On Monday, Smart reported that the complacency menace had, at least to this point, been neutralized. He said that the results on the field haven’t always been good, but that the focus and preparation during the week has been. For Smart, obsessively devoted to productive practices, that’s pretty important.
“We’ve repeatedly said we want to be elite at getting better,” Smart said. “I’ve really been pleased with the progress that we’ve made. So that makes me feel comfortable that there’s no complacency there.”
Case in point: After the win over Ball State on Sept. 9, Smart said unprompted that the practices Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of that week might have been the best he’d seen in his eight seasons in his tenure as head Bulldog. That’s presumably not the sort of compliment you hand out unless you mean it. And it’s significant that it happened when the upcoming opponent was not Alabama or LSU, but the Cardinals of Muncie, Indiana.
At least judging from public comments, it’s pretty clear that Smart likes this team and the way that players work. Even at 4-0 and ranked No. 1 ahead of the team’s trip to Auburn on Saturday, he could grouse about shortcomings if he chose to because they do exist. And he could especially lament his team’s practice habits if they were deficient. He does not seem the type to apply lipstick on a pig, either figuratively or literally.
“We put so much value in the prep, the walk-through, the reps, the good-on-good, the opportunity periods where we give younger players snaps,” he said. “I put so much into that that I’ve been very pleased with the progress we’ve had in that.”
But here’s the rub for the Bulldogs as they attempt history. Despite Smart’s ability to keep complacency at bay, it still won’t be a surprise if this is a bumpy ride as Georgia delves into the meat of its schedule. This does not appear to be the dominant colossus that steamrolled to the College Football Playoff championship a year ago.
The Bulldogs have scored 17 points in four first quarters. Play in the red zone has not been great. The defense allowed South Carolina and Alabama-Birmingham to score touchdowns in two-minute situations at the end of the first half. Smart said of the run defense that, “I think it’s been really good in spurts, and it’s been really poor in spurts. I think that’s a common theme, the consistency and performance. It’s not game by game. It’s sometimes series by series.”
Apologies if this sounds like “The volume buttons on the new Lamborghini tend to stick.”
And it’s not to denigrate this edition of Bulldogs, who need not apologize for not winning more convincingly. It’s just a different team, one that lost arguably the best quarterback in school history, three first-round draft picks and 10 draft selections total. Further, Smart’s team has been hammered by injuries. Smart said a week ago that longtime head trainer Ron Courson told him that the injury list was the longest of Smart’s tenure. Last season’s No. 1 wide receiver, Ladd McConkey, has yet to play his first snap because of a lingering back issue.
The Bulldogs also are without starting right tackle Amarius Mims, a highly effective lineman at a critical position being replaced by a lineman who has mostly played at guard (Xavier Truss). Safety Javon Bullard, a preseason All-American, has missed the past two games.
This isn’t a prediction for Georgia’s demise at Auburn. With issues at quarterback, the Tigers don’t appear capable. But it seems a good possibility that the South Carolina game won’t be the last time that someone takes the Bulldogs into the fourth quarter with the outcome undecided. And who’s to say that that team won’t be successful?
Can quarterback Carson Beck lead a last-minute drive with the No. 1 ranking on the line? We don’t know because he’s never had to do it before.
Given the time that’s passed since Georgia last lost a regular-season game (Florida in 2020), it may seem difficult to conceive the Bulldogs getting tripped up before their expected appearance in the SEC title game. But there’s a reason that the three-peat that Georgia is attempting would be the first since the mighty Golden Gophers of Minnesota of 1934-35-36. For reasons of talent loss, injuries and luck, among other factors, it’s really, really hard to win two in a row, let alone three. Or even just one. Hopefully, Georgia fans don’t need to be reminded that a national championship or even a spot in the CFP is not a birthright.
The encouraging aspect for the Bulldogs is that Smart sees his team improving because of the non-complacent work being put in on the practice field. Given the coaching on Smart’s staff, that ensures better play as the season progresses. Further, the Bulldogs could well be healthier by November, when their toughest competition awaits. For what it’s worth, Georgia’s final four opponents in league play – Florida, Missouri, Ole Miss and Tennessee – all are in this week’s Top 25.
Complacency may have been defeated, but there’s still eight more opponents lined up for their shot at the Bulldogs.