ATHENS – Amid the happy scramble of bodies, Maurice Smith and Kirby Smart found themselves together. They embraced, saying nothing, but not needing to. Then as Smart turned toward the tunnel, raising his fist to the Georgia crowd, Smith put his arm around his coach, both all smiles as they walked off the field.
Maybe this season hasn’t gone the way either Smart or Smith had wanted since they came over from Alabama. But they both still knew how to beat Auburn.
It was Smith’s pick-six that lifted Georgia past Auburn, a 34-yard return that ignited a Bulldog team that may have otherwise been headed for defeat. Instead it gave Georgia its lone touchdown, changed momentum, and propelled it to a 13-7 upset of the nation’s No. 8 team.
“It comes down to dedication, being dedicated, my family dedicated to get here,” said Smith, who endured a months-long fight with Alabama to secure the right to be a graduate transfer to Georgia. “It just shows if you work hard you’re going to get the results that you deserve.”
It was fitting: Auburn’s loss, promulgated by Alabama’s former defensive coordinator and defensive back, clinched the SEC West for the Crimson Tide.
“It’s beautiful,” Smith said, chuckling. “I don’t have the words to say anything.”
Smart, who’s been careful talking about his former team, didn’t take the bait when it was pointed out that the one touchdown Georgia scored against Auburn (No. 8 in the Associated Press poll and No. 9 in the College Football Playoff rankings) Saturday was by a former Alabama player.
“Yeah, I guess it is (ironic),” Smart said, as the media laughed, but Smart didn’t. “I’m happy for Mo. I’m happy for our kids here. And that’s the focal point for me.”
The interception came on Auburn’s first drive of the second half, with the Tigers leading 7-0, facing third down. Quarterback Sean White lofted a pass to the right side, right at Smith.
“I honestly thought he was throwing to me,” Smith said. “Maybe I had a white jersey on, I don’t know.”
Smith caught it and headed right to the left corner of the end zone, getting a couple good blocks, and squeezed in. He said it was the first touchdown he can remember scoring since high school, which isn’t surprising, as he didn’t play very much at Alabama.
“I’d been wanting to get it for the longest,” Smith said.
Smith has said before that the transfer from Alabama wasn’t about winning and losing. He already won a national championship ring at Alabama. This was about playing time and relationships.
But with Georgia’s record at 4-4 two weeks ago, it still had to be tough, even if Smith was starting every game. So to have things go this way Saturday night was even more sweet validation.
“There’s nobody that I’ve seen in my coaching career that works as hard day in and day out,” Smart said of Smith. “I’ve been coaching a long time. He works hard. I saw him work hard myself all those years, and now he’s matured. He knows what play’s coming before it comes a lot of times. He’s a mature kid, and he’s become one of the best leaders on the team.”