ATHENS — Kirby Smart will be Georgia’s winning edge this season, according to former Tennessee head coach and national championship defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
“People don’t realize the advantage Georgia has by having Kirby,” Pruitt said Monday during the On The Beat podcast.
“After you win a national championship it’s so hard, (because) everybody has relief syndrome.”
No doubt, the Bulldogs’ program waited 41 years for the national championship Smart delivered in his sixth season leading the program.
Pruitt, who was on the same Alabama staff as Smart from 2007-12 working as a director player development (2007-09) and then defensive backs coach (2010-12), knows first-hand the Georgia head coach is equipped to deal with the 2022 season.
“It’s a new year, so the guys that made All-SEC or All-American the past year, nobody cares, it’s time to do it all over again and Kirby has been through that a couple of times as an assistant coach,” Pruitt said. “He has seen what has happened and knows the pitfalls and the mistakes that can happen the following year, and I think that’s going be key for Georgia this year.
“The fact they have a coach that’s been there and done that, so I look for Georgia to avoid some of those pitfalls this year because of Kirby’s experience.”
Pruitt has been opposite sidelines from Smart several times, most recently as the Vols head coach from 2018-2020.
The Bulldogs won all three meetings: 38-12 (2018), 43-14 (2019) and 44-21 (2020), but in 2017 Pruitt was the defensive coordinator for an Alabama team that beat Smart’s UGA program in the national title game, 26-23 in OT.
Pruitt said he has taken note of a common thread with all of the Smart teams.
“I think one thing that Kirby has done an outstanding job with is getting his staff to buy into complimentary football,” Pruitt said. “You look at this past year, they had one of the best defenses in the history of college football, and then you look at the offensive staff and they were very efficient.
“It didn’t jump out to me as the season went along, statistically, how good Georgia was offensively,” Pruitt said. “They were one of the best teams in the country on offense, as well, but you didn’t sense that as you were watching the games.
“They weren’t flashy, but they just kind of stayed within themselves and stayed the course, and they did an outstanding job of doing that.”
Pruitt is no stranger to seeing championship teams reload with his experience at Alabama, so he knows Georgia will face some challenges in that capacity.
But between Smart’s recruiting and experience returning at key positions, Pruitt maintains his confidence in the Bulldogs’ program.
“Georgia has been recruiting at a really high level, so there’s still a lot of really good football players at Georgia,” Pruitt said. “There’s something about having experience, and one of the most important things is experience at quarterback, and Georgia has that.
“They have experience at quarterback, they have recruited well on the offensive line and they have explosive players on offense.
“As long as Kirby is at Georgia, they are going to play good defense. It may be a different group each year, maybe the D-Line may be a little stronger than inside backers this year, just because of experience, or maybe the secondary. They are going to pay good defense, and they’ll figure out a way to do it.”