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2018 SEC Championship week starts with Smart, Saban

Kirby Smart
Photo: Kristin M. Bradshaw/UGA

ATHENS, Ga.– To open the 2018 Southeastern Conference Championship Game week, University of Georgia and University of Alabama football head coaches Kirby Smart and Nick Saban addressed the upcoming contest on a teleconference Sunday evening.

A championship meeting scheduled since November 3, the fourth-ranked Bulldogs and top-ranked Crimson Tide sealed their fate with respective wins against then-No. 9 Kentucky, 34-17, and then-No. 4 LSU, 29-0, on the road. Three weeks later, Georgia and Alabama check in with the top-two spots in the conference in scoring offense at 40.1 and 49.0 points per game.

“(Alabama’s) going to score, and they’re good at it,” Smart said. “(Saban’s) doing what they do best. I think a lot of that credit goes to (offensive coordinator Michael) Locksley and (associate head coach Dan) Enos and their offensive staff. They’ve got a who’s who star-studded cast over there on offense. A lot of their support staff, I’ve known for a long time. There are coaches that have been in pro ball over there, and they get great ideas. They’ve got great players, and they put the package together, and they’re really aggressive with it.”

Both teams are directed by the leading contenders in passing efficiency at quarterback with sophomore Tua Tagovailoa (212.5), junior Jalen Hurts (204.5) and sophomore Jake Fromm (179.4) at the top-3 conference spots.

Protecting starters Fromm and Tagovailoa are the Georgia and Alabama offensive lines, both named semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award, presented annually to the nation’s top offensive unit. On the defensive side, Georgia ranks fourth in the SEC in scoring defense (17.2 points/game) with Alabama at second (13.8 points/game).

“Alabama’s always separated themselves in regards to the offensive and defensive lines, and this team is no different,” Smart said. “They’ve got an extremely talented offensive line, an extremely talented defensive line. That’s who they are. There are no bones about it. There’s no way around it. They’re good on both lines of scrimmage, and that’s where they try to control the game. It will be a great challenge for the offensive line. They get to go against a really talented group.”

The SEC Championship Game will also feature the top punt returners in the conference: junior Mecole Hardman (21.8 points/game) and freshman Jaylen Waddle (13.6 points/game).

“Georgia is one of the most complete teams in the nation in terms of offense, defense, special teams,” Saban said. “This will be the most challenging game we have all year.”

The January CFP National Championship Game marked the first meeting between the two teams with Smart and Saban at the helm. Saban hired Smart as an assistant at LSU before a one-year stint with the Miami Dolphins served as the precursor to eight seasons at Alabama together.

“I think Kirby has done a fantastic job, and no surprise to me,” Saban said. “Georgia has always had a pretty good program, and he has taken it to the next level. They’ve done an outstanding job of recruiting good players, and they’ve also done a really good job of developing the players and getting the players on their team to play at a high level on a consistent basis.”

On Saturday, both Georgia and Alabama defeated its respective in-state rival by at least 20 points before shifting sole focus to the conference title game in Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The SEC Championship game is slated for a 4 p.m. start time on CBS.

“I’ve never been around really good teams that are focused on other teams,” Smart said. “The good teams I’ve been around are focusing on whoever they play that week. And it’s really not been different for us this year.”​

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