ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart said he learned his coaching etiquette from Nick Saban, when asked about the decision to avoid scoring on the game’s final play at South Carolina and run almost exclusively in the fourth quarter.

The No. 9-ranked Bulldogs (6-2) beat the Gamecocks (2-7) by a 45-16 count last Saturday, certainly a comfortable margin.

But Georgia likely could have scored many more points when one considers the Bulldogs had 225 yards and a 21-0 lead after the first quarter.

UGA was on the South Carolina 1-yard line on the final play and elected to take a knee rather than break the 50-point barrier and give its freshman running back what would have been his first career touchdown.

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Georgia finished with 16 passes thrown and 46 runs.

In a world where style points matter and recruits pay attention to numbers, some have wondered if Smart should have kept the pedal down to send the message that the Georgia offense is indeed ready to evolve under former NFL offensive coordinator Todd Monken.

It was only two years ago that the College Football Playoff committee chose Oklahoma and its flashy offense over a deserving Georgia team, much to Smart’s chagrin.

The Bulldogs aren’t headed for the playoffs this season barring a total collapse on Florida’s part in the final two games and what would be an upset win over Alabama in the SEC title game.

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But UGA is working to improve, and Smart explained he felt running the ball on every play of the final 9 1/2-minute drive was the best use of the game reps in this instance.

“I’ve been on the headphones with Coach Saban, and I have a lot of respect for him, (and) there is many a times that he has said, ‘hey, that guy on the other sideline is a coach too and he’s worked for me or I know him’ and he has made a decision to take a kneel,” said Smart, who in this case was coaching against former UGA quarterback Mike Bobo, who is also one of his closest friends and a former roommate.

Still, Smart said, it wasn’t like the Bulldogs weren’t trying to score.

“What you’re not going to do is tell your guys to not go out there and compete and get better,” Smart said. “We were able to do that. We had a drive there that took however many minutes off the clock. Daijun Edwards got a lot of work.

“Five offensive linemen who have hardly got to play this year got to go out and play. There were a couple wideouts that got to go out and play, and tight ends, and freshmen.  I look at it as, we weren’t going down the field not trying to score, we were trying to score.”

But there’s only one football, and as Georgia works to evolve into a more high-powered offense, they will want talented receivers.

UGA’s top three receivers, George Pickens, Kearis Jackson and Jermaine Burton, had a total of 12 targets at South Carolina — compared to Edwards’ 14 carries.

Smart did allow quarterback JT Daniels — who was playing his second game with the offense — to throw a touchdown pass to freshman receiver Arian Smith on the first play of the fourth quarter before going exclusively to the run.

“I do think there are times when you have to try to get your team better and get continuity,” Smart said. “We did that. We threw the ball to Arian (Smith) in a situation when we didn’t have to. We want to continue to grow our team and get better.”

Georgia plays host to Vanderbilt at 4 p.m. on Saturday in Sanford Stadium.