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Kirby Smart wants Georgia football to be a ‘vertical passing team’ in 2021
Even in losing George Pickens, JT Daniels still feels very comfortable with the direction and potential of the Georgia offense.
They’re not spending the spring dwelling on what’s been lost but rather what the Georgia offense can become this fall.
“There’s just things we’ve got to focus on and things we’ve got to develop because we have the team to do whatever we want,” Daniels said when speaking last week.
And what head coach Kirby Smart wants that team to become is one that stretches the field. More specifically, doing so with the passing game.
“We want to be explosive, we want to be a vertical passing team,” Smart said. “We’ve got really good receivers in and I think they compete well. That will be the expectation every day we go on that field is to attack people vertically and throw the ball and catch the ball.”
This isn’t exactly an earth-shattering statement, as Todd Monken’s offenses have been predicated on attacking the field vertically. That’s what you were hiring when Smart did so in January of 2020.
Still, to actually spell it out in such clear terms should no doubt excite those who want to see Georgia join the offensive revolution that Alabama and LSU have rode to national championships in the past two seasons.
Not having Pickens certainly impacts the ceiling of this offense, as it isn’t a stretch to say he was potentially the most gifted wide receiver in the sport. And while the Bulldogs will get Dominick Blaylock, Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint and even potentially Pickens back, expecting them to be improved versions of their past selves might be expectations that are even too higher for a program like Georgia.
The Bulldogs though do bring back their entire running back room from last season, along with all but six catches from its tight ends. Georgia also added talented freshman Brock Bowers to the mix at that position.
At wide receiver, Georgia will get to see what Jermaine Burton and Arian Smith look like in their second seasons. Kearis Jackson and Demetris Robertson return to provide experience in addition to all the upside that Justin Robinson and Adonai Mitchell bring to the position.
“There’s definitely been a level of that as we’ve had a lot of guys come back, a lot of really good players, a lot of experienced players come back to try and make a push and make a difference in Georgia football this year,” Daniels said. “It’s been something that’s said, but the real central push has been our team standard.”
Related: What makes JT Daniels championship-level quarterback
So what exactly does a vertical passing attack look like and how do we know Georgia is hitting those marks? There are a few metrics you could use, to go along with the traditional explosive plays Smart wants from Georgia on a per play basis.
In the first year of Monken’s offense, there was a noticeable uptick in terms of yards per attempt once Daniels came in at quarterback. The 2019 offense, with Jake Fromm in control and James Coley calling the offense, averaged 7.4 yards per attempt. That was well off the 9.0 number Fromm posted in his first and second year.
In Daniels’ final four games, that number came in at 10.3. As a way of showing the statistic isn’t just talent dependent, as a freshman at USC in 2018, Daniels had a yards per attempt of 7.4 yards.
By comparison, Joe Burrow had a yards per attempt average of 10.8 in 2019 when he won the Heisman Trophy. Mac Jones came in at 11.2 last season for Alabama. Tua Tagovailoa posted seasons of 11.2 and 11.3 in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Daniels was named the unquestioned starter this spring and he admitted the game has really begun to slow down for him. That is to be expected as he continues to get more reps in Monken’s system.
After having nearly a month to work prior to the season-finale against Cincinnati, Daniels and Monken showed what they could do with more time. In the 24-21 win over the Bearcats, the Bulldogs connected on two passes of 50-plus yards.
Georgia had just one such play in the previous nine games, which came on James Cook’s 82-yard touchdown catch against Alabama.