return this week after missing the game with an ankle injury. ... Georgia announced home-and-home series against Clemson (2029-30) and Texas (2028-29). Fromm said playing at Texas "would be pretty fun. ... They're a great program and going into that kind of house and that kind of place I'm sure would be awesome."
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Updated November 12, 2018