ATLANTA — Both sides met with reporters after Monday night’s incredible National Championship Game, won by Alabama over Georgia in overtime, 26-23.
Here’s what Georgia had to say:
KIRBY SMART: This was an incredible opportunity for the University of Georgia. It’s our privilege to represent the institution, our fans and players, in what I think is one of the greatest events in all of sports, the College Football Playoff system.
We thank the committee for the treatment they gave us here in Atlanta and also out in Pasadena. I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank President Morehead and Greg McGarity, showing support in our team and our program, investing in us. We told our team that this game wouldn’t be decided by past traditions or anything else. It was going to be decided by performances that happened on the field. Our guys performed on the field, competed.
I can’t say enough about the remarkable senior class. These two young men sitting next to me, they meant more to Georgia than yards. A lot of heart and soul. A lot of fire. Sony Michel came over and talked to the group several times during the game, inspired those guys. But in overtime we didn’t finish when we had to, and Alabama did. Give them credit, but I think everybody can see that Georgia’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.
I’m very proud of this team and this university, and we’re not going anywhere.
Looking back now, your first experience in a playoff or a National Championship Game as a head coach, how was it different than when you were a coordinator, and were there any surprises in this position?
KIRBY SMART: Not really any surprises. It obviously helped a lot having done that from a coordinator’s position. So we saw how to manage the turnaround, the quick turnaround, recovery for the team, how much to practice, where to travel, where to practice. There’s a lot of things that go into the decision-making process that I thought really helped having done that before.
Obviously, the first time managing games from a head coaching position is making decisions on going for it, punting the ball, those are different. But not a whole lot different, to be honest with you, being head coach from being defensive coordinator.
They go to [freshman quarterback] Tua [Tagovailoa] in the second half. Was that something you expected to see in this game?
KIRBY SMART: Yes, absolutely. We talked long about it and talked about the ways we play him. We played enough snaps. We’d seen him on tape. We told everybody at halftime there was no question they were going to him because they were struggling and they needed some momentum. He provided them some juice, got them some momentum, got the momentum swung back their way.
He’s a good player. He’s got confidence in his arm. He scrambles and makes plays, throws the ball down the field. He’s a really talented freshman, reminds you of Jake with a lot of things he did. He’s got poise in the pocket, and he made the plays when he had to.
Obviously, with [Georgia quarterback] Jake [Fromm] tonight, he hit a bunch of third downs, hits the 80-yard touchdown pass. Just talk about his performance in this spot as a freshman.
KIRBY SMART: You know, Jake’s a special kid. He’s a gamer. He understands the game of football. He sees spacing on the field. He sees guys open, very accurate passer. I mean, I think, if you want to find out about Jake Fromm, go ask those guys on the other side of the ball, and they’ll tell you because that’s a really good defense he just went against.
These guys over here pounded the rock, had some hard, tough-earned yards. It’s as physical and big as a defense there is, and Jake Fromm really did some nice things in the game.
He continues to grow. He had some freshman mistakes. You can’t take a sack in that situation, and [kicker] Rodrigo [Blankenship] bailed him out. And then throwing the ball into the helmet and getting an interception was tough, but he certainly kept us in the game with his decision-making.
What was the mindset going into overtime? Obviously, you guys were in this position just a week ago, having it go into overtime.
KIRBY SMART: Mindset in overtime is pretty much common across college football. You want to play defense. We lost pretty much every coin toss we’ve had. We lost the one before the game in Pasadena and we lost the one in overtime in Pasadena. We lost the one before this game, and we lost the one in overtime. We’ve got to get some new guys to call the coin toss or something.
But you want to play defense first and find out what the other team’s got. Fortunately, we’ve got a good field goal kicker who drilled it, had ice in his veins and made a huge kick that I’ll never forget to put us in a situation to have a chance to win, and then we couldn’t close it out defensively.
Coach, kind of expanding on a couple of things you mentioned here about Jake and his growth and the fact that Georgia’s not going anywhere. Obviously, it hurts for the seniors, but what do you feel like you learned from it, from a game like this for your underclassmen to be able to come back stronger with that? Or is that something that you don’t even think about for a couple days yet?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I don’t really know. I do know this, and I want to say this. The standard’s been set by these young men right here. I can’t put into words what these seniors mean. We’re running out of the tunnel tonight, and this guy [running back Nick Chubb] over here next to me, 27, comes by me and says, ‘I’ll go anywhere with you, and I’ll follow you anywhere, and I’ll fight for you because I believe in you.’ And that meant more to me than anything.
