Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart faces his old boss, Nick Saban, and the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2023 SEC championship game. Georgia will look to win a second consecutive SEC title on Dec. 2.
Georgia (12-0) would certainly make the College Football Playoff with a win. However, if Georgia loses, then the Bulldogs would likely miss out on the College Football Playoff. Alabama (11-1) needs to win the SEC championship and get some help to make the College Football Playoff for the first time since 2021.
Georgia won at Georgia Tech last week without several key players including tight end Brock Bowers. The Bulldogs are banged up heading into the SEC championship. What did Kirby Smart have to say ahead of the Alabama game?
On Julian Humphrey, Jamon Dumas-Johnson
Georgia linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson has been out for several weeks with a fractured forearm. Defensive back Julian Humphrey suffered an upper-body injury in recent weeks and has been out.
Still week to week with their injuries, trying to get both those guys back.
Kirby Smart is not divulging much injury information ahead of the SEC championship.
On what it means to win an SEC championship
Kirby Smart knows it is very tough to win a SEC championship.
I’ve coached most of my career in the SEC. So I have an appreciation for this game and how hard it is to win. I mean, it was no different my experience at Alabama, you know, we had a year that we won a National Championship that we didn’t win an SEC Championship.
On Georgia tight end Brock Bowers
Brock Bowers missed the Georgia Tech game with ankle soreness. He is questionable ahead of the Alabama game.
As far as (the game at Georgia Tech), Brock was probably the closest of being able to go of those guys (that didn’t play). Just didn’t feel as good as he had. He was a little sore. We wanted to be able to use him situationally, see what he could do if he felt comfortable with it… Nothing about who we’re playing or anything else. He’s got to be able to go compete at the highest level and be able to feel good about what he’s doing.
On Tate Ratledge's status
Georgia offensive guard Tate Ratledge missed the Georgia Tech game after suffering a knee injury against Tennessee. Ratledge is questionable for the SEC title game.
Tate, he may have, could have played (against Georgia Tech), but he wasn’t 100%. We’re hopeful to get him back.
On facing Nick Saban
Kirby Smart and Nick Saban coached together at LSU, with the Miami Dolphins, and most notably at Alabama from 2007-2015. The two combined to win a lot of national championships together.
Seems like you go against people you worked with more often I guess the older you get.
Kirby Smart’s coaching tree is only getting bigger at this point in his career. Georgia defensive backs coach Fran Brown is reportedly a top candidate for the Syracuse job.
I can’t say enough about the tremendous respect I have for him (Nick Saban), the job he’s done, how long he’s done it. People don’t really understand how hard it is to be consistently really good, consistently great. He’s accomplished that at the highest level to me. Our conference is certainly really tough and hard. He’s done it for every year he’s been there besides maybe the first.
On Rara Thomas and Ladd McConkey
Georgia wide receivers Ladd McConkey and Rara Thomas both missed the Georgia Tech game. Thomas is out with a foot injury. McConkey has been battling a back injury all season, but went down with an ankle injury against Ole Miss.
It’s going to be day to day. We just don’t know anything.
On former UGA wide receiver Jermaine Burton
Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe is at his best when going deep or extending plays. Milroe’s favorite target is former Georgia Bulldog Jermaine Burton. Burton has 33 receptions for 749 receiving yards and seven touchdowns this year.
I know he was a really good player when he was here. To be two years removed from that, the impact he had in that national championship game against Alabama, to have two years under his belt and grow as a player, we know how talented he is. Certainly has a lot of ability.
On facing Alabama and their talented team
Alabama has improved significantly throughout the season and especially after losing at home to Texas.
There’s no areas that you look at and go oh, that’s a weakness, or oh, they’re not very good at. They got really good football players. They’re well coached. Their special teams units, you see it. It pops out on the screen. They got starters all over it. So when you go to offense and you see Milroe and the leaders they have there, they’re really talented.
On Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe
Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe is hot coming into the SEC championship. Milroe has 14 total touchdowns and just one interception over the past four weeks.
He makes lots of plays, number one, with his athletic ability, but he makes them with his arm as well.
One reporter tried to compare Milroe to Tim Tebow, but Kirby Smart pointed out that they are quite different. Instead, he compares Milroe to Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
No offense to Tim Tebow, but this guy is different… I mean it’s like when I used to ask my sons who they were playing with on the Madden game, and they would say, I’m playing with the Ravens, and I would say, why are you playing with the Ravens? And they would say, I got Lamar Jackson and nobody can tackle him. Well, this guy’s a bigger, physical version of that. He’s playing in a different speed than everybody else when you watch it.
On Alabama's defense
Alabama has one of the best defenses in the SEC. Crimson Tide cornerback Terrion Arnold leads the SEC (tied) with five interceptions. Alabama has the No. 14 defense in the country and is allowing 17.9 points per game.
Size, speed, toughness, aggressiveness, multiple coverages, players that can play multiple positions. The depth across the defensive line is one of the things that pops out of you. They roll guys, and they constantly have fresh guys in there striking, playing blocks, playing with great toughness; really good at the star position, very experienced. Got two corners that are going to be drafted that are good players; play with great safeties.