ATHENS — Christmas came early for Kirby Smart and his coaching staff in the form of former Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee and his Twitter account.
Just when it seemed Georgia football might be in danger of losing its competitive edge on the heels of the program’s first-ever 13-0 season, the former Buckeye star served up prime motivation for the CFP Peach Bowl Semifinal on Dec. 31.
Smart understands football psychology better than anyone as a former All-SEC safety himself, and Ohio State had some intangibles in its favor when the College Football Playoff committee handed the Buckeyes the fourth playoff spot even though they lost 45-23 at home to Michigan the previous week.
“With Ohio State, there’s a breath of fresh air of opportunity,” Smart said. “We’ve never had the fortune of saying, all right, we were out, and then we got back in … the excitement that provides and the energy, it’s like it’s a kick of momentum.
“We have to understand that, and we have to be able to match that.”
Smart reminded his team that last year’s Bulldogs had a monster chip on their shoulder entering the playoffs, having been beaten soundly by Alabama, 41-24, in the SEC Championship Game.
With many of the current Georgia players up for national awards, and others flying to banquets to accept trophies or be honored, it was easy to understand why the UGA head coach wants to make sure his team stays dialed in.
Fortunately for Smart, Lee took the time to playfully suggest to some of the most notable Bulldogs’ players — respected team leaders — that they aren’t household names quite yet.
The Ohio State “Eleven Warriors” website penned a story about how Brock Bowers, Darnell Washington and Kenny McIntosh were dangerous weapons on offense, and Jalen Carter, Christopher Smith and Kelee Ringo are “game-changers” on defense.
Lee, a former first-round NFL draft pick who is now a free agent, commented that he had never heard of any of the players other than Ringo.
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Lee, perhaps caught up in his memorable performance in that Sugar Bowl game of eight years ago — seven tackles, three TFLs and two sacks — didn’t stop with making light of the Georgia players, who he would later claim to know of .
Lee also targeted Smart, reminding everyone how Smart’s Alabama defense faltered against the Buckeyes in that 42-35 CFP Sugar Bowl Semifinal loss following the 2014 regular season.
It was a win that restored Big Ten pride and propelled Ohio State to its most recent CFP Championship Game victory, a 42-20 rout of Oregon.
Ezekiel Elliott had 20 carries for 230 yards on Smart’s Alabama defense, and third-team quarterback Cardale Jones passed for 243 yards and rushed for another 43.
Smart was asked about that game on the initial CFP Peach Bowl Semifinal teleconference, as it was his most recent experience facing an Ohio State program, albeit, one coached by Urban Meyer and not Ryan Day.
“It was a long day, and it was physical,” Smart said. “I think it was Ezekiel Elliott, right? He shredded what was a pretty talented Alabama defense.
“I just remember a lot of explosive plays back and forth. I can’t remember all the particulars, but I know they were very talented and very physical and played with a very obvious purpose.”
Lee claims that loss is why Smart is “being humble in the media for a reason,” perhaps unaware that it is the nature of the Georgia coach to stay even-keeled during the preparation.