By Ryne Dennis
ATLANTA — Georgia coach Kirby Smart defended the call for a fake punt late in the Bulldogs’ 35-28 SEC championship loss that backfired and set Alabama up for the game-winning touchdown.
With the game tied 28-28 with 3:04 to play and Georgia facing a fourth-and-11 at midfield, the Bulldogs lined backup quarterback Justin Fields at the upback position on Georgia’s punt team.
The snap came to Fields, who rushed up the middle for just two yards before being brought down.
Alabama scored the game-winning touchdown a little over two minutes later.
“Thought it was there, and it was there today,” Smart said. “We came to win the game. We wanted to win the game.”
A punt likely would have pinned Alabama—which had tied the game after trailing 28-14 midway through the third quarter—deep in its own territory with around three minutes to play.
But after studying Alabama’s film, Smart and his staff felt like they had the right call in the right moment.
According to Smart, the Bulldogs had the play in the bag since last season and that it likely would have worked had the ball been snapped quick enough.
An open receiver was expected to be thrown to by Fields, Smart said.
“We were going to snap the ball quick,” Smart said. “We took too long to snap the ball. They didn’t have the guy covered. We had a guy wide open. We took so long to snap it, they recognized it and got the guy covered late.”
On replay, receivers Tyler Simmons, Mecole Hardman and Jason Stanley all appeared to be covered, while running back D’Andre Swift, lined up on the end of the line of scrimmage, went out in a route like a receiver.
They all had Alabama defenders across from them well before the snap.
The play, Smart said, was talked about during the week and the Bulldogs hoped to have a chance to run the play.
The timing, however, will be questioned, likely for years to come.
“It just didn’t work out,” said special teams coach Scott Fountain. “We’ve practiced that play at least a year. Some we’ve worked a lot and it just didn’t work out.”