What does Kirby Smart want from his offense?

It’s not really a mystery, at least conceptually.  Smart said it clearly enough when he promoted James Coley before last season.

“We want to be explosive. We want to score points.

“I think in college football nowadays you’ve gotta be able to score points. You look at the best teams in the country they can do that. So we’ve got to be able to score points, and whatever it takes to do that, whether it’s wearing people down, or throwing the ball, we’ve got to be flexible enough to do it.”

The wearing people down bit didn’t work so well (at least, not well enough) last year.  For that matter, neither did throwing the ball, at least in the season’s second half.

I do think that sometime in the future, when the dust settles, we’ll look back on Georgia’s two losses in 2019 as being seminal in Smart’s decision to change offensive coordinators.  Fromm’s interception binge against South Carolina led Smart to downgrade explosive plays in favor of control maintenance over the rest of the season.  The SECCG showed Smart the limits of that trade off in the context of championship level college football.

By the time the 2020 season kicks off, I have little doubt we’ll all be sick of the Joe Brady references as they pertain to Georgia’s offense.  Smart and Monken will likely be even more tired of them than we’ll be.  While it’s a mug’s game to try to predict what Georgia’s offense will look like this coming season, I do think stats like these have resonated with Kirby Smart.

The case study for offensive transformation is obviously LSU. In 2018 they ran the ball 43.0 times per game. And were 14th in the country in Time of Possession, running over 72 offensive plays per game.

In 2019, the Tigers ran the ball 33.9 times per game and were ranked 53rd in Time of Possession this season.

Georgia’s numbers on offense in 2019 look rather similar to that of LSU in 2018 before the arrival of the passing game guru, Joe Brady.

Team
Runs Per Game
Passes Per Game
Yards Per Game
Points Per Game

2019 UGA

37.1

29.6

408.9

30.8

2018 LSU

43.0

29.8

402.1

32.4

Sure, all the numbers make sense, but they are just numbers. How did LSU manage to score a full 16 points per game more while running ten fewer plays? Well, they drove the ball downfield constantly.

LSU was number one in explosive drive rate this season – scoring drives averaging at least 10 yards per play. 35.6% of their scoring drives averaged at least 10 yards per play. For comparison, Georgia was 59th at just 14.2%.

“They increased their offense production by 166 yards per game and led the nation in scoring while running just 62 offensive plays per game.”  Lip service aside, I doubt that’s an exchange Kirby Smart was emotionally prepared to make before the 2019 season.  Now, I suspect he is, mainly because he saw it first hand when he coached against that LSU offense.

With the wholesale changes on offense — new coordinator, new quarterback, departing starters on the o-line, etc. — it’s impossible to think the changeover will be seamless.  There will be bumps in the road.  Will Smart have enough faith in the change in direction he’s initiated to stay the course?  We’ll see, although it would help if there isn’t another South Carolina debacle in the process.

41 Comments

Filed under Georgia Football

41 responses to “What does Kirby Smart want from his offense?

  1. Greg

    “Fromm’s interception binge against South Carolina led Smart to downgrade explosive plays in favor of control maintenance over the rest of the season. ”

    Good point, thought the same…also think his conservative approach has cost at least one MNC.

    On the flip side, he did get us there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brandon M

      See… I initially thought the same but upon re-watching the game a couple times I don’t think it was as much conservative play that cost us that game. I think it was a couple horrendous officiating calls… a terrible interception caused by Fromm throwing the ball right into the helmet of a Bama D-lineman 5 feet in front of him… and finally a blown coverage on the last play. We had that game won and ultimately choked in epic Georgia fashion.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. 81Dog

    And LSU had all that increased production against a pretty stout schedule. That makes it even more impressive. Lots of teams can roll up stats against cupcakes, but they did it against a lot of high quality teams. I have to tip my hat to those guys. Whatever they did, whether they or anyone else can recreate it, they were flat out the best.

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    • gastr1

      One of the things they did was not substitute. When I read before the SECCG that they were doing that I really felt as though our goose was cooked. Next step for Kirby defense-wise is figuring out how to stop offenses that don’t substitute on a drive, because I guarantee other fast-paced offenses will copy that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bulldog Joe

        LSU did the same thing to Georgia in Baton Rouge. The Georgia staff knew this was coming for over a year.

        Offense is not the only place that requires self-evaluation in the off season.

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  3. duronimo

    Good pickup to connect what happened post Gamecock game to those interceptions. I think it’s the “why” behind the season. That game seemed to fuel Kirby’s tendencies for fear-based decisions, (instead of trusting his players) and like you pointed out … neutered the team’s aggressiveness. It turned Jake into a timid, safety first, shadow of himself. He was a DGD to keep his mouth shut and play with an arm tied behind him. None of this helped Coley either.

