Kirby Smart orchestrates amazing reinvigoration of Georgia football
ATHENS — It’s hard to say exactly what Georgia football will look like next season, but what a difference 6 1/2 weeks has already made.
It has been an amazing and bold offensive transformation by Kirby Smart, a coach who can’t seem to turn the pressure up on himself and his program enough with slogans like “Do More” on the heels of 13 and 11-win seasons.
So it was 6 1/2 weeks ago, LSU was on top of the world and the Bulldogs were headed toward the ranks of also-rans. The SEC Championship Game scoreboard said 37-10 by the end of the night, and Georgia looked every bit that far removed from title contention.
The Bayou Bengals have since claimed the big prize, beating Clemson, securing a place in history with a record-breaking 15-0 season.
But now it’s Georgia, with a championship defense returning and an offensive overhaul, that looks like the better bet to party in 2020.
The LSU staff has fragmented, the defensive coordinator and offensive architect gone. The record-breaking QB is on to the NFL, nine players turned pro early and are among 14 starters who are moving on.
There’s nowhere to go but down for Tigers coach Ed Orgeron.
But Georgia is still, somehow, a program on the rise.
Smart’s defense, which allowed the fewest points and rushing yards per game in the nation last season, is bought in. Nine of 11 starters are back. Juniors Richard LeCounte, Eric Stokes, Monty Rice and Malik Herring passed up millions of dollars to return and chase the big prize.
Many will wonder: Can the offense get the job done?
We’re not talking about Jake Fromm here, for a change. And Fromm going pro two weeks ago? Man, that’s old news.
There’s so much more to talk about with this overhauled Georgia offense, and we’re not even sure where to begin.
Smart, the man who says “if it ain’t broke, find a way to make it better,” is on a roll.
All this, just 6 1/2 weeks after the championship window appeared to be closing on Georgia football.
Remember? Dropped passes, missed tackles, an ailing star running back and a depleted receiving corps. There was no argument about College Football Playoff worthiness.
The Bulldogs limped to the finish line.
And yet, it was a noble regular-season finish. UGA won six straight to win a third-straight SEC East Division crown.
But even in victory, right before our eyes, the quarterback was losing his confidence, the coaches were losing control of players, and the program was losing its pride.
Another ho-hum Sugar Bowl trip was ahead. A handful of players quit the team early to train for the NFL draft. Others failed substance tests or flunked classes.
No wonder Smart dodged the press. There was nothing remotely good or promising to say in those dark days of December.
As Smart likes to say, the Bulldogs prefer to talk with their helmets, and any other major changes in direction would require an infusion of impact players and new coaches.
Few could have anticipated just how aggressive Smart would be, but the team’s showing in New Orleans provided a hint. The Bulldogs weren’t ready to roll over and die.
Baylor’s Bears probably still don’t know what hit them, or who hit them, with so many new faces and names filling the shoes of the 12 former starters who were missing in New Orleans.
As beleaguered and hard to watch as the 2019 Georgia football team was, it finished 5-1 versus Top 25 teams and with a No. 4 ranking.
That was good enough for the record books, but not good enough for Smart, who has gone to work:
• The addition of grad-transfer Jamie Newman, a dual-threat QB with a big arm was captivating.
• The addition of Florida State grad-transfer TE Tre’ Mckitty coupled with incoming freshman 5-star phenom Darnell Washington is fascinating.
• And now, in the past few days, Smart has turned his offensive staff upside down, landing former NFL OC Todd Monken and Southern Miss OC Buster Faulkner.
• A 5-star recruit is taking notice, Smart receiving a 2021 commitment from the No. 1 Pro Style QB of next year’s class, Brock Vandagriff.
There will be collateral damage, it’s just a matter of who and when. Fans are scurrying to check Twitter profiles and message boards by the hour.
Meanwhile, Smart is plotting his next move and another finishing kick on the fast-approaching February National Signing Day.
A lot has changed in the past 6 1/2 weeks, and knowing Smart and the sense of urgency he has brought to Georgia football, there’s no telling what could be next.
Georgia football offseason