I want to return to that Dawgnation piece on some of the ESPN talking heads expressing concern about Georgia’s offense, to highlight one quote in particular.
McElroy’s co-host, Marcus Spears added that Georgia is still trying to find “their best self.”
“I don’t think Kirby is comfortable with where they are,” Spears said.
Does this sound like a guy who’s uncomfortable with where they are?
Kirby Smart’s not budging, Georgia is going to remain a power football team.
“You have to have body blow after body blow until it wears people down,” Smart said.
“You must chop wood, continue to hit people, wear them down, you’ve got to have the threat of a pass and you’ve got to do it over and over.”
It doesn’t sound that way to me. The way it sounds is that it’s some of the pundit class and the fan base that’s uncomfortable with where they are. As Connor Riley puts it,
If you ask an honest Georgia fan, they’ll tell this team hasn’t played always their best brand of football this season. With the exception of the third quarter of the South Carolina, Georgia hasn’t looked like the dominant team a No. 2 ranking would indicate.
And yet, Georgia also really hasn’t had to sweat an outcome yet. Not a single Georgia game has been decided by single digits and the Bulldogs have two in-conference road wins already. Alabama, Ohio State and Clemson can’t say that so far.
If you’re an honest Georgia fan, it seems to me the question you should be trying to answer honestly is why the dissatisfaction. It’s a little funny to me, because I detect faint echoes from the early Mark Richt era when a chunk of the fan base complained regularly about a lack of style points even as the program was winning division and conference titles fairly regularly. It’s amusing now because the program under Smart is already scaling greater heights than it did in the early aughts and yet for some, it’s apparently still not enough.
So let’s see if we can break this down a little.
First off, I doubt anyone, including Kirby Smart, would question the observation that Georgia football hasn’t been operating at maximum efficiency all games, sixty minutes at a time. Outside of ‘Bama, though, what college football team has this season?
That being said, could things be better? Sure. The Tennessee game is a good example of that; better execution in the passing game would have turned a dominant day into a blow out earlier on. The Dawgs wasted some opportunities, no question.
If you want to say Kirby’s uncomfortable about execution, okay, I can buy that, but the overall vision — what he likes to refer to as his team imposing its will on the opponent, or playing to a standard — isn’t going to change. It was the same in 2016, when the talent didn’t match his philosophy and he stuck with it, so why would anyone expect him to depart from that as he’s reshaping the roster with his recruits?
That leads to another honest question. What explains the execution issues that have at times bogged the team down?
One area that’s been offered as an explanation is the overall youth of the roster.
No question Smart is playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that even many of those kids have significant playing time under their belts already, as Georgia’s had plenty of blow out opportunities to give the back ups real game experience. (In turn, that’s also some context in which to consider those snap count numbers Parrish posted.) Let’s also not forget that there are plenty of upper classmen in the two-deep; as of right now, there are only two true freshman starters, Tyson Campbell and Jake Camarda.
The one area where I think youth is a valid concern/excuse is special teams. It hasn’t been noticeable on kickoffs, because Blankenship is a touchback machine, but blocking on punt returns has been a noticeable problem. It’s not a coincidence that the one game where the return team did a consistent job blocking was also Hardman’s best game of the season.
If I’m being honest, then, what do I see as the root source of Georgia’s inconsistency? For want of a better term, I’d say it’s group mindset. Not only was trying to force the square peg of the 2016 roster into the round hole of Kirby’s overall philosophy a problem that first season, but there was also the issue of player buy-in to that philosophy. The decision of the four seniors to return in 2017 put to be the buy-in issue and the tough road win at Notre Dame forged a resoluteness that carried the team to a national title game.
This year’s team, then, has a legacy to build on and it’s already a pretty steep one. Add to that the noticeable talent advantage the program has quickly built along with the relatively easy schedule Georgia has had to navigate so far and you’ve got a team that knows it’s one of the nation’s best and hasn’t always felt a need to challenge itself at every turn because of that.
The challenge is coming, though.
Are they ready for it? Neither you nor I nor even Kirby Smart will know the answer to that until the team is faced with it. But we do know this: better to be the team with gobs of talent than not. We also know that Smart and staff will do what they can to have this team ready. It’ll be up to the players themselves to find what they need when the time comes.