Kirby Smart and Tom Herman will face off for the first time as head coaches on Jan. 1. But this will not be the first time the two have been on opposite sidelines in a Sugar Bowl.
On Jan. 1, 2015, No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Ohio State met in New Orleans for one of the two inaugural College Football Playoff semifinals. Smart was the defensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide at the time, while Herman, now the head coach at Texas, was the offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes.
Yards accumulated by Tom Herman's offense against Kirby Smart's defense in the 2015 Sugar Bowl
Alabama was favored in the game as the top-ranked team in the country and came out strong in the Sugar Bowl, pulling out to a 21-6 lead by the second quarter. But the Buckeyes came roaring back, taking a 27-21 lead in the third quarter and staying in front the rest of the game en route to a 42-35 victory. The Ohio State comeback was fueled in large part by running back Ezekiel Elliott’s 230 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Under Herman’s guidance, the Ohio State offense dominated Smart's defense, racking up 537 yards of total offense, including 281 rushing yards and 256 receiving yards.
The Buckeyes went on to win the first College Football Playoff National Championship Game against Oregon, while the Crimson Tide was eliminated after the loss.
After that game, Smart and Herman went their separate ways. Herman served as head coach at Houston in 2015 and 2016 before taking the head coaching job at Texas in 2017. Smart remained the defensive coordinator at Alabama for one more season and then took over as head coach at Georgia in 2016.
On New Year’s Day, the two will meet again in another Sugar Bowl, but this time as head coaches and without a national championship berth on the line.
For Herman, the previous matchup with Smart didn’t immediately come to mind.
“Until you brought it up, I didn't even think twice about it,” Herman said in a teleconference on Dec. 2. “That is an interesting factoid that both of us competed against each other as coordinators in the Sugar Bowl just four years ago.”
Smart said he can’t draw many comparisons between his current Georgia team and the Alabama teams of his past, like the 2014 team.
“This is a much younger team than any of those Bama teams,” Smart said. “These guys aren't quite as experienced at that kind of bowl environment as maybe those Alabama teams that didn't play as well as we probably should have.”