ATLANTA – When the question was put to Kirby Smart, the one seemingly on everyone’s mind, the Georgia coach had a two-word answer. Nick Chubb’s media session lasted one question before he got the same question.
Who would you rather play: Auburn or Alabama?
“I can’t see that far, man,” Chubb said, smiling. “We’re gonna soak it up right now and take it day by day.”
Chubb spoke from the weight room at Georgia Tech, approximately 1.6 miles away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the SEC Championship Game takes place a week later. Chubb and his team had just finished off the regular season with a 38-7 win, yet another rout of an overmatched opponent, and yet again celebrating with their many fans who had made the trip to support the team.
But no one was shouting “We want Alabama,” or “We want Auburn,” because no one knew who the opponent would be in the SEC championship. And as they took questions afterwards, Smart and his players tried their best to maintain that they didn’t care.
“Absolutely not,” was that two-word Smart answer when asked his preference on an opponent.
As they spoke, the Iron Bowl had just kicked off. In a few hours, Georgia would find out if it would face Alabama, the three-time defending SEC champion, or Auburn, the team that demolished UGA two weeks ago.
“If we play Auburn again, you probably know tendencies more than we would know Alabama,” sophomore receiver Mecole Hardman said. “But it really doesn’t make a difference to us. We’re just going to try to get out there and get a W.”
Indeed, whether the players had been coached against saying it or not, there was no spoken desire to continue the revenge tour of 2017 by getting another shot at Auburn.
Chubb came close but stopped himself.
“Probably just motivation. But who knows,” Chubb said when asked if there was a difference between playing a team Georgia had played just two weeks before, versus one they’ve only seen on TV.
Natrez Patrick, a junior inside linebacker, was more matter-of-fact about it.
“I’d just say considering we have played them before, we know the corrections we need to fix on our end,” Patrick said. “But at the end of the day when it comes down to it, we still don’t know what they’re really going to do when they come in here.”
In fact, Smart said when the team got back to Athens, it would take notes on the Georgia Tech game, to help in preparation for next year’s game against the Yellow Jackets. Why not immediately break down the SEC championship opponent? Because the quality control staff already got a head start.
“We’ve got everything broken down on Alabama. We’ve got everything broken down on Auburn. So we’re set to go,” Smart said. “I’ve been through this several times before where you didn’t know, you had to wait until the last week. That’s just the way you prepare.”
The opponent would have to wait. But at a minimum, the Bulldogs knew when they would be playing for an SEC championship, and almost certainly a trip to the College Football Playoff. It will also be the first SEC championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the first trip there for many of these players and coaches.
That includes Patrick, an Atlanta-area native who made a few trips to the Georgia Dome, including playing a high school game there.
“It’s a surreal feeling. It’s definitely a surreal feeling,” Patrick said. “But the team, they put in the work, they deserve it. Those guys deserve it from the hard days and hard nights they put in.”