ATHENS — Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken is not looking for a do-over, or even wanting to spend much time going back down memory lane.
But Tuesday there was a media responsibility for the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, and Monken is a pro who knows the drill and understands how the media works.
Reporters ask questions about things fans want to know, and Monken has no problem shooting them straight.
Fact is, the No. 9-ranked Bulldogs (7-2) have been playing as well as any team in the nation on offense since JT Daniels went under center in November.
Georgia is averaging more than 40 points and nearly 500 yards of offense in the three games Daniels has played.
Georgia finishes the season at noon on Friday against No. 8-ranked Cincinnati (9-0) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium looking to add more evidence to the growing theory that 2021 might really be “The” year.
Get it done
Monken and the Bulldogs have been through a lot to get to this point.
Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman and former UGA QB D’Wan Mathis were thought to be the No. 1 and No. 2 options when offseason training started last January.
The Covid-19 pandemic ensued, of course, canceling out spring football, and triggering a wave of Zoom calls and sports opt-outs, including Newman.
Monken obliged when asked to recall those complications, but it was clear the former NFL offensive coordinator didn’t want to waste much time or energy in the past.
“Obviously it was tough without having spring, without really the preparation you’d like, but at the end of the day no one really gives a shit,” Monken said.
“We’re in a get-it-done business. There’s a lot of other teams that lose players, that didn’t have a spring, changed coaches, didn’t have as good of players as we have. Everybody has their own issues they’ve got to deal with.”
It seemed one of Georgia’s issues was that it wasn’t completely comfortable how Newman was working out over the Zoom calls last spring.
Had UGA leadership felt otherwise, it’s wouldn’t make sense for Kirby Smart and Monken to be spending time on Zoom calls last May visiting with Daniels in the transfer portal, and ultimately bringing him on the team.
The new, new offense
“What we’re doing today could have been completely different than what we were introducing in May,” said Monken, whose original offense was designed for the mobility that Newman and Mathis could bring to the table.
“It just is. I think we’re only going to get better and get on the same page more and more during the off-season and 2021.”
Georgia’s immediate future on offense appears set for next season, though Daniels said he’s focused solely on the game with the Bearcats and has yet to fully commit to 2021 at UGA.
The Bulldogs’ 2020 QB situation with Mathis, then Stetson Bennett, and finally Daniels starting games, has been well-documented.
Smart is in charge and makes sure that he is where the buck stops, but Monken is a pro who takes his share of the responsibility, too.
“There are certain things I wish I could have done better, that I would have coached better, I would have communicated better,” Monken said. “I would have made better decisions on game day or during the week in terms of preparation.”
But the reality is that Monken’s schemes and play-calling has led to a high third-down conversion rate and Georgia receivers running open all season. It was just a matter of having a quarterback who could find the open targets and make the throws to complete the passes.
Georgia is converting an eye-popping 64.8 percent on third downs (24-of-37) the past three games — Alabama leads the nation at 59.2 percent, for perspective.
Loaded for Bearcats
Next up for Georgia is a Cincinnati team with a tricky 3-3-5 alignment that ranks No. 2 in the nation in pass efficiency, and it’s up to Monken to figure out how to move the ball.
Correction: It’s up to Monken AND Daniels, who becomes the other half of the play caller’s brain once the game is kicked off.
“Obviously we speak the same language, especially in terms of football,” said Daniels, who had his pick of transfer destinations but chose Georgia because of Smart’s leadership and Monken’s offensive philosophy. “There are times where I’ll get the formation signaled in, I will know exactly what he’s calling.
“There was an instant connection as soon as I watched the first game of Coach Monk on I think my first Zoom call with him. It was just something that he sees the field very similar to how I see the field. I think we both have a very similar kind of philosophy for how to attack a defense.”
Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, who was a finalist for the Broyles Award as one of the top assistant coaches in the country, said it was clear how in sync UGA’s offense was once Smart put Daniels in the starting lineup.
“JT brings a different dynamic to their offense,” Freeman said. “He’s got a very strong arm, probably the strongest arm probably in my time being the defensive coordinator here that we’ve faced.
“Even watch some USC film, you just see it, he’s a dynamic quarterback with an extremely strong arm that understands defense.”
And listening to Daniels, he’s just as confident as he is dynamic.
“I do feel like we’ve been really hot as of lately,” Daniels said. “I’m just focused on giving Cincinnati the best we have.”
Opening it up
Freeman and the Bearcats seem intent on taking their chances with Daniels and the UGA pass game.
“I think our guys understand in order to have success versus the University of Georgia, we’re going to have to stop the run,” Freeman said. “We’re going to have to do some different things. We’re going to have to put some different people in different places, make sure we have a chance to stop the run.”
That just means more opportunities for some Georgia offensive variety, as most all of the UGA running backs are adept at catching the ball.
“It is hard for our guys, because there is really only one ball,” Monken said. “I got really good running backs. If you asked them, I promise you they’d want more touches. For a while, everybody was on my ass not getting it to George (Pickens). Then Jermaine (Burton) makes some plays, everybody wants to throw it to Jermaine.
“That’s what we do. You’re hopeful we have enough skill players that they have to defend the whole field, and all the players on the field are capable of making plays, which is a sign of a really good offense.”
Monken, for all the difficulties and complications of 2020, has indeed proven himself a really good offensive coordinator.