Kirby Smart, and the allure of Boom Ball

I came across an interesting Reddit thread a couple of weeks ago I thought I’d share.  Its premise is to rank all P5 teams’ seasons since 1998 in order of opponents’ regular season winning percentage.  The top team might surprise you a bit.

20 Highest Opponent Win %

Rk Team W/L Opp W/L Opp W %
1 2012 Florida 10-1 93-38 71.0%
2 2012 Missouri 4-7 93-40 69.9%
3 2009 Mississippi St. 4-7 94-41 69.6%
4 2005 Oklahoma 7-4 82-37 68.9%
5 1998 Auburn 3-8 83-38 68.6%
6 2014 Arkansas 5-6 91-42 68.4%
7 2014 Mississippi 8-3 91-42 68.4%
8 2003 Alabama 4-9 105-50 67.7%
9 2015 Arkansas 6-5 88-42 67.7%
10 1999 Alabama 9-2 79-38 67.5%
11 2004 Texas A&M 7-4 81-39 67.5%
12 2015 Alabama 10-1 88-43 67.2%
13 2013 Georgia 7-4 88-43 67.2%
14 2015 Maryland 2-9 90-44 67.2%
15 2013 Tennessee 4-7 87-43 66.9%
16 2011 LSU 11-0 86-43 66.7%
17 2004 North Carolina 5-5 72-36 66.7%
18 2010 Notre Dame 7-5 94-48 66.2%
19 2014 Auburn 7-4 88-45 66.2%
20 2016 Florida St. 8-3 87-45 65.9%

That was no cheap accomplishment by the Gators, either, as a commenter in that thread points out.

People forget how ridiculous 2012 Florida’s resume was at the end of that regular season. Wins over (using final BCS ranking):

  • #8 LSU (10-2)
  • #9 Texas A&M (10-2)
  • #10 South Carolina (10-2)
  • #12 FSU (11-2, ACC Champ)

The only loss was by 8 points to #7 Georgia (11-2), for a total of 4-1 against top 12 opponents.

Meanwhile, in the regular season Georgia played two teams that were in the final BCS top 25: South Carolina (L, 7-35) and Florida (W, 17-9), then had the close loss to Alabama in the SECCG.

While I do understand why Georgia fans were upset that they landed behind UF in the final BCS rankings and missed out on the Sugar Bowl, it’s pretty hard to deny how strong UF’s resume was.

Now, Florida’s 2012 season may not have been pretty, but it was effective.  It was also peak Muschamp.  Per another commenter,

It was Muschamp’s ideal style of football. Excellent defense and an offense that hogs the ball, minimizes turnovers, and eats clock. It makes for a relatively small margin for error and means winning games by 2 scores or less is common even against inferior opponents.

His offensive strategy was basically “don’t fuck this up for the defense” instead of “we should try to score points.” And it was the only season where that kind of strategy actually paid off to any extent.

One reason it worked so well was that the Gators finished +15 in turnover margin that season (actually, +17 in the regular season).  It was a result that Muschamp would never approach again during his Florida tenure.

Anyway, reading this, all I could think in reaction was that it all sounds like Kirby Smart’s mantra for the 2016 season.  (Let’s not forget the regard Smart holds for Coach Boom.)  Georgia finished 8-5 behind a +8 turnover margin; all other things being equal, how would Smart’s first season have turned out had the Dawgs matched Florida’s 2012 result in that department?

All of which brings me to a Chris Brown post from several years ago (don’t ask me how my mind works) that raised some relevant points about how to recruit for a power ball approach in a spread age.  Start with this:

For the truly elite-level recruiting teams, I think the agnosticism of pro-style treats them well because they basically recruit incredible players and then figure out the system and scheme later. Moreover, spread offenses, option offenses, and really any pass-first offense (including West Coast attacks of which I’d put Georgia in the category) require very good quarterback play. Alabama and LSU are basically designed to win in spite of their quarterbacks; Nick Saban does not want to return an all world defense with a bunch of five-star playmakers and lose because his QB was a junior and had some “growing pains”, which absolutely happens at every level. In other words, if you get be a top 5 recruiting team every year, it’s not that you want to be pro-style it’s that you want to be “system neutral.” They can get superior talent and can fit plays around those incredible guys. Note that this isn’t the same as “fitting your scheme to your players,” because we’re talking about first round draft choice guys not guys with certain strengths and certain weaknesses. I leave aside whether pro-style is truly more attractive to recruits or not.  [Emphasis added.]

