SEC East crown is huge for Georgia but Kirby Smart

  • LEXINGTON, Ky.Georgia coach Kirby Smart didn’t downplay the significance of a secondconsecutiveSEC East championshipfor his program, but it’s clear the third-year coach is nowhere near satisfied.“It’s huge,” Smart said. "It’s not been easy. It’s never easy. People sometimes,I think, get spoiled when you win."MORE: No. 5 Georgia (8-1, 5-1SEC)which racked up 50 rushing attempts for 331 yards Saturdayclinched a spot in the SEC championship game for the second seasonin a rowwith a convincing 34-17 victory at Kroger Field. That left No. 12 Kentucky (7-2, 4-2)and the rest of the competition within the divisionsearching for consolation prizes. It somehow left Smart lamenting mi sed opportunities.“I think we’re getting better,” Smart said. "Ascendingis a strong word. We’re getting better. We just have so many things to get better at. I hate to say it, but we left opportunities out there with this game. I know you’ll never play a perfect game. I just wish we would play a cleaner game."Don’t mistake this for spoiled behavior. He’s seeing the bigger picture.D’AndreSwift (16 carries, 157 yards) and Elijah Holyfield (18 carries,117 yards) showed Georgia has a 1-2 punch that can power another conference championship run. Jake Fromm made big third-down throws,and the Bulldogs built a 28-3 lead on Swift’s 83-yardtouchdownrun with 7:56remainingin the third quarter. Those mi sed opportunities? Kentucky scored twotouchdownsin the fourth quarter, Georgia settled for two Rodrigo Blankenship fields on double-digit-play drives for the final margin, and the Bulldogs committed two first-half turnovers on fumbles. Smart harped on those details in his postgame pre s conference.“That’s what frustrating, is how can we close the game?” Smart asked. "How do we clean those up? How do we clean up those goal-line situations? Those are the ones that can come back and haunt you."The rest of the details were clean enough against the Wildcats. Georgia opened with touchdown drives in the first and third quarters; the firstended witha 5-yard pa s from Jake Fromm to IsaacNauta,the secondwitha 4-yard run by Holyfield.MORE: Yet it was a second-quarter drive exchange that turned the momentum Saturday.Kentucky marched 50 yards on 15 plays and took eight minutes and 23 seconds off the clock through the first and second quartersbefore kicking a field goalthat cut Georgia’s lead to 7-3.Wildcats running backBenny Snell had 16 carries for 59 yards at that point which was four more carries than the Bulldogs had run offensive plays.The Bulldogs answered with a drive that symbolized why they are still the SEC East team everybody else is chasing. That drive alsotook15 plays,but it covered 75 yards and took five minutes and 55 seconds off the clock.The end result a 20-yard run by Swift in which he juked two defenders before bull-rushing through the middle of the Kentucky end zone was the highlight.The 14 plays before that were the script that helped the Bulldogs pull away. Swift and Holyfield combined for seven carries for 43 yards. Backup quarterback Justin Fields mixed in two carries for5yards. Fromm hit 4 of 5 pa ses for 27 yards, including a clutch third-down completion to Jeremiah Holloman. That gave the Bulldogs a 14-3 lead and made it impo sible for the Wildcats to playkeep-awayin the second half.“Our running backs,they played an awesome game,” Fromm said. "That’s a testament to our offensive line, a testament to our running backs and definitely our receivers too, with the outside blocking and our tight ends as well."MORE: That’s the difference between the Bulldogs and Wildcats. Georgia scoredtouchdownswhen it needed to and settled for field goals when the game was in hand.The Bulldogs havewon 13 games in a row against SEC East opponents under Smart, a streak that began with a 27-24 victory at Kentucky on Nov. 5, 2016. Georgia has increased the gap within that two-year stretch.Swift and Holyfield were the headlinersSaturday. Kentucky allowed just 108.5 rushing yards per game coming into the matchup, but the tagteam of course labeled a “1-2 punch” by Fromm kept wearing on that defense.Swift was asked about which drive turned the game, and he had an offbeat answer."A drive that would have decided the game was the drive before the half,"Swift said."That was a fumble. I wish we could have had that drive back."Swift was referring toa bad exchange with Fromm that prevented Georgia from building on that 14-3 leadlate in thesecond quarter.That tells you Smart’s me sage is resonating,thatit’s about maintaining that focus for the rest of the regular season in home games against Auburn, Ma sachusettsand Georgia Tech. Win those games, and the Bulldogs willbeplaying foraberthin the College Football Playoff against West champion Alabama despite a 36-16 lo s at LSU on Oct. 13.MORE: Thatlo shas left the Bulldogs just far enough off thePlayoffradar.Theywill hover between last team in and first team out in the next rankings, but they willhavealready earned a ticket to theirconferences titlegame atMercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Dec. 1.Fromm admittedthatstaying on top in the division has been more of abattle,butithas been accomplished.For at least a moment, the Bulldogs will celebrate that."Last year we found out (we won the SEC East) on the bus on the road trip,"Holyfield said."This time we got to come here, come into hostile territory and win it ourselves. It feels really special, and now we’re just looking forward to finishing the season the right way and getting to Atlanta."Winning the SEC East is huge; its just that this team knows first-hand that there are bigger goals out thereto pursue.

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