Why I don't blame Kirby Smart for being frustrated right now
In normal circumstances, Kirby Smart would have spent his media availability time talking about the development of his new offense at spring practice. In these current circumstances, Smart instead talked about why he preferred “Ozark” to “Tiger King.”
Folks, if that’s not a sign of the times, I don’t know what is.
Unlike in the previous years when Smart returned a familiar offense and experienced skill-players, he know is facing a daunting reality for his 2020 puzzle — he has a bunch of unfamiliar pieces and it remains to be seen how he’s going to get them to fit.
New offensive coordinator Todd Monken was brought in under the premise that he’d hit the ground running and revolutionize Georgia’s offense with his Air Raid system. Instead, Georgia’s late spring calendar meant that it didn’t get to see the field at all. The same was true for Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, LSU, Missouri, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Mississippi State.
Though he publicly advocated for everyone to self-quarantine so that we could have a season, Smart raised a few eyebrows when he expressed his frustration about the uneven spring practice calendar in the SEC.
“I think if everybody didn’t have it, it probably wouldn’t bother me as bad, but it is certainly, you know we got a new office coordinator and new quarterback coming in, whoever it’s going to be, and to not get those practices boy, that’s tough,” Smart said during a Thursday appearance on The Paul Finebaum Show. “But not very many people got a lot out of it, you know, on average, I think we got 3 to 4 practices are what some of the SEC teams got in before they shut everything down.
“In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a lot, but I certainly think, you know, some young players, some mid-year guys that came in thinking they were going to get a leg up on people, that may not be as big leg as they thought because they weren’t able to have those practices.
“If you were fortunate enough to have spring practice early, like some programs do, I certainly think that helps to get, you know, 10 or more practices in is huge.”
Is it easy to brush that off as a petty comment from a coach who likes to be in control? Sure.
But I don’t think that’s how this should be taken. This was Smart’s way of saying “man, this extremely challenging situation got way worse given or circumstances with this new offense, and there’s nothing we can really do about it.”
He has every right to be frustrated. He gets paid $7 million annually to coach a football team, one who hasn’t won a national title in 40 years and has been on the cusp of doing so each of the past 3 years. He signed up for that. That’s once again the case in 2020. In a perfect world, Smart would have college football fans wondering if his team was about to do the 2019 LSU. That is, install a completely new modern offense, and take the sport by storm.
What are the odds of that happening? Given the historical context, they weren’t great to begin with (we’re talking about an all-time LSU offense). Given the current context, those odds are even less likely.
Forget the whole “is Jamie Newman SEC good” thing. This isn’t about that. This is about a unit getting on the same page to win a national title that’s instead confined to body weight workouts and nightly playbook reading.
I don’t take Smart’s comments like he’s saying he’s the only one suffering. I take it as, he recognizes he’s in a unique situation, and even getting a week’s worse of practice with this new offense would’ve been beneficial. Is he lobbying for some extra time when players are allowed to return from campus? It sounds like it.
Here’s the good news. Newman did at least get some 7-on-7 work with the receivers before all of this began. They won’t go into summer/fall practices completely cold like Joe Burrow did at LSU before the 2018 season. As Smart would say, every day is valuable when it comes to establishing that connection. That can still happen. Newman has questions to answer, but there’s absolutely talent there:
Grade on Deep Throws (20+ yards):
1. Joe Burrow: 98.5
2. Jamie Newman: 96.5
3. Dustin Crum: 96.3
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 11, 2020
The biggest concern, and this is one that Georgia would have had regardless of COVID-19, is how this young offensive line is going to grow during a time like this. I say grow both literally and figuratively. If we were talking about a unit that already has plenty of SEC experience heading into junior and senior years, this is a different story. Again, body weight workouts might help some maintain, but it doesn’t help someone put on 20 productive pounds to take the 280-pound sophomore into the 300-pound category.
Oh, and that’s without mentioning that all of those guys have a new coach leading them with Matt Luke. The transition from Sam Pittman, who recruited all of them, to Luke was already going to be something worth monitoring. Now, it’ll be magnified.
I made the case earlier that I thought Pittman at Arkansas would be hit the hardest by this among any SEC team because of all the hurdles he was already dealing with in Fayetteville (no experience as an FBS head coach or coordinator, taking over a team that won 1 SEC game in the last 3 years, not being able to recruit after he spent so much time putting together a last-minute 2020 class, etc.).
But among the contenders, yeah, I think Georgia could suffer the most from this shutdown. The Dawgs don’t have a possible future No. 1 pick at quarterback like Clemson or Ohio State (too soon?). They don’t have an established offensive scheme in place with play-callers and quarterbacks who know the system like Alabama, LSU or Florida. And in atypical Georgia fashion, they don’t even have a preseason All-American offensive lineman returning like Oregon.
What the Dawgs do have is a loaded defense that finished No. 1 in scoring last year. It’s a unit that was awfully familiar with doing the heavy lifting.
Something tells me that with the new offense dealing with the untimeliest of curveballs, they’ll be asked to lift more than ever in 2020.