MIAMI – Georgia arrived here in South Florida late Sunday afternoon, but already we have seen a difference in approach between the No. 3-ranked Bulldogs and No. 2 Michigan before Friday’s Orange Bowl matchup.

The Wolverines (12-1) came into town on Saturday, Christmas Day. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s team chose not to break for the holidays. In deference to the latest surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan remained bubbled as a team in Ann Arbor before making the trek to Miami.

In contrast, the Bulldogs (12-1) broke camp in Athens Wednesday and the players, mostly, scattered to their respective homes. That’s not an insignificant undertaking for Georgia, which is thought to have more players on its roster who reside west of the Mississippi River than ever before.

Georgia fields about 105 players. It includes Californians in Brock Bowers, Jeremy Burton, JT Daniels, Kenny Milton and Nathan Priestly, a couple of players from Arizona and several from Texas. The grand majority are Georgians, of course.

Not all of them went home. Some remained in or around Athens; some went to the homes of their Georgia teammmates. But most were able to visit their families at least for a short while.

Staying safe during that hiatus was the focus of much discussion within the team.

“I’m going to see my grandmom and going to go hunting with my uncle,” junior linebacker Nolan Smith said shortly before the Bulldogs broke for the holiday. “I don’t want to get those people sick.”

Credit: Chip Towers

Credit: Chip Towers

Nor do the Bulldogs want their starting outside linebacker to get sick. So, Georgia returned to some of its 2020 COVID-19 protocols after final exams were completed the week before last. That’s mainly to wear masks whenever they expect to be in close contact with a lot of people they know and to avoid contact with those they don’t.

“Putting back on our masks has been a conversation,” junior defensive end Travon Walker said last week. “It’s by choice, but the type of team we have, guys don’t want to risk missing the game, because it’s so big to us. So, we’re starting to put back our masks on our own.”

Nevertheless, there have been some casualties. DawgNation reported last week that Daniels, the backup quarterback, was among a small number of players to test positive for COVID-19. He immediately quarantined and planned to travel to Miami separately from the team. Daniels was not spotted as the team disembarked their buses at the Intercontinental Hotel Sunday.

As for the still-healthy Bulldogs, they gathered at Athens-Ben Epps Airport early Sunday afternoon and departed via a pair of Boeing 711 Delta charter jets. After arriving at Miami International at 3:30 p.m. in a private aviation area, they were immediately whisked away off the tarmac in four chartered Orange Bowl buses and headed for the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Miami.

The Bulldogs offloaded at their hotel in the Key Biscayne area and were directed to a second-floor mezzanine are to pick up their room assignments. The plan was to rest, relax and attend team meetings Sunday night.

The Orange Bowl changed the teams’ media availability this week to all virtual interviews. However, there will be some limited practice viewings for both teams. The Bulldogs are practicing at Barry University, a small campus well north of the downtown area the team is in staying in all week.

The Bulldogs practiced Sunday in Athens before making their way to Miami.

“Our players are excited,” coach Kirby Smart said in a brief interview with Orange Bowl personnel. “We have a lot of kids from this area. We recruit this area heavily and I know our players are looking forward to this weather.”

It was 80 degrees and sunny when the Bulldogs arrived.