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Georgia Football

Is Kirby Smart Stubborn or Committed?

October 27, 2020
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ATHENS - Is Kirby Smart stubborn or committed?

“There is a fine line,” he told me in 2016. More on that in a moment. 

Good coaches are both, and it can be said that the best learn from their mistakes, too. I’m not sure many folks would say Smart is something other than a “good” coach. And here we sit - Georgia controlling its own destiny in the SEC and beyond, and the focus is on Georgia’s quarterback spot yet again. 

Losses do that sort of thing. It is a spot that’s had the spotlight on it the entire time Kirby has been at Georgia. It will be in the spotlight from here on out. 

In case you missed it: Kirby signed two five-star quarterbacks who couldn’t get around Jake Fromm to carve their own path in Athens. Fast forward to this fall, and the Bulldogs’ signal caller isn’t who folks thought it would be again. 

This is what we do - its not wrong - but it is what we do. Quarterback plays well. Everyone happy. Quarterback does not play well. Everyone not happy. 

Welcome to playing QB at UGA. Welcome to coaching in the SEC. Welcome to the internet. 

I’m old enough to remember Fromm going through a few bad performances himself. Stetson Bennett IV, after three picks against Alabama, couldn't avoid criticism from media and fans. It should be expected. You can’t turn the ball over three times. You certainly can’t do that and expect to win - let alone at Alabama. 

Jake Fromm’s three turnovers against lowly South Carolina were the reason Georgia lost to a team that wound up 4-8. 

But should it be expected that Kirby make a change at quarterback? Are we certain the best quarterback option is on the bench? Are we certain a change results in a higher upside for the team? What do we really know about D’Wan Mathis? Is it possible for Bennett to improve at the season goes on?

Are we certain of anything right now? I’m not. I only know that Bennett has been pretty good - saving Georgia’s ass in Fayetteville - in three of four games. Then again, that assumes everyone stays healthy the entire year. Look at the COVID-19 outbreak at Florida and Wisconsin. Will there be a Cocktail Party this year? Seems like it, but nothing is a certainty these days. 

With that said, it doesn’t look like Kirby Smart is going to make a change at quarterback, and that’s where a lot of the noise is these days. The AJC’s Mark Bradley wrote Monday: "Whispers hold that Georgia might spring a quarterback surprise against Florida on Nov. 7, that being the game that will decide the SEC East. “

Is that the magic wand Kirby keeps telling us he doesn’t have?

Maybe I can’t hear very well, but no one is whispering about “springing” a quarterback on the Gators. That would be a sign of a desperate program. We saw that in 2015, and it was reckless then. And to be clear: This is not a desperate program. It is one that needs whichever QB who is in the game to covet the football and not put it in harm’s way to borrow a phrase from Mark Richt. 

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Devil’s Advocate: Maybe it would be better for UGA to lose a few games this season with D’Wan Mathis, not play in Atlanta and get ready for 2021. I mean, Mathis has a lot of skills. Then again, how well would that go over in the lockerrom? Perhaps, in the future, we will see what JT Daniels has to offer. Perhaps true freshman Carson Beck is coming along better than we realize. 

I really don’t know. My job does not depend on who the starting quarterback at Georgia is, so I can only wonder what’s going on. I certainly don’t know what’s going on. My suspicion is that Kirby and company do, and they are playing the best possible player they can at that moment. This also includes the reality that the best possible player in December may or may not be the best possible player right now. 

That’s hard to know. 

“Someone has to be better than Bennett!”

I don’t know that. And, frankly, this is the part that gets a little old. Lose a game - change the quarterback. Rinse and repeat. Maybe changing the quarterback will be the right move in the future. But is it right now?

That gets back to my question: Is Kirby Smart stubborn or principled if he doesn’t make a change? 

Back in 2016, before he led Georgia to three SEC East titles in a row, Kirby and the Dawgs were down 16-14 at the half to TCU. The Liberty Bowl came after Georgia’s 7-5 regular season that featured loses to Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech. 

Georgia back then was not the Georgia of today. 2016 was swimming in noon kickoffs, had a freshman quarterback and lost on a Hail Mary for the Vols. It wasn’t a good season, but the final game of that year shed light on how Smart would be as a coach when he was not in the limelight. 

Georgia had 49 yards rushing in the first half. In other words the offensive plan was not working. Should they change? Should they have tried to have Jacob Eason save them list he did against Missouri? 

Kirby decided to stick with the run. 199 second-half rushing yards later Georgia won the game 31-23. Afterwards, I asked the first-year head coach:

“Kirby, what’s the difference on offense in being stubborn or committed to the run?” 

“I think those are very similar,” he said. “There is a fine line. Stubborn and committed. Sometimes you have to do things offensively you may not want to do, but you have to do.”

That’s been the way Kirby has moved through his time at Georgia. What about his time has been ideal at QB? That the returning 5-star starter in 2017 got hurt in the first quarter of the first game and missed half the season? That he signed a prospect in 5-star Justin Fields who was not ready to be the starter in 2018 and transferred immediately after the Sugar Bowl? That he was down to two scholarships QBs in 2019 because Mathis had a freak and very serious head injury? That Jake Fromm left after his junior year to get drafted in the 5th round?

Think about his dance with quarterbacks along the way. Jacob Eason. Hurt. Jake Fromm. Justin Fields. Leaves. Fromm struggles. Fromm leaves. Jamie Newman comes and leaves. Stetson Bennett walked on. Left. Came back, became the starter and now has had a struggle.

I’m not making excuses for Smart. I am explaining what’s going on. There is a difference between an excuse and an explanation. 

And no matter what everything in the program is on Kirby. Period. All of it. Good and bad. 

I can say with pretty good authority Kirby and company didn’t want to end up with Stetson Bennett IV as their starting quarterback. If Georgia “wanted” Bennett, they would have started him at Arkansas. If they “wanted” Bennett they wouldn’t have gone after Newman. If they “wanted” Bennett they wouldn’t have gone after JT Daniels. 

IF THEY WANTED BENNETT THEY WOULD NOT HAVE TOLD HIM IN AUGUST THAT THEY DIDN’T SEE HIM PLAYING AT UGA IN 2020. 

Bennett has been here all of 2020. He’s a known commodity. 

“Sometimes you have to do things offensively you may not what to do, but you have to do.”

This isn’t a plot by Kirby to shoot himself in the foot. This isn’t declaring that Georgia “can’t beat Alabama” with Bennett - they sure looked like they could beat them without three interceptions. 

Georgia is at this point because Smart has determined that this Bennett his best option to win right now. Eason could be in the midst of his final season in Athens right now. Fromm could have returned as a senior. Fields could have stuck it out in Athens. Newman could have, too. 

None of this is by design. We aren’t baking cakes. There are more than 120 moving parts in each football program, and the four or five scholarship guys are the most important of that number. But there is no simple formula. If that was the case Joe Burrow would have never left Ohio State to win it all at LSU. Same goes for Tua at Alabama. 

And Kirby can still change to something else in the future at QB if he wants to, or if he has to. But if he doesn’t perhaps we should consider that Bennett is, in fact, the best person for the spot as it stands.

 
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