ATHENS — There was a situation that took place in the second half of the Florida game this past Saturday that was very telling with regard to Georgia’s offensive operation.
The Bulldogs’ defense had just come off the field when offensive coordinator Jim Chaney summoned the entire offense to huddle up just in front of the Bulldogs’ sideline. Not just the starters, mind you, but every offensive player. Forthcoming was a crucial offensive possession for Georgia and Chaney had some important points to make.
Missing from this particular powwow was one key person. Georgia’s head coach, Kirby Smart, was not involved. He was over in the bench area with the defense offering vehement instruction to the defenders that had just come off the field. He was not at all engaged in what Georgia was about to do to on offense.
What the Bulldogs did end up doing on that particular offensive possession is what they did most of the game. That is, they ran three plays and were forced to punt the ball back to Florida. Georgia did that — or run four plays and turn the ball over on downs — nine times in 13 overall possessions in the game. The Bulldogs finished with 164 total yards and 9 first downs.
On this particular exchange of possession, the Gators subsequently went down the field to stake themselves to what proved an insurmountable lead. Florida made it stand up on the way to a 24-10 win, the third straight in the series.
Now it’s not as though Smart’s presence in that mid-game offensive pep rally would’ve suddenly revolutionized Georgia’s offense and enabled the Bulldogs’ offensive line to block somebody in Florida’s front seven. But it does serve to illustrate how Georgia’s team is operating in the first year under its first-time head coach.
And in case you haven’t been paying attention, things aren’t running very smoothly at the moment. The 4-4 Bulldogs head to 5-3 Kentucky this weekend needing wins in two of their last four games just to become bowl eligible.
Smart’s involvement on the offensive end of things is something I tried to drill down a little bit on during Monday’s weekly news conference. He said what you’d probably expect him to say, which was essentially that he’s a defensive guy and trusts in Chaney and the offensive staff he has assembled to handle that side of things.
“I don’t think we have to get into specifics of exact amount of time (he spends with the offense), but there’s not a play call that’s called on the offensive side of the ball that I’m not hearing,” Smart said. “When I come over and see the defense, it’s usually a television timeout or something like that. By the time the offense comes out, the first thing I want to know is, ‘what are we starting with?’ As far as the game-planning, the offensive staff is very intelligent, got a lot of experience. Two coordinators on that side of the ball that have been there before and been coordinators (including receivers coach James Coley). I trust those guys and believe in those guys.”
Smart said he does weigh in periodically and offers input on the game plan during the practice week.
“That’s when I look at the (opponents’) defense and say, ‘I think this is what they’re giving you. This is what their weaknesses are,’” Smart said. “I’m able to give them a second opinion. That’s the involvement I have from that standpoint. In the games, I’m always involved in that, not deciding what to call, but what is being called I want to be abreast of and know.”
I’d love to sit down with Chaney and have a nice long talk with him about what he was thinking here or there or how his play-calling is being affected by the limitations he is having to account for with respect to an sub-par offensive line or a freshman quarterback. I’m sure that’s part of the equation.
Alas, another operational aspect Smart brought with him from Alabama is he doesn’t allow coordinators or assistant coaches to be interviewed during the season. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist — or a coordinator — to tell you Georgia’s offensive line is getting whipped up front. That’s why the Bulldogs rushed for just 21 yards on 19 carries this past Saturday, their least productive running game the Florida series in more than 50 years, according to the CBS broadcasters.
Smart believes that can be fixed. While Georgia was generally over-matched athletically and size-and-strength wise on the line this past Saturday, he said the game video reveals mistakes that can be corrected. And while the Gators are first in the SEC in scoring, passing and total defense and third against the run, Kentucky is eighth, 10th, 12th and ninth in the same categories this week.
In short, the play-calling should look a lot better this week, Smart’s involvement notwithstanding.
“I don’t want anybody to think that we’re blaming the offensive line,” Smart said. “Do we think we’ve got to play better there? Yeah. They have played well sometimes. We just haven’t done it with a level of consistency. We’ve got to help them but what we call and what we do scheme-wise.”
As for Smart’s lack of engagement in the aforementioned offensive series, I did not notice it initially myself. It was pointed out to me by a fan. And not just any fan. This was one of those fans who gives a lot money to the football program and sits in the really good air-conditioned seats.
So important people are paying close attention to this operation, for what it’s worth. The Dogs and Chaney need to get it going on offense, and soon.