Unraveling Kirby Smart’s enlightening defensive rant
ATHENS — Georgia coach Kirby Smart can’t wait to get his football team back on the field at Kentucky, and it’s clear that’s where his focus has been throughout the game week.
The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (3-1) are a two-touchdown favorite to beat the Wildcats (2-3) in Lexington on Saturday.
They will likely do that with an pounding run game and efficient, but limited, passing offense directed by Stetson Bennett that resembles nothing of what fans at Alabama, Ole Miss and Clemson see weekly.
There’s been plenty of speculation that Georgia’s offense must grow and catch up with the Tide’s and Tigers of the world before it can win a national title.
That may be true, but Smart said last week his focus is on “getting from Point A to Point B,” another way of saying one game at a time.
Still, fallout from the Oct. 17 loss at Alabama was to be expected, particularly when Tide coach Nick Saban called out the Bulldogs’ elite defense with hot take on how the game has changed to favor offenses.
“It used to be that good defense beats a good offense; good defense doesn’t beat good offense anymore,” Saban told ESPN after his offense put 564 yards on the previously No. 1-ranked SEC defense in a 41-24 victory.
“It’s just like last week. Georgia has as good a defense as we do an offense, and we scored 41 points on them. That’s not the way it used to be. It used to be if you had a good defense, other people weren’t going to score. You were always going to be in the game. I’m telling you, it ain’t that way anymore.”
Indeed, this was a Georgia defense that led the SEC in every major defensive statistical category after returning 8 of 11 starters from a unit that was tops in the nation in scoring defense and run defense, while third in total defense and eighth in pass efficiency defense last year.
It’s starters have the most experience of any team in the country, per ESPN metrics, and the highest average star rating.
Smart and the Bulldogs can’t do anything about what Alabama did in Tuscaloosa or what Saban said until Dec. 19, at the earliest, and that will likely take Georgia winning out.
Hence Smart’s laser focus on the Kentucky game.
But Smart didn’t dodge the question when asked about defense’s seeming inability to catch up to offense amid the current rules structure and interpretations (the questionable pass interference on Eric Stokes on one TD play coming to mind).
If anything, his defensive discourse seemed almost therapeutic.
“There’s no magic potion to me for catching up; if there’s a scheme that hasn’t been invented, I’ll be shocked, the coverages people play and the defenses people play have stood the test of time,” Smart said.
“As the offenses innovated, the defenses try to catch up.”
But, Smart said, the entertainment market is what it is when it comes to football.
“The game is built to entertain and score points, nobody wants a 9-6 game, they don’t enjoy that,” Smart said. “I think it’s a great thing, (and) I think it’s a tough, physical toughness. I think it’s a rock ‘em sock ‘em game, (and) I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, it can be a great game and be 9-6, but nobody is entertained by that.
“The world we live in today is entertained by points, the rules are not set up to score points,” he said. But there’s definitely an advantage to the number of snaps offenses take. You look at a game where somebody takes 90 snaps, that never used to happen.”
That’s where the time of possession comes into play, and part of why Smart insists on a strong ground game, as it chews up the clock and efficiently limits the number of the opposing offense’s snaps.
Indeed, Saban himself referenced that in the days leading up to the Alabama-Georgia game and clearly made that a priority for the Tide — as aware of limiting the Bulldogs’ offensive snaps as Smart looked to limit Alabama’s.
Talent acquisition, Smart said, has also been affected by how the game has evolved.
“As snaps go up, as passing game increases, as the skill level increases in high school, there’s less people to defend it,” Smart said. “The best players 20 years ago in high school sometimes were DBs, now they are skill guys or wideouts, and you’re trying to play catchup to cover guys. So I don’t know when they’ll catch up. I don’t know if they will catch up.
“Our job is to do the best job defending those kind of offenses as we can, and we want to defend them better than others and I think we can do that,” Smart said. “I think we can recruit well and have good enough athletes and players (so) you can defend great offenses better than everyone else.”
It’s a sound philosophy, and the notion that Alabama will be as explosive as it was before Jaylen Waddle’s injury lends even further credence to Smart’s outlook.
“It doesn’t mean your gonna stop them,” Smart said, “but it does mean you can defend them better than everyone else, and It means you better be able to score yourself.”