With that bolded quote in mind, go back and read something I posted about what Saban wants out of his offensive coordinator this season.  And then think about what that means for Jake Fromm’s chances to wrest the starting job away from Jacob Eason this season.

Chris finished that post with

… The deeper your roster, the more you can play around with guys, move them around, and try to dedicate them to certain things. The less you have the more constrained you are to get into what you want to do, whatever it is. That said, I think for most players, the difference in what they are asked to do in a spread versus a pro-style scheme is vastly overrated, particularly in the case of run-first spread teams.

Ultimately I think the question is a good one but maybe too complex to even answer. I do think quarterback is the X factor for every single college and pro team nowadays, with extremely rare exceptions. The most “pro-style”-ist pro teams need great quarterbacking, but teams like LSU and Alabama do not. The reason: compared to their opponents, LSU and Alabama are simply much better teams, advantages that pro teams and very few, if any, other college teams have.

That is where I believe Kirby Smart wants to go, which is why you should watch his recruiting in a particular light.

Yes, I know there’s been a great deal of talk about how he’d like to sign a dual-threat quarterback.  I even credit him with making a sincere effort in that regard.  But it’s more likely that Smart is simply looking for another bullet in the holster than a wholesale makeover of Georgia’s offensive scheme.  The bigger question to ask at this point is whether he’ll succeed at accumulating enough talent to get away with not having to worry about his quarterback fucking things up for the defense.

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39 Comments

Filed under Georgia Football, Recruiting

39 responses to “Kirby Smart, and the allure of Boom Ball

  1. Athens Dog

    That evening in the Gator Bowl is probably the last time I felt somewhat good about UGA football……………..It was tempered by the performance in Columbia, the normal annual “let down” game.

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  2. While alabama has had big seasons without an NFL-ready qb, despite thier huge talent advantage, they’ve only won natties with qbs who were either “draft-able”, or in Jake Coker’s case, good enough to make an NFL roster.

    It doesn’t matter what offense you choose, if you want to win titles, you’re going to need outstanding qb play. The farther your roster deviates from the quality of Alabama’s roster, the better your qb has to be in order to win titles.

    In short, over the course of a season, no amount of coaching, strategy or play calling will overcome mediocrity at the qb position.

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    • How that any different from what Chris Brown wrote?

      Can you give me a list of Saban’s QBs who have been first team All-Americans or Pro Bowl selections? It won’t be a long one.

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      • I was responding to this: “Alabama and LSU are basically designed to win in spite of their quarterbacks.”

        That’s true to a certain extent, in that they can win double digit games and be relevant nationally with Blake Sims, a freshman Jalen Hurts and John Parker Wilson, but they’ve won it all with two guys who were drafted and one who, but for a knee injury, would probably be an NFL backup somewhere.

        I’m suggesting that qb play is THE position in football. What Alabama’s roster allows them to do is to minimize the impact of disparities in QB talent. That’s a luxury no one else really has and even for them qb deficiencies haven’t been overcome entirely.

        If you’re a mere mortal college program, thinking you can win anything with a Hutson Mason or a Greyson Lambert at qb is a pipe dream. Eventually you’re going to get in a situation where your qb has to make plays and that’s true for everyone.

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        • I’m not seeing any meaningful space between your “I’m suggesting that qb play is THE position in football” and Brown’s “I do think quarterback is the X factor for every single college and pro team nowadays, with extremely rare exceptions”.

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          • Nope. There’s not a lot. I was simply responding to the attempt to exclude anybody from that reality. Quality QB play is a determining factor even for Alabama. For the rest of us, it’s even bigger. The good news, I hope, is that we’re set there for the next 4 years.

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  3. The other Doug

    BOOM’s problem was his inept OL, and (gulp) Smart has a similar issue.

