NEW ORLEANS — Georgia middle linebacker Monty Rice is evolving into the leader Kirby Smart envisioned, as evidence by the mindset he’s brought to Sugar Bowl preparations.
“We want to go out there and prove that we care about this game, even though it’s not the playoffs,” Rice said upon arriving at Louis Armstrong International Airport on Friday.
“It is what it is, we can’t go back and change the SEC championship.”
The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (11-2) can, however, send their senior class out with 44 wins, which would tie them for winningest UGA class of all time.
Georgia plays No. 7 Baylor (11-2) at 8:45 p.m. next Wednesday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Bulldogs played in the Sugar Bowl classic las year, laying a 28-21 egg against a motivated Texas football team.
The Bears will be motivated, too, as they are aiming to set a school record with 12 wins and capture their first major bowl victory since beating Tennessee in the 1957 Sugar Bowl.
Rice, who missed three games and was unable to contribute in last year’s Sugar Bowl on account of a foot injury, said Georgia is motivated by last year’s loss in the Big Easy.
“We don’t want to go out two years in a row losing this game,” Rice said. “There’s a lot of young guys that haven’t gotten to play who will be able to start this game and play a lot of snaps.
“They are ready to go out there and make a case of why they should be playing.”
Rice said the Bulldogs’ offense and defense, collectively, want to make a statement, too.
“People have been questioning our offense all season, and now people want to question the defense,” Rice said. “That’s fine, we’ll have to show you come game time.”
Rice’s words carry more weight than perhaps any other player on defense, because he has proven he will back them up.
“Monty is a businessman,” Smart said last fall, describing the serious nature with which Rice carries himself. “He’s not cutting up, messing around at practice. He’s very serious about what he does. Monty has got a purpose about him.”
That purpose is a Sugar Bowl win.