ATLANTA — After falling behind by 10 points in the second half, there were several plays that Georgia made that could be considered momentum changers. For coach Kirby Smart, it was the one Roquan Smith made in the final minute of the third quarter.
The sophomore linebacker from Montezuma sniffed out a screen pass for Elijah Hood and turned it into a 4-yard loss. It also went down as Georgia’s first safety since 2013 and brought Georgia within a point, 24-23.
“Well, that’s the loudest I’ve ever heard it in here,” Smart said of the Georgia Dome, where he played numerous times in nine seasons with Alabama. “I’ve been in this stadium a bunch of times, and I felt that was the loudest I’ve ever heard it. It was pretty impressive.”
Smith, a 6-foot-1, 217-pound sophomore making his first career start, chocked it up to recognition. The Bulldogs had seen the play in video study and they’d seen it at least two other times in Saturday’s game.
“They ran the same play earlier in the game, a cross screen,” Smith said. “I saw the quarterback chatting to the running back beforehand, and when I saw that, I said to myself, ‘I’m fixing to get it.'”
Smith was right there with Elijah Hood two yards deep in the end zone when the ball came to him from quarterback Mitch Trubisky under heavy pressure. As soon as the ball hit Hood’s hands, Smith shoved him out of bounds for the safety.
“I thought that momentum change was great,” Smart said. “He saw something, bit on it and attacked it. It was a big swing in the game to get the momentum back our way.”
Smith’s coaches and teammates were particularly pleased to see him get rewarded for his hard work. Smith got his first career start Saturday. He finished with six tackles, two for losses.
“Who would deserve it better?” Smart said of Smith. “You’re talking about a guy that works so hard and buys into everything we preach. He practices faster than he plays sometimes. I mean, he literally loves the game of football. And everybody told the kid he was too small. All he has done is overcome that.”
Said junior outside linebacker Davin Bellamy: “Roquan is one of those guys that come out every day with a positive attitude. I shared some words with him before the game and let him know he’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around. I told him the game would come easy to you and you’ll go out there and play well for us.”