ATHENS — Azeez Ojulari will play in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, and team captain Richard LeCounte has continued to practice with the team in an effort to return from injury, according to Georgia coach Kirby Smart.
The No. 9-ranked Bulldogs (7-2) play No. 8-ranked Cincinnati (9-0) at 12 p.m. on Friday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Smart, who said last week he didn’t know which players would play, confirmed on Saturday that at least six former Georgia starters are not expected to play in the game, including:
• CB Eric Stokes
• LB Monty Rice
• TE Tre’ McKitty
• OG Ben Cleveland
• OLB Jermaine Johnson
• C Trey Hill
Johnson revealed earlier on Saturday that he’s transferring to Florida State, and Smart said Trey Hill isn’t expected to recover from the arthroscopic knee surgeries he underwent last month in time to play.
UGA senior defensive back Mark Webb, who had been wavering on playing per reports, will play in the bowl, according to Smart. Smart did not update the status of cornerback DJ Daniel, who some have reported has been wavering.
Smart, however, dropped a big hint Daniel would be out he failed to mention the former starter as a potential replacement for Stokes.
“I’m focused on the guys that will play,” Smart said. “The guys that aren’t, they have a particular reason. I’ll leave it up to those guys, because some of them have been injured throughout the year.
“I’m focused on Cincinnati, Cincinnati, and COVID. Those are the opponents we’re dealing with right now.”
Smart said Rice has been dealing with a foot injury since the Alabama game.
Smart also revealed for the first time Cleveland has a shoulder injury, and McKitty has been dealing with the knee injury he suffered before the season.
The Georgia players returned to practice on Saturday after a three-day break for the holidays, and Smart said they must pass three COVID-19 tests before the bowl game.
The first Covid test was on Saturday afternoon, and Smart said other tests are ahead on Monday morning and on Wednesday morning.
Smart made it clear he wants the focus of the media moving to be on the players who will play in the bowl game instead of the players opting out.
“I’m super proud of the guys that are (playing) and want to finish it off and are committed to Georgia,” Smart said. “And they are finishing it off the right way.”
Georgia had several starters miss the Sugar Bowl last season, including team captains Andrew Thomas and J.R. Reed, and offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson.
“A lot of those choices (of players who didn’t play) last year weren’t their own, a lot of those choices last year were our choices,” Smart said. “So we had two first-rounders (Thomas and Wilson) that choose not to play, but we had some other guys that couldn’t play.”
Smart did not disclose the reason certain players were not brought on the bowl trip last season, but Cleveland said he was suspended on account of academics.
Smart indicated that, even though UGA has at least four players missing the bowl game this year, he doesn’t believe it’s a trend.
“Of the first 64 players picked last year in the NFL draft, there were only six that didn’t play in their bowl game, if they had a bowl game,” Smart said. “So it’s not necessarily the modern thing or the trend to do that. People make it out to be that way, but that’s not actually true.”
Indeed, this year there are entire teams opting out on account of COVID-19, in addition to some players who are choosing to train for their NFL careers.