On the Beat: Why Georgia coach Kirby Smart broke team rule for Georgia Tech
ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart has brought a championship process to the Bulldogs, but on Saturday night, he admitted he was going to break one of his own rules.
“I try to have a 24-hour rule, too, but this one is different because you don’t have enough time to prepare for them,” Smart said, explaining why he would change things up to begin early preparations for rival Georgia Tech.
Smart typically tells his team to enjoy or ponder the Saturday game for 24 hours before moving on to the next opponent, but he revealed he would be breaking his own rule Saturday night.
“As soon as I can turn that tape on, I’ll be turning it on, because what they do is so different for us,” Smart said, referring to the powerful Yellow Jackets run attack. “You always feel crammed preparing for this offense because you so rarely see it.”
The Citadel reminded everyone of just how effective an option attack can be when it played No. 1-ranked Alabama to a 10-10 tie at halftime last Saturday.
The Yellow Jackets are much bigger and more athletic than The Citadel, and they will enter Saturday’s noon game at Sanford Stadium on a four-game win streak and leading the nation in rushing (353.7 yards per game).
Georgia Tech has won the past two meetings in Athens over Georgia dating back to 2014, too.
The Bulldogs won last season’s game in Atlanta, 38-7, but that was a Yellow Jackets team that had lost three of four games.
Smart points out it was a different Georgia front seven, too, and it’s clear he’s concerned.
“It will be a challenge for us because we were very fortunate that there were defensive players that played against it when we got here,” said Smart, who’s in his third year as UGA’s head coach. “I think eight or nine guys that played against that offense for three straight years graduated last year.”
Georgia’s defensive front has had its injuries and struggles this season, most recently losing inside linebacker Monty Rice before last Saturday’s game with UMass on account of a fluke injury that occurred during warmups.
Smart didn’t say when Rice might return from the injury, but coupled with run-stopping defensive end David Marshall being out on account of a foot injury, it raises concerns.
Smart said the Bulldogs have committed some time to preparing for the option at times during the offseason and in season, but not enough to be as efficient defending it as Tech is running it.
“If you watch teams play the triple option, it’s extremely different and so extreme that I don’t think you guys can understand, there’s not one call in our defense (that carries over),” Smart said. “The only common theme is you’ve got to tackle the man with the ball. That’s the only common theme. Outside of that, there’s nothing like it.
“We try to work on it in the off week, we work on it in the offseason, we work on it during the season on some Mondays when we feel like we’ve got a simpler game plan for whoever we’re playing,” Smart said. “They’re (Georgia Tech) doctorate experts in it and we’re one week a year, so you’ve got to be smart about what you do and you’ve got to sell your team on being able to play the right way against it.”
Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson is considered one of the most brilliant minds in college football when it comes to his ability to adjust the option attack on the fly, depending on how defenses choose to defend it.
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi, the architect of some of the best defenses in recent Big Ten history while at Michigan State, explained what makes Georgia Tech’s option so good in a Rivals.com article earlier this season:
“Paul Johnson is a genius when it comes to offensive football, he knows that, he knows his scheme so good and he’s the offensive coordinator, okay? It doesn’t say it anywhere that he’s the OC, but he’s the guy making the calls.
“Wherever you load your guys up…they put their guys there and they know what they do so they can tell. There’s 11 guys and they strategically from their press box are seeing where our guys and they know where their angles are. That’s the difficult thing, that’s why nobody really stops that, because they kind of go, ‘Oh, you’re doing that today? Okay, we do this.’ They know what their answers are.”
Last time in Athens
Indeed, Smart knows how it goes better than anyone, having seen a game slip away in 2016.
Georgia was up 27-14 midway through the fourth quarter and seemingly in control before Johnson reached into his bag of tricks and dialed up a 94-yard TD drive and ultimately the winning touchdown in the final minute.
We as coaches have to do a better job, and that starts with me,” Smart said that day. “I’m the leader of the organization. And I’m the one held responsible for it.”
And that’s why Kirby Smart didn’t allow himself 24 hours to enjoy the win over UMass Saturday night, and why he’s probably already seen tape of all of Georgia Tech’s games this season.