Can Georgia coach Kirby Smart, QB Jake Fromm handle monstrous expectations they created?
ATHENS — Kirby Smart’s first four-year cycle at Georgia has been nothing short of fascinating.
The 43-year-old former All-SEC safety turned UGA head coach has had so much success that an 11-2 season and Top 5 finish is considered a disappointment for Georgia football.
Smart likes to say pressure is a privilege. But can his program back it up?
Has Smart created too much of a monster with his three straight SEC East Division crowns, College Football Playoff Championship Game appearance and 7-4 record against Top 10 teams?
Yes and no.
The “Yes” starts with the observation that pressure and expectations trickle down from the head coach to the players.
The quarterback most often shoulders much of the blame and criticism.
That could be why Jake Fromm is taking a look at mid-round NFL draft status — a certain back-up introductory role — and leaving an unfinished legacy at Georgia behind.
Social media can be brutal. It’s even worse when the ignorant and anonymous grab at the low-hanging fruit of creating a scapegoat.
Yes, even after an 11-2 season.
Fromm had nowhere to go but down after quarterbacking UGA to the national title game appearance his freshman season.
It was a game Fromm would have — and should have — won, if not for a safety biting on a second-and-26 head fake in overtime.
Fromm has grown more talented and capable each of the two seasons since that game. But his supporting cast of skill position players has grown collectively worse, leading to a performance drop-off.
Georgia desperately needs Fromm to stay another season to return the Bulldogs to the SEC Championship Game.
But Fromm needs more support in the receiving corps and in the coaches’ office, where the scheme needs to be built around his strengths next season.
Secondly, the internal (locker room) leadership has not grown fast enough to handle the scrutiny and accountability that comes with being a championship contender.
Six misdemeanor arrests in six weeks last spring was a red flag, and now the 2020 team is off to a rough start.
Two projected impact players decided last Friday night it would be a good idea to drive around downtown Athens after midnight with an open bottle of brandy and an expired driver’s license.
And to think, Georgia hasn’t even cleared the hurdles of postseason substance testing and academic compliance. It’s never a shock to see one or two players tripped up, even in the best programs.
Will Smart have any announcements to make at his Wednesday afternoon press conference?
Yes, it all happens everywhere. But “everywhere” isn’t competing for national championships every year, like Georgia has under Smart the past three seasons.
So then, there’s the “No,” that the success monster is not too big for Smart and Georgia to handle.
Smart keeps winning, and the early signing class that inks Wednesday will be filled with more top-notch, impact players with the talent and leadership abilities to elevate the program.
Georgia is selling results, not hope, and that can bring in another level of player and confidence.
It’s a big transition season, no doubt about it, with two underclassmen already declared for the NFL draft and more to come.
Good thing, UGA recruiting has been elite in terms of players and assistant coaches.
Smart showed last week his Georgia football program is capable of upgrading his staff when he landed former Ole Miss head coach and co-offensive coordinator Matt Luke.
Luke is a rising star. With his head coaching experience and charisma, Luke should provide a presence that allows Smart to delegate more to his offensive staff.
Certainly, the former Rebels’ offensive lineman and offensive line coach will bring another level of expertise to the Bulldogs’ returning and incoming linemen.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see another upgrade or two on the staff this offseason.
Smart just seems to keep finding ways to stay on top of the SEC East Division and in the College Football Playoff hunt each season.
Adding surprisingly successful and pivotal transfers Lawrence Cager, Eli Wolf and DJ Daniel was just enough to keep the Bulldogs on the verge in 2019.
Convincing Fromm to stay and adding another dynamic receiver is what it will take to keep the Bulldogs there in 2020, Smart transitioning into the next four-year cycle, feeding a monster he and his quarterback created.