ATHENS — Nolan Smith makes a convincing case Georgia is ready to finish what it started this season when it takes on Alabama in the national championship game next Monday.
Smith, a junior outside linebacker, says these Bulldogs are ready for the rematch against the Tide after getting knocked down in the SEC Championship Game last month by a 41-24 count.
“I think we got hit pretty hard, and I think we’ve gotten up pretty well,” said Smith, who’s living up to the billing he received as the No. 1 overall recruit in 2019. “Our guys didn’t sweat it from Day One; our guys said we know we need to get to work, and we know we have the opportunity of our lifetime, and now we’re here in the national championship game.
“Now it’s time to go finish the job.”
The Georgia-Alabama College Football Playoff Championship Game is set for 8 p.m. on Monday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Smith indicated on Tuesday that he and his teammates view it as their date with destiny, the culmination of years of hard work.
“We came here to be legendary, to be special and leave a mark,” Smith said. “Like I always say, I want to bring my kid back and tell him this is what I did, I want to leave my mark. I don’t want to be just another University of Georgia football player.”
Indeed, Smith grew up in Savannah a Bulldogs’ fan hearing tales of the legendary 1980 Georgia national championship team, led by all-time great running back Herschel Walker.
This Bulldogs’ team is considerably more balanced, though the bulk of its star power is with its defensive front seven, where there are no less than three projected first-round NFL draft picks, in addition to Smith.
“You change three plays in the game, and the whole game could’ve been different,” Smith said. “One of those plays is on me, myself, I should have been more aware to jump on the ball instead of trying to pick it up and run.”
Instead, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young recovered, and two plays later Alabama scored to take a 24-17 lead into the halftime locker room.
“You can’t have those small mistakes in those big games,” Smith said, “because it’s a game of inches.”
And it’s a game that Smith has been waiting for all of his life.
“I’ve been playing football since I was 4 years old, and in 16 years I haven’t won anything, haven’t won a championship,” Smith said. “I’ve won a couple of bowl games, but not anything big, but no championship yet, and that’s one thing that keeps me going, that’s something in the back of my head that keeps me driving.
“I just want to win, I could care less how it gets done, how pretty it looks. I just want to win and play ball.”