Kirby Smart is known best for his defensive prowess, but the seventh-year Georgia head coach isn’t so arrogant as to think he can win another national championship relying on his defense.
At least, not to the extent the record-setting 2021 defensive unit was able to dominate opponents in setting a modern-era regular season (12-game) record with only 6.9 points allowed per contest.
“It’s who we were that year, we’ll be a different team this year,” Smart said last week during an appearance on the Paul Finebaum Show on the SEC Network.
“We won’t have five first-round defensive players coming back, it’s not going to be the case. I don’t think it’s going to be replicated very often.”
No doubt, it will be a very different Georgia team with 15 players selected in the most recent NFL Draft an another seven players -- including four former starters -- leaving the program via the transfer portal.
Smart said the Bulldogs will be geared up to score more points, something they likely could have done much more of last season had they maintained an offensive-minded approach in the second halves of games in 2021.
The oddsmakers appear to be taking note based on the early betting lines from the FanDuel online sports book.
• Georgia (-16.5) vs. Oregon, in Atanta
• Georgia (-17) vs. Florida, in Jacksonville
• Georgia (-17.5) vs. Tennessee, in Athens
• Georgia (-16) at Kentucky, in Lexington
• Georgia (-28) vs. Georgia Tech, in Athens.
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“We want to score points and to that you have to have skill players that can make plays,” Smart said. “We feel we’re in a good position to do that.”
It’s just a matter of Smart putting the hammer down.
The Bulldogs outscored opponents last season 163-25 in the first quarter and 195-40 in the second quarters of games.
But the third quarter margin was 116-21, and the fourth quarter was 105-67.
“For a number of those games we put ourselves in position to where we didn’t need the quarterback to make plays in the second half of games,” UGA offensive coordinator Todd Monken said during the CFP last season.
“It was just a matter of opportunities, I think, more than anything because of the way games went.”
Indeed, and Georgia football College Football Hall of Fame legend David Pollack suggested the Bulldogs will be needing more offense this season.
“This defense is going to be at least 10 points a game worse than it was a year ago,” Pollack said on DawgNation Daily last Friday. “That sounds horrible. That sounds terrible. They will still be in the top 30 of scoring defenses in the country. They are still going to be really good.
“But you’re going from … historic ‘great’ – five guys drafted in the first round, and that doesn’t even count Nakobe Dean.”
Smart has shown the ability to pick his spots throwing the football, especially when JT Daniels was at quarterback in 2020 and the Bulldogs’ receiving corps was loaded with healthy receivers such as George Pickens, Jermaine Burton and Kearis Jackson.
Daniels, operating out of a Pro-Style Spread with Air Raid principles, passed for 401 yards in his first start of 2020 and closed with a 392-yard passing performance in a 24-21 win over previously unbeaten Cincinnati.
A combination of Daniels being injured and the UGA receiving corps being banged up led to Smart switching over into a more run-oriented offense with Stetson Bennett that relied on play-action shot plays.
The Bulldogs return a strong offensive line and gifted runners, along with NFL tight end talents in Brock Bowers, Arik Gilbert and Darnell Washington.
Smart has said many times over Georgia will always be able to run the football, but it sounds as though he plans to let Bennett air it out more next season.
“I still think it’s an era of throwing the ball, and it’s an era of scoring points,” Smart said. “We’re going to have to do a better job of that.”
The oddsmakers are counting on it.
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