Playing the full 60 minutes was a requirement last season for the Georgia Bulldogs.
All eight of their victories in 2016 were decided by two touchdowns or less, as were four of their five losses. Only a 45-14 early-season setback at Ole Miss got out of hand for Georgia, which is going through a very different experience in Kirby Smart's second year as head coach.
Through their 6-0 start entering this week's contest against visiting Missouri, the Bulldogs have won five games by at least three touchdowns, which has resulted in prominent fixtures such as tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and outside linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter sitting out the fourth quarters of games.
"It's nice," Chubb said after last Saturday's 45-14 throttling of Vanderbilt. "Sony and I have done some calculations, and we've missed one quarter from like five games, so that's more than a game we've missed. It's been great.
"It keeps us fresh, and it gives the young guys playing time. It's working out well for us right now."facebook
There was no such scenario last year, when the Bulldogs pulled out last-second triumphs over Missouri and Kentucky and suffered last-second defeats against Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech. Georgia's most comfortable win a year ago came in the 35-21 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette, a game the Bulldogs led 35-7 midway through the fourth quarter, and even the expected feasting on FCS-member Nicholls resulted in a 26-24 escape.
Georgia's only close call this season has been the 20-19 win at Notre Dame on Sept. 9, with the Bulldogs having opened Southeastern Conference play the past three weeks with routs of Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt by a combined 117-17.
"You know, it can help and hurt," Smart said. "If you don't play in tight ballgames, sometimes guys get tight when you do have to play in them. We certainly had our fair share of those last year. It seemed like every game was that way.
"It helps the development of our team, should we have an injury or a situation where a guy's got to go in and play. We now have some experience, which we didn't get last year, so there are positives and negatives."
Georgia is a 30.5-point favorite this week against Barry Odom's Tigers, who have yet to defeat a Bowl Subdivision team this season. The Bulldogs are off next week before facing Florida in Jacksonville, where Georgia has lost 21 of the last 27 meetings with the Gators, including the past three by a combined score of 89-33.
The stars of the Bulldogs may play all four quarters in that one regardless of what the scoreboard is showing.
"Honestly, I would rather be out there for all 60 minutes," Carter said, "but Coach Smart is the man with the plan, and he decides when we stop playing. We're deep into SEC play now, so I don't see too many more of these games."
Said junior inside linebacker Roquan Smith: "I think it's always nice getting younger guys reps. They're preparing for the reps day in and day out during the week, so it's awesome when your young guys can make some plays for themselves."
Odds and ends
Junior defensive tackle Trenton Thompson (knee sprain) and senior inside linebacker Reggie Carter (undisclosed injury) were not spotted at Tuesday's practice during the portion that was open to the media. ... Senior outside linebacker Davin Bellamy continues to wear a club on his hand. ... Smart after Tuesday's practice when asked in a news conference about quarterback Jacob Eason: "I think he's doing a good job. He's very mature, and he's handling things the right way."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.