For UGA fans trying to make sense out of the team’s lackluster performance in the loss to Texas, Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart addressed a disturbing ESPN report that said “some starters” were benched in the opening practices for the Sugar Bowl.
Some of this has already been reported by DawgNation, but there’s still some confusion over it, and Smart didn’t get to address it until his press conference in the wee hours of Tuesday morning. In case you either missed Smart’s comments or needed full context, here’s what happened:
After UGA fell behind Texas 17-0 at the beginning of the second quarter, ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe said this during the telecast: “In the early days of Georgia bowl practice, somebody close to the team told me that things didn’t go well the first three days of practice – to the point where they had to sit some starters and say ‘Look, if you’re not willing to prepare and have the energy and the pride that we need to get ready for the Sugar Bowl, you’re not going to be part of our team.’ Guys had to sit. They sent a message to everybody that you better get ready. They told us they’ve been flying around (in practices after that) … that guys have had a better attitude lately. But that the early start was very difficult.”
Note: ESPN and other TV partners get exclusive access to UGA coaches and players before games for interviews and candid conversations. If you remember, the same ESPN reporter (Rowe) broke the news during the UGA-Auburn broadcast that UGA tailback D’Andre Swift had surgery on both groins the previous January.
Let’s fast-forward to Smart after the Sugar Bowl. He was asked in the postgame press conference about the ESPN report:
“Did I bench any starters? I thought our guys practiced really well leading up to the game since we came to the bowl site. We had a lot of starters injured. We had guys out. But there was nobody that got benched that was a starter.”
What about a non-starter? “No,” Smart replied. “If he’s a nonstarter, how do you bench him? I certainly didn’t feel that way. D’Andre Walker didn’t play tonight, but D’Andre Walker has been injured.
“We felt it was important to practice shorter and practice good on good. Because the looks you get from the scout team late in the year is not real good, and kids get lethargic and they get lazy and you get sloppy. So we did higher quality work with less quantity and got more competitive. So we had all our starters out there going against each other.”
Other UGA players, including safety JR Reed, collaborated with Smart’s version of events during exclusive interviews with DawgNation after the Sugar Bowl.
So there’s that. For UGA fans still searching for answers, Smart also plainly stated at the beginning of that same press conference, per DawgNation’s Mike Griffith, that “Texas outplayed us, outcompeted. They out-coached us. They out-physicaled us. They did a lot of things better than us.”