Georgia Bulldogs do their best SEC East work on the road

ST. LOUIS – “On The Road Again.”

UGA’s Redcoat Marching Band might consider playing that famous Willie Nelson tune as the No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs run onto Faurot Field for Saturday night’s game against Missouri (7:30 p.m., SEC Network) in Columbia, Mo.

There have been a lot of successful things about Kirby Smart’s seven-year tenure as Georgia’s head coach, but nothing has been more impeccable than the Bulldogs’ play inside the stadiums of their SEC Eastern Division opponents. Heading into Saturday’s contest, Georgia is 15-0 in those games over that span.

“We talk about it all the time, it’s tough to win on the road in the SEC,” Smart said this week, perhaps unaware of that statistic. “I have a lot of respect for (Missouri coach) Eliah (Drinkwitz), the job he’s done, what he does offensively and defensively. They do a good job. … But we’re looking forward to getting ready for these guys and going on the road in the SEC.”

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That road has been good to the Bulldogs, particularly when it takes them to Eastern Division venues. Georgia already has a 48-7 road win over South Carolina under its belt this season.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are especially motivated for Saturday’s quest. Not only are they looking to improve upon what they labeled as a “sub-standard” performance against Kent State in the last outing, but Georgia is getting to play a night game for the first time all season. The Bulldogs previous four games all were played in the afternoon, with the past two kicking off at noon.

“Night games, we love them,” junior offensive tackle Warren McClendon said. “The atmosphere there is going to be good, and shoot, I’m ready for it. After back-to-back 12-o’clock games, 7:30 is going to be nice.”

Said sophomore cornerback Kelee Ringo: “I like it. I like the energy. It’s going to be a tough stadium like any in the SEC East, and that’s whether it’s night, middle of the day or in the morning.”

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The Bulldogs have played incredibly well on the SEC East road regardless of kickoff time under Smart. Not only have they not lost any of the games, but generally, they haven’t been close. Georgia barely beat Missouri in Columbia in 2016, Smart’s first season. Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason hit Isaiah McKenzie for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 1:29 to play to lift the Bulldogs to a 28-27 win. They also pulled out a 27-24 victory at Kentucky that season.

Since then, Georgia is 12-0 on the road against the East, with an average margin of victory of 29.4 points.

Las Vegas seems to expect something similar this year. It has posted the Bulldogs as 28-point favorites over Missouri.

Not that Smart is completely oblivious to such things, but he most definitely pays them no attention. Lest we forget, Georgia was posted as a 45½-point favorite at home last week against Kent State. The Golden Flashes were a two-point conversion away from making that a one-possession game in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs came out with a 39-22 win. But it has been a while since Georgia laid an egg on the road. The closest an SEC East opponent has come in the past five-plus seasons was Kentucky in 2020. The Bulldogs came out of Lexington with 14-3 victory that year.

That phenomenon excludes Florida, of course. Georgia plays the Gators every year in Jacksonville. That’s considered a neutral site, but the Bulldogs are a much more modest 4-2 against Florida under Smart. However, Georgia has been similarly dominant in victory, winning by an average of 22 points and outscoring the Gators by 58, even with the two losses factored in.

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A lot of it that has to do with the Bulldogs fielding very talented teams these past six seasons. Georgia hasn’t finished outside the CFP’s top 10 during that span and was within the top five four times.

That said, the Bulldogs believe a lot of it comes down to preparation.

“Noise is always a big speed bump, but we work on it every day,” offensive lineman Tate Ratledge said. “We’re in our indoor (practice facility), and they’re blaring crowd noise in there. I still haven’t heard a stadium louder than that. So, we feel like if we’re comfortable playing in there, we can do it anywhere.”

Generally, noise hasn’t been a major factor at Memorial Stadium, which is the fourth-smallest venue in the SEC and features a rock garden at one end. But the fact that Georgia is drawing the Tigers for a rare night game will likely give the home team some extra “juice.”

Missouri’s past three games all kicked off at 11 a.m. locally. This one will be at 6:30 Central time. So while the Bulldogs are excited to play under the lights, so is their opponent.

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Georgia will have to be at its best.

“You’ve got to win the line of scrimmage,” Smart told Buck Belue on radio station The Fan on Thursday morning. “It starts with that. I say that all the time, but I think it’s even more so on the road. You don’t want to play a road game in a bunch of third-and-longs. You’ve got to be able to control the line of scrimmage on the road in the SEC.”

Therein, it seems, lies the key.