Georgia on ‘pins and needles’ over Covid-19 tests leading into Peach Bowl
ATHENS — It has been a long, stressful season for Georgia football coach Kirby Smart and his staff, and things don’t appear to be letting up.
Smart, whose No. 9-ranked Bulldogs (7-2) play No. 8-ranked Cincinnati (9-0) at noon next Friday in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, revealed his program has been dealing with more Covid-19-related issues than ever before.
“We’ve dealt with it all year, but our numbers have gone up in the last two to three weeks in terms of us hitting some players” Smart said on his Saturday night Zoom call.
“We’d gone a long time without really losing anybody, and we’ve had some guys that we’ve had to quarantine and we’ve lost, and we’re fighting to get every one of them back.”
Smart did not give a specific number or share any of the names of players who might be affected.
Smart said last week he didn’t know which Georgia players would opt-out of the bowl game.
But on Saturday, the fifth-year head coach confirmed sacks leader Azeez Ojulari will play in the game after reports and sources indicated the projected first-round pick would opt-out.
At least six former UGA starters will be missing against the Bearcats, including cornerback Eric Stokes, middle linebacker Monty Rice, offensive guard Ben Cleveland and tight end Tre’ McKitty.
The Bulldogs had four games moved or postponed this season on account of other teams’ Covid-19-related issues, but not their own.
Smart said there would have been “one or two” players missing had UGA played Vanderbilt as rescheduled on Dec. 19.
The Commodores canceled out, however, spoiling Senior Day and costing the outgoing class a shot at setting the school mark for wins.
Smart said the team tested upon returning on Saturday from a three-day holiday break, and there are two more Covid-19 tests ahead on Monday and Wednesday.
“You can imagine we’re on pins and needles,” Smart said. “Anybody that hits on those three testing cycles would be out, and the bigger concern is the contact tracing in which they may knock out more guys. Anybody at this point wouldn’t clear contract tracing or Covid.
“It’s an obvious concern for both teams.”
Cincinnati has not had any players reported to have opt-out at this time.
Smart said there are protocols in place should he have to miss the game on account of Covid-19, as some coaches including Nick Saban and Sam Pittman have this season.
“Every time I test, it’s a concern of mine,” Smart said. “I’m not going to share that exact plan, because it hasn’t had to come to fruition, but we’ve been through it and talked about it.
“(We) have things available for Skype meetings, Zoom meetings to sit in team meetings, to be at practice by way of Zoom meetings (and) have someone in charge of game-day decisions.
“Pretty much everyone in the country has that (provisional plan in place) now.”
Georgia football Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl