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1/10/22 - Indianapolis - Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart, left, and defensive coordinator Dan Lanning coach on the sideline during the third quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide at the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Monday, January 10, 2022. This was Lanning’s last game on the coaching staff at Georgia as he’ll be the head coach at Oregon. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Kirby Smart on Georgia football-Oregon opener: ‘That game will help set us up for the SEC gauntlet’

As it stands right now, the Georgia-Oregon game is set to be a matchup between an SEC program and a PAC-12 foe.

But given how the Oregon program was built in recent years under now Miami coach Mario Cristobal, the Ducks have one of the more physical teams in the country along the trenches.

Add in former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning, who is now in charge of the program as a first-year head coach, and sprinkle in former Auburn quarterback Bo Nix at quarterback and you get a matchup that will look a lot like something you might see on an October Saturday.

“I get to open against Oregon, go against a longtime friend, a guy that meant so much in our program in Dan Lanning,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said at SEC media days. “We open against Oregon right here in Atlanta. We’re excited for that opportunity. We get a chance to represent the SEC right off the jump.”

Lanning worked for Smart for four seasons, with the last three coming as Georgia’s defensive coordinator. In that time, Lanning was twice a Broyles Award Finalist, which is given to the nation’s top assistant coach.

Georgia replaced Lanning by naming Glenn Schumann and Will Muschamp as co-defensive coordinators. But the Georgia defensive play caller won’t be the only position in the Georgia organization that features a new face. With so many key members of the 2021 Georgia defense off in the NFL, Georgia’s defense figures to look quite different.

Of course, Georgia is still oozing with talent. The Bulldogs had three defenders named Preseason First Team All-SEC in defensive tackle Jalen Carter, outside linebacker Nolan Smith and cornerback Kelee Ringo.

Related: Brock Bowers, Jalen Carter among the 9 Bulldogs named to Preseason All-SEC teams

Add in scores of former blue-chippers such as Jamon Dumas-Johnson, Mykel Williams, Marvin Jones Jr. and Daylen Everette and the Bulldogs have the talent to be a great defense once again.

There’s just one key ingredient the Bulldogs are missing on defense. And they won’t be able to start acquiring it until that first game against the Ducks.

“Do you have the talent? Do you have enough talent within your program? We have plenty of talent,” Smart said. “What we lack right now is experience. That’s our job as coaches, to put those guys in a position to be successful and react in the calm manner and have the experience they need to play well against Oregon. That game will help set us up for the SEC gauntlet we have coming up after that.”

There’s no replacing the institutional football knowledge that multi-year starters like Nakobe Dean and Lewis Cine possessed. That takes time to build and Georgia will need time for its young defenders to get up to speed.

It’s fair to point out though that Oregon’s head coach will also be battling inexperience. Lanning’s first game as a college head coach will come against the team that just won the National Championship. That’s not how you want to ease your way into a new gig.

Smart understands what that is like, as his first career game after being a championship-winning defensive coordinator took place in Atlanta against a Power 5 opponent. Though no one would confuse the 2016 North Carolina Tar Heels with this Georgia team.

The Georgia coach though did reveal that he has been in contact with Lanning as the two have talked about some of the difficulties that come with running a program for the first time.

“It’s more gratitude both ways. He’s had some questions as a first-time head coach. Same questions I would have had,” Smart said. “And we shared ideas and philosophies, and will continue to. That never kept me from talking to somebody. Will was at South Carolina and we talked often, and used each other to bounce ideas off of.

Just don’t expect Smart and Lanning to share intimate details of how they plan to attack each other’s team. The two are both fierce competitors and will want to have a few tricks ready to go to start the 2022 season.

“We’re not sitting there asking each other what plays we’re going to run. We’re talking about over 10,000 feet, overriding themes of how do you think it’s best to do this, or how do you approach this with your team. And I think all good coaches talk to other people.”

Kirby Smart excited for Georgia football-Oregon opener

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