— “For us, it was all about playing the Georgia way, the Georgia brand of football. Which is physical, relentless, tough, knock you back. I think we did that.” — Kirby Smart, Dawgs247, 9/5/16
As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve left that Quote of the Day up for a while now. The facetiousness of my previous post aside, it’s apparent to me two games into the Smart regime, that if there’s one thing Georgia’s head coach is serious about, it’s having a team that will knock other teams’ dicks into the dirt.
It’s equally apparent after the Nicholls game that Smart doesn’t have that kind of team yet. And really, that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Culture change doesn’t happen overnight.
The problem Smart has is that he wants to instill a new attitude of toughness while at the same time trying to win games. That’s a problem because it means, for one thing, that he’s forced to make personnel choices that favor one preference over the other. Take, for example, the receivers.
That’s an evident frustration for Kirby Smart and his staff after the first two games, as receivers have struggled to get separation, and struggled even more to block.
“The physicality of the receivers right now is not where it needs to be,” Smart said. “We’ve got to block better. A big part is separation, but more important to me is their ability to, when we spread people out, to be able to go block people and go hit them. When we can’t do that, we can’t put them on the field.”
The blocking deficiencies at receiver were on full display last Saturday, as Georgia failed to open lanes on the outside. Experience and size are both problems. The team’s two leading receivers from last year are Terry Godwin (5-foot-10) and Isaiah McKenzie (5-7). That leaves more inexperienced players, such as Michael Chigbu and Jayson Stanley, on the field just to block, and it’s why Godwin (the leading returning receiver from last year) has played less than expected, with Chigbu gaining a lot of those snaps.
Purely as a receiver, Godwin is Georgia’s best option. He has great speed and the best hands of any of the wideouts. But he’s physically limited in the blocking game, even if his head coach thinks that’s more a state of mind than anything else.
“There’s only one ball on the field and it can only go to one person. The other 10, or nine if you take the quarterback out of it, have got to block somebody,” Smart said. “And that’s an area where we’ve got to improve at wideout. They’ve got to improve their physicality, not just their ability to get open.”
Smart’s biggest problem at receiver now is that his top two in terms of yards per reception are both smurfs, relatively speaking. A receiving set that includes both Godwin and McKenzie may put the fear of God into opposing defensive backs, but it won’t be because of their mad blocking skillz. Given what we’ve seen so far, I’d guess Smart means business about getting after defenses, so nothing is going to change in that regard.
Beyond personnel, there’s also the question of how players are deployed. That’s Jim Chaney’s territory, and, again, the message appears to be mixed so far.
So, what kind of identity does Kirby Smart want his offense to have for the rest of the 2016 campaign?
The Bulldog head coach was asked that very question during Wednesday’s SEC Teleconference, and how that figured into to his choice of Jim Chaney as his offensive coordinator.
“What I looked for when I wanted to create an identity is one of mental toughness where we can run the ball, but somebody that’s also good [with] experience throwing it,” Smart said. “That’s what we looked for in a coordinator, one that had SEC experience, can throw it, can run it, can do both. You cannot be one-sided to win our league. You have to be able to do both.”
Through two games, Georgia has run a total of 134 plays on offense. The breakdown: 91 rushes, 43 passes. That’s greater than a 2:1 ratio on the playcalling front in a season in which Georgia has faced almost zero garbage time on offense. It’s pretty clear so far where Kirby’s interests lie, and that’s in establishing toughness.
Keep in mind that even he acknowledges you can’t win the conference without being able to run and pass. So to the extent that Georgia continues to emphasize establishing the run using three tight end sets with a fullback, what does that suggest to you about his early priorities? If you think it means that he finds establishing a new mindset more important than winning enough games to head to the SECCG this season, I can’t argue with you.
Yes, Georgia’s 2-0 right now. Smart’s choices haven’t cost him anything yet in the won-loss column. But the conference schedule kicks in Saturday and gets tougher in the following two weeks. The faster he can get that new identity established, the faster he can open the playbook. It’s just that neither he nor anyone else can say for sure when that happens.