Kirby Smart counting on young players as Georgia football faces ‘biggest test of all’
LOS ANGELES — Georgia will be in an unfamiliar environment this weekend, as the Bulldogs will be playing their first game in SoFi Stadium on Monday night. The home of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers will be the host for Monday’s national championship game,
The Bulldogs will get a chance to hold Saturday’s practice at the stadium, giving them some chance to see the field before Monday’s game.
And while Georgia did just play its third game in Mercedes Benz Stadium, the situation the Bulldogs are walking into this week is not a unique one.
“When we go on the road in the SEC a lot of the freshmen don’t ever go there and see it,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “It won’t be quite as normal as in the Benz because we’ve played there so many times, but we’ll get a walk-through, a practice and pregame to get some work in. That should help.”
Georgia will be relying on a number of freshmen in this game, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Safety Malaki Starks and defensive end Mykel Williams have been regular starters for the Bulldogs this season.
Related: The good, and bad, of Georgia football relying on freshman defenders in 2023 National Championship game
But given some of the injuries on the defensive side of the ball, Georgia could be looking to give expanded roles to player such as Jalon Walker and Bear Alexander.
By this point in the season, these players aren’t really freshmen anymore. They’ve played in 14 games this season, including a 42-41 thriller over Ohio State in the Peach Bowl.
“The young players have shown the most progress,” Smart said. “Some of our younger players are starting to play better because they’re at the end of year one. We’ve also tried to manage fatigue as you go along, it’s important to manage your players bodies. I’m pleased with where they are but the biggest test of all will be on Monday.”
That test comes against the TCU Horned Frogs. Sonny Dykes’ team has found a way to win plenty of close games, with TCU holding a 6-1 record in one-score games this season. The Horned Frogs have already pulled one upset in the College Football Playoff, beating Michigan 51-45 to advance to take on the Bulldogs.
This will be Georgia’s second-straight national championship game, while TCU had not played in the post season since the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl. Georgia and TCU have played semi-recently, meeting in the 2016 Liberty Bowl. Georgia won that contest 31-23.
Monday’s game kicks at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
Kirby Smart talks Georgia football as team lands in Los Angeles
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