ATHENS – Kirby Smart never lost to Vanderbilt as a Georgia player. He never lost to Vanderbilt in his time as Alabama’s defensive coordinator.
Then Saturday happened and Smart came to the podium, charged with telling the media, and thus Georgia fans, how this happened, a 17-16 stunner at home to the SEC’s perennial doormat.
“Well, not a lot to be said,” Smart said, opening his remarks.
But then he said plenty. He pointed the finger at special teams, at penalties, the lack of a running game and, yes, at himself.
“That all starts with me,” Smart said. “That responsibility starts with me. And I told the players that. We’ve got to improve as a team in order to beat teams like that. We’ve got to get better.”
Georgia has now lost as many games in Smart’s first year as its head coach than it lost in Mark Richt’s final year. Richt, to be fair, did lose to Vanderbilt twice, once at home.
But the Bulldogs entered as a 14-point favorite on Saturday. Instead they go into their bye week with three losses in four games, and a season point differential sitting at minus-15.
“It’s not acceptable,” Smart said. “I’m upset about it. And I think the best thing you do is you go to work. The only thing we can do as a team is look ourselves in the mirror, each individual guy – starting with me – (and say), ‘What can I do better to help this team?’ We have to improve. We have to get better.”
Smart harped mostly on the special teams struggles. Ten of Vanderbilt’s 17 points were essentially the result of kickoffs: Vanderbilt returned the opening kickoff 95 yards down to Georgia’s 4. A penalty on the kickoff and another one on the first snap pushed the ball up to the 1, setting up a touchdown run. Georgia’s Reggie Davis stepped out of bounds on the second-half opening kickoff, and after three-and-outs by Georgia and Vanderbilt, the Commodores made a short field goal to make it 10-6.
“It’s just hard to believe you lost this game,” a reporter said to Smart afterwards.
“Absolutely. Sickening,” Smart responded. “You know what it is? Special teams. Penalties. And we’ve talked over and over about special teams.”
Smart also gave credit to Vanderbilt, a team that entered with a 2-4 record, but played very well against the run, didn’t turn it over, and made the big stop when needed.
It was only the sixth time since 1962 that Vanderbilt beat Georgia, and the third time at Georgia over that span.
“We didn’t play very well. We didn’t coach very well. We didn’t come out with very good passion and energy,” Smart said.
Next up: Arch-rival Florida. A team that Smart went 1-3 against in his four years as a Georgia player.
“You have to do something about it,” Smart said. “When you get knocked down, do you get back up? How do you handle adversity? We’ll see how we respond to this. As a leader, this is on me.
“We’ve got to be prepared to play the game and the better we do in practice, the better we’ll do in the game. A lot of the kids played their hearts out, but we did not execute well enough to win.”