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
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.