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Auburn serves as the latest hurdle in Georgia's path to the playoff

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Since Georgia last played a home game about a month ago, the Bulldogs suffered their first loss of the season to LSU, beat Florida and won the SEC East for the second consecutive year.

They traveled to three states, suffered injuries, triumphed over unwelcoming environments and celebrated their successes with locker room “yeets,” all in one month’s time.

Now the players are back in Athens to face Auburn on Nov. 10, and they aren’t worried about any of that.

“We know that winning the [SEC] East doesn’t mean that much,” Georgia safety J.R. Reed said on Nov. 5. “You know, it’s really nice to win the East two times in a row, but now it’s Auburn, and it’s on to the next team and whoever’s next after that. We just have to be where our feet are.”

The upcoming game against Auburn marks the eighth and final SEC game of the regular season for Georgia, and the longtime rivals will face off for the third time in a little over a calendar year after playing each other in last year’s SEC championship game. With the stretch of road games gone and a ticket to Atlanta punched, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has adopted a narrow focus centered completely on the Tigers.

“We know we have a chance to play for more things down the road, and we’re just looking forward to playing against a good team, executing and playing our best.”

- Elijah Holyfield, Georgia running back

Smart said the Bulldogs celebrated the Nov. 3 win over Kentucky for 24 hours, as is custom, but he also noted it wasn’t hard to shift the focus to what’s next. Georgia has more games behind it than it does ahead of it, but the one immediately ahead will be treated as the most important.

“[Auburn will] get your attention the minute you turn the tape on, because they’ve got an experienced quarterback who’s got an elite arm,” Smart said. “They’ve got a lot of really good wideouts that are talented, fast — extremely fast — and they’ve got a defense that has been there forever. There’s not anybody on our team that’s going to be worried about anything but Auburn because that’s the next task at hand.”

If Auburn’s up-tempo style of play doesn’t get Georgia’s attention, the 40-17 loss to the Tigers last year might serve as extra motivation heading into the regular season rematch. The Bulldogs already avenged that loss in the SEC Championship last season, though, and Smart said on Nov. 5 that making the game “psychological” won’t help anything if Georgia doesn’t practice well this week and execute come game time.

“We have enough motivation with what we have going this year,” running back Elijah Holyfield said. “We know we have a chance to play for more things down the road, and we’re just looking forward to playing against a good team, executing and playing our best.”

Auburn is 6-3 and eliminated from the race for the SEC West. Georgia looks to push its home winning streak to 11 games and remain in the College Football Playoff conversation.

Georgia already cleared eight of its nine hurdles this season entering the matchup with Auburn. But having already cleared eight hurdles doesn’t make clearing the next one any easier.

“Anything can happen, especially this week,” Reed said. “It’s not going to be a cakewalk when it comes down to rivalries . . . Predictions don’t matter, what they’ve done this season doesn’t matter and what we’ve done this season doesn’t matter. All that matters is Saturday.”

This article originally ran on redandblack.com.



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