ATLANTA – When Kirby Smart and Gus Malzahn met after Auburn routed Georgia three weeks ago, Malzahn said something like this: “We’ll see you in Atlanta.”
Smart responded by smiling and saying: “I’ll tell Nick (Saban) you said that.”
The two head coaches ran into each other again on Friday, at the luncheon to preview the SEC championship. They were reminded of that conversation nearly three weeks ago, when Alabama was the favorite to win the SEC West, but Auburn kept its chances alive with a 40-17 thumping of Smart’s team. Two weeks later Auburn upset Alabama and stamped its ticket.
“You held up your end of the bargain,” Smart recalled telling Malzahn on Friday.
Malzahn asked Smart if he had told Saban about the “see you in Atlanta” comment.
“I never did,’ Smart said, grinning.
Smart recalled that as he spoke to the press on Friday afternoon, perhaps the most-attended press conference since nearly two years before, when he was introduced as the new head coach at Georgia. Smart was hired in order to get UGA back to this point: On the brink of an SEC championship, with a chance at the College Football Playoffs.
This will be Smart’s seventh time being part of the SEC championship: Five times as an Alabama assistant and once as a Georgia assistant (in 2005). It’s his first time here as a head coach, leading sixth-ranked Georgia (11-1) against second-ranked Auburn (10-2).
The situations aren’t exactly parallel. But Smart granted that the experience of being in this game does help.
“The experience in those is invaluable,” Smart said. “Just being able to control the emotions. Having the kids understand it’s just another game, because if they don’t that’s when they make more mistakes. …
“I wouldn’t diminish the importance of it. I just think you’d better have a process, a routine that you go through. And the kids have been able to follow that.”
The venue does change: It’s now at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, rather than the Georgia Dome. Smart said he got to the stadium and realized he missed a call from Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn.
“I was hoping he’d give me some pointers on how to play well in here,” Smart said.
A few other quick notes from Smart’s press conference:
– Smart said he expects Auburn star tailback Kerryon Johnson (shoulder) to play.
– Fullback Christian Payne (undisclosed injury) remains a game-time decision.
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