ATLANTA — Kirby Smart understands the significance of Georgia’s 45-0 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday. It marks a fourth-straight win over the rival Yellow Jackets. It caps an unbeaten regular season for the Bulldogs, something not done since the 1982 season.
And it moves Georgia to 12-0 for the first time since 1980, the last time Georgia won a national championship.
Saturday though wasn’t an endpoint in the Georgia football season. Smart knew that before the game and said so again afterward.
“We’ve been trying to be ascending. We’ve tried to get some guys back healthy,” Smart said. “And that’s going to be the focus this week, is nobody trying to do more than they should. We just need to be at our best and we need to play one of our best football teams. They’ve got a really talented, talented football team.”
On the health standpoint, Georgia did get back George Pickens and Nolan Smith on Saturday. But Chris Smith and Jamaree Salyer did not dress out, with the former still dealing with a knee injury and the latter suffering a setback with his foot injury.
Related: George Pickens provides boost in his return for Georgia football: ‘It meant a lot to see him get back and play again’
Smart maintains he’s hopeful to get both of them back for next week’s game against Alabama. During the game, only wide receiver Kearis Jackson suffered an injury that forced him from the win.
“I thought he was going to be able to go back,” Smart said. “It’s a little bit of a rib injury. I don’t know how different it is from the one he had from a while back. I asked him and he said it was pretty painful and didn’t think he could go so held him out at that point.”
The Bulldogs played a clean game on Saturday, with no turnovers and no penalties. They notched their third shutout of the season on Saturday while amassing 463 yards of offense.
Stetson Bennett threw for 4 touchdowns in the win, completing 14 of his 20 passes for 255 yards. He one day hopes to look back on the win with great pride.
But it’s hard to enjoy the moment with a game as big as Alabama looming next week.
“Right now, like you said, we’ve got some more business to take care of,” Bennett said. “It’s cool to look at, and hopefully 20 years from now we’ll be able to look back and say we went undefeated through the regular season, but for right now, we’re going to take what this game gave us and move forward.”
In his press conferences throughout the season, Smart has harped on a select word from time to time. Sometimes the word is elite. Other times it is composure or toughness.
Saturday’s word was ascending. You could tell he had been preaching that to his team, as linebacker Nakobe Dean parrotted his head coach when speaking to reporters.
“It’s a step in the right direction. We talk about ascending and trying to get better every week,” Dean said. “I’ve talked about it before. It’s always how we finish the season. If we don’t finish the right way, none of this really matters. It’s always how we finish. I’m thinking about the next one right now.”
Georgia knows it can check off another major accomplishment next week. A win over Alabama would be the first since 2007. It would be Smart’s first win over his old boss, Nick Saban. It would be the program’s second SEC championship under Smart and lock up a bid to the College Football Playoff.
The team knows what it has accomplished to this point in the season. It knows though that it still has more mountains to climb.
But there’s an inkling that it still has its best football in front of it, a scary thought given Saturday’s beatdown of the Yellow Jackets.
“I think they’re hungrier to play their best, you know? We’re still getting better,” Smart said. “What excites me is the strength of our team is our team. That is what excites me. It’s not like the strength of our team is this or that, it’s the leaders.
“The players on the team are the strength of our team. They came in and said the things that needed to be said to the players about this week and how it’s going to go. When they speak, people listen. I think we’re getting better.”
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart press confernce
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