The Georgia Bulldogs arrived in New Orleans on Friday for their upcoming matchup in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against the No. 7 Baylor Bears on New Year’s Day.
Head coach Kirby Smart met with the media for the first time since Early Signing Day last week on December 18th, and he had a lot to say. While Kirby didn’t talk about what players made the trip or didn’t, he did offer injury updates on D’Andre Swift and Kearis Jackson. He also talked about the status of sophomore running back James Cook.
“James Cook is cleared to play,” Smart said Friday at the Sugar Bowl press conference. “We don’t discuss details of situations like this publicly usually but we thoroughly reviewed this situation and in compliance with our (UGA’s) drug policy, we tested him immediately after he had an arrest. The test was negative and James is cleared to play. It’s that simple.”
Cook was arrested earlier this month on Saturday, December 14th on two minor misdemeanor charges during a traffic stop near downtown Athens, GA. Those charges included one count of driving with an open container of an alcoholic beverage in the passenger area and one count of having an invalid driver’s license. The police report also said there were traces of marijuana in the vehicle and a strong smell of cannabis coming from the car. Cook said there was none in the car, but he did admit to having smoked it all beforehand. The sophomore running back was not charged with possession of marijuana nor was he charged with being under the influence of either alcohol or marijuana.
Kirby stated that he wasn’t proud of Cook’s behavior but per the University of Georgia’s alcohol and drug policies for student-athletes, he is cleared to play.
“I’m not proud of his behavior, but he suffered some discipline, and that’s done. James is cleared to play and that should be updated.”
Cook has played in all 13 games this season, starting three. He has rushed for 176 yards on 28 carries, averaging 6.3 yards per carry, with two scores.
In addition to the news regarding James Cook, Kirby was more positive on D’Andre Swift‘s status during Friday’s press conference.
After being injured against Georgia Tech on November 30th, Swift only carried the ball five times against LSU in the SEC Championship Game a week later. It’s been a big question all month long whether he would play or not, but Smart seemed confident that he will be able to play.
“D’Andre Swift’s been recovering from a shoulder injury, dealing with that at the end of the season,” Smart said. “He’s been able to do more and more in each practice, the last two doing the most. He’s been doing the most in the last two recent practices. We’re hopeful that he’s able to go at 100 percent for the game. He wants to play in the game, so if he’s able to go 100 percent, he’ll play.”
Swift has been a very versatile and shifty back that Georgia has relied on in the past few seasons. He is Georgia’s leading rusher this year with 195 carries for 1,216 yards and seven touchdowns. Swift is averaging 6.2 yards per carry, and he is also a threat out of the backfield, hauling in 24 passes for 216 yards and a score.
Kirby added, “The standard is you’re going to come compete and play, and if you aren’t up to that standard, then you aren’t going to be here. It’s important that our guys understand that. D’Andre’s embraced that. D’Andre says I have a role as a captain. I want to be there to support the team, I want to be there to play, I want to be there to help.”
Kearis Jackson was injured in the very first game of the season for the Bulldogs, breaking his hand in the win against Vanderbilt on August 31st. He didn’t return to play till the Tennessee game on October 5th, and he didn’t get his first catch since returning from injury till the Missouri game on November 9th. Jackson has just five receptions on the year for 79 yards but could be a huge help for the struggling receiving core. However, Jackson has been battling with his second injury of the season, suffering a high ankled sprain versus LSU in the SEC Championship Game.
“Kearis (Jackson) is still recovering from his high ankle sprain from the SEC championship game,” said Smart. “He has not been able to completely practice. He’s running a straight line, he’s doing some good things, but he hasn’t been full go. We hope to get him full speed this week.”
There were several players that allegedly didn’t make the trip, and Smart was pressed about senior running back Brian Herrien and defensive lineman Tyler Clark. He chose to answer those questions by commenting that he was only focused on the players that had made the trip to New Orleans.
“I know you guys are concerned and focused on who may or may not be here or who is or is not playing, but that is not the concern of this team,” Smart said. “This team is focused on who is here and that’s going to be a very common theme as well, to be focused on who’s playing. What we’re worried about is how we can get better, how we can get this team better and how we can play a complete football.”
If Swift is not able to go due to his injury and Herrien is also not available, the task of shouldering the Dawgs’ running game will fall to Cook along with redshirt freshman Zamir White and true freshman Kenny McIntosh. While Georgia is certainly better on the d-line if Clark is playing, if he is not available, there is depth in this position group where the Bulldogs should be OK for the game on Saturday.