For some Georgia fans, the matchup against the No. 8 Cincinnati Bearcats in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl to be somewhat of a disappointment. Although, for Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, that’s not the case. He wants his squad ready and to not overlook a stout Bearcats’ team led by former Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.
Two years ago, Georgia was embarrassed against Texas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl after a heartbreaking loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship. In that matchup against the Longhorns, the Bulldogs came out flat and unprepared as they trailed 21-0 early in the game. Last season, Georgia beat a very physical Baylor team, 28-16, in the exact same bowl. It seemed like the Bulldogs came into that matchup against the Bears with a sound mind and took care of business.
This UC team UGA will face in less than two weeks is very physical and talented on both sides of the ball. The Bearcats are led on offense by quarterback Desmond Ridder, who has thrown for 2,090 yards and 17 touchdowns in just nine games. He’s also rushed for 600-plus yards and has 12 scores on the ground. On defense, Cincinnati is pretty solid. They rank No. 13 nationally in total defense, No. 7 in scoring defense and No. 2 in pass efficiency defense.
This is a team that the Bulldogs can’t overlook, and Smart agrees.
“We’ve had success in bowls, we’ve had failures in bowls,” Smart said on Sunday. “We lost the Sugar Bowl, we won a Sugar Bowl. Those two things most stick out in my mind are the approach each team took to those games. It was so important to so many in terms of the Baylor Sugar Bowl, the way the kids approached it. For the Texas Sugar Bowl, it wasn’t that way. Everybody didn’t approach the game the same way. I think we learned a valuable lesson as a staff that it’s not necessarily who you play with but what their mindset is when you go play a game in a bowl game.”
Following the team’s 44-28 loss to Florida on Nov. 7, the Bulldogs have looked like a totally different team as Southern Cal transfer J.T. Daniels has taken over at quarterback. Georgia has averaged 41.67 points per game over the last three contests and the offense seems to have finally hit its stride. The unit will try and continue to do that against a Bearcats’ defense that allows on average only 16.00 points per game to opposing offenses.
Georgia will have a lot bit of advantage due to the fact that the team only has to travel an hour to Atlanta to play against Cincinnati. The Bulldogs could missing several key players for this game, but Smart according to Smart, his team will be ready to compete.
“I don’t completely know the answer to that yet. We don’t know exactly who’s going to be in and who’s going to be out,” Smart said. “There’s still water under the bridge in terms of kids making decisions, and we’ve got several seniors with draft prospects; we’ve also got juniors with draft prospects who are having to make decisions.”
Last week, UGASports.com broke the news that six seniors were expected to opt-out. Those names include Ben Cleveland, D.J. Daniel, Mark Webb, Monty Rice, Richard LeCounte and Tre’ McKitty. It was also reported that several other juniors including, Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell, could not play against Cincinnati as they prepare for the NFL Draft.
That will leave some of the program’s younger players to be the leaders heading into the game.
“At the end of the day it takes the leaders on the team to buy into that,” Smart said. “Coaches, it’s always important to us. It’s our livelihood. But is it going to be important to the players? That’s the key ingredient.”