One thing I found frustrating about the Richt years was the relative infrequency of blowouts and the lack of time the backups got on the field as a result. Practice and scout team work are fine, but on field experience, particularly against SEC teams, is invaluable in developing depth for the future.
So color me happy that 2017’s been the Year of the Backup.
Georgia didn’t win a game last year by more than 14 points. This season, it’s only had one win that was by fewer than 20 points — the early-season, one-point win over Notre Dame, which is now ranked third nationally.
“You come here, you go into the mentality that you’re going to beat teams as good as you can and play up to your full potential,” tight end Jackson Harris said. “It’s exciting. It’s rewarding.”
And the byproduct of having an abundance of these games that don’t require last-minute heroics has been how backups have had a chance to get significant playing time. Because when Chubb-status players are spectating from the sideline, their less experienced counterparts are starting to become a bit more familiar with the in-game action.
“You may not see much now,” Harris said, “but down the road, just getting those few reps here and there will make a difference.”
And it’s not just in games against non-Power Five opponents like Samford and Appalachian State. The backups have had considerable time in Southeastern Conference matchups.
It’s not just getting the playing time that matters. It’s being held to the same standards as the starters that does, too.
The second-team defense made a last-second, goal-line stop against Mississippi State, and when the backup defenders have failed to do so in those situations, as they did against Florida, Smart told reporters after the game that he was “pissed.”
The scoreboard may look different than it did most of the time last year, but fullback Christian Payne said the sideline expectations are unchanged, adding how Smart preaches “consistency over complacency.”
“You could be up 45 points, but you don’t want to act like that,” Payne said. “You want to keep going and going. When you start doing that, it kind of molds bad habits into you.”
That’ll pay off down the road.