North Carolina chose to go after Georgia defensive back Maurice Smith early and often. The strategy, however, didn’t work.
Early in the game, UNC quarterback Mitch Trubisky took a shot deep down the field to receiver Ryan Switzer, who appeared open for what possibly could have been a touchdown. But Smith used his recovery speed to catch up to Switzer, saw the ball coming down and jumped in the air to make a play on it.
He almost had the interception, but more importantly, he prevented a big play from occurring.
Later in the game, the Tar Heels later tried to go deep down the middle again with Smith in coverage. Smith jumped, got one hand on the ball and deflected it away.
The fact that the Tar Heels went after Smith a decent amount made the graduate transfer think that it was a part of their game plan. As a result, Smith figured he needed to make plays and prevent the opponent’s approach from working.
“I felt they were like, ‘We’re going to pick on this guy,’” Smith said. “I had to make sure I showed up every play. Hopefully that’ll lead to bigger things down the road.”
Smith is Georgia’s newest addition, having arrived from Alabama right before the first preseason scrimmage in August. He was embroiled in a controversy, considering Alabama head coach Nick Saban initially wouldn’t allow for his transfer. Smith said he met with Saban four times over the issue.
Saban eventually relented and the SEC granted a conditional waiver, which allowed Smith to arrive at Georgia.
Smith said Saban’s main reason to prevent a transfer to Georgia was for competitive purposes.
“When we met with him, or I met with him, he told me because it was a team thing and he didn’t want me to come here and expose – be able to know the playbook and if end up seeing them in the SEC Championship, it wouldn’t be fair to my other teammates at Bama,” Smith said. “So that’s really the main reason.”
Smith said he still communicates with his former teammates at Alabama, and even said some of them questioned Saban’s motive following the ordeal.
“If you ask the guys at Bama, they really respected (the transfer),” Smith said. “They said we’re going to back you up, we’re not going to give you a hard shoulder. I won a national championship with those guys so obviously our brotherhood is still there. When (Saban) did that, it changed the perspective for those guys too. It was, ‘He did everything right, he graduated, why not just let him go?’”
Smith earned the start Saturday, even after going mostly with Georgia’s second team in practice during the week. He wasn’t notified he’d start until Thursday, Smith said, which surprised him. Head coach Kirby Smart said it was because of how he’d performed in the days leading up the game.
“The decision boiled down to how you practice,” Smart said. “We tell our players all the time, we put a lot of value in practice, so Mo is a really hard practice player. He believes in doing it right. He believes in being physical, and I've been fortunate enough to see that for three years, and then he did that when he arrived, and he plays with physicality.”
Smith finished the game with 5 tackles and 2 pass breakups. Having made some plays in Georgia’s secondary against the Tar Heels, Smith is hoping this trend continues throughout his final collegiate season.
“It made me feel a type a way because they felt they could pick on me like that,” Smith said. “When I did make the plays, I made sure it wouldn’t be able to happen again. That’ll set the tempo for the rest of the teams we play, to let them know you can’t come to my side of the field.”