“Our team is excited,” Baylor coach Matt Rhule said. “I know I'm excited because playing in this bowl is a personal bucket list item for me.”
Georgia and Baylor have met four times, but not since 1989. The Bulldogs won the last game, 15-3 at Sanford Stadium. They are 4-0 against the Bears, with all the previous games being played in Athens.
Georgia will be facing another high-scoring team in the Bears, who average 35.2 points per game. They average 431.2 yards per game, which ranks 45th nationally (UGA is 60th at 408.3 ypg). They are led by junior quarterback Charlie Brewer, who was sidelined Saturday during the Big 12 title game due to concussion protocol. He is number two to Robert Griffin III in career completion.
The loss to Oklahoma Saturday came down to receiver Chris Platt getting run down for a 71-yard gain instead of going all the way for a touchdown. Instead of going ahead, Baylor had to settle for a game-tying field goal. The Bears fell in overtime, unable to match the Sooners’ opening-possession touchdown. No. 4 Oklahoma will face No. 1 in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl national semifinal on Dec. 28.
The Bulldogs follow the lead of a defense that entered the SEC Championship game ranked among the top five nationally in rushing, scoring and total defense. Injuries to key players slowed Georgia’s offense this season. Quarterback Jake Fromm played through a lower left leg injury on Saturday, running back D’Andre Swift was limited to five touches because of a shoulder injury and the Bulldogs lost wideouts Dominick Blaylock (knee) and Kearis Jackson against LSU.
Smart said Sunday that Blaylock, who suffered a torn ACL against LSU, and fellow receiver Lawrence Cager (ankle) are the only players he expects to miss the game due to injuries.
The Bulldogs will have to wait to find out whether NFL Draft-eligible juniors such as tackle Andrew Thomas and Swift will choose to participate in the bowl game. Cornerback Deandre Baker, a first-round selection, did not play in the Sugar Bowl last year.
Georgia would be well-advised to be focused and at its best because Baylor, 1-11 just two years ago, is tremendously motivated.
“You address (motivation) in the practices leading up to it,” Smart said. “A lot of young players got to play in the game last year on our defense, which really helped us this year. ... You take players who want to be there.”