ATLANTA — Kirby Smart was as disappointed as anyone Saturday night, but the Georgia football head coach stood behind his team in defeat.
“We’ve got a lot of champions on our team,” Smart said minutes after No. 4 Georgia lost a heartbreaker to No. 1 Alabama, falling 35-28 in the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday. “We’ve got a lot of kids that have the heart of a lion.”
The Bulldogs out-played and out-gained what had been the most dominant team in SEC history, the Crimson Tide setting a record with an average margin of victory in league games of 35.2.
Georgia was in fact on the verge of landing a knockout blow in the third quarter, but kicker Rodrigo Blankenship missed a 30-yard field goal that would have made it 31-14 with 8:20 left in the third quarter.
The Alabama sideline came to life, as team that had been out-gained 345 yards to 140 yards to that point suddenly turned it on.
“We told our kids that for a week they would hear nothing but how good Alabama was, and that’s what they heard. Everybody said they were unbeatable, and everybody talked about it,” Smart said. “We knew what we had, and we knew we’ve got a good football team. We’ve got a really physical football team.
“We’ve got a talented football team, and we most definitely have one of the best four teams in the country.”
Smart said all Georgia can do now is wait for the College Football Playoff Committee to release their four-team field at noon on Sunday on ESPN.
“The system is what it is. What happens happens,” Smart said. “These kids out here today, they battled tooth and nail with what is one of the best teams in the country. We did enough to win the game, and we didn’t finish it.
“Give Alabama credit. They made the plays when they had to. This is a special group.”
Smart said it would be wrong to point to one play — the failed fake punt, the 30-yard missed field goal, or a defensive breakdown — as the reason Georgia lost.
“We couldn’t close the deal, [and] I don’t know what that is. We’re going to figure it out, though,” Smart said. “I can promise you that. We’re a few plays away. There were a lot of plays in that game.
“Everybody is going to point to whether it’s a field goal, whether it’s a fake punt, or whether it’s a breakdown on third down contain or fourth down contain and they score; a fumble. It’s so many things. It’s inches, and we didn’t get the inches tonight. We’ve got a damn good football team.”