Kirby Smart: Georgia football looks to create identity, find leaders at Arkansas
ATHENS — It has been a long offseason — too long — and Georgia coach Kirby Smart and his players are eager to see what they’ve got at Arkansas.
Smart has no interest in what has been in the preseason rankings or on preseason all-conference teams or watch lists.
No, Smart has been around long enough to know what’s on paper means absolutely nothing compared to what shows up on the grass between the lines at 4 p.m. on Saturday at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
“It’s your first opportunity to create your identity and figure out who your leaders are, figure out who we’re going to be on all three phases,” Smart said on his Tuesday afternoon Zoom press conference.
“There are a lot of new faces that are going to get their first opportunity to compete at the SEC level.”
Indeed, one of them figures to be at quarterback in the form of redshirt freshman D’Wan Mathis.
The former Oak Park (Mich.) High School standout has made a miraculous comeback from brain surgery in May of 2019 that has been well documented.
Smart said on Tuesday he’s hopeful redshirt sophomore quarterback JT Daniels will be cleared by Saturday.
That’s the indicator the game plan put in the past two weeks has been for Mathis and true freshman Carson Beck, both of whom are mobile and athletic enough to be effective running the read option or getting the ball outside quick to playmakers.
It’s a UGA offense with just three returning starters (7 or more games last season) in the projected lineup.
Redshirt sophomore Kearis Jackson, who has all of five career receptions and is one of the veteran returning starters, expressed complete confidence in the new offense installed by former NFL offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
“(It’s) a new Georgia team that nobody has ever seen before, that nobody ever even thought of,” Jackson said, asked about the offense. “And this Georgia team will come out and be explosive and (try to) put points on the board every time we touch the ball.”
It certainly sounds like an aggressive scheme, particularly when one considers the likely inexperience under center.
The defensive also figures to have an accelerated plan of attack. Georgia brings back 80 percent of the production from a unit that ranked No. 1 in the nation in scoring defense and rushing defense, No. 3 in total defense, and No. 8 in pass efficiency defense.
Senior captain and middle linebacker Monty Rice reiterated that last season means nothing where the 2020 Bulldogs are concerned.
“You won’t actually know until about 8 or 9 o’clock on Saturday night,” said Rice, who along with senior safety Richard LeCounte started all 13 games last season. “I will say we don’t need anybody on the team, including me, to start feeling themselves based off last year.
“I know y’all like to pump us up on Twitter …. but Arkansas and their group over there, they don’t care about what happened last year, and neither do we.”
Smart, riding a wave of three straight SEC East Division titles, doesn’t spend time looking in the rearview mirror, either.
What matters now is Georgia’s ability to settle in for what some believe will be a championship run, and taking a positive first step in the right direction.
“For so many of our kids, the bottom half of our roster, the younger half, freshmen and sophomores, for a lot of them, it will be their first opportunity to play in college football and in this atmosphere,” Smart said.
“I’m certainly excited for them, but we know this is one game of many we’ve got to play in a really tough road, but we’re focused on this one and this one only.”