It’s far too early for Georgia players to pay attention to their No. 4 ranking.
That’s the message from coach Kirby Smart, who on Monday offered the reminder the undefeated Bulldogs are only halfway to the finish line.
Smart said he’d talk to his players about maintaining focus on Saturday’s Southeastern Conference game against Missouri.
To illustrate his cautionary point, Smart referenced Justin Gatlin’s 100-meter win over Usain Bolt at the IAAF World Championships this summer.
He said he wouldn’t mention his team’s spot in the AP Top 25 poll .
“There’s really no difference because none of it matters,” Smart said. “All we talk about is a race. The race is after the 50-meter mark and that’s where the race is. I don’t know one person that ever talked about Gatlin being ahead of Bolt at the 50-meter mark. Nobody cares about that.
“They only care about where you finish and they only care about what you do next. That’s our objective, to do what’s next.”
It may be tempting for Georgia players to at least glance at the polls and Southeastern Conference standings after last weekend’s developments.
While the Bulldogs cruised to a 45-14 win at Vanderbilt , then-No. 4 Oklahoma lost to Iowa State, clearing the way for Georgia to move up one spot. Also, Florida’s loss to LSU left Georgia (6-0, 3-0 SEC) alone at the top of the SEC East.
Georgia players insisted they are not looking ahead at their chances for a spot in the SEC championship game or College Football Playoff.
“We don’t really listen to all the hype and outside noise,” said linebacker Roquan Smith. “We just focus on each other and everything that we do day in and day out. … You always hear types of things like that, but we’re just keeping our heads level.”
Senior tight end Zeb Blazevich said he hears no talk from his teammates about where the Bulldogs stand in the SEC and national races.
“We have a chance to continue reaching our goals but it all starts with winning Monday, having a good practice and prepping for Missouri,” Blazevich said.
“We’re not worried about what people are saying because I think we have a lot of humility around here, which is helping, and we have a lot of internal criticism of how we can get better. Nobody is the perfect player. Nobody has reached their peak yet and I think that is helping us.”
Internal criticism? From the top, perhaps?
Smart offered stinging criticism of his “horrible” defense when the Bulldogs led Vanderbilt 21-7 at halftime. The defense ranks second in the nation, allowing 10 points per game, but a poor performance on Vanderbilt’s only touchdown drive of the half earned the rebuke from Smart.
Blazevich said Smart isn’t the only voice to keep the Bulldogs grounded.
“That’s from all over,” Blazevich said. “We hold guys accountable around here and I think that’s a beautiful thing. We definitely push guys to be their best and we’re not there yet and I think that’s motivating all of us.”
NOTES: DT Trenton Thompson (sprained knee ligament) is “running some” and has not been ruled out after missing the Vanderbilt game, according to Smart. Backup linebacker Reggie Carter (concussion) could return this week. Also, WR Michael Chigbu (shoulder) is expected to return after missing the Vanderbilt game.