LEXINGTON, Ky. — Georgia coach Kirby Smart isn’t one to reflect often, but he made an exception after winning his second consecutive SEC East Division crown with a 34-17 victory at Kentucky.
“I think last year maybe it was easier with the experience we had,” said Smart, whose current Bulldogs’ roster is the youngest in the SEC, with 68 percent of the players freshmen or sophomores.
“The veteran kids we had [in 2017], the games seemed a little easier.”
Sony Michel and Nick Chubb are now starting tailbacks in the NFL, and 2017 SEC Defensive Player of the Year Roquan Smith is a starter at linebacker for the Chicago Bears. They aren’t coming out of the Sanford Stadium tunnel in Georgia uniforms ever again.
But the Bulldogs have emerging stars in the form of tailbacks D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield, both of whom rushed for career-high yards against the Wildcats’ celebrated defensive front.
Swift had 156 yards and 2 touchdowns on 16 carries, including an 83-yard burst that put Georgia up 28-3 and essentially put the game out of reach in the third quarter. Holyfield chugged for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore receiver Jeremiah Holloman continued to emerge, leading the team with four catches for 39 yards from Jake Fromm, a sophomore but seasoned vet with a 20-3 record as a starter.
The expectations have been heavy on Fromm and his teammates, who rose to No. 2 in the rankings before LSU handed them a 36-16 humbling in Baton Rouge three weeks ago.
“Give our kids a lot of credit, their backs were against the wall two weeks in a row and they came out fighting, (and) they came out scratching and clawing,” Smart said. “You can make it about expectations, which nobody at Georgia runs from. You can make it about the other teams are getting better around us, which happens.
“And we’re a young team. We’ve got some good seniors around us, but for the most part when you do walk-throughs, you do these meetings, you see a lot of freshmen and sophomores.”
Smart made it clear Saturday night’s win was worth celebrating in the moment, with work and focus turning to next Saturday’s home game with Auburn shortly after the plane lands back in Athens.
“It’s huge, it has not been easy, it’s never easy,” Smart said of repeating as the SEC East Division champ. “People sometimes will be spoiled when you win. These are good programs. These are good teams.”
Georgia football coach Kirby Smart