ATHENS — Kirby Smart has proven Georgia football has a championship formula, but the Bulldogs head coach has continued to turn over stones looking for ways to make his program even sharper.
“I think when you look at the total picture, we’re trying to find something different to do as a staff with this group, and how can we make this group different,” Smart said at SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Fla., last week.
“As a staff, we’ve gone and visited other places, trying to get better at decision making and what goes with what team looking at our opponents.”
Smart has emphasized the defense’s desire to increase “Havoc” numbers, a term that relates to disruptive plays.
ESPN analyst and former Alabama championship quarterback Greg McElroy alluded to Georgia’s off-season exploration into other defenses.
“They studied Clemson, they studied Miami, they did what they could to learn from Michigan,” McElroy said at Georgia’s G-Day Game in April, “because those defenses the last few years have been successful.”
Mississippi State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and his Bulldogs led the nation with the fewest yards per play last season (4.0),
But Clemson (4.1) and Miami (4.3) were closely behind, and Michigan and Michigan State were among five schools at 4.4 yards allowed per play.
Georgia, by comparison, ranked 29th in the nation (4.9).
The trick is to create more havoc while not allowing more big plays, or “explosive” plays as Smart refers to them.
Smart’s defense was purposely more conservative last season, in terms of blitz ratio and coverage.
The result was that the Bulldogs gave up just 32 plays of 20 yards or more last season.
Celebrated secondaries at LSU and Florida each gave up 58 plays of 20 yards or more last season.
Still, Smart took note that Georgia ranked last in the SEC in tackles-for-loss and 10th in interceptions.
“We feel that we should have 20 percent of the plays — two of every 10 — should be a ball disruption, a turnover, a PBU, or a tackle for a loss,” Smart said in spring drills.
“There’s definitely some schematic stuff. We have a base defense that we feel good about. Within that, we have pressures and we have a lot of stuff that we didn’t use last year for whatever reason. We may not have thought they fit the opponent. We may not have thought they fit who we had on the back end to protect it. I think we’re going to be deeper and older and wiser on the back end, which allows for a little more complexity.”
As much as UGA will re-examine its philosophy, Smart is also making sure the Bulldogs’ staff and team leaders bring a fresh approach to teaching and mentoring.
“We’ll take our leadership guys off location this summer and spend time together and try to do some things different to change it up,” Smart said.
“We don’t want to get bored with monotony, but we also think some of the things we are doing works, and we want to stick with those things, and that goes for us as coaches, as well.”