With the matchup between Ohio State and Georgia in the College Football Playoff set, Kirby Smart shared his thoughts on the Buckeyes on Sunday.
The Georgia head coach was interviewed by ESPN's CFP selection show hosts Rece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit and Joey Galloway, among others, and said a talented Buckeye team awaits the Bulldogs in the Peach Bowl. He also expects Ryan Day to have his players ready for a four-quarter battle in Atlanta.
“I'm excited,” Smart said of the semifinals matchup. “What a great program. What a great job Ryan has done there. I got a lot of really good players because we recruit a lot of the same kids. They've got a tremendous program. It'll be a premier matchup, which our guys love. When you make the final four, whether you're one through four, it really doesn't matter. What matters is how you manage this time building up to this game and the nature of the game because there is a lot of buildup.”
When asked how Georgia would handle the next few weeks leading up to the game with Ohio State, Smart said he hopes to give his players time to recover, relax and work on their strength and conditioning in addition to studying and preparing for final exams approaching at the university.
Still, with Ohio State not playing in the Big Ten Championship on Saturday, Smart said the Buckeyes essentially received a week's head start on Georgia in all of the areas he mentioned as things he wanted his program to focus on until the matchup on Dec. 31 in Atlanta.
"They've had a week off to recoup and get ready," Smart said of Ohio State. "They're going to be fresh and ready to go and ready to bounce back and start practicing, so we got to be smart about how we practice our guys. We also got to understand it's gonna be a physical game because Ohio State's a very physical team."
When asked about the SEC's success against the Big Ten in the College Football Playoff over the past eight years, Smart dismissed the notion that the SEC is superior and more equipped for the postseason tournament. Instead, he believes the best team will win in the semifinals and national championship, regardless of what conference that team represents.
"It's not about the Big Ten and the SEC. It's about football," Smart said. "It all down the line of scrimmage. It boils down to turnovers and explosive plays. It's not really about the two conferences in those games."
Smart used Ohio State's win over Alabama in the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014 to prove his point. As a defensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide that season, Smart said the Buckeyes were the better team in that year's semifinal and deserved to advance to the national championship, where they again proved their talent by defeating Oregon.
"It's about who plays better. Because I also coached at Alabama when Ohio State absolutely destroyed us in the CFP semifinal game, and, you know what, they played better," Smart said. "They were more explosive and didn't have turnovers, but we did at Alabama. So it really boils down to how you play, not who you play."
With that said, Smart believes there are plenty of things the Bulldogs can work on from the football perspective in the coming weeks to prepare for the Buckeyes. After allowing 30 points to LSU in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday and considering Ohio State's high-powered offense, Smart focused on defensive improvements Georgia can make before New Year's Eve.
Smart thinks his players will be ready for the changes his defensive coaching staff presents and will do their best to be prepared for Ohio State's playmakers like C.J. Stroud, Marvin Harrison Jr. and others.
"The message is always going to be consistent," Smart said. "There are things we can do better in every game that would be no different than last night. I was really proud of our guys. We had a resilient play and we played really good complementary football, but we can't play the defense we played last night and expect to be any kind of champions – semifinal or national championship – so we got some work to do. Our guys will be excited to get back to work."