ATHENS — Nobody knows the drill better than Kirby Smart when it comes to how head coaches and quarterbacks get more of the blame and credit than they rightfully should after most every game.
That’s why Smart went on the offensive when it game to the performance of quarterback D’Wan Mathis, who he supposed would be taking heat from fans and media alike after a less-than-stellar debut.
Georgia won the game at Arkansas, 37-10, but not before the Bulldogs were forced to overcome several self-induced wounds.
Mathis, making a storybook start in his comeback from brain surgery, looked good on the opening drive before things went downhill for a penalty-plagued offense.
“No one is going to give you plays on second-and-15 and second-and-20, it’s not going happen,” Smart said referring to situations Mathis found himself saddled in.
“Not all those things that went wrong were D’Wan’s fault,” Smart said. “I know a lot of people will blame D’Wan — fans, media or whatever — but end of the day, it’s on all of us to get it right.
“It’s not all on the quarterback, but to the average fan’s eye I get it, there will be criticism.”
Mathis was 8-of-17 for 55 yards and an interception after starting the game and re-entering in the fourth quarter.
“You got a route that a guy (versus) zone is supposed to sit, and in man he’s supposed to break in,” Smart said, “and then he doesn’t do it, sometimes that can throw things off.”
That’s what appeared to happen on Mathis’ interception at the Arkansas 5-yard line in the first half.
Freshman receiver Jermaine Burton failed to “sit” in the empty portion of the field where Mathis threw the football.
To the untrained eye it looked like an errant throw, but in reality Mathis threw the ball where he was supposed to and Burton broke in after misreading the coverage
It’s one of those football plays that happens all the time without onlookers understanding what went wrong.
To Mathis’ credit, he held his composure, standing tall and showing the sort of body language expected from his inherent leadership position.
Still the 6-foot-6, 210-pound redshirt freshman from Metro Detroit exited the game after failing to generate any offensive points on Georgia’s first six drives of the game, his team trailing 7-2 with 10:07 left in the second quarter.
“We were on the headphones and we talked, and we were struggling offensively and didn’t have a lot of rhythm, felt like we needed to change things up,” Smart explained, expounding on the change at quarterback.
“We just thought it would give us some energy, give us some things (Stetson Bennett) could do well. He’s different than D’Wan with some of his experience, and it gave us a spark. It helped us out.”
Bennett, shifting Georgia into more of a pass-first mode with the Air Raid principles new offensive coordinator Todd Monken brought, was 20-of-29 passing for 211 yards with 2 touchdowns.
When Mathis re-entered at the 8:49 mark of the fourth quarter the Bulldogs were leading 34-10.
Smart’s decision to put him back in the game was significant and telling.
“I got a lot of confidence in all of our quarterbacks, and I still have confidence in D’Wan,” Smart said. “We didn’t execute well. It’s not all D’Wan’s fault ….
“Regardless of who the quarterback is, we can’t hold people, we can’t line up in the backfield, we can’t jump offsides, we can’t turn the ball over, so a lot of that doesn’t have to do with the quarterback position.”
Georgia will most likely start an experienced quarterback against Auburn next Saturday at 7:30 p.m at Sanford Stadium, be that JT Daniels or Bennett.
But Smart’s decision to get Mathis those valuable fourth quarter reps sent the message loud and clear: there will be more opportunities ahead for Mathis, who will surely take a great deal out of his first college start and first game action in nearly two years.
D’Wan Mathis this week on DawgNation
His last game: Mike Griffith tells the story of his last start for DawgNation
D’Wan “The Miracle’ Mathis: Recapping his journey from Michigan to Arkansas
David Pollack makes strong case for D’Wan Mathis at QB
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman shares classy tribute to D’Wan Mathis at QB