Athens, Ga.—Kirby Smart knows just a little bit about Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge:
**--He’s seen it as a player. The All-SEC defensive back and team captain was on the field when Georgia upset No. 6 LSU 28-27 in 1998.
**--He’s seen it as an LSU coach, serving as an assistant to Nick Saban in 2004. That LSU team went 7-0 at Tiger Stadium.
**--He’s seen it as an assistant to Saban at Alabama. Smart was 3-1 in trips to Baton Rouge.
Put it all together and Smart, now 42, has been on the Tiger Stadium field as a player and coach 12 times. He walked off the field as a winner 11 times.
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But you know what? The third-year Georgia head coach would probably trade all of those wins for a victory by his No. 2 Bulldogs (6-0, 3-0 SEC) on Saturday in Baton Rouge (3:30 p.m., CBS).
When he met with the media here on Monday, Smart seemed genuinely excited that his players will have an experience—playing at Tiger Stadium—that relatively few Georgia players have ever had. Georgia has played at LSU only 11 times in history.
“They’ve got an incredible environment, their fan base is second to none, and the atmosphere they create from the time you pull in on buses to playing in the stadium, it’s an awesome opportunity for our team to play on a national stage,” Smart said.
Former Georgia Coach Jim Donnan remembers the 1998 Georgia-LSU game—one of only five wins for the Bulldogs in Baton Rouge—for a lot of different reasons.
Freshman quarterback Quincy Carter, who came to Georgia after a try at professional baseball, had his best game as a Bulldog, completing 27 of 34 passes for 318 yards and two touchdowns.
“Quincy was great in that game,” said Donnan who was Georgia’s head coach from 1996-2000 and still lives in Athens. “To tell you the truth in the first half they couldn’t stop us and we couldn’t stop them.”
The score was 21-21 at halftime.
Donnan also remembers that game because of Champ Bailey. Bailey, the future NFL star, played both offense and defense in that game, catching seven passes for 114 yards. In fact, Bailey made the catch of the game. Clinging to a one-point lead Georgia, had the ball at its own 20-yard line with 4:59 left. The Bulldogs had to find a way to run out the clock.
“They had Kevin Faulk and we just couldn’t let them have ball back or we would probably get beat,” said Donnan.
On third at six at the Georgia 24, Donnan sent out only one receiver, Bailey, and kept everybody else in to protect Carter. Why? Because Georgia was having a difficult time blocking one Anthony “Booger” McFarland, LSU’s All-America defensive tackle.
“I told everybody that if they had to leave their man to block Booger then do it,” said Donnan. “We did not want Booger to get to Quincy.”
Booger still got to Carter but not before he lofted a 21-yard pass to Bailey for the first down. Georgia knocked out two more first downs and ran out the clock.
But that is not Donnan’s most vivid memory of that game.
“At halftime I pretty much told our guys that I didn’t see both teams continuing to score at this rate,” said Donnan. “Somebody’s defense was going to step up and it needed to be ours.”
Moments later Donnan glanced over to where the defensive players were meeting. His two-time All-SEC defensive back was challenging his teammates.
“Kirby was getting after the defense pretty hard,” said Donnan.
Georgia held LSU to only two field goals in the second half. Smart led Georgia with 12 tackles and a big pass breakup on a crucial LSU drive.
“You knew right then that Kirby was going to be a very good coach someday,” said Donnan.
Here is something else Kirby Smart knows about playing in Baton Rouge. You’d better have your chin strap pulled very tight because you’re going to get hit in the mouth early and often.
“They (Georgia’s defense) had better knuckle up because it’s going to be a physical, hard-nosed football game,” said Smart.
Truth be told, none of Georgia’s first six games has been a street fight. This one will.
“We’re a physical football team but we’ve got to play physical,” Smart said. “I haven’t seen this team play with the physicality, at least defensively, that it needs to.”
And there it is. The Georgia head coach, 20 years removed from winning as a player at Tiger Stadium, has thrown down the gauntlet.
It will be interesting to see how Georgia’s players respond.