ATLANTA — Kirby Smart could have called it his championship. Instead, the former Alabama coach passed the credit to his players.
“Bringing it back to my alma mater is great,” Smart said. “I was very fortunate to get to coach on the team in 2005 that won one. I thought that was special. But what’s special to me But to see Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, to see Terry Godwin and Roquan Smith hugging on the stage in tears because they care about each other so much. That’s why I do this. It’s because of these guys. It’s great to bring it back to Georgia, and the Bulldog Nation is certainly starved, but these young men deserve a ton of credit.”
Georgia (12-1) beat Auburn 28-7 to win the SEC championship on Saturday night, all but assuring the Dawgs their first appearance in the College Football Playoff. The Tigers (11-2) trounced the Dawgs 40-17 at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 11 after Georgia had risen to No. 1 in the playoff rankings, then beat top-ranked Alabama two weeks later to clinch a trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
But a third big win in four weeks was too much. Georgia swung the scoring margin 44 points from the first meeting between the two teams.
“They flipped the script on us from the last game and did exactly what we did,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said.
That wasn’t how it appeared early. Auburn scored a touchdown on its opening drive, then threatened to go up 14-0 early in the second quarter with the ball in the red zone. Georgia ‘s defense reversed the game’s direction, with senior linebacker Roquan Smith recovering a fumble. The Dawgs drove 84 yards to tie the game. Auburn’s early momentum was throttled.
“All I remember is seeing one of my guys hit the ball, and I just seen the ball on the ground,” Smith said. “It took me back to practice, you know, scoop drills. I just scooped the ball and said, ‘Let me get what I can get.'”
Smith was named MVP with 13 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and two quarterback hurries. He grabbed his second fumble at the start of the fourth quarter, and Georgia scored off that turnover to make its lead 21-7.
Freshman running back D’Andre Swift put the game away in the fourth quarter when he bolted 64 yards for a touchdown without being touched. That made the score 28-7 as Georgia continued to wind the clock down. Swift was the leading rusher as Georgia piled up 238 rushing yards and 421 total yards on the day.
Chubb finished the day with 13 carries for 77 yards, moving into second place on the SEC’s all-time rushing list. He passed Kevin Faulk and Darren McFadden on the day, and only Georgia great Herschel Walker is ahead of him now.
He’s had plenty of milestones in his career, but Saturday was his first championship.
“This is why the guys came back for it,” Chubb said. “I remember just talking to the senior class back at camp, we’d be in the room with a little private meeting, and we just talked about what we want to do, and it all paid off. This moment right here, this is what we worked for.”
Malzahn said after the game that he “wouldn’t be surprised if we’re back in this moment next year.” Asked about Arkansas’ head coaching position, Malzahn said he wants to be the coach at Auburn next year.
Smart was an assistant coach for Georgia when the Dawgs won their last conference title in 2005. He won five more SEC championships as an assistant at Alabama from 2007-15.
But he won’t have long before he begins looking at his opponent in the College Football Playoff.
“What time’s that show tomorrow?”12:30 or something? I don’t know what time that is,” he said. “A little over 12 hours. I’ll tell you what, you’d better enjoy it. It’s well earned.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.