ATHENS — Kirby Smart said he expects to see Nick Saban coaching Alabama on Saturday night, and based on Saban’s appearance on College GameDay, the Georgia head coach is likely right.
Saban, who is one pending test result away from being cleared to coach in the 8 p.m. Saturday matchup, looked sharp in his appearance on the popular ESPN show in a sport coat and tie.
“I feel great,” said Saban, who after a positive test on Wednesday has tested negative on Thursday and Friday and expects to learn the results of Saturday morning’s test in the afternoon.
“I’ve never had any symptoms, completely asymptomatic, no fever, oxygen levels are great, never been sick at all.”
Smart, who appeared earlier on the GameDay show, was wearing his game face and didn’t spend much time discussing Saban’s status when asked.
“I would say we pretty much know, with two negatives already, I pretty much feel he’s going to be on the sideline,” Smart said.
Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, a former head coach at Washington and USC, would assume Saban’s sideline duties should the Alabama head coach not get cleared.
Smart seemed to downplay the significance of Saban’s presence, one way or another, earlier this week.
“He doesn’t get to go out on the field and play with them, just like I don’t,” Smart said. “Once it gets to game time, there’s not much you can control other than the go-for-its and things like that. The players have to make plays.”
Saban stayed involved in the preparation, monitoring practices and communicating with his coaches in real time from afar.
Saban shared on College GameDay what he told his team amid the uncertain circumstances.
“What I’ve tried to encourage the players to know is disruptions are the norm this season, so if this is a disruption, let’s turn it upside down and make it a positive,” Saban said. “Everybody stay focused and take ownership of what they have to do.
“I haven’t made any tackles, blocks or caught any passes, so this is something you guys can go out and take ownership for, and do a good job on your own. If I’m there, I’ll contribute any way I can.”
Saban said he has felt detached even though he has stayed involved, albeit by virtual technology, in every team activity to this point.
“From an emotional standpoint, I feel a little detached even though I’ve stayed involved with the team in everything they’ve had to do, every practice, every meeting, same thing with the staff,” Saban said.
“So even though I’m not there, the presence has been the same. However, it would be totally different if I can’t coach the game tonight….”
The oddsmakers reacted to the possibility of Saban’s absence earlier this week by dropping the spread from 6 points to 4 1/2. The line went as low as 3 1/2 points.
The Bulldogs have had the game circled since it was announced, looking to snap a five-game losing streak in the series that dates back to 2007.
While this game doesn’t have the immediate significance of the past two meetings – Alabama’s 26-23 OT win in the 2017 CFP title game, or the 35-28 win in the 2018 SEC Championship Game — Smart made it clear it’s top priority.
“We’re not guaranteed any game past the one tonight, you don’t know how far it’s going to go, you don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Smart said. “All that you can control is who you play right now … in our league every game counts, and you’ve got to count the ones you play first.”
The 2007 game, a 26-23 Georgia overtime win engineered by current Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, represents the most recent time the teams met in Tuscaloosa.
ESPN reported Kansas coach Les Miles isn’t traveling with his team as the Jayhawks play at West Virginia on Saturday.
SEC COVID-19 Guidelines
Saban needed three separate negatives, separated by 24 hours each, to coach in Saturday’s game.
The SEC has established minimum thresholds of at least 53 scholarship players available to participate and the following minimum number of position scholarship players available to begin a game:
• seven (7) offensive linemen (which includes one center),
• one (1) quarterback
• four (4) defensive linemen.
The impacted institution has the option to play the game with fewer than the 53 scholarship players or fewer than the minimum number of position players listed above if it elects to do so. Otherwise, upon approval by the Commissioner, the game would be rescheduled or declared a no contest.