5 things to know about the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs’ night game Saturday vs. UAB

Under red lights, Georgia fans light up the stadium at the start of the fourth quarter in an NCAA football game at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, September 2, 2023, in Athens. Georgia won 48-7 over UT Martin. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

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Under red lights, Georgia fans light up the stadium at the start of the fourth quarter in an NCAA football game at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, September 2, 2023, in Athens. Georgia won 48-7 over UT Martin. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Credit: Jason.Getz@ajc.com

ATHENS — “It’s Saturday night in Athens!”

Georgia fans are looking forward to hearing legendary P.A. announcer Brook Whitmire add that wrinkle to his trademark phrase before the rare night kickoff at Sanford Stadium. The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs (3-0) are playing host to Alabama-Birmingham (1-2) in a 7:30 p.m. game that will air on ESPN2.

Georgia did not play a night game at home last season and have had very few after-dark kickoffs in Athens in recent years. That has been frustrating for the Bulldogs’ faithful, who have come to embrace the red LED lights and “Light Up Sanford” tradition that started with the Notre Dame game in 2019.

Technically, Georgia already had a night game this year when it kicked off the season opener against Tennessee-Martin at 6 p.m. But it was still quite sunny – and hot – at the beginning of that one and barely dark for the third- to fourth-quarter transition when the Bulldogs show off their lights. This Saturday, temperatures should be hovering around 70 under when toe meets leather and a 7:30 p.m. sunset means almost the entirety of the game will be played under a waxing crescent moon.

The waiting around can be tough, but Georgia players like late starts, too.

“You don’t have to have your mad-dog face on at 12 o’clock,” junior receiver Domonic Lovett quipped. “You can come in, kick back with your teammates a while, watch some games. I probably won’t start locking in until about 4-ish.”

Here are five other considerations for Saturday’s game:

Kirby Smart’s 100th game

Saturday is expected to be a milestone day for Georgia coach Kirby Smart. With a victory – and with the Bulldogs a 42-point favorite, it’s expected – Smart will become the coach with the most wins in his first 100 games at the same SEC school in conference football history. It would be his 85th victory in eight seasons at UGA.

Nick Saban won 84 of his first 100 games at Alabama, and Phil Fulmer was 83-17 in his first 100 at Tennessee. Even the great Bear Bryant won only 81 of his first 100 games at Alabama, though his mark also includes seven ties.

Smart was unaware of the landmark game when informed of it Wednesday.

“It’s one of those things, if you do a good job and recruit good players and you have a good organization and good support, it allows you to make it to that number,” he said. “I certainly want to go out and play our best game.”

The late Vince Dooley won the most games at Georgia, going 201-77-10 over 25 seasons through 1988. Mark Richt (145-51) and Wally Butts (140-86-9) are the only others to go past 100 for the Bulldogs.

Streak watch

Records continue to fall during Georgia football’s current run.

The Bulldogs, who are 32-1 over the past three seasons, lead the nation with 22 consecutive regular-season victories during that stretch. Overall, Georgia has won 20 games in a row, which is a school record. The previous mark was 17 consecutive games over the 1945-47 seasons.

Georgia is enjoying a school-record streak of 30 consecutive regular-season victories that dates to a 31-24 home triumph over Mississippi State on Nov. 21, 2020. The Bulldogs’ mark of 21 consecutive wins at home is the best such streak in the nation. They took over on that streak when Alabama fell at home to Texas earlier this season, ending a 22-game run.

Georgia needs to win its next three home games to match the school record set. The 1980-83 teams won 24 consecutive at Sanford Stadium. The UGA mark for consecutive SEC wins also was set in 1983 at 23 consecutive. The Bulldogs will have to get by Auburn on The Plains on Sept. 30 and Kentucky at home on Oct. 7 to match that mark.

Walking wounded

The Bulldogs will remain shorthanded versus UAB. Ron Courson, Georgia’s director of sports medicine, informed Smart this week the list of injured players is the longest of Smart’s tenure. Depending on who might come back Saturday against the Blazers, the number stood at 15 scholarship players.

Among those, the most notable absences include flanker Ladd McConkey (back), offensive tackle Amarius Mims (ankle), safety Javon Bullard (ankle) and running back Kendall Milton (knee). Bullard and Milton are positioned for possible returns. However, with a road game at Auburn to start a stretch of seven consecutive SEC games next week, expect the Bulldogs to approach the day conservatively.

With the starting right tackle Mims out 4-6 weeks following tight-rope surgery, Georgia is expected to fill in with senior Xavier Truss. Normally the left guard, Truss finished the South Carolina game at right tackle and played well. Sophomore Dylan Fairchild took over at left guard, but the Bulldogs were experimenting this week with multiple combinations. The availability of backup tackle Austin Blaske (MCL), who missed the past two games, also will factor in.

Shoring up on defense

Giving up any scores bothers Georgia’s defenders. But what really chaps them is opponents running the football for touchdowns, or just running the ball period.

The Bulldogs typically are tough on defense this season. But through three games there are indications they might not be as suffocating as the past two seasons.

Senior defensive tackle Zion Logue played a role on those squads, and he’s thoroughly disgusted with what has transpired so far this season.

“It just makes your stomach sick,” Logue said this week. “We show our standings every week, and with us being fifth in rushing defense right now, it makes me sick. I want to fix it right now, but I can’t fix it till Saturday.”

Through three games last season, Georgia had allowed only one touchdown and a field goal, or 3.3 points per game. This season, the Bulldogs gave up 132 yards rushing to Tennessee-Martin and a pair of touchdowns to South Carolina, one those coming on a – gasp! – 2-yard run.

Georgia allowed only seven rushing TDs all of last season and only three in 2021. The Bulldogs led the nation against the run last season (77.1 ypg). They’re allowing 10 yards more per game (87.3) so far this season.

The goal against UAB on Saturday is clear.

“Folks don’t score on us; coaches are harping on that,” linebacker Xavian Sorey said. “Monday, we went to the doctor, cleaned everything up and watched film. We try to not let anybody in the end zone.”

Seeing red

Better scoring in the red zone is the offense’s goal. The Bulldogs failed to get into end zone on three of six trips inside South Carolina’s 20 on Saturday. That included two missed field-goal attempts.

An intense competition between kickers Peyton Woodring, who is 4-of-7 this season, and Jared Zirkel was waged in practice this week. Woodring, a freshman, has missed field-goal attempts from 27, 28 and 43 yards. He beat out the junior Zirkel in preseason camp.

The return of Daijun Edwards to Georgia’s backfield also should help the cause. Edwards missed the season’s first two games. Wearing a brace on his sprained right knee, he came back against South Carolina and rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.

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