UGA Football

Georgia’s win over Auburn could be turning point in season

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart celebrates Saturday’s win over Auburn with safety Quincy Mauger.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart celebrates Saturday’s win over Auburn with safety Quincy Mauger. AP

Kirby Smart was addressing a crowded room of reporters roughly 20 minutes after Georgia upset No. 9 Auburn 13-7 on Saturday.

It was a signature win for Smart, who’s in his first year as a head coach. Fielding questions about the big victory, Smart was asked about how this kind of performance can propel his program, especially now that Georgia has won two in a row just when everything appeared bleak following a loss to Florida.

Smart understood the importance of the moment. This was the kind of game that showcased the vision he has for the program. This was the kind of game he could sell as what will come in the future.

“It does wonders for the program, the university, the recruiting,” Smart said. “I’m over here talking to y’all. I want to go see (the recruits). That’s a big part of this. But it gives our kids something they can hang their hat on where we can say, ‘Look, if we do this right; if we do what Coach is saying, it’s true.’ They can believe in it.”

Saturday was, in fact, a big recruiting day for Georgia. Houston County quarterback Jake Fromm and Liberty County safety Richard LeCounte III, both Georgia commitments, were among those in attendance for the game. Grayson defensive back Deangelo Gibbs, Cartersville quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Pace Academy offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer were undecided recruits seen at Sanford Stadium.

The Bulldogs had plenty more on site for the game and hoped to put on a show. After losses, Smart and company could stress to recruits that they were needed immediately to contribute. Now, he has a reference point to show how competitive his teams will be in the SEC moving forward.

“Our goal all along has been to make this team become what it’s capable of,” Smart said. “You want it to happen early, of course, but what matters most is that it does happen. We’re starting to see some of that resiliency, push, getting better and improvement that we’ve talked about all year. But we’ve still got a ways to go.”

This was also a needed win for a Georgia team that hasn’t had a win over a top-10 opponent since 2013 when it beat, coincidentally enough, No. 9 Auburn 34-7.

Smart came to Georgia known for being a great defensive mind. He coordinated some great Alabama defenses, which earned him national praise and admiration in the profession. Smart and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker put together a game plan that held one of the best offenses in the nation to 164 total yards.

And only 127 of those yards were rushing, with only 20 of those coming in the second half. It was a brilliant performance from a defense that two months ago had trouble slowing down Missouri. The Bulldogs have come a long way, and Saturday’s win seemed to show it.

“It’s a huge momentum boost,” inside linebacker Roquan Smith said. “We just have to keep coming back to work and work even harder.”

While recruiting could heat up following a win like that, Georgia should see a confidence boost entering its final two games of the regular season. Two weeks ago, following its loss to Florida, there was a serious concern as to whether Georgia would make a bowl game.

An Independence Bowl representative was at Saturday’s game, although this win could certainly move the Bulldogs into the SEC’s “six-pack” bowl games: the Outback Bowl, Music City Bowl, Texas Bowl, Liberty Bowl, Belk Bowl and TaxSlayer Bowl.

Saturday’s win over Auburn might have changed the entire tune of Georgia’s season. And everyone knows what a strong finish could mean for a young team moving forward.

“We finally put four quarters together,” outside linebacker Davin Bellamy said. “You all saw what happened when you do that.”