Kirby Smart isn’t one to get ahead of himself, but opening the season against Oregon presents a unique challenge.
New Ducks’ head coach Dan Lanning had worked at Smart’s side helping to recruit and develop players in a CFP Championship at Georgia for four years.
If anyone knows the ins and outs of the Bulldogs’ football program — from offensive and defensive philosophies, to signals, in-game adjustments and personnel — it’s the 36-year-old Lanning.
“It makes it awkward with the new head coach,” Smart conceded at a charity golf outing last week.
“We looked at them in the spring and kind of studied those guys.”
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What Smart didn’t say is that he has a card up his sleeve, as well.
New Georgia receivers coach Bryan McClendon spent the previous two seasons on the Ducks’ coaching staff as the passing game coordinator and receivers coach.
McClendon can and will provide a detailed report on many of the Oregon players that Smart and his reloaded coaching staff will look to take advantage of when the teams meet.
Georgia plays Oregon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Sept. 3, a home-field advantage of sorts.
But these Ducks have proven they can fly across the country and win big games before, as recently as last season when Oregon upset Ohio State in Columbus, 35-28.
Smart said there’s some familiarity for him when it comes to the Ducks staff, too.
“Very familiar with Dan Lanning, very familiar with a lot of guys on his staff,” Smart said. “His offensive coordinator (Kenny Dillingham) was at Auburn, and also at FSU, so we’ve looked at those guys.”
Smart will also look at the Oregon spring game.
New Ducks’ quarterback Bo Nix, a player Smart has shown great respect for in past meetings with Auburn, threw for 230 yards with three touchdown passes with an interception.
The Oregon defense, run by former Alabama defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi, forced five turnovers in the spring game.
“It’s a proven fact that if we can be a plus-one or plus-two or plus-three ratio in the turnover stat, we greatly increase our chance to win,” Lupoi said.
“So that’s what we’re going to do – we’re going to constantly reinforce that. That’s part of our defensive culture, is to get the ball out.”
Smart kept the Bulldogs’ G-Day Game intentionally vanilla, leading to the first-team offense struggling against the reloading defense.
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Georgia brings back seven starters on offense, including quarterback Stetson Bennett, a player Lanning got to know quite well as Bennett went from scout team QB to being selected as the MVP of the CFP Championship Game.
UGA offensive coordinator Todd Monken is savvy enough to change up some tendencies, aware he’ll be playing a three-dimensional chess game of sorts with Lanning.
Smart has had to face former coaches before after they left the program, most recently in 2020 when UGA opened in Fayetteville against head coach Sam Pittman and the Razorbacks.
The Hogs jumped out to a 7-5 halftime lead before the Bulldogs rallied to a 37-10 win.
One year before, former Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney helped scheme up a 14-10 second-quarter lead for Tennessee over Georgia before Jake Fromm rallied the Bulldogs to a 43-14 victory.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Dan and what he did with our program,” Smart said last week. “And he’ll do a really good job up there at Oregon.”
The Bulldogs are expected to be a double-digit favorite to beat the Ducks, even after replacing 15 players who were selected in the NFL Draft and four former starters who left via the transfer portal.
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