Having just survived an upset bid by No. 12 Missouri, Smart wasn’t really in the mood to reminisce after the No. 2 Bulldogs’ 30-21 win Saturday night.
“Yeah, got a great team; I’ll get to work on them tomorrow,” Smart said during his postgame press conference Saturday. “Lot of respect for what Lane’s done and built there. He’s a tremendous offensive mind. He’s gone out and they’re playing good defense now, too. It’ll be a hell of a matchup because they’ve got a really good football team.”
Kiffin’s team got all it could handle from Texas A&M in Oxford earlier Saturday. The Rebels (8-1, 5-1) blocked a game-tying field attempt as time expired to hang on for the 38-35 win. Ole Miss scored a go-ahead touchdown with 1:40 left on a one-yard run by Quinshon Judkins. That stopped a 21-3 run by the Aggies that had flipped a 28-14 Ole Miss lead into a 35-31 deficit.
Kiffin, who has become quite the media darling in recent years, couldn’t play it straight when asked about playing Georgia next after the Rebels’ latest win.
“I didn’t even know who we played, but thanks for reminding me,” Kiffin cracked. “They’ve got a pretty good defense, too.”
Pop: ‘I’m gonna try’
Georgia junior linebacker and defensive captain Jamon Dumas-Johnson was injured on the first play of the fourth quarter and did not return to the game. Smart said after the game that X-rays revealed a fractured forearm bone. His status for next Saturday’s game is considered doubtful.
“I don’t think so, but I don’t know that,” Smart said. “I’ll have to wait to see. I just got a text with the X-ray on it, so it’s one of those I doubt he’s going to be able to, but I don’t know about that.”
Clearly, Smart hadn’t had a chance to talk to Dumas-Johnson about it yet. Walking off the field in a temporary soft cast alongside teammate Smael Mondon after the game, the player everybody calls “Pop” was asked whether he could play with arm in a cast.
“I don’t know but I’m gonna try,” he said. Georgia’s was shorter than usual on inside linebackers Saturday. Redshirt sophomore Xavian Sorey, who normally would be the first reserve on the field for the Bulldogs, was not with the team Saturday.
“He wasn’t with us for personal reasons,” Smart said, without elaborating.
Instead, sophomore Jalon Walker and freshmen C.J. Allen and Raylen Wilson filled in.
The highlight for Georgia in Saturday’s win unquestionably was the interception and 44-yard return by noseguard Nazir Stackhouse. And while it stood up as a pivotal play, it could have been much more decisive in the outcome if not for a penalty called against Mondon.
The junior linebacker was flagged for the personal foul of making a “blindside block” on tight end Brett Norfleet some distance behind the play.
Upon closer inspection, it could be argued that Mondon shouldn’t have been flagged on the play. Video replays show that Norfleet was quarterback Brady Cook’s intended target on the play. Mondon had dropped into coverage on the play and, at the point of Stackhouse’s interception, had identified Norfleet as his man. There’s no way to know until he’s asked about it if or when Mondon knew Stackhouse had intercepted the pass. But if it was merely tipped rather than intercepted, Mondon would have been permitted to hit Norfleet downfield.
As it went down Saturday, it was determined to be an illegal block by Mondon. That wiped out Stackhouse’s rumbling interception return. Marked off from Mondon’s alleged infraction occurred, it was effectively a 65-yard penalty.
Tough break, but the damage was already done by Georgia stealing possession from Missouri. The Bulldogs would cash in eventually with a long field goal that put the game out of reach for all practical purposes with 3:57 to play.
Suddenly, Peyton Woodring can’t miss.
The freshman place-kicker from LaFayette, La., made three more field goals against Missouri on Saturday.With a 33-yarder in the first quarter and 40- and 48-yarders in the fourth, Woodring had now made 13 consecutive field goals. The 48-yard kick, which gave Georgia the nine-point final margin, was a career long.
That followed a stretch over Games 2 and 3 in which he missed three of five kicks. Obviously, Woodring figured out something.
“We have a lot of faith of him and trust in him,” Smart said of the top-ranked kicker of the 2023 recruiting class. “I think the toughest call I had all night was the fourth-and-5, you know? There’s a lot of analytics that will tell you not to kick that field because a six-point differential just tells them that they get four downs and you just invited them to have four. But I thought there was a chance that we might have another chance at a field goal. Three and three would’ve made 9, right? But if we don’t hit the field goal or we hit it and they go down and score it’s certainly a tough situation. "
Woodring’s day highlighted a special-teams performance that helped win the day for the Bulldogs. Mekhi Mews had 60 yards in returns, while Dillon Bell added 51 yards. Also, Brett Thorson added three punts for an average of 44.3 yards and no returns and Missouri took over one of its possessions at the 3 after Georgia stopped a kickoff return inside the 10 and the Tigers were flagged for an illegal block.
Throwing the rock
Quarterback Carson Beck accounted for 254 of the Bulldogs’ 385 total yards via the pass. He was 21-of-32 for 254 with 2 touchdowns and three sacks.
For the second week in a row, junior flanker Ladd McConkey was Beck’s primary receiver. McConkey had a game-best 95 yards on seven receptions. That put the redshirt junior from Chatsworth in the Bulldogs 1,500 Club in terms of yards receiving. He’s now at 1,546 yards for his career.
Junior Dominic Lovett also had 33 yards on four catches, including a six-yard TD catch against his former team.
“I think it meant a lot,” Smart said. “There was a ton of players out there hugging him afterwards. He’s such a great teammate and competitor that I know it meant a lot to him, but it meant a lot to them too. That can be emotional. We talked about two things that cause you to lose discipline are loss of emotions and loss from fatigue. And you don’t let fatigue set in because you lose discipline. You don’t let emotion set in because you lose discipline, and he didn’t do that today. I’m really proud of him.”
GameDay returns to Athens
Amid all the crazy games that went down on Saturday, the ESPN College GameDay show snuck in that they plan to come to Athens next week for the Ole Miss game next Saturday.
The game between the No. 10 Ole Miss and No. 2 Georgia currently has not been picked up for television. CBS exercised its six-day rights to be able to make the announcement Monday. But the scheduled being what it is next week, odds are favorable that the league’s primary network for one more year will choose Georgia-Ole Miss for the sixth time in the last nine weeks.