KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Kirby Smart took a place in history Saturday night that will likely never be replicated.
Smart, in an era of college football parity never seen before, led Georgia on the most dominant SEC run in the 32-year history of the league’s divisional play, which wraps up next week.
The Bulldogs head coach said there would be time to reflect later, but first one must acknowledge not even SEC kings Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier could piece together three 8-0 league marks in a row — much less match the 28-game win streak Smart and his program are on.
UGA, it’s worth noting, has won 24 of the 28 games in the streak by double-digits.
Georgia’s 38-10 win over Tennessee in Neyland Stadium also made Smart 20-0 in opposing SEC East Division stadiums. The Florida game is played at a “neutral” site.
Here are three key things Smart said about his football program and its success the season:
Smart took note of the closer relationships the players were building during the Covid season, and UGA has continued to work on its “connectedness” to the extent of allocating valuable team time toward it.
“We spend a lot of time in the offseason building our roster, and I’m not talking about portal kids or recruiting kids,” Smart said. “I’m talking about take what we got and make what we got better than what they got.
“I really believe our culture is our difference. Everybody will say it’s players. I just don’t think that it’s just players. We’ve got really good players. But I think there’s a lot to our culture that the kids buy into, and they stay level-headed. "
Georgia’s winning streak is starting to take on a life of its own, as it’s happening at a time where there’s more parity and less stability in programs than ever, on account of open transfer rules and NIL inducements.
Smart continues to downplay the streak, as it is incidental to the goals of the 2023 team that’s trying to win its own SEC and CFP championship.
“We’re not talking about the streak,” Smart said. “(Players) are not worried about the streak. Like I said, it’s going to end, and we’re going to start a new one. But for right now they just keep getting better.”
If Georgia beats Georgia Tech, it will match Florida State and Clemson for having the longest winning streak of the four-team CFP Era (2014-present).
The Bulldogs have suffered arguably more quality attrition than any FBS program over the past two seasons with 25 players drafted into the NFL — including eight first-round picks — and 16 former UGA players in the two-deep of other FBS rosters, including 11 starters this season.
And yet, Smart and his staff have developed enough talent to sustain success and retained other key players to keep a veteran leadership presence.
“That’s the one thing I can control as a coach is how we sustain, how we retain; our retention and our ability to sustain is incredible,” Smart said.
“We’ve got a great footprint to recruit from, unbelievable administration that supports what we want to do.”
Smart praised UGA President Jere Morehead and athletic director Josh Brooks, as they have worked in concert with him to build this blooming dynasty.
”I don’t think that the staff — not talking about me — the staff and the players get enough credit,” Smart said, “because, you know, people have let-downs, people have bad games. We try to win one more victory … "
Smart has shared the while the 2021 and 2022 Georgia teams were known for their dominance, the characteristic of the 2023 team has been resiliency.
Indeed, these Bulldogs trailed in seven of eight SEC games this season and have given up opening drive touchdowns in five straight games.
Smart joked he told defensive coordinator Glenn Schumann to give up a TD on the first play of the game against Tennessee to “get it over with.”
In truth, it burns Smart up that his defensive unit has not been sharp early in games. And yet, he has an admiration for their ability to “take a punch,” as he has said.
“I’m really proud of our resiliency,” Smart said. “The kids did a great job, they knew it would be a tough environment and they responded to a not so great start.
“We continue to improve and get better. I can’t say enough good things about our offensive staff and our offensive game plan.”
Smart has been stuck on a new motto of late that’s all about maximizing the attributes this team does have.
“Our kids buy in each week to the plan and they get better each week,” Smart said. “All we’re trying to do is find the best version of ourselves. Give the kids a lot of credit. They did the hard work, they did the heavy lifting. We’ve got to continue to get better.”