ATHENS, Ga. — Jonathan Ledbetter and Elijah Holyfield say No. 7 Georgia got just what it needed from a lopsided loss at LSU.
The defeat kept the Bulldogs humble during last week’s bye and allowed time to reflect on what went wrong and how to keep it from happening again.
Georgia (6-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) can’t afford another setback this week against No. 9 Florida (6-1, 4-1). If the Bulldogs plan on winning the East Division and repeating as league champions, they likely need to beat the Gators, Kentucky and Auburn to earn a trip back to Atlanta in early December.
“If we continue to do what we’re supposed to do and bounce back from that and handle the rest of the season the way we’re supposed to, then our destiny is in our hands,” Ledbetter said Monday. “We can be where we want to be. Everything is still ahead of us, like coach said.”
A loss to the Gators in their annual showdown at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville would make the task nearly impossible, but Holyfield says the team has too much talent and potential to let the season slip away.
“Everybody knows what’s at stake,” Holyfield said. “Everybody knows what we’re playing for. Everybody knows where we want to go. As long as everybody’s on the same page, and I think we are, I think we’re going to be fine.”
Georgia’s defense learned a hard lesson at LSU. It couldn’t get off the field, lining up for 81 snaps and getting gouged for 275 yards rushing on 51 attempts.
Facing an up-tempo attack kept the Bulldogs from substituting as much as they would have liked and exposed what coach Kirby Smart called a lack of conditioning, not a lack of effort.
“We’ve played a lot of players this year, and sometimes you can’t do that in (every game),” Smart said. “Sometimes when people go fast, go hurry-up, they keep the same guys in, and you have to be able to sustain and play longer.”
Ledbetter, a defensive end, put the onus on himself to make sure the Bulldogs get tougher against Florida. The Gators average 34 points per game and won their fifth straight two weeks ago at Vanderbilt as Lamical Perine and Jordan Scarlett combined for 234 yards rushing.
Georgia got pounded up front by LSU.
“Nothing against them, but we didn’t come out and execute like we’re supposed to,” Ledbetter said. “We weren’t physical enough. They came out and played a little bit harder than us. You might have thought you were playing pretty well, doing everything the right way, but there’s always room for improvement. You’ve got to fix those areas.”
The Bulldogs’ offense faces a challenge in protecting quarterback Jake Fromm and creating running lanes for Holyfield, D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien and James Cook. Florida averages three sacks per game and ranks third nationally with 18 takeaways. Its last three opponents have combined to convert just nine of 41 third-down chances.
Georgia’s running game was one of the few positive signs with 113 yards against LSU. The Bulldogs ran the ball 30 times, but not effectively enough to set up play-action passes. Fromm completed 16 of 34 passes with his receivers mostly covered up.
“It doesn’t really make us feel better about the loss, but it at least gives us a lot of hope moving forward still,” Holyfield said. “There’s a lot to look forward to and a lot to play for. Whoever wins this game is in the captain’s seat for the big one so that is a big thing for us, but you can’t see it as just that.
“You can’t have that as your main focus because it will just become a distraction.”
Smart wouldn’t commit to giving freshman Justin Fields more snaps at quarterback. He was under center for five plays against LSU, but his running ability would seem an easy way to disrupt Florida’s pass rush. Fields has averaged 7.6 yards on 18 attempts.
Fromm, though, is 18-3 as a starter and isn’t close to losing the job.
NOTES: Smart said Swift was expected to return to practice after missing time last week with a sprained ankle. … ILB Monty Rice’s knee is not completely healthy, but Smart expects he will play. … G Ben Cleveland (leg) and DE Davdi Marshall (foot) are out.