Kirby Smart on the Hail Mary: ‘Everybody on the field executed their job’

ATHENS – Two days later Maurice Smith, who was a few feet away when Jauan Jennings came down with the ball, was asked if he had gotten past it yet.

“Not at all,” Smith said.

This is the sentence in which normally what happened would be rehashed, but everyone knows by now, and doubtless most reading this can do without being reminded.

“It hurt, to see it happen like that,” Smith said. “I think we would have rather gotten blown out than lose like that.”

Tennessee’s Jauan Jennings (15) outjumps Dominick Sanders (240 and a host of other Bulldogs to haul in the game winner as time expired Saturday. BRANT SANDERLIN / AJC

While Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has a 24-hour rule, in which the previous game is flushed and forgotten, he was willing to spend part of his Monday press conference on the Hail Mary: The strategy and philosophy behind it, and what went wrong.

“Everybody on the field executed their job,” Smart said. “We got a little boxed out by the big guy. But it wasn’t like you could watch the play and say, This guy didn’t do what I told him to do. We got out-jumped, and the guy timed his jump a lot better than we did, which I think everybody saw.”

Safeties Dominick Sanders and Quincy Mauger were “in position,” Smart added, and were just out-jumped by Jennings, who is listed at 6-foot-3.

Lorenzo Carter, Georgia’s 6-foot-6 outside linebacker who started the play in the back of the end zone – as he was supposed to be – ended up being blocked out by his own teammates.

“Zo kind of got a surge back on him,” Smart said. “He ended up behind it, instead of coming forward into the jump, he ended up behind it. He kind of got pushed back by everything.”

Georgia only rushed three on the play. Smart said that – like the defense on the goal-line – dates to a “philosophical” decision in the offseason on how they’ll approach it. And how many they rush on a Hail Mary depends on where the line of scrimmage is. This one was 43 yards from the end zone.

“Different yard lines we do different things,” Smart said. “The closer we get the more it becomes a normal thing. The further out they get, the more we want to defend the people that are going vertical. That’s the decision there.”

The defensive strategy on the play was in line with how Georgia had practiced it all year, including every Thursday since the season began. During a brief timeout before the play, the Bulldogs discussed it again, and elected to “go with what we practiced,” according to Smart.

“We just simply went with our philosophy. We trusted in what we practiced,” Smart said. “That’s not to say it’ll be the same at all times, by all means.”

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