ATHENS — Kirby Smart can often be subtle in his messages, but that didn’t seem to be the case following Georgia’s 49-14 win at Missouri last Saturday.
And why should Smart be putting out strong, obvious concepts?
It was the No. 9-ranked Bulldogs’ most complete game of the season on offense and defense.
UGA out-gained the No. 25-ranked Tigers 615-200 and scored five unanswered touchdowns to close the game on the road amid freezing conditions.
It’s good timing for Georgia with early signing day (Dec. 16) fast approaching and some of the top talents in the nation mulling over their next move.
LSU tight end Arik Gilbert could be among those available talents before all is said and done after opting out of the Tigers’ problem-plagued 2020 campaign.
Gilbert has not yet entered the NCAA transfer portal, and coach Ed Orgeron said he’s hopeful he will return to Baton Rouge.
Back in Georgia, the vibe was good on Saturday night after JT Daniels showed just how confident and comfortable he’s getting in the offense.
The Bulldogs directed six of their 28 passes in the direction of tight ends, with freshman Darnell Washington snagging two catches for 61 yards.
“You can never have enough good tight ends in the SEC, because they are big, they are athletic, and they can catch the ball,” Smart said after the Missouri win.
“There are so many things they can do, it’s one of those things we want as many as we can get, and we want to get the ball.”
Gilbert, the Tigers’ No. 2 pass catcher with 35 catches for 368 yards and 2 touchdowns, was one of Georgia’s top targets coming out of Marietta High School.
The double tight-end look, or “Ace” formation is popular in the NFL because of the problems it causes for defenses trying to match up.
Smart hired former NFL offensive coordinator Todd Monken, whose Tampa Bay offense led the NFL in 2018, and the results are starting to take hold with JT Daniels under center and players becoming familiar with the scheme.
“Coach (Todd) Monken really likes using multiple tight end sets, it is done a lot in the NFL,” Smart said. “ You can mismatch people and have the ability to run the ball, and then also flex them out and throw the ball. It’s really frustrating (to defend).”
Gilbert, at 6-5, 249, possesses wide receiver-like skills and would be that tight end to flex out wide in whatever offense he is in next season.
Smart gave an example of the dilemma Washington, a 6-7, 260-pounder with sticky hands, created for the Tigers on his 36-yard catch on Saturday.
“You go back into that play, the corner went over and the safety had to play Darnell, “ Smart said, “and he’s saying ’Wait a second, I’ve got Darnell on a safety.’
“Those guys don’t cover for a living, and (Daniels) made a good throw.”
Georgia is serious about its commitment to tight ends, with No. 3-rated tight end prospect Brock Bowers among those expected in yet another banner signing class next week.
With Daniels expected to come back, the Bulldogs could have a fierce array of pass catches as George Pickens will return along with Jermaine Burton, Kearis Jackson and Dominick Blaylock.
Running backs James Cook and Kenny McIntosh have also proven effective pass catchers out of the backfield.
“What matters is we’re playing better, and we still haven’t reached our peak,” Smart said. “I really feel offensively we haven’t been stopped, it’s just that we stop ourselves.”