ATLANTA — Gus Malzahn says he doesn’t remember his exact words, but Kirby Smart confirmed the gist of their conversation after the former won the Auburn-Georgia game last month.
The details of the conversation made the rounds on social media and message boards over the last couple of weeks. Here is a brief summary:
Gus Malzahn: We’ll see you in Atlanta.
Kirby Smart: I’ll tell Nick [Saban] you said that.
Gus Malzahn: You do that.
Malzahn was right. After beating the Bulldogs, 40-17, Auburn defeated Alabama two weeks later by a score of 26-14 to win the SEC West. Now Malzahn is facing Smart for a second time in four weeks, this time in the SEC Championship Game.
On Friday, Smart said that’s how the conversation went down.
“That’s pretty close,” Smart said when a reporter repeated the exchange. “We were talking about it today when I saw him. I said, ‘You held up your end of the bargain.’ ”
According to Smart, Malzahn then asked the Georgia coach if he told Saban — his former boss at Alabama — about what he said.
“He asked if I did, and I told him I never did,” Smart said. “But he held up his end of the bargain, and they got back to Atlanta.”
Malzahn, ever the guarded one in news conference situations, said he might not have been exactly that bold with his statement to Smart.
“I think I said, ‘Hope to see you in Atlanta,’ ” Malzahn said. “But regardless, I’ll just say this: Kirby and I, we went against each other numerous times. We have a lot of respect for each other. I just had a feeling we’d play again.”
They will on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta. No. 2 Auburn will get into the College Football Playoff with a repeat win over No. 6 Georgia, which could make the final four if it leaves with the title.
It wasn’t exactly the scenario many saw coming a month ago, when Malzahn was on the hot seat and Smart had the No. 1 team in the country. But Smart saw the potential in the Tigers, who won big at home in their first meeting.
“I think Gus and them are doing a tremendous job,” Smart said. “I’ve said over and over I think they’re one of the hottest teams in college football. I’ve seen Gus teams, Gus offenses for a long time, and I have a lot of respect for the job he does.
“I don’t think he gets enough credit, especially when he’s got a quarterback-running back tandem and receiver tandem that he’s got now.”