Georgia’s Kirby Smart concerned about coming off hard-fought, emotional semifinal

Rodrigo Blankenship-Rose Bowl-Georgia football
Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship lets out a yell in the moments immediately following the Bulldogs' 54-48 double-overtime win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl.

LOS ANGELES — Twelve hours after wrapping up their double-overtime victory over Oklahoma, the Georgia Bulldogs were back on the ground in Athens. But whether the players’ feet actually touched the ground emotionally was a real concern for Georgia coach Kirby Smart.

“I talked with the players immediately afterward about not burning any more emotion or energy on that game and keep moving on,” Smart said on a College Football Playoff championship teleconference call Tuesday afternoon. “Alabama had a little more sound victory, so they probably didn’t burn quite as much emotion, although I know it was emotional to beat a team that beat them last year. The focus going forward will be on preparing for Alabama and a great program that Coach Saban has got.”

While the Bulldogs needed two extra periods to dispatch Oklahoma in the most dramatic of manners, Alabama cruised to a 24-6 victory over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. Add into that dynamic the fact that the Crimson Tide didn’t have nearly as far to travel and, accordingly, didn’t lose as much time to preparation therein, and there’s reason to believe fourth-seeded Alabama might be coming in with at least some semblance of an advantage.

But Smart intimated that a lot of their disadvantage came on the front end as the Bulldogs were preparing to face Oklahoma. Simultaneously, Smart and Georgia’s extensive support staff were preparing for both Alabama and Clemson, either one of which could have ended up their opponent in the national championship game.

And while Bama waited until Tuesday to leave New Orleans and make their way back to Tuscaloosa, Georgia went to the airport straight from the Rose Bowl to fly directly back to Atlanta. The Bulldogs were back in Athens at first light Tuesday morning.

“Our transition occurred through the night,” Smart said. “We got a little nap in and got back to work today.”

Both finalists are having to operate on shorter turnarounds than previous teams have had to prepare for a national championship game. Alabama and Clemson had nine days to get ready for their matchup last year. It’ll barely be six by the time this one kicks off in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“It’s very difficult to come from a bowl game and just have seven days to prepare,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Tuesday. “I mean, they’re coming from the West Coast; we’re coming from New Orleans. Then we’ve got to be someplace else on Friday. I mean, I think that some kind of way, somebody has got to think about the players a little bit when it comes to these games and not just what’s convenient for the media or TV or whatever.”

Smart echoed that sentiment. But, then, both sides knew what the parameters would be, so they just have to manage them.

“You emphasize rest, recovery. You emphasize what we talk about all the time, which is getting your sleep, getting your dark hours, getting off your phone,” Smart said. “… We’re starting school this week, too, so that’s another deal on top of our kids that they get to deal with. When you start dealing with a lot of outside influences on your kids’ time, you’ve got to be smart as a coach and understand you’ve got to get the most out of them, but we’ve got to be smart with our practice time and our recovery time.”

Whatever Smart says at this point, he has his players’ full attention. Linebacker Roquan Smith and tailback Sony Michel were on the conference call Tuesday, and they downplayed the emotional turnaround aspect of the challenge facing them.

The Bulldogs are as fired up as they could possibly be for the opportunity that’s before them. They’re not going to let a little loss of sleep and jet lag negatively impact their experience.

“We’re very excited and there’s still a lot of excitement around this program,” said Michel, who was named Rose Bowl offensive MVP after gaining 222 total yards and scoring 4 touchdowns. “But we’ve won some games around here and we know how to handle situations like this. We know the task at hand. We just have to move forward now. We’re about to face a good opponent and I’m sure this team and this staff knows what we have to focus on.”

Said Smith: “You know, that game happened, there was a lot of excitement and what-not. But we just have to shift our focus back because the main thing is to win the national championship. We know if we’re not honed in and doing everything in our power to prepare ourselves for that game, then we know we’d be shorting ourselves.

“I don’t think that will happen. I think we’ll be 100 percent for sure.”

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