NEW ORLEANS — D’Andre Swift said he wasn’t “supposed” to play in the Sugar Bowl.
But the Georgia football team captain and team leader couldn’t resist.
The young Bulldogs that Kirby Smart turned loose on the Baylor Bears were getting after it, having too much fun, and Swift found himself caught up in the excitement.
“I wasn’t 100 percent, I wasn’t even supposed to go out there like I did, but I love the game too much,” Swift explained. “I love being around this team. The energy was crazy.”
Georgia football finished out a challenging season with a 26-14 win over No. 7 Baylor, overcoming attrition and gaining valuable offseason momentum.
The Bulldogs re-asserted themselves as an elite program by winning the matchup of Top 10 teams. UGA finished the season 12-2 and 5-1 against Top 25 teams despite the injury riddled nature of 2019.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you bowl games don’t matter, because to many players and coaches and fans, they do. The postgame celebration was glorious and well-earned in New Orleans.
Georgia freshman safety Lewis Cine, one of the rising stars who emerged, talked about how the staff emphasized “out-hit” and “out-hustle.”
Coaches can throw those buzzwords around every week, but the difference in New Orleans was, this group of Georgia players was bought into the coaching. They were bought into being at and playing in the Sugar Bowl.
Here are three parting shots from New Orleans:
The No. 7 jersey
Georgia fans have their favorites and often wear their jerseys, and now there’s a case to be made for the No. 7 jersey.
Swift’s talents alone justify it. Anyone who understands football realizes that Swift’s statistics would have been much, much greater had he not been running into an 8-man box all season because of UGA’s receiver deficiencies.
But Smart said earlier this season, and it played out over time, that Swift’s contribution as a leader was just as big. Swift asserted himself when he publicly stated the Bulldogs were taking a playoff mentality upon themselves after many buried them following the upset loss to South Carolina.
Swift also made the decision to show up for the bowl practices, and go on the bowl trip, when he could have been spending agent money and training in a tropical setting. Actions speak louder than words.
Twelve former starters missing? No problem, “Next Man Up” was in full effect, and the talent and attitude of the players filling in for those suspended and choosing not to play impressed.
Freshmen like Lewis Cine, Kenny McIntosh, Zamir White, Nakobe Dean, Warren Ericson, Nolan Smith and Travon Walker were bought into Georgia’s bowl mantra to “out-hit” and “out-hustle” a grizzled Baylor team.
Smart and Georgia turned the page from the players missing, and turned the game over to some of tomorrow’s stars, like freshman and Sugar Bowl MVP George Pickens, and they delivered.
Smart encourages his players to do what’s best for their careers, and while he said he doesn’t always agree with their decisions, he supports them.
There might not be any greater x-factor in the Bulldogs’ hopes next season than Jake Fromm’s decision to go pro or return for his senior season.
Fromm’s control of the offense and leadership is pivotal to Georgia’s hopes to win the SEC East and go to the College Football Playoff next season.
But there are other key juniors mulling their futures, too, and they are also great leaders that make a difference beyond their roles on the football field.
In addition to Swift, there’s Richard LeCounte, Solomon Kindley and Monty Rice — each a king in his respective position group meeting room. All four showed up and played well in the Sugar Bowl.
Now, it’s up to their families to determine what the best route is for their futures.
DawgNation Sugar Bowl Game Stories