ATHENS – The takeaway in many quarters was that Georgia, in being pummeled last week, was exposed. Kirby Smart used that word too on Saturday. But in a different context.
“I think adversity doesn’t build character. I personally think adversity exposes character,” Smart said, as he stood at the podium Saturday night, before a roomful of reporters.
Smart was opening his postgame news conference following the 42-13 rout of Kentucky, which came a week after his Georgia team was on the other end of almost the mirror score at Auburn (40-17).
“If there was an opportunity with last week’s loss it was probably to see how we respond,” Smart said. “And I think the character of our group is clear. Led by the seniors, they accepted the new staff, they were willing not just to buy into our new way, but they’ve been selling it to our younger players, which is a big part of it. That’s what it takes to be a good football team.”
It wasn’t that Georgia answered the critics by winning this game or even winning it big. The Bulldogs (now 10-1) were 21.5-point favorites over the Wildcats, who fell to 7-4.
Even the final score can be a bit deceiving, at least as to how easy it was for Georgia. It trailed in a game for only the third time all year – it also trailed at Notre Dame and Auburn – and it was a one-possession game after Kentucky’s touchdown to start the second half.
But coming back from that also confirmed Smart’s feelings. Georgia still pulled away with a big second half and nearly doubled up Kentucky in total yardage: 504-262.
“I’m proud of the fight, resiliency and the character that was exposed,” Smart said.
Smart was speaking as his son sat a few feet away, leafing through a game program and wearing a sticker with a picture of his father as a player in the 1990s. The coach compared momentum to a pendulum, swinging back and forth and always certain to revert back. The key is responding to good and bad momentum.
It wasn’t clear whether he was referring to the Kentucky game or responding to the Auburn loss. Or maybe it was both.
“Listen, there was no magical speech. It was doing what we were supposed to do, executing,” Smart said. “Mistakes are going to happen in football. But we kept fighting.”
By winning, Georgia made a bit of program history. For the first time it went unbeaten in SEC East play, at least going back to when divisions were created in 1992.
“It’s something they can hold and say for the rest of their life, they were the first ones to do that,” Smart said. “Say what you want about the East, they did it. It was a great team accomplishment. It was what we motivated them with this week.”
The Bulldogs already had clinched the division title. That came two weeks ago after beating South Carolina. Two weeks from now, Georgia will play in the SEC Championship Game against the winner of the Auburn-Alabama game.
That game in Atlanta may ultimately decide the legacy of this team. At minimum it has made some SEC East history and gotten the Bulldogs back to the conference title game for the first time since 2012.
But there hasn’t been much beating chests about that, as outside linebacker Davin Bellamy pointed out Saturday.
“We don’t come here to win the SEC East. We come here to win it all,” Bellamy said. “We’ve still got a long way to go.”