Kirby Smart didn’t need to sugarcoat anything on Saturday night after his short-handed Georgia football program got past a rapidly improving Georgia Tech program in Atlanta.

The Bulldogs 31-23 victory over the Yellow Jackets served its purpose as Georgia improved to 12-0 on the season to remain in contention for spot in the College Football Playoffs entering into next Saturday’s SEC Championship Game against Alabama.

“I’ll tell you what, it was a lot of fun having that kind of atmosphere,” said Smart, who went out of his way to hype up the in-state rivalry game throughout the week.

“I think our kids really enjoyed it. I thought our fans showed up and did a great job, made it feel like it was like 50/50 with our fans out there.”

Smart knows better than anyone the sort of priority and energy Georgia Tech is putting into the rivalry under new coach Brent Key, and the importance for his team to match that enthusiasm.

That was even more true in this matchup, as UGA was playing without All-American tight end Brock Bowers, explosive receiving threats Ladd McConkey and RaRa Thomas and starting offensive guard Tate Ratledge.

“Once again our kids show up very resilient, tough,” said Smart, whose team fell behind 7-0 for a sixth straight game. “I mean, this game is not measured by stats and rushing yards and first downs — it’s measured by heart, and you’ve got to have a whole lot of heart to go out there and fight and play like our guys have done week after week after week.

“I mean, you see across the country in these rivalry games what happens. I know better than anybody that it can go either way in these tight games.”

Georgia Tech outscored UGA 10-0 in the final quarter, battling back to make a game of it after it appeared the Bulldogs were on the verge of blowing the game open before Carson Beck was intercepted on third-and-5 from the Yellow Jackets 6-yard line with Georgia up 31-16.

Here are some key moments from Smart’s press conference:

Milton on track

The late-season emergence of Kendall Milton is right on time for the Bulldogs, who have not appeared as prolific running the ball as past seasons.

Milton posted career-highs with 18 carries for 156 yards and 2 touchdowns, and Smart certainly took note.

“He’s getting his pads down, running through contact,” Smart said. “He breaks a lot of arm tackles. You know, I saw two or three of their guys have to go out from having to tackle him ‘cause he’s really physical and downhill.

“But make no mistake about it: it’s not just him. It’s a lot of them dudes up there in front of him. It’s quarterback run-checking, front o-line moving people, tight ends and receivers blocking downfield.”

The streak

Georgia’s 29th-straight victory sets a new SEC record and ties the CFP Era mark set by Clemson (2018-19) and Florida State (2012-14), and Smart paid just the right attention to it before moving on,

“Humility is a week away, that’s what we say around our place,” Smart said. “It’s a great honor. I mean, it’s something we’ll look back on. It’s not one person. You know, if I’m thinking right, that’s three different teams, right? There’s a lot of kids that aren’t in that locker room that were a part of that.

“That’s not the focal point for us. The focal point for us is to get better, you know, and we’ve got to continue to get better. Our kids have a lot of pride, and they want to get better. You know, the offense felt like they left points out there. The defense feels like they didn’t play the quarterback run game as well as they should, so the good thing about that locker room is a lot of guys know there’s work to be done.”

The penalties

Georgia has been one of the least-penalized teams in the nation throughout the season, but on Saturday night, the Bulldogs were called for six penalties for 60 yards, two of them leading directly to Georgia Tech first downs.

Smart was animated at times during the game and acknowledged things looked different than normal from the sideline.

“It’s one of those where we go to a different conference and they have different standards,” Smart said. “We evaluate every crew that we get, and their crew had more penalties than any SEC crew going into the game. We just thought it was going to be a more penalized game.

“I guess they call it closer, more holdings, more personal fouls. They just have more fouls in their games than we average in the SEC. It just so happened that a lot of them went against us at inopportune times, but I don’t question officiating. I think those guys do a great job.”