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Make no mistake about it, Georgia coach Kirby Smart wanted to be the first of Nick Saban's former assistants to beat the boss.

Jimbo Fisher threw that sideways when Texas A&M won in October.

Now he wants to win badly tonight badly, Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger wrote Sunday. Maybe too badly.

It's not really anything new. The students always want to out-do the teachers.

Smart hasn't succeeded because he's tried to do it the way Saban has built a monster at Alabama. That's usually why the student struggles to beat the master.

In this case Smart learned nearly everything he knows from Saban. He didn't learn everything Saban knows.

“The knock on Kirby is he can’t beat Nick,” says Pete Jenkins, a longtime defensive line coach who works as a consultant for both men. “A lot of people said that about Coach [Bear] Bryant’s assistants. Well, none of the rest of us could beat Coach Bryant either.”

When Jenkins joined Ed Orgeron's staff full time in 2016 the part-time consulting work for multiple schools disappeared into a solo job for the Tigers.

"He's the enemy now," Saban told a long-time coach at a social event in Tuscaloosa.

That was the end of the conversation. But that's just Saban. As soon as Jenkins left working for Orgeron he was back consulting for the Crimson Tide.

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Tonight's game is the second matchup between the two teams in a little over a month. Alabama shocked everybody with a 41-24 thumping in the SEC title game Dec. 4.

Now Smart gets another chance with a team that on paper may stack up just a little bit better than what Saban has in Tuscaloosa. It's a razor thin margin there.

Georgia may win. It's one game and anything can happen.

The difference may be the psychological edge Saban has.

“Kirby knows Nick better than anybody,” says Kirk Herbstreit, ESPN’s lead college football analyst, wrote Dellenger at SI, “and he just can’t quite get over the hump.”

The difference could be Smart simply WANTS to win this title.

Saban HAS to win.

It's the one thing the master can't teach to the pupil. That one little difference has to come from within and, so far, nobody has shown they can match that will to win.

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin, another one of Saban's former pupils, even has fun with it.

The guess here is nothing changes tonight.


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