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Saturday December 3rd, 2022 6:35PM

Defending champ Georgia downplays return to No. 1 in Top 25

By The Associated Press
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ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Defending national champion Georgia needed only two games to convince voters it should return to the top of the AP Top 25.

Coach Kirby Smart says September rankings are “never a big deal.”

“It only matters at the end of the year,” Smart said Monday, adding he is "a lot more worried about how we execute a combo block than I am worried about what we’re ranked. And hopefully the kids are the same way.”

The Bulldogs (2-0) are winning with defense, which was also their strength in winning their first national title since 1980. They have given up only three points in two games.

Georgia will try to continue its impressive defensive showing when it opens its Southeastern Conference schedule at South Carolina on Saturday.

Georgia was No. 1 for nine weeks last season, so offensive tackle Warren McClendon said the new ranking wasn't big news for the players.

“We really don’t pay attention to the ratings,” McClendon said. "We worry about getting better day-by-day and this upcoming game.”

Georgia was No. 3 in the preseason AP Top 25 and moved to No. 2 following its 49-3 rout of then-No. 11 Oregon to open the season. The Bulldogs then climbed to No. 1 in this week's poll, moving past Alabama following the Crimson Tide's 20-19 win over Texas.

Georgia has played dominant defense despite having eight players from the unit selected in this year's NFL draft, including five in the first round. Overall, Georgia had a record 15 players taken in the draft.

The defense took the lead again in Saturday's 33-0 win over Samford. Georgia gave up only 128 yards and three first downs and led 30-0 at halftime.

It was a dominant but not satisfactory win. Smart was unhappy the Bulldogs settled for four field goals. After scoring touchdowns on its first seven possessions against Oregon, Georgia had to kick field goals on its first two possessions against Samford after moving the ball inside the 10.

Smart called that offensive showing “a huge step back.”

The shutout of Samford impressed the Top 25 voters, but the stalled drives provided motivation for improvement.

“Last week I don’t think we played to our standard,” McClendon said before Monday's practice. "We have some things we need to fix, some things we need to prevent from happening and some pre-snap things we need to get better at. Just coming back in today, look at what we messed up on and get back to work.”

NOTE: WR Adonai Mitchell, who suffered a left ankle injury on Georgia's opening drive against Samford, was held out of practice, according to Smart. Mitchell has not been ruled out against South Carolina. “We’re hopeful that he’s able to make it,” Smart said.

___

More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/ap_top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://bit.ly/3pqZVaF

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