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  4. Bama can win with a game manager at QB because they are so good everywhere else especially on the line of scrimmage. Last year Jake Coker somewhat neutralized Clemson’s advantage at QB because of the insane skill talent around him and he could get the ball to that talent. This year Jalen Hurts couldn’t do the same thing because he wasn’t a real threat to throw the football with the game on the line. Eventually, Deshaun Watson made the plays that led Clemson to the win.

    How we let Watson get away is still something I’ll never understand …

    The “do no harm” school of QB coaching means playing on the edge because games are going to be closer than they should be. In the college game, that’s a recipe for failure unless you can overwhelm your opponent week in and week out with talent.

    I guess we’ll see over the next 2-3 years if it works.

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    • This year Jalen Hurts couldn’t do the same thing because he wasn’t a real threat to throw the football with the game on the line. Eventually, Deshaun Watson made the plays that led Clemson to the win.

      Another way to look at it: Last season, running an offense he didn’t like behind a true freshman quarterback, Nick Saban came within a whisker of beating the team with the Heisman Trophy runner-up at quarterback for the national title.

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      • Absolutely, I agree. There’s a reason Saban is the best in the business.

        Coker was underrated at Bama. That game he played in Athens in that rainstorm convinced me the kid could play.

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        • There’s a reason Saban is the best in the business.

          He’s got better players than everybody else. It’s not a complicated strategy at all, but takes an insane commitment level that only a school like Alabama could afford.

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          • That’s true. He also gets them to play within the system and to trust The Process. Hopefully, all of that translates to Athens in the long term.

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            • Russ

              To me, his true talent is convincing 5* talent that would start immediately elsewhere to come to Bama and sit for 2-3 years before starting (and starring). That says the kids are fully committed before they ever set foot on campus.

              Hopefully, Kirby can instill that kind of commitment. Combine that with top 5 recruiting classes and it can cover up a whole lot of OJT for a head coach.

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              • He convinced a 4 star recruit to greyshirt this year! Literally – a guy that could go anywhere in the country he wanted was willing to wait until spring of 2018 to enroll full time at Alabama. That’s just insane. How in the hell do you compete with that?

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                • Mayor

                  By consistently winning championships and preparing your players to play in the NFL.

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                  • Chico Dawg

                    One thing that may bring bama back to the rest of those chasing it–eventually someone needs to run an analysis on how well these kids are performing in the NFL. It seems that there is a Dee Millner for every Julio…if I were recruiting against them, I would use this data to say, “sure they put a lot of kids in the League, but you can come here, play immediately, still get drafted, and we will give you the same skills”…just a thought.
                    I do think Kirby’s general coaching theory is to line up his 22 and beat your 22, which he learned from the Emperor. I am in the camp that you don’t do this in a period of two years…so if 17 is a good year, I would say it’s ahead of schedule…but I know I’m in the minority here.

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        • Otto

          Yes the Bama QBs can play but they usually aren’t All American 5 star , FL hyped stars. But then again UGA’s winningest QB also does not fit that description.

          UGA fans like to talk down Cox but he was rated higher than John Parker Wilson and Colt McCoy.

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      • Down island way

        Nice blog Bluto, very nice!

        Like

  5. CVegas Dawg

    Of more concern to me is our play calling. I don’t think schemes are as important as what the coaches do with the talent they have. Will we see the “O” truly open up in Eason’s second year or will it be the same ole same ole? I hate to think that we will squander Chubb and Sony’s last year but the G Day game didn’t exactly instill confidence (Granted it was a scrimmage). I am hopeful for a breakout season but I am a pessimist and UGA/Atl Sports fan.

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    • Uglydawg

      Good point, CVD, It’s all about winning games. Couldn’t care less what the scheme is as long as the team is playing well and putting up wins. To try to run a scheme you don’t have the players for is unseemly, to put it in gentle terms. And since you can’t instantly replace all of your players it becomes necessary to adapt the scheme to who you’ve got. KS didn’t do that last year. The development of his scheme was more important than putting up wins (IMHO). I realize it takes a couple of years to implement a new system. In the meantime, though, we get caught up in the frustration of losing games we should have won, and wringing our hands over close shaves with cupcakes. We hear labels and terms like “throw-away year” which is disturbing (and I realize KS probably never used that exact description..but it does seem to describe what I saw).
      If a guy’s going to collect millions of dollars a year to coach football, he ought to know how to deploy what he’s got in the best way possible even while he plans and implements a new (and better, we hope) system.

