This just in: UGA’s Kirby Smart does know what he’s doing

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and quarterback JT Daniels confer during the second quarter against Charleston Southern in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Athens.    “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Caption
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and quarterback JT Daniels confer during the second quarter against Charleston Southern in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Athens. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Georgia played Charleston Southern on Saturday. Georgia surpassed 100 rushing yards in the game’s first five minutes. The massive defensive tackle Jordan Davis scored a touchdown while playing offense. Georgia led 49-0 at the half. It won 56-7.

Enough about that. Let’s talk about Kirby Smart.

ExploreDavis TD highlights Georgia’s domination of Charleston Southern

For all his success, Smart hasn’t been above criticism. Such is the way of our world. Nobody likes everything anybody else does. Often it seems nobody likes anything anybody else does. But I digress.

Smart’s Bulldogs are one victory from completing the school’s first unbeaten regular season since 1982. They’re the unanimous choice as the nation’s No. 1 team, having received every first-place vote in the latest editions of the Associated Press and coaches’ polls. Georgia is the only team in the land that can sustain one loss – assuming it’s not to Georgia Tech, which it won’t be – and still be assured of making the College Football Playoff.

And yet, and yet …

There are those who’ll tell you that, when it comes to quarterbacks, Smart doesn’t know what he’s doing. They’ll point to Justin Fields, who has started seven games for the Chicago Bears as a rookie but who didn’t start for Georgia. They’ll note that it took losses to Alabama and Florida last year for the coach turn to JT Daniels, by which time it was too late to win the SEC East. They’ll note that Stetson Bennett, the man who won’t go away, is again starting ahead Daniels.

And here’s where I say: When it comes to anything involving football – and football is largely about quarterbacks – Smart knows exactly what he’s doing. Nothing about Georgia football happens by accident.

ExplorePHOTOS: Georgia crushes Charleston Southern

Sometimes you hear a coach say he wants his team to play complementary football. Sometimes you wonder what that means, given that a team’s offense and defense are never on the field at the same time. A better way to define complementary football is to point to how Georgia has played in 2021 and say, “That right there? That’s complementary football.”

If Smart needed Georgia to score a slew of points to win, Bennett wouldn’t be his No. 1 quarterback. Daniels, who has the better and bigger arm, would be the choice. But the Bulldogs have yet to allow an opponent to score more than 17 points, and they haven’t been held under 30 since their opener against Clemson. They haven’t needed 350 passing yards to win. They average 239 air yards, putting them mid-table among the 130 FBS teams.

It isn’t that Georgia can’t pass. The Bulldogs deployed four quarterbacks against Charleston Southern. Only Brock Vandagriff, the fourth-string freshman, didn’t throw a touchdown pass. Only Vandagriff, who was 0-for-1, didn’t complete half his attempts.

When watching LSU’s offense of 2019 and Alabama’s of last season, it was possible to wonder if running the ball and playing defense no longer mattered. Those ancient virtues tended to work best in tandem, but with everybody slinging it, nobody seemed concerned with controlling the clock and/or the line of scrimmage. Smart is very concerned with the clock/line of scrimmage.

Said Bennett, who took part in Senior Day introductions but who might well be back next season: “If you can’t run the ball, it’s tough to control the game. Being able to turn around and hand the ball off is something a lot of people don’t value anymore, but it’s tough to overstate it.”

Caption
Georgia running back James Cook breaks off a 40-yard run against Charleston Southern during the first quarter in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Athens. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Georgia running back James Cook breaks off a 40-yard run against Charleston Southern during the first quarter in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Athens.    “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Caption
Georgia running back James Cook breaks off a 40-yard run against Charleston Southern during the first quarter in a NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, in Athens. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Georgia’s defense stops the opponent and puts the Georgia offense on the field. Georgia’s offense eats up yards and burns the clock, thereby giving the defense time to rest and advantageous field position. That’s complementary football. Nobody spoke of LSU’s defense when Joe Burrow was winning his Heisman Trophy or Alabama’s defenders when DeVonta Smith was winning his, but it’s noteworthy that the most-hyped Bulldog isn’t a quarterback or a wideout. It’s the 340-pound Davis.

Caption
Georgia senior defensive lineman Jordan Davis is all smiles on the sidelines after getting to play a little offense on senior day. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Georgia senior defensive lineman Jordan Davis is all smiles on the sidelines after getting to play a little offense on senior day.    “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Caption
Georgia senior defensive lineman Jordan Davis is all smiles on the sidelines after getting to play a little offense on senior day. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Georgia’s strength is its defense, which is so dominant that it banked a turnover on the play that resulted in Charleston Southern’s points. Even if Georgia had Burrow or Mac Jones, it wouldn’t look like LSU 2019 or Bama 2020. That isn’t how Smart coaches. Maybe you think he should. Maybe he knows more about football than you do.

In the wake of the Clemson victory, we all figured Georgia would be favored in every remaining regular-season game. It has been to date, and the Bulldogs could be favored by 30 over Tech. Not once has a lesser opponent caught Smart’s team unawares. Not once since Labor Day has Georgia been in position to lose.

With Daniels as the starter, Georgia was more inclined to throw. With Bennett as the starter, throwing is a lesser option. The benefit therein is that the Bulldogs are less inclined to fall into an early hole if they’re the team setting the pace. And should they fall into an early hole – against Bama for the SEC championship, maybe again in the playoff – it can summon Daniels and let him sling it.

Georgia 56, Charleston Southern 7

In the national championship game of January 2018 and the SEC title tilt 11 months later, Alabama beat Georgia because it had a reserve quarterback – Tua Tagovailoa relieved Jalen Hurts in the first game; it was the other way around in the latter – capable of playing at a championship level. Pretty sure Smart was paying attention.

Smart has said Georgia will need Daniels to win a game before this season is done. Not necessarily to start a game, but to win it. Because of his arm, Daniels is more suited to being the comeback quarterback than Bennett. This, too, is complementary football. You’ve got one quarterback for when you’re ahead, another when you’re behind, assuming you ever are.

Bennett again: “A lot of people tell me that I’m living out a dream. The dream will be complete in January, whenever that game is.”

That game is for the national championship. It will be played in Indianapolis on Jan. 10. Georgia will be there. Georgia will win it.

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