January 31, 2023

ATHENS — Kirby Smart agrees it’s usually good for college football when his team plays Brian Kelly’s teams.

Of course, the previous two matchups between Kelly and Smart took place when the former was head coach at Notre Dame. Georgia also won both matchups, with the 2017 away win propelling Georgia to the college football playoffs that season.

“Both hard-fought, physical football games in both cases. I have a lot of respect for the Notre Dame program,” Smart said. “I thought it was great that Notre Dame and Georgia went together in those two games.”

When the two sides meet on Saturday, Kelly will be in charge of the LSU program. The Tigers went 9-3 in Kelly’s freshman season, with the Tigers clinching a big win over Alabama to win the SEC West.

Although a lot has changed for both Kelly and Smart since the teams last met in 2019, Kelly has a good idea of ​​what he and his team can expect on Saturday.

“It’s just really good college football. Look, it’s going to be a similar situation,” Kelly said. We will play against a physical soccer team that has the style of their head coach. You will play a great defense. You will be physically on both sides of the ball.

One reason Kelly left a strong Notre Dame program for LSU is better access to talent. While at Notre Dame he had to scour the country for elite players to win a national championship, now Kelly only has to search the fertile recruiting grounds of New Orleans for elite talent.

Smart understands the move as Georgia has a similar opportunity in Atlanta’s recruit.

“Both have great high school football in and around their campuses, proximity to good players,” Smart said. “You have New Orleans, you have Atlanta. Per capita, if you look at the NFL, the states of Georgia and Louisiana always come out on top. That has a lot to do with the success of the programs.”

Participating in the SEC championship game undoubtedly helps with recruitment as the competition is often among the most watched games in the country.

Both times when Kelly’s and Smart’s teams met, it ended up being a one-score game. That would go against pundits’ expectations in Las Vegas this time around, as the Bulldogs are 17.5-point favorites.

Kelly knows why that is given how strong this Georgia team has been throughout the season.

It will be a challenge for Kelly and LSU on Saturday. One that the LSU coach hugs head-on.

“Honestly, that’s what’s exciting about it. You know what you’re going to get,” Kelly said. “You’re going to get a really well-trained football team that’s fundamentally healthy and they’re going to play hard for four quarters and it’s also going to challenge your football team to do their best.

“It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Brian Kelly speaks to the Georgia soccer team in the 2022 SEC Championship game

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