ATLANTA — Kirby Smart said the expectation at Georgia was to be back at the SEC Championship Game for a third straight season, but by no means is it taken for granted.
“I’m excited to be here because I love the venue and the opportunity to play in it,” Smart said Friday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “It means you accomplished something and won your division, you don’t ever take that for granted.
“It’s earned, it’s not something we take lightly or for granted, it’s something we expected to do, and we’re going to always set that as a bar, because this is where you go to take the next step.”
The No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (11-1) are a touchdown underdog against No. 2 LSU (12-0) in the 4 p.m. game on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Smart has become the first coach since Steve Spurrier (1994-96) to lead an East Division team to three straight SEC Championship Game appearances.
The Tigers, making their first SEC title game appearance since 2011, present quite a challenge. LSU features Heisman Trophy front runner Joe Burrow at quarterback, along with two 1,000-yard receivers including Biletnikoff Award finalist Ja’Marr Chase.
“They’ve broke about every record there is in the SEC, and I know our guys are excited,” Smart said. “It will be a challenge for us.”
LSU beat Georgia 36-16 last season in Baton Rouge, but Smart said the Tigers’ offense has undergone a complete makeover.
“It’s extremely different, you can see remnants, small elements, but the unique thing now is they are doing whatever they want to do,” Smart said. “Last year they were a little bit more predictable and had more of a run element.”
Georgia’s offense, meanwhile, is largely the same.
The Bulldogs look to be efficient throwing the football and feature a power element on the ground.
Smart didn’t offer much of an update on tailback D’Andre Swift, who left last Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury but hasn’t missed any practice time.
“It’s hard to tell in practice, at this point of the season you don’t go out and tackle and hit,” Smart said. “He has practiced, he’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. I’m excited to see him go play, and we’ll have the expectation that he’ll play well.”
LSU coach Ed Orgeron said the Tigers expect to see Swift.
“We’re planning for him to play,” Orgeron said on Friday. “Just like other great players we play, I’m assuming this guy is a great competitor, and I’m assuming he’s going to play.”
Smart said he’s confident his team can handle playing on the big stage.
“In the SEC, these games are championship games every week, because if you don’t win them, you’re not in the championship game,” Smart said. “It’s another week you have to go out and play, and you’re playing the best from the other side in LSU.”
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