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Kirby Smart’s SEC Championship Preview

SEC Championship Preview

While much attention is currently on Texas A&M’s hiring decisions and player movements in the Transfer Portal, our focus is on the upcoming clash in Atlanta. Georgia and Alabama are preparing for the SEC Championship this Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The outcome of this game holds more than just bragging rights within the Southeastern Conference. The victor will likely secure a top spot in the College Football Playoff, whereas the loser may miss out and settle for a New Year’s Six appearance. Georgia enters the match-up as a 5.5-point favorite. In his press conference on Monday, Kirby Smart provided insights that offer a preview of the SEC Championship, sharing his thoughts on Georgia and Alabama.

Kirby Smart’s SEC Championship Preview

Georgia’s Injury Report

Georiga was without a number of its top offensive players in Saturday’s win over Georgia Tech. Smart shared that dynamic tight end Brock Bowers was held out of the Georgia Tech game for soreness. “Yeah, he was more sore this week than he’s been. He tried to go, he wanted to go, but I mean, he’s sore. He’s got to be honest with us and tell us.” Bowers is recovering from tightrope surgery on his ankle. He is a dynamic threat and will be vital to stressing Alabama’s defense.

Wide Receivers Ladd McConkey and Rara Thomas were held out of the Georiga Tech game and are listed as questionable for Saturday. McConkey has battled injuries throughout 2023 and is one of quarterback Carson Beck’s favorite targets outside Bowers. The Junior receiver has been out since rolling his ankle against Ole Miss on the 19th. Thomas did not dress for the Georiga Tech game. The Mississippi State transfer has shown big-play ability inside the red zone and on 50-50 balls.

Finally, despite going through warmups, offensive lineman Tate Ratledge was held out against Georiga Tech with a bone bruise. Unlike Thomas, Ratledge was dressed for the Georgia Tech game and went through warmups. Expect all hands on deck and these four to play an important role on Saturday.

Kendall Milton

Kendall Milton had his best game of the season Saturday night in Atlanta. Milton rushed 18 times for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Smart was asked about what he attributed to be the biggest reason for Milton’s success.  For Smart, it all came down to confidence. “He’s hitting the hole a lot harder because he is more confident. He is breaking arm tackles and getting to the second level, you’re not going to be an explosive offense if your backs don’t get to the secondary.” Alabama yielded 244 yards rushing on Saturday against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Milton and Dejuan Edwards will be asked to take some pressure off Carson Beck. Another rushing performance from Milton should be a big start.

The Emergence of CJ Allen and Raylen Wilson

Jamon Dumas-Johnson suffered a fractured forearm in Georgia’s week 10 matchup with Missouri. The All-American was a leader of the defense and one of its leading tacklers. Due to his injury, freshmen CJ Allen and Raylen Wilson have had to step up and play significant minutes. Smart shared how the two have responded well to the challenge. “They grown up fast. You talk about getting thrown into the fire. They’ve had to play in three games (Ole Miss, Tennessee, Georgia Tech) that were not only tough and physical but also prep for three different styles.”

While acknowledging that their performance hasn’t been flawless, Smart emphasized that both players are starting to find their rhythm. “They are young guys, they make mistakes, but have a quiet confidence about them.” However, facing Alabama quarterback Jalen Milore in the SEC Championship presents a new and formidable challenge for these freshmen—unlike anything they have encountered.

Alabam Quarterback Jalen Milroe

Milroe got everyone’s attention with his “grave digger” throw to upset Auburn on Saturday night. Smart discussed the difficulties that Milroe poses for defenses on the opposing side. “He is a tremendous football player. He is a big physical guy with running back characteristics, but he can throw the ball well, especially off of their play action, and he does a good job of taking shots down the field.”

Smart was later asked to compare Milroe to Florida legend Tim Tebow. While Smart remained complimentary of Tebow, he said Milroe had a different running style. He likened it to watching his kid playing Madden to provide a more accurate example. “Whenever my kids play Madden, they always want to be the Ravens. They want to play with Lamar Jackson because nobody can tackle him. This guy (Milroe) is a bigger physical version of that. He’s playing with a different speed than everyone else.”

If there is an area of concern for Georgia this season, it is their run defense. We can look at their failure to set the edge against Missouri and even last week against Georgia Tech. Milroe will present a different challenge to Georgia this week, and containing him will be key to their success and an SEC Championship. 

Thoughts on Alabama

Georgia is on a 29-game winning streak, the longest in Southeastern Conference history. Their last loss was to Alabama in the 2021 SEC Championship. Georiga got their vengeance two games later, defeating Alabama and winning its first of two straight national championships. Smart was asked about the win’s significance for him and his team. Smart, who is 1-4 against his old boss and former team, did not mince words. “It meant that the University of Georgia got a national championship.”

Furthermore, very few players who took the field two years ago would likely not be on the field on Saturday night. No doubt fans will be in for an awesome SEC Championship matchup. We’ll have more this week as we get closer to the game.

One change the Bulldogs will be dealing with is the defensive backs coach Fran Brown working on his transition out of the program. He is expected to be hired as the new head coach at Syracuse in the next 48 hours. He will stay with the Bulldogs through the end of the season while also beginning to assemble his new staff for the Orange.

 

SEC Championship Preview
Photo courtesy: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

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