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Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Christopher Smith (29) runs back a blocked LSU Tigers field goal attempt for 95 yards and a touchdown during the first half of the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

Georgia football winners and losers following SEC championship victory, College Football Playoff berth

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Georgia football winners and losers following SEC championship victory, College Football Playoff berth

Winner: Chris Smith

At this point, the expectation is that Smith will make a big play for the Bulldogs. He did so twice, again, on Saturday against LSU to give Georgia its first SEC championship game win since the 2017 season.

For Smith, it was his first win in four tries.

“It feels amazing,” Smith said on the win. “Just coming up short so many times, just to finally be able to get a win, it feels great for sure.”

After Nazir Stackhouse blocked an LSU field goal, Smith ran up to the ball and waited to see what LSU would do. With the dejected Tigers heading to the sidelines, Smith noted that none of the 11 players had their eyes on the football.

So against the advice of his offensive coordinator in the booth. Smith picked the ball up and ran it back 95 yards for a touchdown. Instead of going up 3-0, LSU found itself down 7-0

“That’s football savvy and football awareness for him to pick that ball up,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Because we tell them. We showed him video of guys touching the ball after the block and the other team gaining possession. But we also say if you can score, go do it.”

While a number of Bulldogs came down with key plays, they also gave up their fair share of them as well. LSU threw for 502 yards on Saturday, the most ever allowed by a Smart defense.

The Georgia head coach was blunt on what would need to change before the next game.

“Our guys understand as the year goes on, teams tackle poorly, teams cover poorly,” Smart said. “Defense usually deteriorates. That’s not the culture here. It won’t be accepted or tolerated, so we got to fix it.”

Related: Kirby Smart on Georgia football defensive performance: ‘It won’t be accepted or tolerated’

Some of it can be chalked up to the game situation. The Bulldogs held a 35-10 lead at halftime, which forced LSU to spend the entire second half chucking the football. Garrett Nussmeier entered the game and threw for 294 yards on 27 second-half attempts. He wasn’t perfect, Smith picked him off in the end zone while Robert Beal had a strip sack, but the LSU offense found some holes in the Georgia secondary.

They specifically targeted Kelee Ringo and Malaki Starks in coverage. Neither had a particularly strong game.

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