Smart hopes resilient Georgia starts strong against Alabama

The resiliency demonstrated by No. 3 Georgia in second-half comeback wins over Arkansas and Tennessee makes coach Kirby Smart excited about the Bulldogs’ potential for a special season.

Smart just wishes the comebacks had not been necessary.

Smart is hoping Georgia avoids yet another halftime deficit when it plays Saturday at No. 2 Alabama, where a come-from-behind win might be far more difficult.

The Bulldogs trailed Arkansas 7-5 at halftime and 10-5 in the third quarter before scoring the final 32 points in a 37-10 season-opening win on Sept. 26.

Last week, then-No. 14 Tennessee led Georgia 21-17 at halftime before the Bulldogs scored the final 27 points in a 44-21 win.

“It shows me what we can be if we do that the whole time,” Smart said Monday. “My focus is on why are we not doing that from the start. Why are we not executing better from the start and dominating the opponent instead of keeping people in the game? … I am proud of how they have responded. They responded by coming out and playing physical.”

Alabama coach Nick Saban also sees Georgia’s potential to be an “outstanding team,” especially on defense.

“This is probably one of the best teams in the country,” Saban said. “Kirby has done an outstanding job there. He’s got really good personnel. They play well in all phases of the game. Their defense is especially very, very good, probably the best defensive team in the country all the way around, when you talk about stopping the run, having good pass defense, getting off the field on third down.”

Georgia’s defense set the pace for last week’s rally. Tennessee’s running game netted a loss of one yard on 27 carries. Linebacker Monty Rice scored on a 20-yard fumble recovery to cap the comeback.

“At halftime we just talked to ourselves and told ourselves to stay positive,” said nose tackle Jordan Davis. “We’ve been in this position before. We never waver, we never falter. We just want to come out strong and make sure we got a stop, stop after stop after stop.”

The defense will be challenged by an Alabama offense led by running back Najee Harris, who ran for 206 yards and a school record-tying five touchdowns in last week’s 63-48 win over Mississippi.

The confidence gained from the rallies against Arkansas and Tennessee may be needed at Alabama.

“Just being able to come back when it goes tough and facing adversity, that’s something we really pride ourselves on around here,” left tackle Jamaree Salyer said Monday. “When it gets tough, when it gets hot outside, when it’s raining, when it’s humid, whatever the adversity may be, we really pride ourselves on being a team that can overcome adversity. I think we’ve proven that very well so far.”

Smart says a strong start will be especially important against the high-scoring Crimson Tide.

“We have to do a better job of dominating from start to finish,” Smart said. “That’s the focus, is how we can do that better.”

Smart said Georgia still hasn’t reached its potential, even in the dominant second-half comebacks.

“We still didn’t execute with certainty in the second half of those games,” he said. “Not the way that we’re capable of.”

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AP Sports Writer John Zenor contributed to this report.

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