The 2018 Georgia football defense was an outlier compared to the usual standard in the Kirby Smart era. It ranked outside the top-30 in rushing defense, next to last in the SEC in sacks and 90th in the country in turnovers forced.
Much of that can be chalked up to the youth, as the likes of Eric Stokes, Jordan Davis, Richard LeCounte and Monty Rice were all in their first years as being serious contributors for the Bulldogs.
Now those young players make up the bulk of the Georgia defense, one that is clearly among the best of the country.
And Tuesday, Smart made a comparison with that 2018 unit. But it wasn’t to Georgia’s current defense but rather what the Bulldogs are doing on offense.
“I feel like we’re growing up on offense before our eyes. It can be a painful growth process,” Smart said. “It’s one of those you grow through some tough times with some pups. I remember the last year that Mel (Tucker) was here, I felt like we were going through that defensively.”
The Georgia defense struggled particularly against elite teams like LSU and Alabama. The Georgia offense this year has had some struggles at times against the likes of Arkansas, Tennessee and Auburn. But the unit hasn’t yet burned Georgia like it did in those 2018 defeats.
Georgia is starting a first-time quarterback, two new offensive tackles, and first-year players at wide receiver and tight end. Not to mention the Bulldogs have had to replace D’Andre Swift at running back as well.
Smart admitted that it is easy for him to be impatient. But he looks back on that young 2018 defense and thinks what they went through might be replicable as the offense continues to grow.
“They’ve got a little more experience now and we’re going through that on offense,” Smart said. “I’m watching the maturation process on that. I’m not pleased with where we are but I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made.”
As for the offense this Saturday, it might be easy to see how the Ole Miss Rebels and Lane Kiffin put up 48 points on the Alabama defense and think that might be replicable.
But Smart cautioned against that, due to the fact that Georgia doesn’t play at nearly the same pace that Kiffin does.
“It’s not who we are. It’s not the team that we are. It’s certainly who Lane is,” Smart said. “He’s been successful doing that wherever he’s been. Everybody does that now. There’s not a team that says we’re not going to go tempo anytime. I would just say that Ole Miss does it more frequently.”
The Bulldogs have not beaten Alabama since Smart took over. But if the mature defense plays like it has to start the season, and the offense continues to come along, this might be Georgia’s best chance yet.
Kirby Smart speaks on COVID concerns
The SEC has already moved one game this week due to COVID-19, as the Missouri-Vanderbilt game will now be played on Dec. 12. Florida also announced that it was suspending team activities due to a string of positive tests, with Payton Titus of The Alligator reporting that there have been 19 positive tests on the team.
Smart was asked about how his own team was doing with regards to the virus and how the program is managing it.
“Really no way to tell. The biggest thing is you’re one day away, one test away, one situation away from a possible situation like Florida is in,” Smart said. “We’ve been very fortunate. I think Ron (Courson) and the medical staff has done a great job for us. ”
Smart added that he felt like his players were doing a good job to this point. But he also cautioned against declaring victory on the virus just because things some to be going okay for now.
“We feel like our players do a good job but I’ll be honest with you when they’re not here at the facility I don’t always know what they’re doing,” Smart said. “The biggest concern we have is post-game, Sunday. Then they’re back in a routine Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.
“You’re one exposure, one outbreak away from losing some guys. We’ve been fortunate so far but we don’t have all our test results back this week.”
Georgia football injury situation heading into Alabama
Smart did offer some positive news when it comes to the injury report for the Georgia Bulldogs heading into their high-profile game against Alabama.
The Georgia head coach announced that running back James Cook and outside linebacker Jermaine Johnson both were full-goes at practice the past two days and that he is expecting both to be able to play on Saturday. Cook was held out of the Tennessee win., while Johnson has missed the past two games.
Smart also gave updates on wide receiver Tommy Bush and offensive lineman Owen Condon.
“Tommy is going to be out for a little bit. Had some surgery down, needed to get some dental work,” Smart said. “Owen is practicing but we’re fighting to get him back. We’re hopeful to have him for the game.”
Warren McClendon has started the past two games for Georgia at the right tackle spot after Condon did so in the opener against Arkansas.
Kirby Smart updates Georgia football offense, injury report and COVID concerns
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