ATHENS — If you accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, never a bad approach when you are a football coach, you can foresee progress when others can’t. A virtue inherent in Kirby Smart’s nature is patience. He always underscores positive thinking, but there is nothing in his makeup that reflects arrogance.
Georgia is improving because the team is playing better, owing to the gaining of experience and the competitive nature of a precocious quarterback who stays the course, taking the slings and arrows of the critics to say nothing of the pounding of defenses, which have held sway as he experiences on-the-job training.
Kentucky was different from the three previous opponents in that the Bulldogs were able to run the football on the Wildcats. The statistics were not sensational but downright lovely: Yards gained rushing, 145; passing 245; total offense 460. How ‘bout defense against the run? That is a telling stat, too. Kentucky had been rushing for 219.5 points per game but managed 186 Saturday night. Owing to Georgia turnovers, the Wildcats got the short field on two of their touchdowns, but the Dawgs maintained a stiff upper lip.
Pregame, there was the reminder that while there have been many nights here (particularly old Stoll Field) when the weather was bitter and victory came by the hardest. However, history has been on the Bulldogs’ side. Georgia has a 26-7 record all time in games played in the Bluegrass State.
When Kentucky kicked the tying field goal, the Dawgs took the field with the game on the line. Move the ball, kill the clock and win it with a field goal! That it played out to that script has made life better in Athens. The final drive was one of the most effective ever with the game on the line. Because of the records of the teams and the mid-season slump by Georgia, it won’t be remembered in the annals of great moments in Bulldog history. However, the nine-play drive from the Bulldogs’ 25 was remarkably fluid and efficient. Eason’s timely passes and the running of Sony Michel to set up Rodrigo Blakenship’s winning field goal from the Kentucky 25, did not require a single third down conversion.
It won’t be remembered as “The Drive,” but it may turn out to be very impactful in Kirby Smart’s memories of his first year as a head coach. There will be less said about Vanderbilt as the season moves into its final weeks.
As soon as Kentucky kicked the tying field goal with 2:47 left in the game, there was recall of a conversation with defensive line coach, Tracy Rocker, when he first joined the Georgia staff. Rocker was on the Arkansas staff when the Razorbacks and Kentucky played seven overtimes in Lexington in 2003 with Arkansas winning 71-63. That game caused a lot of concern with coaches across the country, all of whom espoused the view that it was dangerous for players to compete in such a fatigued state — heightening the chance of serious injury.
The rules committee, chaired by Georgia’s Vince Dooley, had decided that beginning with the third overtime period, teams would be required to go for a two-point conversion after scoring a touchdown. Sometimes, however, some games are difficult to bring to an end. Blakenship’s kick eliminated any nonsense. Though it was a night kickoff, the Georgia team flew into Athens with a good night’s sleep available with a big SEC game coming up.
With success last weekend, is the realization that Auburn is bringing the most improved team in the SEC to town. The statistics are heavily in Auburn’s favor, but while the Bulldogs are weary and heavy-laden, victory in Lexington has moved the Dawgs into a state of positive thinking. The Tigers will be an overwhelming favorite with all the experts, however.
This being CBS’s last trip to Athens this season, a farewell is in order for Verne Lundquist, the venerable play-by-play announcer who has made so many friends for the network during his time in the booth. Verne, and his wife, Nancy have an apartment in Atlanta during the fall and enjoy the restaurant scene in Buckhead and often drive to games in border states. Like Auburn, Alabama and Tennessee, and, of course Athens.
We will miss his broadcast savvy, but we will miss him as a friend and pleasant dinner partner. Already, he has planned a trip to Athens next fall to “experience the hedges and the campus as a spectator.”
Saturday, there will be a Chicago Cubs flavor between the hedges with Justin Grimm calling the Dawgs pre-game. Also, Allie LaForce, the CBS sideline announcer is married to Joe Smith, another Cubs pitcher.
Loran Smith is a writer, UGA track letterman, a former executive secretary of the Georgia Bulldog Club and a longtime employee of the UGA Athletic Association who currently serves in the development office. His columns will appear weekly on DawgNation.