ATHENS — The last time Tom Herman and Kirby Smart went head to head was four years ago in the Sugar Bowl, back when Herman was Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and Smart was calling the defensive plays for Alabama.
The coaches are set to meet again in the Sugar Bowl with Smart leading No. 5-ranked Georgia (11-2) and Herman the head coach of No. 15-ranked Texas (9-4) in the 8:45 p.m. Jan. 1 New Year’s Six Bowl game in New Orleans.
“Until you brought it up, I didn’t even think twice about it,” Herman said on the Sunday Sugar Bowl teleconference. “That is an interesting factoid that both of us competed against each other as coordinators in the Sugar Bowl just four years ago.”
Herman got the best of Smart in the first matchup. The Buckeyes beat Alabama 42-35, with Ohio State piling up 537 total yards of offense with a third-string quarterback against Smart’s Crimson Tide defense.
The Buckeyes went on to win the national championship, and the offensive showing against Alabama was so good that Herman became a hot name in the head coaching searches.
Herman ultimately landed the job as Houston’s head coach, spending two seasons there before being hired as the Longhorns head coach before the 2017 season.
Herman’s Texas team is an underdog (+ 11.5) against Smart’s Georgia team in this game, just as Ohio State was against Alabama (-9.5) four years ago.
Herman said he has been busy recruiting and hasn’t had a chance to closely study the Bulldogs’ team, but he expects a big challenge.
“I know Coach Smart and his program, (and) I’ve had a chance to speak with him many times over the years, and we’ve shared ideas,” Herman said on the Sunday afternoon Sugar Bowl teleconference. “I watched their championship game, and I know what a formidable opponent Georgia will be.
“I’ve seen a lot of statistics, and they’re 20 in the country in damn near every offensive and defensive statistic. So from statistics alone, it looks like a very balanced team.”
This marks the first time Texas has played in a bowl game outside the state of Texas since 2011.
“I do think there is an added benefit to getting outside the state of Texas and seeing things that aren’t as readily available for you to see as a student-athlete,” Herman said. “We do have quite a few players on our roster from the state of Louisiana, so I think it will be a nice homecoming for them.
“But, you’re right, the bowl experience for the student-athlete is supposed to be one where they can go and enjoy something — enjoy the fruits of their labor, so to speak, and enjoy something that may not be available to them had they not reached that bowl game.”