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    • gastr1

      And it was evident that some of that was on Fromm but most of it was the WRs being clueless about what happens when you mis-run routes and/or not holding off a defender.

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    • Greg

      I think the change in Fromm was more about his confidence in his receivers…

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      • Macallanlover

        I thought one of those INTs was on Jake, and it was a big one. The other two were on the receivers and probably did contribute to lessened confidence, enhanced then with the Cager injury. We just bogged down, and for once our running game couldn’t save us. Combo of OL sucking at run blocking and now WRs able to get space from defenders.

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  4. Anonymous

    Firstly, your remarks about Kirby are pure mind reading. What we know is that Kirby said he wants and explosive offense that scores a lot of points, he didn’t get that in 2019, and he made a change at OC. The internal motivations and timing are pure speculation on your part.

    Secondly, your source material needs to do some fact checking. A quick check at CFB Stats show that LSU ran 72 plays per game this year versus 70.8 last year.

    That being said, the fact that they averaged 7.89 yards per play against the defenses they played is absolutely ridiculous. I wonder what kind of ramifications this will have across the CFB landscape as everyone tries to replicate what LSU did this year. Throwing it deep into tight windows is usually a recipe for disaster. I expect a decently sized increase in interceptions next year. There were 1346 this year by FBS teams. I wonder if they will top 1500 next year.

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    • Firstly, your remarks about Kirby are pure mind reading. What we know is that Kirby said he wants and explosive offense that scores a lot of points, he didn’t get that in 2019, and he made a change at OC. The internal motivations and timing are pure speculation on your part.

      You keep raising this point as if it’s some blinding revelation that only you have been able to discern.

      GTP is an opinion blog. Of course it’s speculation on my part. I’ve never pretended it’s anything more than that.

      Feel free to keep pretending to be surprised by that.

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      • DawgByte

        Get up on the wrong side of the bed? Anonymous brought up good points backed by factual statistics.

        I suspect we’ll all be lamenting Fromm’s departure when it comes to protecting the ball. I also agree with Anonymous that we’ll see more INTs in 2020 than we did in 2019.

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      • Anonymous

        I keep raising the point because most people cannot differentiate opinion from fact unless it is labeled as such. Like it or not, your blog makes you a thought leader among the Bulldawg faithful. When you speculate without labeling it as such, sycophants believe it and repeat it as truth.

        This is how we got in the situation after the 2016 season where huge numbers of people thought that Kirby and Chaney changed the offense from Zone blocking to Man blocking despite our most common play being Inside Zone. That came from a dumb article by Chip Towers to which you linked. Read the comments from the past couple of weeks and see how many people believe that Kirby is (or was now that he hired Monken) literally addicted to “Manball” and that addiction was going to send us to perpetual 9-3 purgatory.

        https://www.journalism.org/2018/06/18/distinguishing-between-factual-and-opinion-statements-in-the-news/

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        • With all due respect, I think you underestimate the readership here. Also, go back and look at what I wrote — I expressly used the phrase “I do think”. Twice.

          I am most definitely not a journalist and have never held myself out as such.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Anonymous

            With all due respect, I think you underestimate the effect you have on your readership here. I have, on several occasions, been able to ascertain that someone was a reader of your blog while talking to them in a bar when they present your opinion as demonstrated fact.

            I don’t mean to take this to Playpen levels, but this is the same reason as to why most people have really fucked up political opinions. They hear Rachael Maddow or Sean Hannity engage in conspiratorial speculation and believe that they are presenting them with facts. They then engage in their own mind reading to compound the idiocy. Throw in copious amounts of confirmation bias, and you arrive at the current state of American Politics / Sports.

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          • Got Cowdog

            Sheep and Lemmings, we are.

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            • Down Island Way

              At some point you have to tip your drink to lsu for this past year’s achievements, cause you know deep down in side that shit ain’t happnen again any time soon…what ever Kirbs learned from this season, good on him(as a HC), moving forward, as fans we’ll see what the “O” has versus what the “D” has and special teams parlayed against last season

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              • J-Dawg

                Since you mentioned special teams I worry about the place-kicking game. How do you replace Hot-Rod? I am really going to miss him.

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  5. doofusdawg

    Just don’t see Kirby throwing the ball over and over and over again like lsu did this year. Nor do I see lsu doing it again next year. I can see throwing to set up the run and using more play action to further create opportunities for both the pass and run… but I also think Kirby would still like to be able to just run the ball down their throats at some point in every game. What Monken can do is sneak in the play action on those occasions and go over the top for an explosive play… which will make it easier for Kirby to keep running down their throats.

    As long as the inside zone is extremely limited and Monken does in fact work the entire field then I am… like most folks… very excited about the fall.

