ATHENS — Since the first regular season of his Georgia head coaching tenure ended with a stinging defeat, Kirby Smart has basically spent all of his time getting ready for next year. On the road recruiting, hosting recruits on the weekend, and then more recruiting next week.
There’s still, however, the matter of one more game this season. And when Smart left the team’s senior gala on Sunday night and hopped on a teleconference to promote the Liberty Bowl, Smart made clear that TCU had his attention.
Never mind this year’s record. (The Horned Frogs limp into the bowl with a 6-6 record after being routed by Kansas State.) Smart had plenty of history to draw on, despite not having ever faced TCU in person.
There’s the offense, which like many in the Big 12 is adept at putting up points quickly. This year TCU ranks 23rd nationally in total offense, which is a free-fall compared to how well it did last year (third nationally) and the year before (fifth).
“They set the standard for how they play offense and how fast they play,” Smart said. “You watch their guys on TV, they’re an exciting brand of football, they go really fast, and I know what they’ve done defensively.”
Yes, the defense. Smart said that when he was a finalist for the Broyles Award in 2009, which goes to the nation’s top assistant coach, TCU defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas was also a finalist, and at the ceremony Smart recalled hearing “the most amazing statistics I’ve ever heard, defensively.”
When Alabama prepared to play Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl a few years ago, Smart watched tape of the Sooners playing TCU. The defense was fast, physical and talented, which led him to respect even more the work of longtime TCU head coach Gary Patterson.
“Gary’s one of the best defensive minds in all of ball,” Smart said. “When you see they’ve played somebody and you’re going to play them, you watch that film, because of what they’ve done defensively.”
There’s also the quarterback, but Smart has seen him in person, and that went better. Kenny Hill was a sophomore quarterback at Texas A&M in 2014 when he started at Alabama, and Smart’s defense shut him down on the way to a 59-0 victory. This year at TCU, Hill has had his ups and downs this year — throwing for a lot of yards, but leading the Big 12 in interceptions.
“I do remember preparing to play against him,” Smart said. “In a very similar style offense, of up-tempo with the ability for the quarterback to run, the quarterback’s a good thrower, spreading you out, and take advantage of some matchups.”
Georgia doesn’t have a definite bowl practice schedule yet, but Smart said they’d start practice either Dec. 13 or 14, then probably finish the 22nd or 23rd. Athletics director Greg McGarity reiterated when asked Sunday that it’s “too early to tell” if the indoor facility could be ready for some practices this month. The rain the past few days has limited the amount of work that can be done.
The team then will break for Christmas, and report to Memphis in time for a “game-week” type of practices. The game is Friday, Dec. 30 at noon ET on ESPN.
The NCAA allows 15 bowl practices, but very few teams are able to do that with the academic and holiday schedule. Smart said they imagined they’d get 11 to 12 practices in.
“I’ve been very fortunate to win some national championships and we didn’t get 15 in not one time on those,” Smart said.