Georgia’s coach gives us what HE wants. And what he wants — not to be confused with what he says he wants — is an offense that won’t mess up and put his defense in untenable position.
Said Smart, speaking Monday via Zoom: “Ultimately, we feel like Stetson gives us the best chance to win right now. ... At the end of the day, the decision has to be made on who gives us the best chance to win, and we do that based on the total body of work.”
This correspondent last week asked Smart about Nick Saban’s updated belief that great defenses no longer trump great offenses. Smart kinda/sorta said he agreed with that, but then he noted that a team that plays bad defense – he didn’t mention Oklahoma by name, but you knew who he meant – doesn’t have the greatest record in playoff games. (The Sooners are 0-4, one of the losses coming in overtime against UGA. The final score was 54-48.)
Georgia’s offense finished 61st among FBS teams in yardage last season, after which Fromm and D’Andre Swift and Andrew Thomas left early for the NFL, line coach Sam Pittman became head coach at Arkansas and offensive coordinator James Coley was stripped of his duties. The new year — with Todd Monken as OC, Matt Luke coaching the O-line and many new quarterbacks from which to choose — figured to look much different. It hasn’t.
Georgia ranks 51st in yardage. It averages 404 yards per game. Last year it averaged 408.1. In 2018, its final season under OC Jim Chaney, it ranked 18th, averaging 464.9 yards.
It could be that, for all its quarterbacks, Georgia still got caught short at the most important position. Everything changed when the Wake Forest transfer Jaime Newman, Fromm’s heir apparent, opted out. D’Wan Mathis started the opener at Arkansas and was pulled before halftime. JT Daniels, the USC transfer, hadn’t been medically cleared to play, so that left Stetson Bennett, once a Georgia walk-on, as the only choice.
The Bulldogs have played four games since Arkansas. Bennett has started them all. Mathis appeared in mop-up duty against Auburn and Tennessee but hasn’t thrown a pass since Sept. 26. Daniels, who has since been cleared, hasn’t played a down. Bennett threw three interceptions against Alabama, two more against Kentucky. He ranks 15th among SEC quarterbacks in completion percentage, and we note the SEC has 14 members. He ranks 53rd nationally in passer efficiency. (Fields, ahem, ranks second.)
It’s unlikely that Smart ever dreamed he’d wind up with Bennett as his No. 1. Smart has conceded that Bennett asked him in preseason what his prospects of playing were, and the coach essentially said, “Not great, sir.” But here the smallish QB is, the starter of four games for the nation’s No. 5 team. This makes us wonder just how good Mathis and Daniels are. (The latter mostly works with the scout team.) It also makes us wonder if Smart is pretty much OK with a true game manager.
Often described as such, Fromm was better than that. He ranked fifth nationally in passing efficiency in 2018. The four guys ahead of him — Tua Tagovailoa, Kyler Murray, Will Grier and Dwayne Haskins — all have NFL jobs. I don’t know that anybody sees Bennett, listed as 5-foot-11, playing on Sundays. But, until we’re shown otherwise, Smart views Bennett as the quarterback who gives his team the best chance to win.
Given what happened with Fields, it’s appropriate to ask if Smart truly wants an offense that’s utterly reliant on the quarterback. (Smart’s best team had Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to ease the freshman Fromm’s burden.) It’s also appropriate to note that Smart’s record — Georgia is 40-8 over the past 3-1/2 seasons — has earned him the benefit of nearly every doubt.
After the Kentucky game, Smart was asked if he feels his offense is limited. His response: “I do not. And I hope one day we get to show it. We get to go against a pretty good defense every day (in practice). I see them. I see them pass-pro(tect). I see them throw and catch the ball. I see them run. I see us play-action. I see good things out of our offense.”
Say what you will about Smart – is he stubborn to the point of being smug? Oh, yes — but he’s nobody’s fool. He sees every snap of every practice. You and I don’t. He has made coaching football his life’s work. You and I haven’t. His record tells us he’s very good at his work.
Smart is Georgia’s coach. You and I aren’t. If he believes Bennett is best-equipped to win Saturday, we can grumble all we like. We, however, don’t get a vote. The only vote that matters belongs to a guy who’s 3-1 against Florida.
Georgia vs. Florida (at Jacksonville), 3:30 p.m., CBS, 750 WSB, 95.5 WSB, 1380