ATLANTA — Now we see why Kirby Smart and Nick Saban fought so hard over Maurice Smith’s services.
After a long and tortured journey to Georgia, Smith started in Saturday’s season opener against North Carolina and made plays right away.
Starting at nickel back, the graduate transfer from Alabama made a tackle to halt North Carolina’s first drive one yard short of a first down. One series later, he added another tackle and had a touchdown-saving pass break-up.
Smith leapt to break up a deep pass just before it arrived at a North Carolina receiver’s hands.
It had to be a sweet series of moments for Smith, who fought with Alabama for the right to transfer to Georgia, his case becoming a cause celebre’ in college football.
Smith tried to transfer from Alabama to Georgia in mid-June, but Saban denied a release to the SEC rival, where Smart had become coach after nine years as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. The transfer was held up for two months, until Alabama relented under public pressure, and the SEC granted a waiver.
Smith may have arrived at Georgia two weeks into the preseason, but his familiarity with the defense and the coaches eased the transition. He played last year for secondary coach and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, and the past three years for Smart.
It was only the third start of Smith’s career. He started once each at Alabama, as a freshman and sophomore.
Also in Georgia’s secondary, Aaron Davis earned the start at safety, with senior Quincy Mauger coming off the bench. Mauger was expected to start this season but missed about a week of practice with an ankle injury.