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    • Jared S.

      Run the damn ball, Chaney.

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  6. Got Cowdog

    That was a good read, good post.
    I was thinking as I read it where the QB’s for LSU during that period and the recent QB’s for Bama have gone in the NFL. In short, Brown is right on the money.
    To answer your Eason v Fromm question, If all that is required is serviceable play by the QB, Fromm gets his redshirt and I am a happy Got.

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  7. Uglydawg

    Simple as this..the more talent you have on a team, the more things you can do. Of course it’s better to have a great QB..and of course it’s better if he’s a dual threat.

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  8. doofusdawg

    Great article. The question in my mind is whether or not the coaches think that Fromm offers enough of a twist in style from Eason to get three or four big first downs per game… which could be the difference between 8-4 and 11-1. Which obviously begs the question of if they don’t… does that make 2017 another throw away year.

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  9. Hillbilly Dawg

    So, let me see if I’ve got this right:

    Run the ball to control the clock.
    Stop the run.
    Have more better players.
    Don’t have dumbass calls from the coaching.

    Yup. That’s pretty much what I read.

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    • Otto

      Or if you make dumb calls make sure it is the kicker faking a field goal with the game on the line and no time to call a time out for TD. Assuming you are Les Miles.

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  10. southernlawyer11

    But when the great plow gets stuck in the mud and several prize mules start coming up lame, it’s nice to have a little mike bobo.

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  11. Hmm, I’m not as bullish on that 2012 Florida team. They got by w a great D and a crap ton of smoke and mirrors, plus as insane amount of luck. They got Johnny Football in his first game, an overrated FSU team, USC the week after LSU beat the shit out of them, etc.

    It was ultimately unsustainable, as evidenced by a 7 game losing streak the next year.

    Regression to the mean on fleek.

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    • Dawgflan

      Living on the razor’s edge tends not to work out for UGA. I get avoiding turnovers and dumb calls, but there is also a need to be agressive on offense. As the saying goes “You’re either the hammer or the nail” and I hope Smart aspires to hammer opponents on both sides of the ball. Sure a strong LOS always makes this easier, but with our current roster we should be able to confuse and exploit any D. Does any Dawg fan doubt if Spurrier could score 35+ a game with this O? I’m not expecting Spurrier ball from Smart and Chaney, but I sure as hell don’t want Boom ball “just don’t F it up for the defense” either. Didn’t we fire a guy for being Field Goal Jesus?

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      • No, that is not why we fired him.

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        • Dawgflan

          So I must have made up the “no killer instict” and “didn’t put teams away” and “got conservative too early” and “settles for field goals” and “put too much on his defense” memes in my mind. got it. 😉

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          • No, that might be what burned up the goodwill with the fanbase, but that’s not what got him fired.

            The inexcusable bedshitting in Jax in 2014 and the Faton experiment and Pruitt fallout the following week in 2015 is why the powers that be pulled the trigger, IMO.

            Win just either of those, then you win the East and are still employed. Jacksonville fuck ups got him fired.

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            • DawgPhan

              Yeah I dont buy it. Short of winning the national title, once SOS retired CMR was as good as gone.

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            • Got Cowdog

              I agree Tri-guy. Beating up on weak teams and patsies, then getting in the ring with a ranked opponent and getting your ass handed to you. I for one got tired of it, apparently some others did as well.

              Liked by 1 person

  12. Shane#1

    Let’s see, play good defense, minimize mistakes on offense, run clock, keep the game close, cause turnovers on D. Does this remind anyone else of ol’ Vince?

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  13. Dawg in Championship Exile

    Matching what UGA has to what it does is key to the offense this year. UGA may have improved its O-line talent and size, but it’s still inexperienced. While everyone puts the key to the O-line and running the ball, I think UGA needs to run a fast tempo O. No huddle, get plays in fast and keep the pressure on from the first play. Run everything including the kitchen sink. Spread it out, run it and throw it. Power I, run and throw and/or Pro, just move fast and keep the D off balance. The D is the strength and it’s deep. They can handle the additional pressure of up-tempo.

    Like

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