ATHENS – It is Kirby Smart’s coachly duty to dwell in the now. And he is so very good at it. The man could look in a mirror and still see only what’s ahead of him. When next he asks a favor of the Georgia General Assembly, it no doubt will be to outlaw the fond memory.
So no surprise that Smart’s in-the-moment mind-set permeated Georgia’s first game at Sanford Stadium as the incumbent national champion. So little was made of the Bulldogs’ returning-conquerors status Saturday.
Before kicking off to Samford in a time slot not usually reserved for such glaring mismatches – 4 p.m. – there would be no pregame pomp. And but a single cursory mention of the national-champion Bulldogs during the pregame player introductions. The big video board didn’t shower the audience with last season’s glories as one might expect.
You can’t fling a nacho at Truist Park without hitting a tribute to the Braves 2021 World Series win. It’s a different, quieter pride here in Athens. Like they expect it to happen again in the near future. They’ve simply updated the east end-zone façade that is devoted to Georgia’s collection of three national titles, adding “2021″ in relatively small numerals. A national-championship flag flies above that, but it appeared that Smart on Saturday ordered only a moderate breeze so it would hang limp and unreadable so as to not distract his team from the Mayan sacrificial rite that is playing a FCS opponent.
Because of the fear that some liberal arts majors with tubas would do more damage to the grass than 22 behemoths rooting around on it for a couple of hours, the Bulldogs’ loud-and-proud marching band was even kept off the main stage this day, confined to the seats.
So, yes, Georgia literally was not allowed to toot its own horn on the field on this happy return home.
Georgia’s coach wants it known that he has no control over the ambience around his team, even though he certainly would with just a single brief interoffice memo. “Nobody said, ‘Coach Smart, do you not want anything (highlighting the championship),’” he said postgame. “It’s not my decision. I haven’t even thought about it. We’re worried about South Carolina next; today we were worried about Samford. It’s not really fair for this team to celebrate that championship because this team didn’t do that. Last year’s team did that.”
There was little hard-hitting football news to be had in a 33-0 victory over the humble visitors from Birmingham. It was all pretty much business as usual. And business is generally good, with the Bulldogs beginning their championship defense 2-0, with their composite scoreboard reading 82-3.
Even as No. 1-ranked Alabama struggled to shake off Texas on Saturday, it’s unlikely Georgia will jump to the top, considering its competition. These aren’t the Mets that Georgia is chasing. It will be more difficult than that.
Georgia 33, Samford 0
Beating Samford had the encouraging element of another week that this reconfigured Georgia defense can boast of not allowing an opponent end-zone access.
As linebacker Nolan Smith, one of the rare old hands put it, “They don’t score, they don’t win, that’s the way I was raised.”
The Bulldogs offense certainly wasn’t as crisp as it was in steamrolling Oregon a week ago. But to be fair, how many masterpieces do artists really have in them?
Having guided the Bulldogs to touchdowns on his first six possessions of 2022, quarterback Stetson Bennett was left disappointed with the knowledge that not every drive automatically ends in seven more points.
No fan of the field goal Saturday – and Georgia kicked four of them versus Samford – Bennett said, yeah, sure, he was angry about it. “Just because they were self-produced errors,” he said. “Maybe if we were a little more locked in (they’d have been touchdowns). We were a little frustrated.”
Bennett even half-jokingly blamed himself for his brother, walk-on freshman receiver Luke, not getting in this game. “If we would have maybe hit a few other touchdowns, maybe he would have,” Stetson lamented. Such are the problems of the overly talented.
Once message that did flash on the big screen Saturday spoke the loudest to the strange times gripping college football. It was an invitation to fans to sponsor a Bulldog athlete to an NIL deal, complete with an easily scannable QR code for anyone who may want to adopt a stray offensive tackle.
In that vein, perhaps the most interesting news to come out of here this week was the strange variety of money-making deals now open to the most-visible players. Approaching his 25th birthday, Bennett is ancient by college football standards but still a bit young for AARP you’d think. But he reportedly just signed up an NIL deal with the organization that advocates for the 50-and-over set. One more big win and that Flomax ad will be his.
On the field, it might get a tad more compelling. The Bulldogs dip a toe into the SEC part of the schedule Saturday, at 1-1 South Carolina.
This Smart wants to see next from the defending champions: “How they’re going to respond when it gets tough. How are they going to respond when it gets thick, when it gets physical, when it gets fast, when they get tired, when they give up a touchdown?”
Look ahead. Always look ahead.
About the Author