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    • WIll (the other one)

      Burrow threw more than most previous LSU QBs, but they were NFL number of attempts, not Mike Leach air raid attempts. He went over 40 attempts in a game only 3 times in 15 games, and was under 30 in 4 games.

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      • doofusdawg

        Throw in all the times Burrow ran on a passing play and your numbers don’t hold up. He threw 38 times vs. us and ran 11. That’s almost 50 passing calls in a game where they were never down or threatened. I suspect that number holds up with the majority of their games last year.

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  6. duronimo

    To answer the question posed by this blog: As the piece indicates, the stats mentioned are the mirror Kirby has looked into. I believe Kirby’s response will be to turn the offense over to Monken and confine his game-day interpolations to Lanning’s turf. The long-term solution? When Lanning gets a HC job, Kirby takes over the defense. That will free up enough money to give his “pants grabber” a raise.

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  7. Derek

    The truth of this is that its extremely difficult to do what lsu did. It may be desirable, but its hard.

    Sure you want explosive plays. Who doesn’t? But how do you have an efficient passing game that relies on the games least completed play: the deep ball?

    It seems to me that you:

    1) have to force a team into showing man at least on the outside.
    2) your man has to beat their man
    3) your qb has to put the ball on the money, and
    4) you have to do that as well against top competition as you do vs. weak competition.

    In short, you’d better be really good at throwing and catching.

    If you’re taking and missing those shots everything else falls apart. If you hit enough, it makes everything else easier.

    Ed said he knew they had something special when the offense was completing 80% vs. their defense in spring practice. I’d say he deserves a lot of credit for realizing you set that loose upon the world. But can we get that sort of execution?

    That gets to the real challenge:

    Can you coach guys that haven’t performed at a high level in the past to switch it on? Can you put newbies out there in the fall and have them execute your plan?

    When Kirby interferes with the ratio and monken takes the heat, if it doesn’t go well, do egos start tearing the building apart?

    I think we want to do at receiver, what we’ve done historically at RB. Recruit studs. Deploy studs. Stretch the field. Make the defense worry we’re taking the top off every play. I don’t think were throwing it 65 times. I think we’re throwing 35 times and trying to maximize the yards from those plays.

    Instead of the typical 60/40 ratio, we’ll be looking to get closer to 50/50. The more efficient the passing game the higher the percentage of throws and vice versa.

    Kirby will still want to shut it down with a lead late and rtdb. We ain’t blowing 32 point leads at home to an 0-3 team.

    I think the desired destination is apparent. We want to drop bombs on people and be a desirable destination for wr, te, and qbs. How long it takes to get there and the bumps along the way will be interesting to watch.

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  8. duronimo

    I continue to see the oft repeated notion that Fromm’s problems were the receivers. That is a symptom. In my view, coaching malpractice is the root cause. A fear-based, unassertive, slow offense that played the clock and not the opponent, regressed a perfectly good quarterback. We played as if we didn’t have superior athletes. Glimpses of “what could be” were revealed when we went up-tempo. Fromm would get into rhythm, the receivers got magically open, and the backs found room to run. Monken is proof that Kirby on top of things and there won’t be a repeat.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. 69Dawg

    The substitutions on the offense on almost every play are not conducive to good offense. The offense needs to get in a rhythm and changing RB’s and WRs every play is not going to get it done. The first string QB is lucky to get enough reps throwing to four WR’s. If you take them out and the 5th guy is supposed to get the ball, you’ve screwed yourself. Sometimes it’s because the QB isn’t as familiar with his route running and sometimes the fresh off the bench guy doesn’t have his head in the game. We had guys that could get open but they dropped balls. My contention is that the 5th-9th WR have no business on the field barring injury or mop-up.

    Same for the RB’s. I’m old school, I don’t expect the “man” to get 30+ carries per game any more but when he’s hot let him stay hot at least for that series. This constant switching of RB’s does not let them get a feel for the game. Sure Nick and Sony were special but I don’t think we are going to see that again soon. Limit the subs to two and use Cook in the slot.

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  10. JT

    We will see in time but the I believe 2019 LSU was just that magical season and not a changing of the guard. LSU played to their strengths QB and WR’s giving them the ability to hit big plays. IMO the success was more about execution than scheme. UGA played offense based on its strength which was average at best. No experience at WR not having a dynamic QB and the depth at RB was not as deep as in years past and a coordinator calling plays for the first time in the SEC. I think Smart felt like the strength of the team was a conservative approach on offense and win with an elite defense and good ST play. UGA played the hand it was dealt as did LSU.

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    • Derek

      If nothing else though, it does tell you it helps to have better players at receiver. The last 4 national champs have been able to throw and catch it, even if one waited until the last half of the 15th game to show it.

