ATHENS ― It’s the storyline of the Rose Bowl.
The Butkus Award winner vs. the Heisman Trophy recipient. The SEC Championship Game MVP vs. the Big 12 Championship Game MVP. The All-American vs. the All-American.
The Montezuma Machine with more than 100 total tackles plus 5 sacks this year vs. the Quicksilver Quarterback with more than 4,000 passing yards, an average of more than 300 yards per game.
It’s Roquan Smith vs. Baker Mayfield in the Rose Bowl.
But according to Georgia coach Kirby Smart, the storyline of pitting one man against another in the Rose Bowl isn’t the story at all.
“We can’t make this Roquan Smith against Baker Mayfield because that is not the case,” Smart said. “That’s not what this is.”
Smart said Smith isn’t even assigned to cover Mayfield. It isn’t Smith’s job to do so, and it’s not the way Georgia runs its defense.
“[Roquan] is assigned to a gap, he’s assigned to a coverage responsibility, he’s assigned to a running back in man-to-man,” Smart said. “He has all kinds of assignments. It’s not as simple as people make it seem like it’s Roquan against Baker Mayfield.”
For the past two weeks, give or take a few days here and there, Smith and Mayfield have seen a lot of each other. Not on the field but at awards ceremonies.
Both have received numerous nominations for national honors, and both have taken home their fair share of bragging rights.
And after a few weeks of city hopping and ceremonies, Smith knows the challenge of going up against the Heisman Trophy winner.
Smith has seen the film. He has seen the highlights. He’s ready for it.
“You love challenges like that,” Smith said in regards to facing Mayfield. “They say to be the best you have to go up against the best, and they say he is the best college football player in America, so we are definitely looking forward to that challenge, and we think it will be a great opportunity for us.”
Notice Smith said “us” ― not “me.”
Well, as much as everyone would like to paint this game as the Roquan Smith vs. Baker Mayfield show, it just isn’t that way, per both Smart and Smith.
“Roquan has to play within our system,” Smart said. “He may end up in a matchup with [Mayfield] at some time, but we have other guys we spy with. We have other guys rushing and taking the quarterback.”
And if anyone knows this to be truth, it’s Smith himself.
When asked during Georgia’s Monday Rose Bowl media availability if this game feels like the Roquan Smith vs. Baker Mayfield Bowl, Smith was quick to say otherwise. Smith needs Georgia’s offense to show up just as much as Mayfield needs Oklahoma’s defense to.
“I think it is going to be more so a team thing,” Smith said. “It’s not going to be based on what I do or based on just what he does.”
Still, the matchup is going to be fun to see. Smith sure thinks so, just not in an individual setting.
“I can definitely tell you that if it were just me and him out there I don’t think it would be a little different than what it would be 11-on-11,” Smith said. “We are definitely looking forward to the opportunity to go 11-on-11 because 1-on-1, I don’t know about that.”