NCAAF: Kirby Smart sets Georgia’s focus on ‘state championship’


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Georgia can fill out its football calendar for the next two weeks in ink even though the end-of-season combination of the Thanksgiving weekend Governor’s Cup and SEC championship game was widely anticipated.

In a season of leftovers, coach Kirby Smart wants his Bulldogs (11-0) to fix on the main course.

This Saturday, that’s Georgia Tech.

“Love rivalry week across the country. What makes college football really special to me, all the rivalries you get to watch all this week,” Smart said. “Very unique week timing-wise. A lot of distractions with Thanksgiving going on. Those are good distractions, but they are different. How you deal with that, and manage that, is important.”

Players rate Georgia Tech as the program’s premiere rival, even with Alabama on deck in Atlanta on Dec. 2. Before the national championship can be a conversation and ahead of thoughts of the conference title game, Smart is zeroing in on another game in Atlanta — for what his staff is referring to as the state title game with the Yellow Jackets.

“Geographically, they’re close. They’re in your state. You are playing for something every time you play them. You’re playing for the state championship,” Smart said.

In Brent Key’s first season as head coach, Georgia Tech is 6-5 behind an offensive line Smart said is “dirty, nasty physical,” terming stopping the run against the Yellow Jackets “a day’s work.”

For the first time in five years, the Yellow Jackets are eligible for a bowl game.

“It’s a huge step in the program. It’s somewhere this place should be every year. The expectation should be to be in a bowl game,” Key said Monday.

Beating Smart would be icing on the cake for Key. The most recent Georgia loss in the Governor’s Cup was 28-27 in 2016. The Bulldogs have won five in a row, including the past three games by a combined score of 134-21.

An offensive lineman for Georgia Tech from 1997-2000, Key said his current players would know by the end of the week that he was on a Georgia Tech team that beat Georgia. Georgia Tech was 3-4 at one point this season but beat Syracuse last week to earn its sixth win and thus bowl eligibility.

“For rivalries to be rivalries, they have to be competitive football games,” Key said.

The Bulldogs, riding a 28-game winning streak while claiming consecutive national championships, have a few players who could miss the this trip to Atlanta.

Junior wide receiver Ladd McConkey injured his ankle two weeks ago against Ole Miss, but Smart said reports that he’ll need surgery aren’t accurate. He considers McConkey day-to-day and available for Georgia Tech.

McConkey has 26 receptions for 418 yards this season and also missed time with a back injury. Smart said wide receiver Rara Thomas, who left the Tennessee game last week with a right foot injury, is likely dealing with a bone bruise.

His status is uncertain for this week’s game.

–Field Level Media


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