Kirby Smart looked down at the table in front of him with a slight grin.
“That’s youthful exuberance,” he said into the near-dozen microphones in front of him.
It was a comment about a single play, but the sentiment covered more than just a lone deep kick off return from James Cook. He just as easily could have been talking about the entirety of Georgia's, 30-6, win over Vanderbilt.
The Bulldogs showed exuberance in lightning-quick moments — a third-down sack from Channing Tindall and Azeez Ojulari in the fourth quarter, an 18-yard touchdown run by Cook, a 27-yard punt return from Tyler Simmons to put UGA well in Vanderbilt territory.
The youthfulness Smart described came in less positive ways. One was fumble from Zamir White that nearly ruined a Georgia offensive drive. Another was a fumble from Kearis Jackson on Vandy’s five-yard line that did ruin an offensive possession for the Bulldogs.
When youth and exuberance met, it got even messier. A 15-yard facemask penalty was called on Monty Rice toward the end of the second quarter. Only three plays later, Divaad Wilson was flagged for unnecessary roughness after hitting Vanderbilt quarterback Riley Neal after he stepped out of bounds.
That 30 cumulative yards in penalties made up nearly half of the distance Vandy covered on that possession. It also set the Commodores up for their second field goal of the game.
With several holding calls, facemasks and illegal blocks, Georgia gave up 117 yards on 10 penalties, something that obviously irked Smart.
“We’ve still got a long way to go,” Smart said. “We had a lot of undisciplined penalties and didn’t play efficiently in the second half offensively.”
To the players, it came down to focus. There were times when Georgia was dialed in, like the three-straight touchdowns by the offense to open the game, or the defense’s four-straight three-and-outs strung together in the second half. Outside of those moments though, Georgia suffered lapses in concentration.
“We lost a little bit of focus there and as a unit,” Jake Fromm said. “Just wasn’t really as locked in as we needed to be.”
Georgia's offensive stats
Brian Herrien shared the same thoughts.
“A lack of focus,” Herrien said bluntly on Georgia’s offensive struggles later in the game. “I know we didn't execute on all the plays.”
Youthfulness, however, comes with an upside — growth. And that’s something Smart isn’t only cognizant of, but is already witnessing in this team.
“We grew up some,” Smart said. “But guys, we haven't scratched the surface for where we can go. We’ve got so many things that we can improve on.”
Youthful exuberance can be good or bad, but only hindered the Bulldogs this week. In nearly three weeks, when Notre Dame rolls into Athens for a likely top-10 matchup, similar mistakes could cost them the game.
So time is pressing for Georgia to improve quickly, and while it hasn’t come close to what Smart thinks the team is capable of being, it will need to get a lot closer in a brief amount of time.
“Coach Smart always tell us never be sad about a win,” Herrien said. “But, I know we can do more. And we need to do it before the couple of next weeks come around.”