Maurice Smith has been telling his teammates he would soon add a pick-six to his list of accomplishments.
On Saturday, Smith crossed that mark off his to-do list.
Smith delivered a well-timed interception for a touchdown in the third quarter of Georgia’s 13-7 upset victory over No. 9 Auburn. The 34-yard return not only gave Georgia a surge by tying the game at 7-7 but ultimately proved to be the Bulldogs’ only touchdown of the contest.
Smith’s play came on a third down deep in Tigers’ territory shortly after the halftime break. Needing 10 yards to convert, Auburn quarterback Sean White forced a pass to the right side of the field directly to Smith. He quickly took possession and methodically allowed blockers to file in front of him as he sprinted toward the corner of the end zone to score his first touchdown as a Georgia Bulldog.
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“I did my job,” Smith said. “I read the quarterback, and he threw it straight to me. After that, the defense did a wonderful job blocking, and I took it to the crib.”
One of the defenders opening up space on Smith’s scamper to score was linebacker Roquan Smith. Roquan ended the game with a team-high seven tackles, but his biggest play of the day very well could have been playing the role as blocker.
“I saw him pick it off, and once I saw him pick it off, I said, ‘Let me get me a block,’” Roquan said. “I got me a block, and the next thing you know I see him in the end zone. It just felt amazing.”
The defensive touchdown was a change of pace for the Bulldogs defense this season. The score was the team’s first interception returned for six points and only the second touchdown scored by the defense at all, the other being Lorenzo Carter’s fumble return against Nicholls State.
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has repeatedly called for his defense to do more this season, even in games in which the unit has played well. Smith came through in a game that ultimately hinged on the possession-changing play.
Smith credited defensive coordinator Mel Tucker for also building a drive in his defenders to score points. He said every Friday night Tucker shows the defense game reels of other SEC teams scoring on defense, an area that Georgia has lacked for much of the season.
“They were hungry to do that, so when they get one, they all go block, they all stay up high,” Smart said. “He made some good cuts, looked like a receiver a little bit there and scored.”
Smart applauded Smith for his work throughout the season, saying he was one of the hardest workers he’s ever been around. Smith has certainly come a long way in his one and only season as a Bulldog, from struggling in coverage against North Carolina to start the year to becoming one of the most reliable defenders down the stretch.
But for Smith, the play wasn’t about proving himself. It was more about coming through for his team and helping beat a familiar foe in Auburn.
“It was a blessing, just for me to be able to impact the team like I did, to get us some points on the board and give us momentum,” Smith said. “I did it for the team, and I'm just glad we got the W.”