Kirby Smart said all the booing from the Sanford Stadium crowd on Saturday did not bother him.
“No effect on me,” Georgia’s fourth-year coach deadpanned. “I’ve got headphones on.”
Perhaps, but the hooting and howling was a legitimate storyline for the first two and a half quarters of the Bulldogs’ 21-0 win over Kentucky on Saturday night. The hissing finally ceased after Georgia broke a nearly four-quarters-long scoring drought with 6:20 remaining in the third quarter.
The Bulldogs would score again a few minutes later, added a third touchdown in the fourth quarter and finished with a total of 270 yards. That sounds subpar until placed into the context that the game was played in the midst of a tropical depression. It arrived a couple of hours before the 6 p.m. kickoff and didn’t leave until well after the game’s 9:01 p.m. completion, dropping in excess of two inches in the interim amid howling winds.
In truth, Smart was able to hear the boos quite clearly. And he didn’t begrudge the Bulldogs’ fan base for being restless. The ones there, after all, endured the same nasty conditions Georgia was playing in.
That is not to say Smart agreed with them.
“I mean, you know, fans,” Smart said. “That’s what they pay their money for, to give their opinions and they are entitled to that. I respect that. But at the end of the day, our job is to put our kids in the most successful situations and allow them to be successful. I don’t think you make decisions based on (crowd reaction). … You’ve got to make decisions based on patience, the weather, the field position and all those decisions that were involved.”
At the end of it all, the answer was pretty simple: Just keep running the rock. And the Bulldogs did. D’Andre Swift mostly.
A week after carrying the football a career-high 21 times against South Carolina, the junior running back from Philadelphia had 21 attempts against the Wildcats and finished with 179 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 8.5 yards per carry, and ignited the crowd and his teammates on most of them.
No one was more relieved to see the game end than Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, who saw his defense victimized by Swift to the tune of 156 yards and two TDs last year in Lexington.
“I just gave him a ‘congratulations’ after the game and wished him ‘goodbye,’ because he needs to go to the NFL,” Stoops said. “He’s an elite player.”
He is, and the Bulldogs have a lot of them. Yet there they sat halfway through the third quarter, locked in a 0-0 tie with a team over which they were favored by five scores, getting booed.
It was a rousing finish, for sure. Yet Smart again asked again a bunch of questions about his faith in first-year coordinator James Coley. He was asked again about his trust in quarterback Jake Fromm to throw the ball downfield and in his receivers’ ability to get open.
Smart shrugged, incredulous.
“I’m not concerned,” he said. “I feel really good about what our offense does. I feel good about Jake. To judge it based on that game is just not very smart. It’s hard to judge anything in that game. You can’t evaluate that. What you’ve got to evaluate is what is your heart, your courage, your love of the game.”
Georgia was indeed strong in all those areas.
And while the Bulldogs didn’t throw the ball very much, they tended to catch it when they did. Fromm was 9-for-12 for the game. That they were for a career-low 35 yards was immaterial.
None of his passes were more impressive than the only one he attempted in the second half. Georgia faced fourth-and-four at the Kentucky 29 midway through the fourth quarter. Fromm connected with a tightly covered George Pickens for seven yards and a first down. The Bulldogs would score five runs later to complete a 13-play, 92-yard drive that consumed more than half the quarter at 8:18.
Fromm might’ve been at his happiest of the year after the game.
“Hey, it’s not what we didn’t do, it’s what we did do, and I think that’s what we need to look at,” Fromm said. “We did a lot of things well. I think our guys just said ‘this is what we’re going to do; line up and stop it.’ Eventually the body blows add up.”
Swift was more than happy to be exacting many of those. Last week, he theorized that Georgia’s offense would get going if it only got the ball to its primary play-makers more often. He said that knowing he topped that list.
Swift’s ears, under a helmet but unencumbered by headphones, heard the boos loud and clear. He didn’t like them either, but used them for fuel.
“They can boo us; we’re playing for each other,” said Swift, who had his seventh 100-plus yard game at Georgia. “Eleven on the field, 11 thousand on the other side of the ball, it doesn't really matter to us. If they boo us, fine, as long as we’re winning the games, I don’t care.”
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