Smart on escaping Auburn: ‘We gotta get better’

AUBURN, Ala. — Georgia coach Kirby Smart celebrated a come-from-behind 27-20 win at Auburn on Saturday by throwing his visor into the stands and saluting the Bulldog fans who made the trip to Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Never mind that Georgia, the winner of back-to-back national championships, entered the game ranked No. 1 and two touchdown favorites against unranked Auburn, which is breaking in a new head coach in Hugh Freeze.

Smart said it’s never easy to win an SEC game on the road. He said he was proud of the way his team didn’t panic when it trailed for three quarters.

Quarterback Carson Beck, who was making his first start on the road, never got rattled, Smart said. Beck finished with 313 passing yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Afterward, Smart acknowledged the obvious: “We won, but we gotta get better.”

“Obviously we didn’t play our best game today, but we’re a very resilient team,” he said. “[I’m] proud of the way we competed, and we got to continue to get better. I mean, that’s the most important thing for our team. So a lot of things we did wrong, a lot of things we did well, but we’re not going to get where we want to go if we don’t get better.”

That means not giving up two turnovers and not allowing 219 yards rushing. Good football teams, Smart said, don’t do that.

“I don’t know how good a team we’ve got,” he said. “I really don’t. I don’t sit here and proclaim that we’ve got some unbelievable team, but I do think our team believes in each other. We connect [and] we step up when we need to step up.”

One undeniable bright spot for Georgia was the play of All-American tight end Brock Bowers, who came alive in the fourth quarter with four catches for 121 yards, including the game-winning touchdown. He had been limited to two catches for 9 yards before that.

Smart demurred when asked whether Bowers deserved to be in the Heisman Trophy conversation, saying, “I hate getting into that debate.”

But that didn’t stop him from putting Bowers among the game’s elite players.

“Who can argue that there’s a better football player anywhere in the country?” Smart said. “I mean, the guy has the greatest toughness and grit that I’ve been around, and he’ll do whatever you ask him to do for this team. I’ve got a lot of respect for that guy’s competitiveness.”

Georgia will host unbeaten Kentucky next Saturday.

“That’s a Mark Stoops team,” Smart said of the Wildcats’ head coach. “They’re going to be physical. He’s a defensive coach. They run the rock. I’ve always said our kids are the most sore they’ve ever been after playing Kentucky. It was that way last year. It was a blood bath last year up there and it’ll be the same way.”

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