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Kirby Smart: ‘never satisfied,’ but praises OC Todd Monken, identifies play of the game

Coaches Poll-Top 25-Week 8-Georgia football
101621 Athens: Georgia head coach Kirby Smart gives running back James Cook five after a score during a 30-13 victory over Kentucky in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021, in Athens. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart put things into perspective quickly Saturday night.

The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs beat Kentucky 30-13, pulling away after taking a 14-7 lead into halftime to secure the top spot in college football heading into an off week.

The effort, against a physical No. 11-ranked Wildcats team was there.

But the consistency needed to win a national championship was not.

“Never satisfied, I Hate to say it, I hate that word, ‘satisfied’ is arriving, and I’m not satisfied,” Smart said. “I’m pleased with the effort. You’re going to have adversity, guys, you’re not going to play in the SEC without adversity. But I didn’t think our guys blinked.”

Still, the message will be very clear to the Georgia players next week.

“We’re going to talk to our players,” Smart said. “Do you want to flatline, stay where you are? Or, ascend to get better? Because there are a lot of things we can get better at during this stretch run, and we need to.”

Kentucky did Georgia a favor by giving the Bulldogs their closest game since the season-opening 10-3 win over Clemson in Charlotte, N.C.

Smart touched on key points derived from the hard-fought win in the battle of the SEC’s final two unbeaten teams.

Too close for comfort?

The halftime scores from UGA’s four previous SEC games with South Carolina (26-6), Vanderbilt (38-0), Arkansas (24-0) and Auburn (17-3) were very different.

Still, Smart sensed the poise in his team.

“Composure, connection, resiliency and toughness, those qualities come through in this team,” Smart said, referring to Georgia’s so-called ‘core’ DNA.

“At halftime, nobody was panicked, nobody was nervous,” he said. “It’s a physical football game. I said we’re gonna stay aggressive and keep coming at them. I’m proud of our guys and the way so many of our guys have risen to the occasion.”

More with less

Smart is the first to admit the offense at the halfway point of the season is not what he envisioned in the preseason, even beyond Stetson Bennett stepping up in place of injured starting QB JT Daniels.

“We feel like at full strength at wideout, we can be really explosive,” Smart said. “We thought coming into the year that would be one of the strengths of our team, and it’s been an injured portion of our team.”

Jermaine Burton (groin) played one snap and came off the field, Arian Smith (shin) remained sidelined along with George Pickens (knee) and Dominick Blaylock (hamstring). Transfer Arik Gilbert still isn’t with the team.

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken has made good with what he has, the tight ends combining for 8 catches for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns, the backs getting 2-34 and the receivers 4-58.

“He’s done an incredible job (calling plays), you think about the guys he’s had in,” Smart said. “He has taken tight ends and made them multiple, he’s taken backs, and he’s taken wideouts that weren’t early season starters and done a really good job.

“He’s called the game with players not plays; you dial up Nos. 19, 84, and 4 and 3, and 5, and those guys make plays. He does a good job keeping defenses off balance.”

Smart said the nine offensive plays of more than 20 yards helped make up for UGA converting on just 2 of 7 third downs.

Play of the game

Georgia sophomore Kendall Milton broke loose on a 35-yard run on a first-and-18 from the UGA 12 that was the longest of the season, sparking the second TD drive.

But when Smart said Milton made the play of the game, that’s not the one he was referring to. Instead, it was the fumble that Milton jumped on after a ball slipped out of Stetson Bennett’s hand right before he started his throwing motion.

“The play by Kendall might have been the play of the game, because it was a momentum swing,” Smart said, referring to the last play of the first quarter at the Kentucky 28.

“It was one of those, where if we don’t get that ball everyone is demoralized that we turned it over.”

Instead, with Milton falling on the ball at the 19, Bennett connected with James Cook on the next play for the first touchdown in the game.

“We talk about it all the time,” Smart said, “if we don’t know, get on it and jump on it. He did a great job doing that.”

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