ATHENS — Kirby Smart couldn’t welcome a sea of elite recruits to Georgia on Friday night and Saturday for UGA’s Top 10 battle with rival Auburn, so he did the next best thing.
Smart put himself in front of thousands of recruits and families on their phones and in their homes via his appearance on ESPN College GameDay.
The three-hour program is where most everyone goes to start off their Saturdays during the college football season.
The No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (1-0) play host to the No. 7 Tigers at 7:30 p.m. (TV: ESPN).
Smart’s appearance represents making the most of a lost opportunity, because the way this schedule sets up, this looked to be the biggest home recruiting weekend of the year.
It was ironic seeing Smart sit in front of an empty West End Zone at Sanford Stadium.
Those seats behind him would have featured approximately 10 recruits with a 5-star ranking most years. Georgia’s main targets for the 2021, 2022 and 2023 classes would’ve been filing into those seats at night.
But in this COVID-19 year, protocol and policy has brought on-campus recruiting to a standstill.
The GameDay show, which features Georgia all-time defensive great David Pollack along with host Rece Davis and analyst Kirk Herbstreit, aired from the UGA campus for the second time in as many years.
Georgia had an incredible day to sell its program last year when it faced Notre Dame in a Top 10 battle at Sanford Stadium.
Recruits have not been able to visit Georgia’s campus since the first week of March. There have only been about four weeks in total this year where recruits could have face-to-face interaction with the UGA staff at all, including on campus.
The NCAA has also extended the dead period for those recruiting contacts to January 1, 2021.
In addition to interviewing Smart, the GameDay production crew featured several overhead shots of the Georgia campus from the Goodyear Blimp, along with behind-the-scenes footage of UGA’s decked-out locker room.
It was a virtual tour of sorts and one of the best advertisements money can’t buy, and a needed boost for a 2021 Georgia recruiting class that currently ranks 14th in the nation.
Smart spoke earlier in the week on the challenges of recruiting, as coaches are limited to social media interaction during allowed periods and Zoom calls.
“Everybody is trying to celebrate recruits virtually, and that is about all you can do,” Smart said this week. “They (recruits) can’t come. There is not a lot we can do.”
Smart discussed Georgia’s murky quarterback situation with Herbstreit on the show, revealing nothing more than he’d already said.
Redshirt junior Stetson Bennett played well last week, Smart still has confidence in D’Wan Mathis and redshirt sophomore JT Daniels is cleared to play.
Smart said his quarterback decision would be “based on production and rhythm, and whether you are moving the ball.”
He made it clear he has confidence in Bennett, who most project will start.
“Stetson has played a lot, he played in spring games here with 60,000 and 80,00 and did well,” Smart said, “He went over to Mississippi and played in the JUCO league and did a good job as well.”
Smart said his three keys to the game are:
1. Special teams
3. Quarterback play
“It always starts with special teams for me, can you get an explosive play, can you make big plays in the kicking game to create field position,” Smart said. “Obviously turnovers are always a major factor, and how quarterbacks play.
“Let’s be honest, having quarterback play in this league is indicative of how your team plays.”
One more thing to be honest about: If Georgia wears its alternate black jerseys, no one would be surprised.
It would be one more way to take advantage of the exposure of a Top 10 battle and ESPN’s coverage for all those recruits watching.