Raised by a coaching father, Sonny Smart, Smart was recruited to play defensive back at Georgia by Ray Goff, became a captain under Jim Donnan and worked for Mark Richt. Smart said he got congratulatory texts from at least 150 high school coaches in the state of Georgia.
“There’s a lot of people that it means a lot to,” Smart said. “And I, for one, am happy for them, that so many of them are also happy for me.”
Dooley attended the game with his son Daniel. His wife, Barbara, was unable to attend after testing positive for COVID-19, as Dooley did recently causing him to miss the Orange Bowl. He watched the national championship game in a box from athletic director Josh Brooks and Billy and Martha Payne.
“I was very happy for Kirby and the team and very pleased that I was able to catch him on the field after the game especially considering the celebration,” Dooley told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Kirby is well on the way to being one of the all time great contributors to the university.
“My biggest regret was not being able to offer my personal congratulations to Stetson Bennett. His inspirational story will not only be one of the greatest in Georgia’s history but one of the greatest in the history of college football. I will eventually tell him that personally.”
Here’s five things we learned from Georgia’s 33-18 national championship victory over Alabama
Memories for a lifetime
Bennett improved to 14-3 as Georgia’s starting quarterback, including 11-1 this season, said his favorite memory of Monday’s championship game was the offense’s final scoring drive for the offense.
Leading 19-18 with a little over seven minutes to play, the Bulldogs needed another score but also needed to run some clock.
“In our minds, we figured (Alabama was) going to go down and score, and we were preparing for that. We didn’t think one point was enough.,” Bennett said. “But it was also to bleed the clock out while we’re doing it. You saw our offensive line: We mashed on them on that drive. Coach Smart is over there doing this (clapping hands fast and hard). We played Georgia football that drive. Running backs ran hard. We weren’t going to be stopped on that drive. It felt great handing the ball off and watching those dudes lead us down the field.”
Senior Zamir White led Georgia with 84 yards rushing, and the Bulldogs piled up 140 as a team, which includes 46 yards in losses because of Alabama’s five sacks of Bennett.
Georgia had 399 yards of offense, and Bennett was named offensive MVP with 224 yards and two touchdowns on 17-of-26 passing.
Cine, who was named defensive MVP, said his most poignant memory will be the moment when the confetti dropped from the roof of the stadium.
“When everyone just ran on the field knowing the game was over, that’s kind of a picture that will be ingrained in my head forever,” he said. It’s kind of dope, in my opinion. And years ahead, I can just bring my kids and my family over and be, like, ‘I was on this team. I helped and I was a part of something great.’ A lot of people already know, but last night we made history.”
Indeed, the Bulldogs’ defense did. Alabama, after passing for 421 yards and gaining more than 500 total yards in the first game against Georgia, finished with 18 points and 399 yards on 85 plays. With just one touchdown Monday, Georgia finished with an FBS-low 13 allowed all season. Their 10.2 points per game led the nation in defensive scoring and the Bulldogs led the nation in red-zone defense.
Staying or going?
Not surprisingly, neither Bennett nor Cine made any declarations about whether they will return next season. Both can -- Cine as a four-year senior and Bennett as a sixth-year senior.
“For now, I’m just enjoying the moment with my team, enjoying the moment with the coach and just soaking this all in,” said Cine, a junior safety from Cedar Hill, Texas, by way of Boston. “I’ll let whatever decision may be come when the time’s right.”
Said Bennett: “I don’t want to spill all my personal stuff out here on the table. So, we’ll keep that between me and coach Smart.”
But Smart acknowledged that there will be a lot of attrition from the 2021 team, especially on the defense.
“We’ll have multiple kids (to replace),” Smart said. “Probably, we’ll have a few kids go into the portal that we’ve had discussions with that held that off, out of respect for the team. I thought that was tremendous. We’ll have that. Everybody will think that’s a terrible thing, but in some cases, it’s actually a good opportunity for kids. We’ve got 16 or 17 mid-years that have enrolled. We’ve got to finish off this class.
“We don’t know how many spots we have because we don’t know what some guys are doing, like Lewis and other guys. There’s a lot of work to be done.”
Saban happy for Smart
Alabama coach Nick Saban was not happy about losing Monday night. But if his Crimson Tide team had to go down in a national championship game, he was glad it was to Smart, who coached for him for 11 years with three different teams.
“I love Kirby. I think Kirby has a lot of respect for us,” Saban said. “He did a great job for us for a long time. If we had to lose a national championship, I’d rather lose one to one of the former assistants who certainly did a great job for us and has done a great job for his program and his team. If any team deserves, they deserve it.”
Saban is now 25-2 against former assistant coaches, with the other loss coming earlier this season against Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M in College Station. Saban falls to 7-3 all time in national championship games.
Refs explain rulings
On Alabama’s first possession of the game, it appeared that Georgia had sacked quarterback Bryce Young, caused a fumble and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown. But the play was overruled as an incomplete pass by video-replay review.
Later, in the fourth quarter, Georgia’s Bennett had a similar play. He was hit as he was trying to throw the ball out of bounds on third-and-long. Video replay held up the ACC referee’s on-field ruling that Bennett had, in fact, fumbled the ball forward and Alabama had recovered.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution asked for clarification of the calls, which was done via a pool-reporter process. Referee Duana Heydt provided statements on both plays.
On the ruling of a fumble by Young:
“The quarterback was scrambling, and when the ball was loose, we could not determine how the ball became loose. So, our philosophy is we just let the play out because we have replay that can come back and overturn it if necessary. If we were to rule it incomplete because we think it might have been forward, and it would have been incorrect, that is hard to replace as opposed to letting it play out because we did not fully see his hand going forward with possession of the ball. So we let it play out. So, when replay came in, they were able to confirm, indisputable video evidence, that he did have full control of the ball when his hand was going forward. That’s why it became an incomplete pass after further review.”
On the ruling of a fumble by Bennett and recovery by Alabama defensive back Brian Branch with 11:35 to play:
“What we ruled is that the quarterback lost possession of the ball prior to his hand coming forward, so we ruled fumble. And then we had evidence that showed a calling official on the sideline had a foot inbounds with recovery of the football before he went out of bounds. And when we went to replay they were able to confirm on the sideline that his foot was inbounds with possession. And then we let the play stand as far as the hand going forward because there was no evidence to clearly overturn that he clearly had possession of the ball. So, as the hand started coming forward the ball was already coming loose. So, that’s why the play stood.”