Christmas comes early for Georgia: The former Ohio State MVP provides plenty of motivation
ATHENS — Christmas came early for Kirby Smart and his coaching staff in the form of former Ohio State linebacker Daron Lee and his Twitter account.
Just when it looked like Georgia football might be in danger of losing its competitive edge in the wake of the program’s first-ever 13-0 season, the former Buckeye star delivered the main drive to the CFP Peach Bowl semifinals on Dec. 31.
Smart understands the psychology of football better than anyone as an ex-SEC, and Ohio State had some intangibles in their favor when the college football commission handed the Bacoye’s fourth place despite losing 45-23 at home in front of Michigan. last week.
“With Ohio State, there is a breath of fresh air of opportunity,” Smart said. “We never really got around to saying, well, we’re out, and then we’re back… The excitement it provides and the energy, it’s like a boost of momentum.
“We have to understand that, and we have to be able to keep up.”
Smart reminded his team that last year’s Bulldogs had a monster chip on their shoulder entering the playoffs, after being defeated by Alabama, 41-24, in the SEC Championship Game.
With so many current Georgia players winning national awards, and others traveling to banquets to accept awards or honors, it was easy to understand why the UGA coach wanted to make sure his team stayed connected.
Fortunately for Smart, Lee took the time to playfully suggest to some of the Bulldogs’ most famous players – respected team captains – that they aren’t exactly household names just yet.
Ohio State’s “Eleven Warriors” wrote a story about how Brock Powers, Darnell Washington, and Kenny McIntosh were dangerous weapons on offense, and Galen Carter, Christopher Smith, and Kelly Ringo were “game changers” on defense.
Lee, a former NFL first-round player who is now a free agent, commented that he had never heard of any players other than Ringo.
Related: Darron Lee is one of college football’s best-kept secrets
Lee, perhaps immersed in his memorable performance in that Sugar Bowl eight years earlier—seven tackles, three TFLs, two sacks—never stopped short of highlighting the Georgia players, whom he later claimed he knew.
Lee also took aim at Smart, reminding everyone how Smart’s Alabama defense faltered against the Buckeyes in the 42-35 CFP Sugar Bowl semifinal loss after the 2014 regular season.
It was a win that restored Big Ten pride and propelled Ohio State to its latest CFP Tournament victory, a 42-20 win over Oregon State.
Ezekiel Elliott had 20 carries for 230 yards on Smart’s Alabama defense, and third-team quarterback Cardale Jones passed for 243 yards and rushed for 43 more.
Smart was asked about that game in the CFP Peach Bowl semifinal preliminary conference, where it was his last experience facing an Ohio State program, albeit, one coached by Urban Meyer and not Ryan Day.
“It was a long day, and it was physical,” said Smart. “I think it was Ezekiel Elliott, right? He ripped apart what was a very talented Alabama defense.
“I just remember a lot of explosive plays back and forth. I can’t remember all the details, but I do know that they were very talented, very physical, and played with a very clear purpose.”
Lee claims that the loss is why Smart is “humble in the media for a reason,” perhaps not realizing that it is in the Georgia coach’s nature to remain poised during preparation.
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