Posted: 8:26 am Friday, November 11th, 2016

Smart’s last shot to make his mark in 2016 

By Lauren Johnson

Kirby Smart had the Dawgs flying high to start the season. He can salvage some of that Saturday against Auburn.

The Cubs are World Champions. Donald Trump is going to be the President of the United States of America. Kirby Smart will win a big game?

Just kidding.

Well sort of.

Georgia beating No. 9 Auburn tomorrow will not nearly be as historically, or as important, as what has already happened in the first two weeks of this month. But when it comes to building a college football regime, it’s nearly impossible to understate the importance of this game for UGA’s rookie leader.

The biggest win of Kirby Smart’s career was the first one. On September 3rd the bouncy Bainbridge product was the smartest guy in the state of Georgia.

I think it’s been a bit downhill since then.

Kirk Smart reacts after losing to Ole Miss

“Humility is just a week away,” Smart said after the Ole Miss disaster. He doesn’t know how right he is.

That slogan was meant as a teaching line for his players, but it directly applies to a significant portion of the Bulldog Nation that “King Kirby” rules over.

There has been a certain amount of confidence that Georgia fans, players and even their new coach brought into this season. Mark Richt is gone, Kirby is here, and everything was going to be different. This is going to be easy.

Then Georgia dismantled North Carolina. Actually, the Dawgs just blew out the Tar Heels in the fourth quarter, but it felt like so much more. The Dawgs were a top 10 team capable of doing anything and everything.

“All of a sudden this season got much more interesting,” I wrote on that night. “Expectations have exploded. Kirby, there’s no turning back now.”

Crash. Bang. Boom. 2016 began a brutal reminder that rebuilding in college football is pretty hard. Everybody clear now?

Until now.

Auburn is Georgia’s Walking Dead game. A season-saving zombie rising from the grave to give Bulldog Nation a bit of hope. That is, if the Dawgs pull it off.

Auburn’s rushing attacked is ranked third in the nation.

The Tigers have won six straight, thanks to a legit defense, and a world-class running game.

“They’re running the ball at success rate I don’t know is comparable,” said Smart. “The numbers are staggering.”
300 yards per contest for an SEC west team is no joke. Now the Tigers are a Top 10 looking to do what sky-high Georgia fans thought they had a shot to do early September: Win the division and play for the title.

Auburn is a 10 point favorite. It’s the most Auburn has been favored by in this series an in 10 years, and makes this the biggest Georgia has been an underdog for any home game since 1996.

The struggle is real.

UGA hasn’t beaten a ranked SEC opponent in two full years. The last was Auburn. So Kirby Smart and this UGA team get one more chance to make a point on a season that soured quicker than milk in my fridge (I live alone. I travel a lot. Buying a gallon isn’t all that wise).

“They are looking for a signature win to set the identity under Kirby,” said UGA radio analyst Eric Zeier. “A win tomorrow begins to lay the foundation for his future and the team’s future under his leadership.”

So one of Georgia’s best players even admits the only thing at stake is the future of Kirby Smart’s leadership. No big deal.

111614 uga print

2014- Georgia smothered Auburn’s vaunted rushing attack in its last win over a ranked SEC team.

Nothing that has happened before this game can be undone. That sour taste the Commodores stuck in the Dawgs mouth will remain. That stinker in Jacksonville that set SEC offenses back about 10 years can’t be forgotten. A mediocre bowl awaits, but at least there will be one (assuming a win over ULL in next week’s pay check game).

However a win tomorrow sets a piece of drywall in between all that was bad in the month of October. It shows Bulldog fans, the SEC and the recruits, Smart is so desperately trying to woo, that this thing is still on the tracks. The New Georgia Way is the on the proper path.

Very little in this season has gone to plan. A season-saving contest against Auburn certainly qualifies.

The Dawgs haven’t beaten a top 10 team since South Carolina in 2013. These things don’t come around often.

Kirby has one more shot for the biggest win in his career and a touchstone for the future of his program.

It’s just another edition of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.

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