The way he practices, the way he’s in every meeting, the way he carries himself, the way Sony Michel affects players on our team, Isaiah Wynn, Roquan [Smith], all these guys have been incredible leaders. And if we have that kind of leadership, there’s no doubt. The sky’s the limit. Because these guys are hungry. I just hope the younger class doesn’t take it for granted that it’s just going to happen. You’ve got to make it happen, and they’ve got to believe that.
Coach, before the season, I know externally, myself included, a lot of questions about the offensive line, and going against Alabama. I mean, you know it, most seasons they’re the gold standard in the front seven. How pleased were you with the offensive line? The development through the season, but especially tonight going against that bunch.
KIRBY SMART: That’s a big, big bunch, and our offensive line fought, Isaiah Wynn fought, Lamont Gaillard fought, Kendall Baker, they fought tooth and nail. They hammered. I’m just sick for these kids. They deserved to win. Sony Michel made some runs tonight. I’m talking about just willed himself to 5 and 6 yards and we talked about that, that 5- and 6-yard runs are really good against these guys, and the offense did an incredible job of doing that.
Coach, you came out today seemingly passing the ball more. Was that out of respect for their defense and you just knew that you needed more passing yards if you were going to win this thing?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I think — I don’t know if they’re first in rush defense in the country, I don’t know. But they’ve got big guys up front. It’s hard to run the ball against Alabama. It’s really tough. That’s what makes them great. They’ve got depth in the front. Nick does a tremendous job of recruiting defensive linemen and they make it really hard to run the ball. So we wanted to be able to throw it and loosen them up. I thought Jake did a good job, and in the end we were able to run the ball some. But when it mattered most and counted most, we couldn’t close it out and run the ball for first downs and it probably hurt us.
For both of you, this is the last time you all have those jerseys on. What does it mean for you all to play for this team, and how tough was this tonight?
SONY MICHEL: It means a lot. It’s been a long journey. It’s been an honor. University of Georgia just provided so much for us. Coach Smart as our head coach, he let the leaders lead. He let this be our team. Whatever we need, he provided.
So I can’t really thank him so much. It’s been a great journey.
NICK CHUBB: It’s just a blessing to be able to play for the University of Georgia. So many great people we’ve met through the past four years and great teammates like Sony and great coaching staff and Coach Richt, Coach Smart, and those guys. It’s great to play for good coaches and meet amazing new people. It’s something I know we’ll never forget.
This is for both you guys. There were a lot of former players watching the game today. It’s conceivable that both of you all could be back as former players watching Georgia in the National Championship Game in the future. How much pride do you take in the fact that maybe this is going to build into something big in the future and you all were a part of that, a part of the foundation building in Coach Smart’s second year? How much pride do you all take in that?
SONY MICHEL: A lot. We try to set the standard high so the younger guys know where to take it from here. We fell short today, and I think guys that’s coming back understand what it’s going to take plus more to get back here.
NICK CHUBB: It’s a special place at Georgia. You see guys coming back playing in the league, coming back to support us. I know we feel the same way. It’s amazing here at Georgia. A lot of support around this area.
For both of you, how tough was it to get yards in the second half? It seemed like you all had a fair amount but couldn’t get the next down or field goal or touchdown.
SONY MICHEL: It was just execution. We had times where we were executing well, and we had times where we wasn’t. In the second half, we had a lot of times where we wasn’t. I think that’s what really hurt us.
NICK CHUBB: We didn’t do a good job of finishing. We had some drives and were out of momentum, and we ended up punting the ball. That hurts us, the momentum. That was a great defense we went up against. A lot of respect for what they do. A lot of big bodies up front, makes it hard to run. But at the end of the day, it just comes down to us not executing well.
Because you guys were in an overtime situation just a week ago out at the Rose Bowl, when Alabama tied it and got it to overtime, did you guys still feel confident you could win this game given that you did it just a week ago?
SONY MICHEL: Yes, we are very confident in one another. We’re confident in our coaches. We’re confident in our staff, and we’re confident in our players. So there was no doubt in our mind that we were going to go out there and win that game.
NICK CHUBB: I know this team would have never stopped believing. Even when they went out to kick the field goal to win the game, we knew that something was going to happen in our favor, and they ended up missing it. And we had our chance to win the game, but we just didn’t get it done. We never stopped believing.