Kirby Smart fiercely defends fourth down decisions in 44-21 win over Tennessee
ATHENS —Georgia coach Kirby Smart blamed himself for “a couple of costly decisions,” but he was bold enough to admit he’s make the same decisions again.
The No. 3 Bulldogs beat No. 14 Tennessee by a 44-21 count on Saturday night, rallying from a 21-17 halftime deficit.
There were all sorts of defensive accolades to celebrate, such as holding the Vols’ to minus-1 yard rushing and forcing three second-half turnovers.
Smart, now 17-9 against Top 25 opponents, was indeed pleased with his defense.
But Georgia’s inability to execute on two fourth-and-short plays in the second quarter — and Smart’s decision to go for both — was a popular topic of conversation as the Bulldogs’ struggled to gain control of the game.
“You look at fourth-and-1 as appetite for risk, I don’t,” Smart said on his postgame Zoom press conference. “I look at it as law of percentages say you’re going to make more than you don’t, and it’s disappointing we didn’t.”
Smart’s first gamble came on a fourth-and-1 at the UGA 36 with the Bulldogs up 14-7 and about 7 minutes left in the first half.
Tennessee had gone for it on their own 34 in the first quarter, and Smart admitted he got “suckered” into going for it, too. This, even though those same law of percentages Smart cites would indicate the Vols would be unlikely to drive the length of the field for a score if Georgia punted.
“I know my dad would be mad at me,” Smart said, referencing his father, ‘Sonny,’ a former high school coach. “Punt the ball and play defense, but got suckered into that one.”
Pride, Smart admitted, was part of the decision.
“The first one where we tried to hard count them to draw them off (sides) and didn’t, but I still feel like with our offensive line we should be able to get a foot,” Smart said. “They (Tennessee) did, and against a pretty good defensive line, they got a foot.
“They got a foot twice. I feel like we should be able to do that, but we didn’t execute and that falls on me.”
The play call was for Stetson Bennett, who is generously listed at 5-11 and 190 pounds, to run into the middle of the line of scrimmage.
“If I had to go out there again today, I’d do it again,” Smart said. “I’d do it until I couldn’t do it anymore unless someone could guarantee me we weren’t going to make it.”
Smart did do it again at the Tennessee 1-yard line late in the second quarter.
Twice, needing only a yard, the Bulldogs handed off to Zamir White.
White, who finished with 50 yards on 22 carries, was stopped twice.
“If you don’t go for it on fourth-and-1 at the goal, what are you telling our team?” Smart said. “That decision was made long, long ago, so fourth-and-inside the 1, on the last play of the half, that decision was made for me 20 years ago.
“It’s who i am and what I believe, and philosophically, I don’t care what the score is, that’s just what I believe.”
Smart and his offensive staff will certainly re-evaluate the play calls and the personnel, much more so than the decision to go for it.
Smart made it clear he has an aggressive mindset, and he plans on maintaining an attack mentality with is offense.
“If I was going to play behind the defense, I’d kick a field goal on fourth-and-1 before the half,” Smart said. “I look at it as we need 7, and to be the team we want to be, we need to be explosive offensively.
“And in order to get to where we want to be offensively, we have to improve,” he said. “People are going to score points in college football, guys, they’re too good.
“The really good teams, they score points.”
Smart knows those really good teams can also get a yard when they need it.