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Kirby Smart says he knows where his team most needs to improve this season ... and they're getting there.

Kirby Smart hits the links, talks expectations for 2017 and fixing what went wrong in 2016

Cy Brown

Welcome to your one-stop shop for Georgia football news and takes every Monday through Friday. Today we look at how a former Bulldog golfer fared in his bid to win the U.S. Open, a 5-star QB who has UGA high on his list, and Kirby Smart chopping it up on the driving range.


Kirby Smart talks Jacob Eason’s progress, defensive adjustments

Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Peter Burns of the SEC Network took to the UGA Golf Course driving range in a recent video for ESPN (watch here). In between small talk about Bubba Watson and working on their wedge game, the two got down to business and talked about Jacob Eason’s progress, what the defense can do to improve, and Smart’s expectations for 2017.

When asked what Georgia’s offense can do to improve its running game, Smart said Eason’s ability to make plays with his arm could open up more running room for the tailbacks. He also noted that while Eason was a long way from where he needed to be as a freshman, he is impressed in what he sees from his QB now.

“You don’t realize how difficult it was [for Eason as a freshman] until you’ve seen how far he has come, and you realize, wow, he was a long ways away and having to play. And now, with everything he knows and his ability, he’s been able to pick things up, go faster. He throws [hot reads] faster. He sees things so much better. It’s made it tough on our defense. When he throws a ball, it gets there quick. When he knows where he’s going with it, he’s pretty accurate.”

Defensively, Smart pointed to two things the Bulldogs need to improve. The first is red-zone defense. Georgia was 113th in the country in defensive red zone percentage in 2016, allowing opponents to score 90 percent of the time when they got inside the 20.

“We were really bad in the red area. We were [ranked] 120 or 121 in the red area, which is not where we want to be in the SEC. It’s hard when you don’t hold people to field goals. That was the number one target of the spring. We’ve got to improve in the red area.”

The second area Smart pointed out was dropping the offense for a loss — sacks and tackles for loss. After the Bulldogs finished 109th nationally in team tackles for loss last season, Smart said the defense has changed some things to improve its output behind the line of scrimmage this season.

“The other thing is lost-yardage plays, tackles for loss. We thought we were really behind in that. Look at the really great defenses — Clemson, Alabama. We want to give people some lost-yardage plays behind the sticks. We were not able to do that. So our offseason study was to find a way to get people negative plays. We’ve done some changes and tried to get better at that.”

As far as team expectations go for 2017, Smart wasn’t buying into the fan-driven hype that it’s the SEC East title or bust. Instead, unsurprisingly, he’s taking the Nick Saban approach — emphasizing process rather than specific goals.

“I don’t sit here and say we’re going to win the SEC, we’re going to win the SEC East. That’s not something that we can say. What we can say is, we’re going to be the best we can each week to be at our best. Most of our kids have embraced that. They understand we want to be in Atlanta. They understand we want to go the playoffs. Everybody knows that.”

You can watch the full video right here. It’s part of the SEC Network’s Summer Tour series, which takes an inside look at each SEC football program during the summer. Georgia’s episode already aired, but you can catch it again at 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday.

Hot Dawg at the U.S. Open

Former Georgia golfer Brian Harman was in the hunt for a U.S. Open title, but fell four strokes short of champion Brooks Koepka on Sunday. Harman finished the weekend weekend at 12-under par 276, good for a second-place tie with Hideki Matsuyama — and a payday of more than $1 million. Harman’s highlight of the final round came when he sank a long birdie on the third hole that gave him a share of the lead.

Harman’s finish is by far his best in a major (his previous best was tied for 26th at the 2014 British Open). But now that he’s experienced what a top-2 finish in a major, there’s a good chance the 30-year-old will find himself in the running for one of golf’s big four some time again in the future.

“I’m just going to keep trying to do what I’m good at and keep doing what I know how to do, and see where that takes me,” he said, according to Golf Digest.

Georgia in play for 5-star QB

Georgia’s once-dire seeming QB situation has turned around mightily in the span of a few weeks. First, Brice Ramsey decided to return to the team, helping UGA avoid a potential crisis with only two scholarship QBs on the roster. Then 2018 5-star Kennesaw (Ga.) signal-caller Justin Fields de-committed from Penn State, bringing back the possibility that UGA could sign a third 5-star QB in as many years. Now a second 5-star quarterback has done the same thing.

 

Long Beach (Calif.) Poly QB Matt Corral reportedly rescinded his pledge to Southern Cal last weekend and opened his recruiting back up with a final three of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. In the 247Sports crystal ball, 80 percent of the predictions (4 out of 5) say Corral will sign with the Dawgs.

UGA ranked second in SEC

Add College Football News to the list of publications buying the hype around Georgia in 2017. CFN ranks the Bulldogs the second-best team in the SEC.

Can Kirby Smart get the job done in his second year at the helm? It’ll all come down to the offensive line that has to be better and rebuilt — at least a little bit — but if that’s in place, look out. The defense has all the pieces to be the star of the East, the 1-2 rushing punch of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel should be in the NFL, and the quarterbacks are going to be excellent – if they get time to work.

ICYMI

Good dog

Not all who wander are lost.