Kirby Smart repeatedly said throughout the offseason that he didn’t use second and 26 as motivation. The Georgia coach said that he didn’t see the point because this was a new team.

Smart’s message was that the 2017 household names of Roquan Smith, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel weren’t going to define how the 2018 team would respond from the ultimate heartbreaker loss. Getting back to that 2017 level wasn’t a given without those familiar faces.

It took a couple of months, but it finally looks like 2018 Georgia is turning back the clock.

That’s what we learned after watching Georgia roll to its second straight statement win against an SEC East contender en route to clinching another trip to Atlanta. Oh, and both of those games were away from the friendly confines of Athens. The Dawgs imposed their will against another elite defense.

Like they often did in 2017, Georgia had plenty of “yeah, you’re not on our level” moments.

Take your pick. There was the D’Andre Swift double cut and score in the first half. That 83-yard scamper he had in the third quarter served that purpose, too.

Better yet, just take the entire game film of Swift and Elijah Holyfield bulldozing their way through the nation’s top scoring defense as the “yeah, you’re not on our level” moment. They might not be Chubb-Michel just yet, but you could’ve been fooled on Saturday.

And perhaps some were fooled into the belief that Georgia wasn’t going to roll through the East and on to Atlanta like it did last year.

For shame.

Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It’s darn impressive when you think about it.

Since the start of 2017, Georgia is 12-0 against division foes, having won each game by at least 14 points (the Dawgs actually hold the nation’s longest division winning streak at 13 games). As much as we’ve questioned the Dawgs’ upside this year, keeping that streak alive says a lot.

Let’s not forget that despite what happened on Saturday, we came into the weekend with three East teams ranked in the top 11. That, obviously, was drastically different than 2017. Yet still, Georgia beat those teams by 19 and 17 points away from home.

Those, of course, came on the heels of a humbling blowout loss against an SEC West contender. It’s starting to feel like the LSU loss this year served the purpose of the Auburn loss last year. Georgia got completely exposed. Everything it skated by with — a lack of sacks, inability to hit home runs in the running game, etc. — came to the forefront.

The last two weeks, Georgia looks every bit like a team that made the right adjustments. No longer is the discussion centered around Jim Chaney’s play-calling or whether Justin Fields should be playing.

Actually, Fields got some key reps on Saturday. His third-and-9 conversion allowed Georgia to pick up a key first down to help make it a three-score game in the fourth quarter. There’s an element that the 2017 squad didn’t have. The strategy throughout the year has been to bring the freshman quarterback in to spark the running game. Fields made an impact on a day in which the Dawgs racked up 331 rushing yards.


I know. I hear you loud and clear.

By the way, I should definitely mention how incredible it was that a banged up offensive line that lost two more key contributors on Saturday still put together a performance like that. It finally looked like the holes were 2017-sized.

The irony is that actually looked like 2017 Swift. Heading into last week’s game against Florida, we were still waiting on the first run of 25 yards from Swift this year. He has touchdown runs of 33 and 83 yards in consecutive weeks.

I’d say that’s a pretty good sign.

The sticklers are going to be frustrated by the fact that Terry Wilson still threw for 226 yards against the Georgia defense. Someone who was as one-dimensional as it gets picked up chunks of yardage, and still moved the offense when Benny Snell was banged up.

But I’ll be honest. I’m not really worried about a Georgia defense that came into the weekend ranked No. 8 in FBS against the pass. If there are any issues, I’d feel pretty good about the odds that Smart makes the right tweaks.

Everything we’ve seen the last couple weeks suggests that much.

As cliched as it is, Georgia really does look like a team hitting its stride at the perfect time. All the talk during the bye week from Georgia players saying they hadn’t played their best game yet look like they were spot on. Georgia’s best games were each of the last two weeks with division/Playoff hopes on the line.

Will Georgia become the fourth team to ever repeat as SEC Championship Game winners?

We’re still a month away from finding that out. Even with the division in hand, Smart should still get a motivated team with Playoff hopes on the line every week the rest of the way.

When he was answering questions about second and 26 all offseason, all Smart could’ve asked for was a trip to Atlanta with a chance to clinch another Playoff ticket. As long as the Dawgs continue their post-bye week ways, they’ll put themselves in that position again.

We waited and waited for it. After the first weekend of November, it finally seems appropriate to say — Georgia is in full 2017 mode.

Let’s see if 2018 has a better ending.