ATHENS — Kirby Smart and Gus Malzahn may respect each other on the field as rival coaches, but they’re like Cats and Dawgs in their running commentary.
Smart called out the Auburn head coach for “Coachspeak” at Georgia’s Tuesday night press conference, adding a dash of spice to an already bitter and contested rivalry between the Tigers and Bulldogs.
Malzahn opened his press conference earlier on Tuesday saying Georgia is “probably the most talented team overall in the SEC” leading up to the 7:30 p.m. game on Saturday (TV: ESPN).
Malzahn’s No. 7-ranked Tigers (1-0) are a touchdown underdog to the No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (1-0).
Smart, who often battles Malzahn for recruits in Georgia and Alabama, indicated he didn’t think Malzahn’s comment to be sincere.
“I think if you ask somebody the week of the game, the team they’re playing has the most talent in the league, and then the next week, that team will have the most talent, then the next week, that team will have the most talent,” Smart deadpanned. “And that’s called coachspeak, so thank you Gus. He has the most talent in the SEC.”
Smart, decidedly edgy, wasn’t done making his point.
Asked how big of a worry Auburn’s receivers are for him, Smart threw Malzahn’s words back in the direction of The Plains.
“Well they have the most talent in the SEC, so I’m very concerned when it comes to their receiving corps and their talent level,” Smart said.
“It always worries you when you play Auburn. They’ve got a quarterback that can get the ball to those guys, Chad [Morris, OC] is doing an unbelievable job of moving guys around and putting them in spots that they’re not normally in, so their skill level at receiver is really good.”
Smart had complimented Malzahn to start the week.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Gus [Malzahn] and the organization he has put together,” he said at his Monday press conference. “They have recruited well, they have really good players, top-10 team in the country, so it should be a great ball game, great atmosphere.”
Smart likely felt Malzahn went out of his way to amplify the pressure on Smart and the Bulldogs to win the SEC Championship.
It’s not the first time Malzahn has said something that irritated Smart.
Malzahn was overhead saying after the Tigers’ 40-17 win over the Bulldogs in 2017 that “We whipped the dog crap out of them, didn’t we?”
Smart brushed if off back then, saying “When you perform the way they did on the field, you earn the right to say really whatever you want.”
Georgia avenged the loss in 2017 by beating Auburn in the SEC Championship Game.
But the tension remained, and it may or may not have played a role in Smart attempting a fake field goal with a 17-point lead and 3:20 left in the 2018 meeting.
Smart, whose team was battling for a College Football Playoff spot at the time and was ranked No. 5, said UGA attempted the fake because the lead wasn’t “comfortable” enough.
“If you don’t get it, they’re backed up, so the thought was they’re going to take three touchdowns to beat us,” Smart said. “It’s all about point differential. It was something that was well thought out long before it happened and talked about during the drive.”
Former Auburn linebacker and team captain Deshaun Davis referred to it at the time as a “bullcrap call” by Smart.
Malzahn, in his Tuesday press conference, also pointed out that it was Auburn that scored the first rushing touchdown on Georgia last season during the Bulldogs’ 21-14 win.
Malzahn, whose team trailed 21-0 entering the fourth quarter, said his defense “stuffed them in the fourth quarter.”
Injury update: Smart said senior tight end graduate transfer Tre’ McKitty returned to practice on Monday and practice even more on Tuesday, raising the possibility that he might play on Saturday against Auburn.
“He’s coming along nicely, he’s got a chance to play, it’s one of those deals you’d like to get some live action before you get out there in the game, (and) I don’t know if we’re going to get a chance to do that,” Smart said.
“But he certainly improved and is getting better shape.”
Smart said offensive guard Clay Webb has an ankle injury, and that’s what prevented him from traveling to Arkansas.
Coming out of the game, Smart indicated outside linebacker Jermaine Johnson had a shoulder contusion but was able to return to action.
The Bulldogs lost receiver Dominick Blaylock (knee) and defensive back Kelee Ringo (labrum) to season-ending injuries in fall camp.