Georgia-UGA
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) during the Bulldogs' game with Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020. (Photo by Skylar Lien)

Kirby Smart shrugs off relevance of recent Georgia-Alabama meeting, no ‘overlap’

ATHENS — Georgia didn’t get to be the No. 1 team in the nation by looking in the rearview mirror, and Kirby Smart certainly doesn’t need a history lesson.

But the fact is, Alabama coach Nick Saban has won six straight over the Bulldogs, and that lends itself to a notion for some that the Tide has Georgia’s number, so to speak.

Saban’s domination will be one of several storylines this week leading up to the SEC Championship Game at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The Bulldogs (12-0) are a touchdown favorite over the Tide (11-1) and have clearly been the better team throughout the season.

Georgia has evolved into an annual championship contender the six years Smart has overseen the program.

On the field, the Bulldogs are making their fourth SEC Championship Game appearance in the past five years.

Beyond the field Georgia has invested $180 million into football facilities during Smart’s time leading the program and had a school-record nine players selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Alabama has won three CFP Championships over that same time period and is the defending champion.

But Smart isn’t about to concede anything where the Tide’s tradition  or any potential carryover from the teams’ most recent meetings are concerned.

“I don’t think there’s any overlap between the two — I know people want to make it that, make it some kind of overlap,” said Smart, whose team lost to Alabama in Tuscaloosa last season by a 41-24 count.

“Every year is independent of the previous, (and) our job is to go play the best possible game we can,” Smart said on the Sunday night SEC Championship Game teleconference. “That’s what we’ve been trying to build towards this year.”

The Bulldogs have eight offensive starters and five defensive starters from last year’s meeting with Alabama back, including quarterback Stetson Bennett.

Bennett led Georgia to a 24-20 halftime lead over the Tide, the third straight game Georgia has been up on Alabama at intermission..

The 2018 Bulldogs were up 21-14 at halftime (and 28-14 in the third quarter) before Alabama rallied for a 35-28 victory, scoring the winning touchdown with 1:04 remaining.

The year before, in the 2017 CFP Championship Game, Georgia held a commanding 13-0 lead at halftime (and 20-7 lead in the third quarter).

The Tide, as well-documented, won the game in double overtime when Tua Tagovailoa hit future Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith with a 41-yard TD pass.

“This year is this year,” Smart maintained, “and every year is independent of the previous.”

Smart has been on both sides of the streak, having spend nine years at Saban’s side as an assistant.

Smart served as the defensive coordinator for Alabama in the Tide’s win over the Mark Richt-coached Georgia teams in 2015 (38-10), 2012 (32-28, SEC title game) and 2008 (41-30).

Saban, like Smart, suggests there’s no advantage to his program’s past success over the Bulldogs.

“I think that’s what’s happened in the past in games really doesn’t have a lot of impact on what happens in the future,” Saban said. “I think that you’ve got to line up and play well in this game. What happened last year doesn’t matter. What happened the year before that doesn’t matter.”

Both Alabama and Georgia have replaced several starters since the teams’ met last season.

The Tide had 10 players selected in the NFL draft — six in the first round — while the Bulldogs had a school-record nine players drafted.

Here’s a look at the drafted players Alabama and Georgia had to replace in reloading for runs to the SEC Championship Game:

Alabama

1st round, RB Najee Harris

1st round, QB Mac Jones

1st round, OT Alex Leatherwood

1st round, WR DeVonta Smith

1st round, CB Pat Surtain

1st round, WR Jaylen Waddle

2nd round, DT Christian Barmore

2nd round, OC Landon Dickerson

6th round, OG Deonte Brown

6th round, LS Thomas Fletcher

Georgia

1st round, CB Eric Stokes

2nd round, CB Tyson Campbell

2nd round, OLB Azeez Ojulari

3rd round, OG Ben Cleveland

3rd round, LB Monty Rice

3rd round, TE Tre’ McKitty

5th round, FS Richard LeCounte

6th round, OC, Trey Hill

7th round, DB Mark Webb

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