Kirby Faces His Biggest Challenge
Kirby Smart has lead #5 Georgia to the promise land but came out on the other side empty Tom Herman is proving to be the right man for the job in #15 Texas.
Both teams come to New Orleans as the consolation prize after losing their respective conference championships not a bad place to be in the Big Easy. All the marbles are placed in the CFP for these teams they were in the hunt. Georgia was on the brink some would say they had it in the palm of their hands but couldn’t close the deal. They led the defending Undefeated National Champions Alabama 28-14 late in the third quarter of the SEC Championship game before starting quarterback Tua Tagalviola exited due to an ankle injury. In a unique case of Dejavu Jalen Hurts led the come from behind win 35-28 eliminating Georgia from the College Football Playoffs.
In Kirby Smarts second season at Georgia, the Bulldogs lost the National Championship 26-23 to Alabama in overtime when Tua replaced Hurts in the second half to initiate the come from behind win. Bama has become the salt in the Bulldogs wound.
#15 Texas has known for quite some time their best scenario would be a trip to the Sugar Bowl. They beat Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry 48-45 in a shootout earlier in the season but could not repeat the feat in the Big 12 Championship game. Since their loss to West Virginia (41-42) on 11-2-18, they have known they could not punch a ticket to the big dance. A little dance in the BIG EASY would be the crowning achievement to this season. A win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl would mean Texas is back. Tom Herman in his second season is creating building blocks last year he led the Longhorns to a victory over Missouri in the Texas Bowl which ended a four-year bowl drought. This season they want to take a giant step in returning to the top of the food chain UGA is an obstacle to the Sugar Bowl Crown and momentum going into next season. Should Texas lose to UGA, it would mean consecutive losses to two top-tier teams. Herman wants nothing to do with that.
For Georgia should they win it’s no big deal they were supposed to, their goal is to finish the season with a top 5 ranking which is a great recruiting tool so they can reload the talent and challenge Alabama for the SEC Crown next season? Smart is facing one of the toughest challenges of his young head coaching career motivating his team to play when they have nothing to play for they let the biggest fish in college football off the hook twice. Smart will do his best motivational speech.
“So as we look at Texas and this opportunity our team has, I think the opportunity in front of our team is as grand as there is, as there can be, because for our guys they’re looking at it as an opportunity to play to a standard, to make a statement, to play to the excellence that we try to create at the University of Georgia. They’ve got an opportunity to do that against one of the top programs in the country.”
If the real Georgia team shows up, Texas has not seen anything like the aggressiveness of the Bulldogs defensive front which is a signature for a top performing team in the SEC. Give the Longhorns credit their defense has produced 30 sacks on the season which means they hope to pressure second-year signal caller Jake Fromm. Fromm is 23-4 as a starter. He completes 68.4 percent of his passes. He has thrown for 2537 yards produced 27 touchdowns and has only thrown 5 interceptions. He has the Bulldogs on an impressive scoring average of 39.2 points per game they have scored 40 or more points in seven games this season. Behind his leadership, they have scored 61 touchdowns. Texas is going to have their hands and Longhorns full trying to stop one of the best quarterbacks in all of college football.
Perhaps more important is containing the dynamic running backs Elijah Holyfield, son of former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield he’s more of the bruiser. D’Andre Swift is exactly what his name indicates he’s swift, lightning fast and the teams leading rusher with 1,037 yards after playing most of the season banged up. Both average a whopping 6.5 yards per carry. It was no happenstance to see Georgia go on a tear after they lost to LSU twenty points by 36-16. Swift’s health returned. Holyfield missed the thousand-yard mark by only 46 yards (956). The Bulldogs average 251 yards per game on the ground and the Longhorns give up 135.9 rushing. This is the key area of the game. It’s simple if Georgia does what they normally do they win.
Texas has done well on the offensive side Sam Ehlinger has thrown for 3,123 Big 12 yards (not SEC) 25 touchdowns with only 5 interceptions most impressive was his 308 consecutive passes without an interception. Meanwhile, the Longhorn defense has produced 30 (Big 12 sacks) however they do not have a thousand yard running back Trey Watson, and keaontay Ingram are solid, but they are no dynamic duo like their counterparts.
One interesting aspect of their offense is the two giant receivers 6”4 Lil’Jordan Humphrey and 6’6 Collin Johnson combined for 144 receptions 2,054 yards and 16 touchdowns. They should own the red zone if they can get to it. Georgia’s best defender DeAndre Baker is not playing choosing not risk injury and focus on his NFL combine training. That adds a bit of intrigue.
Big games usually come down to big plays on special teams Georgia has one of the most dangerous returners in the nation in Mecole Hardeman who averages 20 yards. He is the difference maker. If the real Georgia Bulldogs show up their offensive running game along with their dominant defensive line will be too much for Texas. Georgia also has an advantage in head coaching experience Kirby Smart in three seasons has won two SEC East Crowns, one conference title and a trip to the National Championship game. Tom Herman has 4 years coaching experience a record of 22-4 and one big time bowl victory when he led them to a win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl.
The most intriguing storyline is will the real UGA stand up or will they play flat after such a deflating loss in the SEC Championship game against Alabama.
We think the real Bulldogs will stand up and win the 2019 Sugar Bowl 35-14.