ATHENS – Kirby Smart didn’t want to harp on the final play. He didn’t come into his postgame press conference saying his team should have won, if not for a crazy Hail Mary.
“I am not into moral victories,” Georgia’s head coach said. “I am sick to my stomach for these kids, because we deserved to win that game, but we had undisciplined penalties that lost us that game.”
One in particular: After Georgia’s improbable touchdown pass with 10 seconds left, it was called for a 15-yard celebration penalty.
“I was told we had a player run on the field without his helmet,” Smart said, leaving it at that.
The referee announced the penalty being on “No. 36,” which is sophomore defensive back Rico McGraw, a reserve who played on special teams Saturday night.
“(Jacob) Eason makes a play. Give him credit,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said afterwards. “But when they got that 15-yard penalty we felt like we had a chance.”
It didn’t seem like a huge deal at the time, but it set in motion the final events:
The kickoff was pushed back to the 20. Rodrigo Blankenship was instructed to “sky” kick it, in order to keep it away from Tennessee star Evan Berry, who still got it and returned it to Georgia 48.
Oh, and Georgia was offside on the kickoff. Five more yards, setting up Josh Dobbs and Tennessee’s offense at the 43. Everyone knows what happened next.
“Undisciplined players make undisciplined decisions. That’s what happens,” Smart said. “So we learned an extremely value lesson, for a group of young men in that room who are sick to their stomach.
“About 95 percent of them did it right.”
Smart might have meant something other than penalties, such as not playing the Hail Mary right. He said he hadn’t watched the play on film yet so wasn’t sure exactly what went wrong there.
He was also very critical of special-teams play.
But the penalties were lopsided: Georgia was flagged eight times for 44 yards. Tennessee was flagged twice for 25 yards.
“We had guys running on the field. For us to get that 15-yard penalty was just a bad play,” senior cornerback Maurice Smith said. “It just shows you can’t get too high, you can’t get too low. You’ve just got to stay level-headed, and just continue to finish. Because there’s always a last play.”
Georgia was one play away from being in the driver’s seat in the SEC East, a manageable schedule making a division championship a very realistic goal.
Instead it lost its second consecutive game, and just one day into October is probably out of the division race, barring a Tennessee collapse.
“They (Tennessee) are a very senior-laden team. I really believe they won the game because they were more disciplined than we were,” Smart said. “And undisciplined players, undisciplined decisions will get you beat. We had undisciplined penalties that cost us. And that’s disheartening.”
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