Posted: 9:29 pm Saturday, November 4th, 2017
By Jay Black
ATHENS – This is probably just how Kirby Smart wanted it.
Georgia didn’t officially know it had punched its first ticket to the SEC Championship game since 2012 until well after everyone had cleared out of Sanford Stadium.
There was no one here to celebrate. But the sense around this empty stadium tonight is there’s nothing this football team or its coach wants to celebrate.
“I guarantee you half the guys don’t even know that,” said safety JR Reed when told his team was SEC East champs.
On Georgia’s website, there’s no grand proclamation of a division title. Check the UGA football Twitter feed and there’s just a bunch of highlights of UGA’s 24-10 win over South Carolina.
I wonder why?
Well, to be fair, the only mention of this achievement is on the UGA Athletic Department Twitter page. But that’s because there are T-Shirts to sell.
Otherwise, it’s ho-hum.
“There’s not going to be a celebration,” Kirby Smart in his post-game press conference, just before it became official. “I mean, what’s there to celebrate? We’re going to play Auburn next week and that’s where our focus is.”
An SEC East Championship is normally worth celebrating, but if you’ve followed Georgia for anything length of time this season, you have certainly noticed that success is not enjoyed as much as it is expected. This is not the prize that these players set out for.
But it’s been five long years without UGA playing for title. Leaving the only championships left to win from bowls called Belk, TaxSlayer and Liberty. That doesn’t count. Can you really call yourself TaxSlayer Bowl champion with a straight face, despite what the T-Shirt says?
However, in 2017 in Athens, you can call yourself SEC East Champion with a straight face because that’s not the title that this team came to play for.
Now it really gets fun.
“It doesn’t get any easier,” said Smart on the UGA radio network after his 10th straight win, dating back to last season. “The noise will get louder, the teams will get better, we will get better shots.”
His team got a pretty good shot today. In Georgia’s first game as the number one team in November since 1982, South Carolina finally made this feel like an SEC game.
Up until now, UGA has crushed every conference opponent in its path. This was the first fourth quarter the starters finished since Notre Dame.
Just in time.
“That’s how games are in the SEC,” said Smart. “They have a really good football team.”
There was little doubt here that Georgia would ever lose to South Carolina. It racked up yards, but just couldn’t seem to get enough points. UGA’s only 3-and-out came as it was trying to kill the clock.
But it probably would take South Carolina another four quarters to score 24 points on this defense. Even on a night you could argue they didn’t play their best, the Dawgs’ defense gave the Gamecocks no shot.
43 yards rushing. 227 passing. That’s below 300 folks. You will win that game every time.
“That’s a good team over there. They are going to make some plays,” said JR Reed. “We can’t stop everything. But it’s all about how we respond.”
USC QB Jake Bentley converted three third and long plays in the first half and it felt like the world was going to end. Keep in mind, the Gamecocks only converted one more after that.
“We’ve got to find some answers on third down,” said Smart. “We couldn’t get off the field.”
Spoken like a guy still looking for perfection and a guy who didn’t get it today.
Okay, so Georgia didn’t demolish South Carolina like it has everybody else, but that’s what happens when you are the No. 1 team in the nation.
This was still a good day. It’s one worth celebrating.
I know that Georgia has basically been SEC Champion-elect for about five weeks. But now it’s official.
There are bigger prizes out there and ones that Georgia is well qualified to win.
It’s unlikely that Kirby Smart will remotely enjoy this championship because he can’t. That’s why he is where he is.
But you don’t have to be that way and Bulldog Nation doesn’t either.
Georgia is 9-0, number one, and SEC East Champions.
You have my permission to enjoy it.