Kirby Smart: Bulldogs' undefeated record in SEC East 'something they can hold' forever
Knocking the SEC East has become easy fodder for critics.
The division hasn’t beaten the SEC West champ in the league’s title game since 2008, when Florida topped Alabama in a matchup of undefeated teams. But the biggest issue has been that on only one occasion in those eight consecutive losses — Georgia versus Alabama in 2012 — has the game even been competitive. That year, the Bulldogs fell to the Crimson Tide 32-28. Every other SEC Championship Game since 2009 has seen the Western Division’s representative win by at least two touchdowns.
But despite all the East’s naysayers, Georgia coach Kirby Smart defended the division Saturday in the wake of his team’s 42-13 home victory over Kentucky. The win meant Georgia finished 6-0 against its division foes this fall.
And to Smart, that’s nothing to scoff at.
“People don’t understand, in the SEC, it’s a challenge every week,” Smart said. “There are no easy games. No one can walk out and destroy a team in the first half. You just don’t do that.”
For Smart, Saturday’s dominant win was the perfect way for the Sanford Stadium crowd to remember this senior class.
“Our seniors have given us tremendous leadership, and I’m happy and proud of them,” he said. “Our seniors have set the standard and our young players have bought in. It helps to have such great leadership.”
But capping an unblemished record in the East and sending off the senior class with a lopsided victory wasn’t the only aspect of Saturday’s game that made Smart proud. To him, Saturday was a test of his team’s character following last week’s loss at Auburn, when the then-top ranked Bulldogs were routed 40-17.
In Smart’s book, the team passed the test with flying colors.
“I think the character of our group is clear: Led by the seniors, they accepted the new staff, they were willing not just to buy into our new way, but they’ve been selling it to our younger players, which is a big part of it,” he said. “That’s what it takes to be a good football team.”
Smart’s counterpart was impressed.
“They put pressure on us all night, in all phases,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “It’s a very physical team, it’s very well-coached, and they played like a No. 1 team in the country tonight.”
Smart said he didn’t give his team a “magical speech” to spur it to victory.
“It was doing what we were supposed to do: executing,” Smart said. “Mistakes are going to happen in football. But we kept fighting.”
Georgia still has other, bigger games to come, of course. That starts Saturday, as it heads to Atlanta to take on in-state rival Georgia Tech. Then it will head back to Atlanta to take on the SEC West champ, which will be decided in Saturday’s Iron Bowl at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Should the Bulldogs emerge victorious in those two contests, they seem assured of being one of the four teams in the College Football Playoff.
But for now, that can wait.
Because Saturday, Georgia accomplished something it never had: It went undefeated in the division.
Regardless of what else the Bulldogs achieve this season, Smart said that tidbit shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“It’s something they can hold and say for the rest of their life, they were the first ones to do it,” Smart said. “Say what you want about the East, they did it. It was a great team accomplishment.”