When it comes to critical penalty, Kirby Smart doesn’t blame the rule

ATHENS — Kirby Smart isn’t blaming the rule that led to a critical penalty in Saturday’s loss. Whether he’s going to hold it against the man who committed the penalty, Smart isn’t saying.

Rico McGraw was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after Jacob Eason’s improbable 47-yard touchdown pass to Riley Ridley with 10 seconds left. McGraw was shown running onto the field to celebrate with his helmet off.

“It’s the rule,” Smart said on Monday. “It’s probably a good rule for college football. You’re trying to teach young men about discipline and doing things the right way. It’s about a team atmosphere, and that’s what we all want.”

The penalty pushed Georgia’s kickoff to the 20, and the ensuing kick was fielded by Tennessee at its own 32 and returned to the Georgia 48. Quincy Mauger was also called for offsides on the kickoff, moving Tennessee’s final play up to the 43. Everyone is aware of what happened next.

A reporter also asked if Smart had said anything to McGraw, a sophomore and backup cornerback, about the penalty.

“Specifically, I talked to the team about it, but it wasn’t a rant and rave about it by any means, it was just a very honest and blunt truthfulness,” Smart said. “That’s the way they need to hear it. That’s the way it needs to go from there.”

Senior Maurice Smith said McGraw’s penalty was “kind of an immature decision.”

“In times like that you’ve got to learn not to get too high, not to get too low,” Smith said. “I think in that moment people were just going on their emotions on that specific play, and I don’t think they really thought that it would affect us in the long run. Especially with that amount of time on the clock.”

Smith – who took McGraw’s starting spot when he transferred from Alabama in the preseason – said he hadn’t had a chance to talk yet with McGraw.

“I can imagine that he’s taking it a little hard,” Smith said. “But I think as a leader I will speak to him, and let him know it’s okay. Even with that penalty or without it, we didn’t do our job at the end of the day. It may have changed our field position and things like that, but we still didn’t finish the way we needed to.”

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