Georgia coach Kirby Smart would barely even acknowledge the SEC Eastern Division championship that came with Saturday’s night’s 21-14 win over Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
He just kept talking about the Bulldogs’ next challenge, which will come when Texas A&M visits Athens next Saturday. It will be the first time UGA has played the Aggies since they joined the SEC and A&M’s first game at Sanford Stadium since 1980.
“There's a lot of significance to (beating Auburn) and (winning) the East, but we're just worried about Texas A&M,” Smart said.
» STEVE HUMMER: Kirby Smart has bigger goals than SEC
Smart's concern is justified. At the time he was addressing reporters outside Georgia’s locker room at Jordan-Hare, A&M was still toiling with South Carolina out in College Station. Only it didn't really toil.
The Aggies (7-3, 4-2 SEC) pretty much had their way with the Gamecocks. They got more than 100 yards from two different running backs and 221 yards passing and a touchdown from quarterback Kelly Mond on the way to a 30-6 victory. A&M finished with 540 yards and 27 first downs against South Carolina.
Georgia fans might recall that the Bulldogs committed four turnovers and struggled at times on offense as the Gamecocks knocked off Georgia 20-17 on Oct. 12 in Athens.
So it’s understandable that Smart and the Bulldogs remain fixated on their “next game” philosophy heading into this next game.
Here’s a few takeaways from the last one:
Some of Georgia’s offensive woes could be explained with some revelations after the game. Namely, the Bulldogs were having to play without leading receiver Lawrence Cager and guard Ben Cleveland, last week’s SEC offensive lineman of the week.
» PHOTOS: Bulldogs sustain Tigers’ rally
Cager, who has been plagued with a chronic shoulder injury, started the game for Georgia and had one catch for six yards. But then he aggravated the shoulder again and did not return after the first quarter.
“Yeah, he’s just banged up,” Smart said of Cager. “He took a shot, and it bothered him. … He took a shot on the first play of the game I think, maybe, and it started bothering him.”
Cleveland did block on Georgia’s place-kicking and punting units, but did not play on offense. Sophomore Cade Mays started, but couldn’t play the entire game due to an ankle injury he suffered late last week. As a result, sophomore Jamaree Salyer got a lot of second-half snaps.
Despite injuries on Georgia’s offensive line and general “tough sledding” against Auburn’s nationally renowned defensive front, running back D’Andre Swift did managed to record his eighth career game of 100 or more yards rushing. The junior from Philadelphia finished with 106 yards on 17 carries and also became the fifth Georgia back in history to surpass 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. With at least four games to go, he has 1,021 yards after rushing for 1,049 last year.
Swift’s best work came on Georgia’s one-minute scoring drive at the end of second quarter. He carried the ball three times for 47 yards on the 81-yard scoring drive, including runs of 26 and 16 yards. Brian Herrien’s 5-yard TD catch 20 seconds before halftime gave the Bulldogs a 14-0 lead.
"Yeah, that was huge. It was big,” Smart said of Swift’s work at the end of the half. “We rushed for 141. That's tough to do against those guys. I’m going to be honest with you, you can go ask anybody else in the SEC, if you can rush 36 times and get 141 on Auburn, it’s not easy doing that.”
Swift said they were “definitely hard-earned yards.”
More Travon Walker, please
Georgia got several stand-out performances from freshmen, none more impactful than defensive lineman Travon Walker.
Walker, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound, 5-star signee out of Thomaston, made the biggest play of the night with his five-yard sack of Auburn’s Bo Nix in the game’s final minute. It was one of just two tackles recorded by Walker, who generally comes in as a rush specialist at defensive end for the Bulldogs.
Smart believes that role needs to expand.
“I’ve been saying to our guys: We’ve got to find more ways to play the guy,” Smart said. “He’s probably one of our better overall football players. He’s playing on third down; he plays quite a bit. We’ve got to find ways to use the kid. He’s talented, and we’ve got to do a better job as coaches of finding avenues to help us, because he’s extremely athletic.”
Walker has played in seven of the Bulldogs’ 10 games this season. He has 10 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Presently, he’s listed as fourth-team defensive end behind senior David Marshall, junior Malik Herring, and sophomore Tramel Walthour.
Everybody in Jordan-Hare Stadium got a scare when Chamberlain Smith, a photography intern for the UGA Athletic Association, was run over by Georgia’s Herrien when he was shoved out of bounds after a making a catch in the second quarter. Smith was in a kneeling position with her camera when Herrien collided with her. She was knocked unconscious for a brief time and suffered a black eye.
Chamberlain was attended to on the sideline by UGA doctors and trainers and carefully loaded onto a backboard by emergency responders covering the game. She was treated at East Alabama Medical Center and later released with a concussion and a few bumps and bruises.
Herrien actually scored for Georgia on its next offensive play. But he was extremely concerned about Chamberlain and tweeted her best wishes right after the game.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.