Depleted No. 5 Georgia, eager No. 7 Baylor meet in Sugar Bowl

NCAA Football
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For SEC runner up Georgia, Wednesday’s Sugar Bowl against Baylor is an opportunity to exorcise demons left over from last year’s disappointing loss to Texas in the same game. For the Big 12-runner up Bears, it’s a chance to make some history and show the rest of the college football world just how legit they are.

Kickoff Wednesday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans is set for 8:45 p.m. ET.

It was just a year ago when the Bulldogs entered their Sugar Bowl date against Texas as over a touchdown favorite, only to fall 28-21 in a game that really wasn’t as close as the score would indicate.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart seems determined to make sure history doesn’t repeat with this year’s squad, which is 11-2 and ranked No. 5.

“We’ve been focusing on three things. We talked to our players about three things,” Smart said. “You’re going to hear this common theme probably among our players because for 11 practices, they’ve been hearing about this trip, this team, and this game, and that’s really it. It’s a one-game season for us.”

As for Baylor, the Bears’ appearance in the game is a just reward for what’s been a rebirth for the program under head coach Matt Rhule.

The Bears finished 1-11 in 2017, improved to 7-6 in 2018 before this year’s 11-2 campaign, their only losses coming to Oklahoma. No. 7 Baylor lost to the Sooners in the regular season and later 30-23 in overtime of the Big 12 championship game.

Baylor’s appearance in the Sugar Bowl marks the first time it has played in the game since 1957.

“Our team will be beyond motivated,” Rhule said. “And we have to be because this is such a great team we’re facing. I’m motivated. I have never really met Coach Smart, but I certainly respect him. So, a chance to go against him as a head coach, I have to be at my best. And so, I think our guys are highly, highly motivated.”

In an effort to make sure his Bulldogs feel the same, Georgia’s coach changed up his team’s practices while still on campus in Athens, focusing on “fast and physical” workouts to better determine which players want to play the most in the bowl game.

“We usually practice for two hours. Because of some depth and different issues, we’ve really had to practice smart and get after it,” Smart said. “And we had to do a lot of good on good. So, our players have really enjoyed that. And with the competition for all the open spots, it’s been really good to have those.”

Smart declined to point out exactly which players will miss the game, but the list could be a large one.

Starting offensive linemen Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson will miss the contest after declaring early for the NFL draft, while right guard Ben Cleveland will miss the game, reportedly for academic reasons.

Second-leading rusher Brian Herrien also won’t play for undisclosed reasons, and it’s believed several other players won’t be on hand. Smart closed all 11 of the team’s practices prior to arriving in New Orleans.

The status of leading rusher D’Andre Swift is also uncertain due to a shoulder injury he suffered late in the year.

Baylor has no such problems.

Per Rhule, he will have his entire team at his disposal, including starting quarterback Charlie Brewer, who left the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 7 with a concussion.

“Our guys value the opportunity to compete. I think they value the opportunity to compete against one of the best teams in the country,” Rhule said. “What a great measuring stick for us as a program, our players. And we have a lot of guys that — everyone is going to play.”

–Field Level Media

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