Georgia football had a great season in 2019 by most team’s standards, but the year was a disappointment to the standards at UGA.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget Kirby Smart has only been a head coach for four full seasons.
The 44-year-old former Georgia football player accepted the head coaching position after just seven years as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. Prior to being a defensive coordinator, Smart had spent the previous nine seasons as an assistant coach or graduate assistant on six different football teams.
Yet, in four years at Georgia, Smart’s teams have won 44 games, three-straight SEC East Championships, one SEC Championship and even played in one National Championship Game. Lack of experience didn’t seem to be a problem for Smart going into 2019, but that ended up being the year where inexperience plagued him the most.
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Complacency when forming an offensive coaching staff in the offseason led to a season of mediocrity from the Bulldog offense. Georgia couldn’t maintain momentum beyond one bad play. The lack of continuity, led to failed possessions which led to losses to South Carolina and LSU.
How Smart’s inexperience cost the team in 2019 makes 2020 a pivotal year for the head coach. Did he learn from his youthful mistakes, or is he doomed to repeat them again and again?
One area where Smart has clearly matured is by ditching the complacency on offense. Promoting James Coley before the 2019 was the safe choice that ended up not working. Georgia leaned on its most experienced players too much through the transition, to the point to where when those players weren’t on the field Georgia looked lost.
Hiring Todd Monken is anything but a safe choice. Monken brings an overhaul to the offensive side that will see Georgia tailor its style around its talent. A lack of reps won’t see a lack in playing time like it did in 2019.
Another area where Smart matured on offense is recruiting. He was already an elite recruiter, but Smart really stepped his game up in November and December by securing commitments and signatures of two more top 100 receivers. To this point, Smart’s offensive recruiting was all about the power game.
He had signed numerous elite running backs and offensive linemen, but the receivers he had signed were more development players. Receivers to either redshirt or play sparingly as freshmen. That started to change when Georgia signed George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock in the 2019 class.
Then after losing numerous receivers in the offseason to the NFL Draft and one more to a dismissal, and seeing how a lack of elite talent at receiver affected the offense, Smart doubled down on the position. He added Arian Smith and Jermaine Burton to a recruiting class that already included Marcus Rosemy and Justin Robinson.
What remains to be seen is how Georgia handles momentum killing plays. Those had been an issue since the loss to Auburn in 2017. It showed up again in the loss to LSU in 2018 and in both losses to Alabama in Atlanta. To win a championship, Georgia can’t let one bad play become a few bad plays. It can no longer let a run for no gain or an incompletion on second down lead to a punt on fourth down. Turnovers can’t result in points for an opposing team, and fans shouldn’t have to dwell on a bad call on a blocked punt.
How Smart and Georgia grow in this area will not only affect this season, but future seasons as well. What Smart has learned and how he applies it is the difference between maybe winning a national title in his career to winning a few.