      CKS has recruited impressively. If you were to identify a spot that’s been questionable it would be at receiver and TE. The last two cycles have been pretty good at WR, but not so much at TE. We needed Gilbert.

      If it takes showing a willingness to throw more to be more attractive to players like Gilbert, then I’m all for it.

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      • JT

        Agreed, what would the offense looked like with Ridley, Holloman, Hardman, Nauta and Holyfield. The SECC game would have been one for the ages. I think we would probably be celebrating a NC and not LSU but that has pretty much become the life of a UGA fan, always the bridesmaid and never the bride. I still think KS will be the coach who gets us there.

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      • DoubleDawg09

        Derek,

        I think you make some fair points, but the Gilbert thing is a wash, dude. See Washington, Darnell.

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  11. ASEF

    I honestly wondered if Saban had the emotional ability to lead with his offense. I think a lot of defensive coordinators bet he wouldn’t. Alabama would get up a couple of scores, and the DCs would come out playing run. And Bama would just score again.

    In the two games against Georgia, Saban leaned on his offense in those second halves and stayed aggressive. Kirby leaned on his defense. Sure, Saban was playing catch up, and Kirby was protecting a lead. But the 4th quarter/OT numbers are ridiculous. Over those two gems, Bama had almost twice as many times plays and more than 2 yards per play better. Those are blow out numbers extrapolated over an entire game, and the score differential reflects it. Something like 26-3.

    In a tight game against Texas, LSU had some short 3rd downs late, and Herman bet LSU would revert to form. LSU got explosive passes instead. And that was key. It communicated to the team the change was real. It spoke to confidence and belief in the new system. That’s afterburner fuel for college players.

    So as much as we try to retrofit LSU 2019 with, “Well, they were just a freakish collection of talents coalescing,” the coaching really mattered, both tactically (Brady) and strategically (Ed).

    Kirby has a steep emotional learning curve ahead of him. He’s up to it and already seems several steps down that path.

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  12. 2675miller

    A few thoughts on the changes…..
    1. LSU this season is a different animal. Probably time to stop looking at what they did until you have a qb who can hit 80% throwing downfield and has wheels, two or three big physical wrs who can run and catch along with a power back who can catch and outrun folks. I don’t know of any example that comes close except what bama was doing this season before Tua went down.

    “Spread” offense doesn’t always equate to a lot of points. Both Clemson and Ohio State held each other to under 30 in the semi game. UGA’s defense this year with last year’s manball offense would have easily played with those teams. We gave bama’s “spread” fits for 3 quarters two years in a row and nearly shut them out for a half both of those years before their backups came in.
    It would likely be a disaster if the dawgs go full “air raid” this season with the wrs we are bringing back and bringing in. Who are the two 1000 wrs on this team? Pickens and who?
    It will be interesting to see how this works its way out his spring and even more this fall. It shouldn’t be hard to replicate 20-24 ppg this past season’s offense put up over the past five or six games excluding tech.

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  13. Bill Glennon

    Apparently, the move to Monken was in the works for a while. Someone as careful and controlling as Kirby would not just bring in a coach like this without discussing his preference for running, physical style. If he turned the playcalling and offense over to Monken, I’m sure there are some philosophical restrictions.

    So, I’m sure we will not see a transition to a pass-happy offense. Moreover, we don’t have the experienced receivers to run it if we wanted to, and the TEs on scholarship are mostly extensions of the OTs.

    It seems that Kirby wants to see more explosive plays, formations that uncrowd the box and and offense less predictable and harder to defend. He obvously didn;t have confidence that Coley could create this.

    I would expect a slower evolution, but better efficiency and fewer plodding games. However, the flip side is probably more mistakes and turnovers as they take more chances.

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  14. Dawgflan

    Yes, Smart very clearly said that he wants an offense to be explosive and score points, but that is only half of his checklist. The others include physically overpowering the opposition, and keeping his defense fresh. He’s stated those positions just as clearly.

    When it comes to coaching players to physically dominate and break the will of the guy across from them, I don’t see Smart changing philosophically. I just hope he embraces that WRs running free is just as demoralizing and tiring for a defense as WRs blocking.

    And when it comes to protecting his defense, it’s a similar situation. A defense can feel protected when they are playing up by multiple scores and/or confident that their offense will score 30+ points.

    Finally, my opinion is that an equally big deal as LSU, a new QB, recruiting, and the other factors that were mentioned is the loss of Blankenship as a security blanket. I believe there has to be a much higher sense of urgency for TDs when even 3 points becomes much more of a crapshoot.

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  15. Greg

    If we were healthy and more competitive…I’d say yes for a spot (SC win).

    50/50 shot with a 37-10 score with key injuries.

    I think we would have had better than punchers chance if we had all on deck.

    12 & 2 season and finishing up #4 is pretty damn good in my book.

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