Kirby Smart didn’t look a whole lot different on the sideline in his head coaching debut Saturday than he did the last nine years as Alabama’s defensive coordinator.
Well, except that he didn’t wear his trusty visor.
But when it came to his demeanor, Georgia’s new coach was intense and emotional. And when it came to interactions, Smart was very hands on with the defense and not nearly as engaged when the Bulldogs had the ball. In fact, in the first half he was often seen instructing Georgia’s defenders at a whiteboard on the bench while the Bulldogs’ offense was running plays on the field. Actual defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was always right there at Smart’s side, however, and also providing instruction to the players.
The game against North Carolina in the Georgia Dome started markedly different as well. The Bulldogs won the opening coin toss and elected to receive the opening-half kickoff. They tended to defer to the second half under former coach Mark Richt.
As for in-game decisions, there were a few Smart could be questioned on. Trailing by one at the end of the third quarter, Smart burned a timeout as the Bulldogs tried to draw UNC offside on fourth-and-2. They probably should have taken the delay penalty as it was punting from midfield anyway.
And the general handling of the quarterbacks is always up for debate. After starting Greyson Lambert and going with the fifth-year senior primarily in the first half, he went with the freshman Jacob Eason in the second half. Eason came through with a 51-yard pass to Isaiah McKenzie on Georgia’s go-ahead scoring drive late in the fourth quarter.
Should Eason have been the primary quarterback all along? Perhaps. But Smart and the coaching staff deserve credit for deciding to stick with the first-year player with the game on the line.