Kirby Smart stands behind decisions in loss to South Carolina

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Georgia Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart looks ahead to the Oct. 19 game against Kentucky. (Video by Chip Towers)

Georgia coach Kirby Smart stood behind the decisions he made during the critical final seconds of regulation in Saturday's double-overtime loss to South Carolina.

Smart was asked during his weekly news conference Monday if, in retrospect, he would’ve had kicker Rodrigo Blankenship attempt a 55-yard field with 8 seconds remaining.

“No doubts, no questions, nothing there,” he said.

With the game tied at 17, Georgia faced third-and-five at the South Carolina 38. Rather than send in Blankenship then, the Bulldogs ran one more play. Not only was Jake Fromm’s pass for Tyler Simmons incomplete, but Georgia had two receivers go in motion at the same time, resulting in an illegal shift penalty.

That backed up the Bulldogs five more yards and left them with :03 on the clock. Smart chose a pass play again rather than have Blankenship attempt a 60-yard field goal. Blankenship said after the game he had told the coaching staff that he was good out to 55 on the east end of Sanford Stadium, but added that he’d be willing to attempt a field goal from any distance.

Blankenship had a 53-yard attempt blocked on that end of the field to end the first half.

Smart was asked if perhaps his experience with the infamous “Kick Six” play against Auburn when he was Alabama’s defensive coordinator has influenced his attitude toward long, late field goal attempts.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “That had nothing to do with it. It had to do with normal football. No coach in his right mind with eight seconds left thinks he can’t get another play off. We do it every single Thursday, every single Friday (in practice). We script it.”

Smart said the Bulldogs have run another play with as few as six seconds remaining on the clock, which they did last year at the end of the first half against Florida in Jacksonville. That resulted in a 22-yard field goal that staked Georgia to a 13-7 halftime lead. The Bulldogs won 36-17.

“We’re going to trust our quarterback to make a good decision there to allow us to have a field goal afterward,” Smart said.

Earlier in that drive, Georgia let several seconds run off the clock before calling its second timeout with 28 seconds remaining following an eight-yard run by D’Andre Swift on second down. The Bulldogs used their final timeout with 13 seconds remaining.

“I felt comfortable with how we used those,” Smart said.

Asked if he would’ve handled anything differently in retrospect, Smart said “nothing from the South Carolina game.”

Smart is in his fourth year as a head coach. Like anyone in that position, he has made some questionable decisions.

Last year’s failed fake punt with the game tied against Alabama in the final minutes of the SEC Championship Game has been widely criticized. So was a failed fake field goal he called in the first half of last year’s loss at LSU.

Smart said game strategy is something he’s always studying.

“We do self-analysis all the time,” he said. “… We have an analytics group that sends us information every week. Same thing with that. … Philosophically, we go meet with people. We’ve met with NFL teams, we met with SEC officials before the season.”

Smart said the Bulldogs’ biggest failings this past Saturday were coming away empty in two-minute situations at the end of each half.

“That’s really been one of our strengths, not one of our weaknesses,” he said.