Brace yourselves — I’m speculating again.
Seth, in his At Second Glance piece about the Sugar Bowl win ($$), notes that Georgia’s offense did one thing in that game out of character from its regular season proclivities:
First there was tempo, which we’ve wondered all season why Georgia didn’t use it more often. There was never a clear answer, but much of it probably came back to that run-oriented approach. But when you pass more, you can go quick more often. And Georgia did that against Baylor.
For the season, Georgia averaged 28.8 seconds of possession per play, which ranked among the slowest in the country, per SportSource Analytics. But in the first half of the Sugar Bowl, the Bulldogs went more than three seconds faster per play: 25.6 seconds. The second quarter, when Georgia was particularly successful, it averaged just 23.8 seconds per play.
Kirby Smart, as we all know, is quasi-addicted to substituting personnel throughout a game, on both sides of the ball. The problem with doing so on offense is that it slows the game down — the offense substitutes and the defense gets the chance to match. So even though we’ve seen numerous times when Georgia going up-tempo has allowed the offense to flourish, Smart’s natural tendency takes away that advantage.
Now, it could be argued that one reason Georgia went more quickly in the Sugar Bowl was do to personnel losses; in other words, because there were less players on offense to substitute, Georgia didn’t allocate as much time to substitution. Eh, maybe. I wonder — and again, here comes the rank speculation — if the SECCG debacle had more of an impact on Smart’s willingness to go up-tempo. As I wrote after Smart’s presser then,
… Read the first paragraph from that presser quote of his again. LSU ran 28 straight plays in 11 formation yesterday. Certainly that frustrated Smart the defensive whiz who loves matching players to situations, but it’s also an alien concept to him on offense, because it’s ingrained in his approach that mixing and matching personnel and sets is the way to go, even if his quarterback’s performance suffers.
That was in response to this:
… So they go tempo, but they don’t go tempo to just run the ball, they go tempo and take shots. They never change personnel. It’s like 28 consecutive snaps with the same people on the field. So it does not allow you to substitute in the pattern that you want to.
So there’s a combination of a lot of things, and it is scheme oriented, [Emphasis added] but it’s a lot more than scheme. They have plays that they’ve run all year, that we’ve run all year. Our plays haven’t looked like their plays because a lot of times we might not have the same guys doing those plays.
They’ve got a great group of wideouts combined with an extremely athletic quarterback, and it hit at the right time. I’ve got a lot of respect for what they’re doing and who they’re doing it with. They’re hard to defend.
“They’re hard to defend.” You want to know how to get through to Kirby Smart? Make it hard for him to play defense.
The irony here of making improvements to the offensive scheme because Georgia’s defense didn’t play well doesn’t escape me, but I don’t care, either. Anything that will allow the offense to play more effectively is welcome. Not only that, but the beauty of using more up-tempo playcalling is that of anything Coley and Smart could embrace, it has the least impact on their manball approach to the game. (In fact, you could argue by preventing the defense from substituting regularly, up-tempo enhances that.)
I don’t know if we’ve seen a glimpse of the future in that regard, but I am curious to hear whatever reasoning Smart gives us when he makes his next coaching hire.