AUBURN, Ala. — Kirby Smart was asked three times about winning the SEC East following No. 4 Georgia’s 21-14 victory over the No. 12 Auburn Tigers. And each time he answered, it became clear the win over Auburn was a bigger deal than punching a third-consecutive trip to Atlanta.
“There’s significance in coming here and beating a ranked team in their place in an unbelievable environment,” Smart said after being asked a second time. “There’s a lot of significance to that and the East, but we’re worried about Texas A&M.”
After being asked a third time, he dropped an F-bomb that will go down in Georgia lore. Such is to be expected after a thrilling win and Smart’s first SEC West road win. As for winning the SEC East for a third-straight year, that’s old hat. Georgia did it with relative ease in 2017 and 2018 after all.
But this accomplishment shouldn’t be overlooked, especially when factoring the historical significance. Only one other SEC East school has ever gone back-to-back-to-back in the SEC East, as Florida pulled if off from 1992-96 with Steve Spurrier.
When you bring in the whole conference, Smart became just the fourth coach to win three consecutive SEC divisional titles. Nick Saban did it Alabama from 2014-16 and Gene Stallings won three-straight from 1992-94. Urban Meyer never did it at Florida. Phillip Fulmer couldn’t do it at Tennessee. And for all the people who want to bring up the Mark Richt comparisons, he failed to do so as well.
And of the other three coaches to accomplish what Smart did on Saturday, each one won a national title during that span.
Georgia has bigger goals than winning the SEC East. This was — and still is — going to be measured by whether or not Georgia wins a national title. That’s still true, as thrilling as the win over Auburn was.
“This is one of our goals we wanted. But I know for a fact that we have bigger goals and wants,” redshirt sophomore Eric Stokes said.
Georgia has accomplished one of those goals largely thanks to its defense. The Bulldogs held Auburn scoreless through the first three-quarters of the game. It was the first time in Gus Malzahn’s tenure that his offense had 0 points on the board going into the fourth quarter.
Yes, the Bulldogs were leaking oil in the fourth, as the offense had just 2 total yards in the final 15 minutes and the defense gave up two touchdowns to make things very spicy. But when it absolutely needed to get stops, Georgia did. Auburn turned it over on downs on each of its final two drives.
The offense had its moments as well, whether it be the bomb to Dominick Blaylock or the flawless two-minute drill executed before the half to give the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead.
Both the Georgia offense and defense have improvements to make if it is going to win the SEC, a much larger goal for the Bulldogs. LSU is the most likely foe for that game, as the Tigers just need to win one of their final two SEC contests to get back to Atlanta for the first time since 2011.
The next goal Georgia is aiming to accomplish is winning that Dec. 7 showdown in Atlanta. Like winning the SEC East, it is something the program has done before under Smart, when the Bulldogs did back in 2017. If Georgia wins that day, it will go through the same song and dance it did on Saturday. It will celebrate the victory over the opponent and enjoy the moment.
But this team knows there are bigger scores to take down. Georgia is one of the few teams that still controls its path to a national championship.
That’s why the Bulldogs weren’t satisfied with a third-straight SEC East crown.
“We’ve got a lot more work to do,” safety J.R. Reed said. “It doesn’t stop here.”
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart after beating Auburn, winning the SEC East
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