In the first play of the fourth quarter, Georgia head coach faced a fourth goal at the Kentucky 1-yard line Kirby Smart left his offense on the field instead of kicking to improve the Bulldogs by three points. The call didn’t go in Georgia’s favour, but that didn’t cause Smart to back down from the decision after the fact.
Smart defended his decision for the fourth down – what saw Kendall Milton stopped just short of the goal line after the Bulldogs’ 16-6 win. The decision had the potential to be disastrous after Kentucky responded with a 99-yard touchdown drive to reduce Georgia’s lead to 10, but ultimately the Bulldogs’ defense got the stops they needed to get the stop .
“I want to win the game, you have to be able to play it fourth and one,” said Smart. “If you don’t get it, they have to go 99 yards. This [are] Decisions I have to make.”
Discussing Georgia’s two goal-line plays on that drive, Smart explained that the Bulldogs didn’t get much movement on their runs outside the endzone. Smart said Georgia blew up in the last game of the third quarter; On the first game of the fourth, he found Georgia once again getting no movement.
For Smart, that moment was all about being more physical.
“It’s a game that makes a statement, it’s an identity game. You have to be more physical than them, and they were more physical than us,” Smart said. “Kentucky is doing a good job. They know how to stop the run and they have good players too.”
Smart was later asked how much discussion there was about the fourth down in the headset, especially given the end of the third quarter that allowed more time. The Bulldogs head coach didn’t elaborate on the issue, but emphasized that he makes the final decision.
“It’s really relative to us. We talk through the headphones at every game. That [timeout] just gave us more time to talk about it. I don’t have to share with you, do I? What’s said on the headphones, stays on the headphones — I’m sorry you’re not in the know,” Smart said. “You all start paying a lot of money, maybe you all get access to these phones.
“It was a decision made by me and I wanted to show confidence in our players. If I had the chance to go out and do it again, I’d say let’s go out and do it again, because that’s what I believe in. This decision was made 15 years ago – my philosophy.”
The aftermath of the gamble certainly put the Bulldogs in an interesting predicament, but Georgia responded late twice.
The Bulldogs’ turnover at downs left the Wildcats by 16 points on their own 1-yard line, but Kentucky’s offense proved up to the challenge. Will Levis fired to Barion Brown for a momentous 42-yard gain to put Kentucky in Georgia territory and take the Wildcats to the abyss of points. The Bulldogs forced a crucial fourth and two on their own 8-yard line before Levis spotted Brown wide open on his way to the end zone and hit him for a touchdown.
Levis’ pass failed on Kentucky’s 2-point conversion attempt, leaving Georgia 16-6 ahead, 9-52 in the game.
A faltering drive on Georgia’s next possession returned the ball to Kentucky, who found themselves on their own 10 with 6:55 left. Levis made another big play through the air by finding Brown for a 47-yard gain, and by the seventh play of the drive the Wildcats were up to Georgia 17.
The Bulldogs’ defense unbuckled from there.
Javon Bullard and Robert Bel tripped Levis for a four-yard sack before Levis’ third and twelfth passes went wide. Instead of trying to convert the long fourth down, the Wildcats sent kickers Matt Ruffolowho missed wide left from 38 yards to return the ball to Georgia.
The Bulldogs ran about a minute and a half past the game clock before having to toss the ball back to the Wildcats, who took the ball on their own 25-yard line with 2:32 left. Kentucky was as far as his own 42 before Jalon Walker and Mikel Williams combined for a big tackle for the loss on the third down and Levis’ fourth downpass fell incomplete for a turnover on downs.