At the beginning of the week, Kirby Smart made it clear that COVID-19 was a concern with his team after he allowed players to go home over Christmas break to be with their families.
In his final media appearance before the Bulldogs take on No. 8 Cincinnati, Smart didn’t detail which players will be out of the game. But he did offer a hint that some players could be unavailable for the game.
“The guys who are able to play will be out there to play. The ones who won’t unfortunately won’t be out there to play,” Smart said. “We have dealt with this all year and haven’t disclosed that.”
Georgia tested players on Saturday, Monday and Wednesday ahead of the game against the Bearcats. In addition to any COVID-related absences, Georgia will be without Eric Stokes, DJ Daniel, Monty Rice, Tre’ McKitty and Ben Cleveland as those five have all declared for the 2021 NFL Draft.
The Bulldogs will also be without James Cook after the death of his father this week.
“James was close to his dad. Tough, tough environment for him,” Smart said. “I know all the running backs have reached out to him, spoke with him. I’ve spoke with him a couple times. He’s dealing with it the best he can. Appreciates all the support of Dawg Nation, all our fan base. Your heart goes out for him.”
This will be the 10th game this season for both teams, one that COVID has obviously impacted. Both teams had games cancelled due to the virus this year. They also both had their non-conference severely impacted as well. The Bearcats were supposed to play Nebraska while Georgia had all of its non-conference games washed away.
Friday’s game will be the first time all season that Georgia has played a team that doesn’t represent the SEC.
“If you asked the players, they would have liked to have played the non-conference opponents in terms of starting out with UVA,” Smart said. “They’re always going to say they want to play.
“I know each and every guy, including myself, would have loved to be able to compete and played every game we possibly could.”
Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell pointed out that the teams weren’t just battling COVID this year but the wear and tear that comes with a normal college football season. Georgia knows that well, as the likes of Richard LeCounte and Jordan Davis missed multiple games due to injury this year.
“There are a lot of things that happen on the back end, whether you’ve missed practices, had time off, guys aren’t as healthy,” Fickell said. “It’s not just their lungs, the virus, it’s the things that happen from guys being off. We’re in the same boat.”
Through it all though, Smart has been proud of how his team has handled the never-ending adversity that 2020 brought upon the Georgia team. Back in August when the Big Ten and PAC-12 cancelled their respective seasons, it seemed hard to fathom that a complete college football season would be played.
Yet as we end 2020, Georgia got through nine games and is ready to play in a 10th on Friday. This Georgia team certainly lived up to the “do more” moniker during this season.
“Never ever, ever, ever give up. Don’t quit on it,” Smart said. “Keep fighting, pushing through. We’re teaching our kids some valuable lessons. There’s a lot of people in the world today, in America today, I’m not going to say use COVID, use the pandemic maybe to do less.
‘These kids have actually done more, okay? They’ve done more through the pandemic because they had to work twice as hard to stay available.”
Kirby Smart previews Peach Bowl against Cincinnati
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