5 ways to make Georgia great again
A new era has begun for the Georgia Bulldogs. Gone is Mark Richt, who compiled a 145-51 record with two SEC titles during 15 years in Athens. Taking his place is former Bulldogs safety and longtime Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
Although Georgia was a perennial contender under Richt, the team never fully lived up to the expectations of the fan base. In Smart, the Georgia faithful are hoping to get a coach capable of turning the program into the type of juggernaut that Alabama has become under Nick Saban.
Here are five ways that Smart can help Georgia get over that hump and become truly great again.
Dominate on the recruiting trail in Georgia
While Georgia was consistently among the nation’s best recruiting programs, it never controlled its home state the way some other schools do.
Only seven times in Richt’s 15 seasons did the state’s top prospect sign with the in-state Bulldogs. Notable recruits who went elsewhere include Cam Newton, Eric Berry, Robert Nkemdiche, Vonn Bell and Deshaun Watson (below).
Located in the heart of the SEC, Georgia will always be a battleground for top talent. For a state with as many elite high school players as Georgia has, the Bulldogs have to start getting a better home-field advantage.
Smart is known as a top-tier recruiter and has strong relationships with many of the state’s high school coaches. If the product on the field looks promising, Georgia will see a noticeable impact when it comes to luring elite players to Athens.
Develop tenacious offensive and defensive lines
SEC football is a devastatingly brutal affair. The best teams win the trench battle. Georgia never lacked talent at the skill positions under Richt, but never consistently fielded imposing offensive or defensive lines.
One of the first things Smart noticed after arriving was the lack of size along the lines. At SEC Media Days, he shared his thoughts on the defensive line and it wasn’t too encouraging.
“To be honest with you, I’m scared,” Smart said. “We don’t have that edge, we don’t have that size, we don’t have that depth at defensive line.”
Alabama’s success has come from dominating the line of scrimmage. Massive offensive and defensive linemen have imposed their will on opponents, allowing the players behind them to roam freely.
It’s something that Smart wants to bring to the Bulldogs, and a quality that fans have longed to see between the hedges.
Championship quarterback play
There is a positive correlation between Georgia’s quarterback play and the team’s success. This may sound like a no-brainer – which team doesn’t want to have a high-caliber quarterback leading the offense? – but it’s important, nonetheless.
When players like David Greene, D.J. Shockley, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Murray manned the quarterback position, Georgia had a 116-38 record. In games that those four players weren’t starting, the team went 29-13.
In freshman Jacob Eason (above), the Bulldogs seem to have their quarterback of the future. But while the future appears bright for the former 5-star prospect, he still has to prove it on the field. If Eason becomes the player many hope he will be, the team’s prospects look pretty positive.
For the team to have consistent success, however, Georgia needs to be able to recruit the position consistently. One- and two-year gaps at the position have crippled the Bulldogs before, and it’s something Smart must avoid.
Win the annual Cocktail Party
Rivalry games are part of what make college football great. And while Richt was 13-2 against Georgia Tech and 10-5 against SEC-foe Auburn, he went 5-10 against Florida.
Georgia’s woes against arguably its biggest rival didn’t start with Richt, however. Dating to 1990, the Bulldogs are a miserly 6-20 against the Gators. Not since the 80s has the program enjoyed consistent success in the rivalry.
Each season, either Georgia or Florida figures to be in the mix for the SEC East title, and it’s not uncommon for the annual meeting to decide the division’s winner.
Played in Jacksonville, the game formerly known as The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is one of college football’s great traditions. For the Bulldogs to become the annual powerhouse fans expect them to be, they need to start making the contest the party it’s supposed to be.
Avoid falling asleep at the wheel
Perhaps the biggest reputation the team earned towards the end of Richt’s time with the Bulldogs was “Good team that would fail to show up for one or two games a year.”
Fans can remember notable slip-ups against Florida in 2014 and 2008, South Carolina in 2012 and Tennessee in 2007 as examples of the team failing to show up in a crucial game. Who can forget last season’s 38-10 loss to No. 13 Alabama, a game in which the No. 8 Bulldogs were undefeated, ranked higher at home … and blown out.
During a time when Florida and Tennessee, which have historically been Georgia’s biggest competition in the SEC East, the team’s biggest opponent seemed to be itself.
Alabama has very seldom let a game slip through its fingers. They are a tough team to play each week, something Georgia hopes Smart will instill in his new team. For the Bulldogs to rise to the top of college football again, they can’t afford to lose games they should win and will need to win some games they are expected to lose.
If that happens, Georgia will be great once again.
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia for Saturday Down South. For news on everything happening between the hedges, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.