Kirby Smart's horrific decisions cost Georgia SEC title, probably Playoff spot
There is nothing worse that a group of players giving their all for 60 minutes in a huge game, only to have a coach — their own coach, no less — steal victory from them.
That happened Saturday in the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. Georgia played well enough to win, but Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart kept making one horrible decision after another and it cost them a game.
This one is 100 percent on Smart. In one of the worst decisions in the history of college football — sure, hyperbole, I know — Smart called for a fake punt late in the fourth quarter of a tied game. Alabama was so ready for it that it kept its defense on the field instead of its punt return team.
Smart, who wasn’t, didn’t call off the fake. Freshman Justin Fields, on 4th-and-9, had no chance after a short snap. Alabama defenders quickly swarmed to him, that the play failed. Miserably.
Alabama took over at midfield, went down and scored and won 35-28.
It was one of the dumbest decisions I have ever seen.
First, why would you even call for a fake in that situation? It’s 28-all and you have the ball at midfield. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama’s likely Heisman Trophy winner, was out of the game with an ankle injury, and even though experienced backup Jalen Hurts played exceptionally well to lead the comeback, you still have to bury him with a punt and make him go 80 or 90 yards.
Smart didn’t do that.
Epic brain cramp.
Secondly, when you see Alabama’s defense still out there, you simply yell, “Kill, kill, kill” and punt it away. Smart saw that, watched it — and did nothing. That is the responsibility of the head coach, to manage the game. It’s one thing to call the play, but it’s equally as bad to see that you should back off from it and then not do it.
Really, really stupid.
But that wasn’t all of it. After Alabama had tied the score at 28, Georgia got the ball back with 5:14 left. There was plenty of time to go down and get points and still win this game. Quarterback Jake Fromm had played great all day, and the Georgia offense had been rolling.
So what does Smart do on the first play of the drive? He puts Fields in at quarterback, and not Smart. Fields ran for a yard and immediately put the Bulldogs in a negative down-and-distance position.
That, too, was really stupid.
Alabama’s defense started to zero in during the fourth quarter and it was important to get a drive going. The immediacy of it wasn’t a huge deal, because Fromm came in and flipped a beautiful pass to D’Andre Swift in the flat that went for 26 yards.
The players got him off the hook.
But they didn’t get the chance to get him off the hook for the fake punt. To let this game slip away is really, really sad.
Let’s not forget, too, that Smart made a stupid call in Georgia’s other loss this season at LSU, calling for a fake field that failed and gave the Tigers a ton of momentum. So, yes, we’ve got a trend going here. And it’s a serious concern.
Georgia played so well for so long Saturday. Fromm was having a magical night, throwing for 301 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Georgia, for most of the night, was the better team, better than a No. 1 team in Alabama that had won every game by 20 points or more this season, the first time that had been done since 1888.
The Bulldogs dominated time of possession edge. They pushed Alabama around in the first half, keeping the ball for nearly 21 minutes and running 43 plays. They also scored on their first possession of the third quarter and had a 28-14 lead.
They had completely shut down Tagovailoa, who was just 10-of-25 passing, threw two interceptions for the first time in his career and was 0-for-6 on third-down conversions. They were getting sacks, too, which was surprising since they were next-to-last in the SEC in sacks this season. Alabama had twice as many (40-20).
Players playing great, doing what they needed to do to win.
Georgia has been there before with Alabama, blowing leads in critical games. Georgia led last year’s National Championship Game by 13 points at halftime. Back in that epic SEC title game in 2012, the Bulldogs gave away a lead there, too.
Still, this one is all on Kirby Smart.
He cost his team a game Saturday.
He cost his team a conference championship Saturday.
He cost his team a Playoff spot on Saturday.
Shame, shame, shame.