Rewind: Kirby Smart details evolution of ‘Mint’ defense from Alabama to Georgia
ATHENS — Georgia football coach Kirby Smart is all about efficiency, but also, strong and creative approaches to challenges on and off the field.
Indeed, Smart said on the SEC Network last week that, where the coronavirus pandemic fallout is concerned, “it’s not overcoming it, as much as it is making the best out of it you can.”
So it wasn’t surprising to see the Charles Darwin quote Smart shared at his coaching clinic last year: “It’s not the strongest that survive, or the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.”
Smart’s presentation on the evolution of the Georgia defense with inside linebackers coach Glenn Schumann showed how the Bulldogs have adjusted to keep up with changes in the game.
It’s worth paying close attention. The Bulldogs led the nation last season in scoring defense and rushing defense, while ranking third in the nation in total defense and eighth in pass efficiency defense.
“We say it’s Georgia defense, but it’s really just defense where I’ve been fortunate enough to be,” Smart said. “So some of it is Alabama, and some of it is everywhere.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to blocking and tackling and getting good players. But for us, we’ve had to change some things as offenses have changed, you adapt.”
Alabama won four national titles over a period of eight years with Smart serving as its defensive coordinator.
In Nick Saban’s five years without Smart as his defensive coordinator, Alabama won just one national title.
Smart’s presentation — recently released on YouTube — was filled with anecdotes, film breakdown and football strategy.
Here are 3 key passages detailing the evolution of the UGA defense, which is sure to have added new twists for the coming season:
Ohio State game changer
Smart pointed back to a College Football Playoff game following the 2014 season, when Ohio State shredded the Alabama defense he headed up in a 42-35 victory.
“We looked at ourselves and said, “We’re slipping, we still got good players, the 2014 team had three or four first-round picks, but something else is going on schematically, football is changing.”
Smart sought out former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman to learn how the Buckeyes had exploited his defense after Herman took over as Houston’s head coach.
Herman shared some nuances he had picked up — such as the size of the Alabama players on the defensive line, and their inability to provide adequate pursuit on perimeter runs.
The current Texas’ head coach’s biggest contribution, however, may have been when he opened the door for Smart talk to his defensive coordinator at the time, Todd Orlando.
The conversations and off-season studies resulted in Smart modifying his 3-4 philosophy with lighter (faster) players and shifting to a 3-man front Georgia still runs and calls “Mint.”
It’s not news that uptempo offenses present problems for defenses, which often struggle to get lined up properly before the ball can be snapped.
“I don’t believe in backing down from what you do because a team goes fast, I believe in getting lined up and doing it faster,” Smart said.
The challenge for Smart and his staff was coming up with a defense that could remain multiple and handle spread offenses playing uptempo while in the 3-man front.
“We came up with things that were automatic, but would give them trouble,” Smart said. “The beauty of Mint … is you have more depth in your defense. Todd Orlando taught us that. We’ve got more people standing up that can fire (blitz) from different places.
“When you got three guys down, you now have the multiple of eight that can come from anywhere and anyplace, and we felt like that defensively made us better and gave us more multiples.”
It’s worth noting Smart repaid the favor to Herman and his staff, allowing Texas to “pick brains” at UGA spring practice in what turned out to be the season the teams met in the Sugar Bowl.
Schumann shared how UGA players learned to line up quickly without surrendering predictably disadvantageous matchups that many opponents knew how to exploit.
“If we can get 11 hats lined up, that’s half the battle,” Schumann said. “Because most of the time they’re going to spray the ball, anyways, when they’re lining up quick.”
Georgia took yet another step to combat the hurry-up offenses by condensing their play calls.
“In the old days of football you have long calls, and you’re going to tell them what every word means. So, our calls in 2009, it was Base Under 0 Blitz Check Dot Scorch. Guys can’t even get it out of their mouth (before the ball is snapped).”
Schumann said UGA still installs the defense with all of that wording, with players recognizing each component, but the play call is simplified to one word for the game, “but you’ve got to know all the parts.”
Schumann detailed several more specifics on film, such as how Georgia spies quarterbacks, to how the Bulldogs maximize pressures with minimal risk and disguise their defenses.
Smart and Georgia obviously aren’t too concerned about giving away too many tricks in the trade, especially when the information is somewhat universal, even if the terminology is different.
Besides, Smart is the coach who said last summer, “if it ain’t broke, find a way to make it better.”
“We want to constantly evolve,” Schumann said in the video. “The biggest thing is to try to stay as much up with the times changing.
“There’s a quote from (Albert) Einstein, that says, ‘The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
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