I didn’t really want to limit my comment about Smart’s work last night to a bullet point in an Observations post, because I think he deserves some bigger picture consideration from me. (Although maybe I should have mentioned that epic ass-chewing he gave LeCounte that had the ref looking his way as Sinclair pulled him back to the sideline.)
First off, I’ve mentioned before that roster management has been the biggest plus of Smart’s head coaching career and it certainly paid off last night, not just in the way that the overall talent level is clearly on a rapid rise, but also with the contributions he got from some of the transfers like Reed and Nizialek, who have clearly come in and filled areas of need. That’s good work on Smart’s part. Something that was a major weakness for the program during the first half of this decade is being turned into the kind of strength that a program with Georgia’s resources should consistently enjoy.
Second, I saw a lot of buying in on the field in the opener. It was particularly apparent on the defensive side of the ball, where the starters looked comfortable in Tucker’s scheme and played fast. But it was also there in smaller ways. There was less emotional showboating after plays than I’ve been accustomed to seeing over the years. And when things appeared to get a little chippy on ASU’s part, the Dawgs kept their emotions under control. (If I’m not mistaken, Georgia didn’t get called for a single personal foul last night.)
Third, and perhaps more promising of all, there was a certain confidence in the gameplan that seemed just like what you’d expect from a coach in his second year who has a stronger grasp of his personnel and staff. This quote is an example of that:
To Georgia coach Kirby Smart, the Bulldogs did exactly what they should have done defensively in a 31-10 win over visiting Appalachian State Saturday.
“Appalachian State’s (offensive line) was overmatched. We had bigger players than they did up front. That’s not the best thing they do,” Smart said. “We’ll play a lot better offensive lines than that one, but I give App State credit. They’ve got a great quarterback, a great system and they’ve got a really good defensive unit but our defense should dominate those guys.”
That’s the kind of thing you say when you’ve scouted the other guys, know what you have on your side for the game and are thoroughly prepared for the meeting. Georgia was going to be conservative on offense and in the return game because Smart knew he had enough on defense and in the kicking game to handle any threat ASU could throw at Georgia. (If you want to know where Smart’s trying to head, just check out what ‘Bama did to FSU, despite no offense and a poor game from Hurts.)
Add to that he had his team in the right mindset — there would be no overlooking an inferior opponent — and that’s how you wind up coaching a game that was more dominant than the final score indicated.
The man’s passed his first test of 2017 with flying colors. Notre Dame presents a very different challenge, especially if Georgia goes to South Bend starting a true freshman quarterback, but I don’t think Smart’s going to be overmatched. It’s starting to get interesting around here.