Despite success, Smart urges team to “Do More”

Matt Lowe

July 16, 2019 at 3:17 pm.

Oct 27, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm (11) throws the ball against the Florida Gators during the second half at TIAA Bank Field. Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 27, 2018; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm (11) throws the ball against the Florida Gators during the second half at TIAA Bank Field. Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

HOOVER — Georgia head coach Kirby Smart has had his team on the edge of greatness for the past two seasons.

The one team standing in front of the Bulldogs and football immortality: Alabama.

But make no bones about it, Smart knows the challenges of dethroning old boss Nick Saban, who is 16-0 against his former assistant coaches. In fact, he knows it all too well. But all he can do is wait until another opportunity arises to finally beat one of his primary football mentors.

“Am I confident somebody’s going to beat him? It depends how long he coaches,” said Smart, who announced his team’s motto for the 2019 season was “Do More” when he took the podium at SEC Media Days Tuesday. “It depends on how many opportunities they get. Inevitably, with enough opportunities, anything can happen.”

“I got a lot of respect for the job he does,” Smart added. “I got a lot of respect for the program. The success he’s gotten has been earned. Make no mistake about that. He’s earned it. There’s not one thing he asked assistant coaches to do that he doesn’t do himself.”

Georgia returns 13 starters (five offense, six defense, kicker, punter) from a team that went 11-3 last season.  The Bulldogs offense features an All-SEC quarterback in Jake Fromm, arguably the nation’s top offensive line, led by standout left tackle Andrew Thomas, and D’Andre Swift, one of the country’s top running backs.

Fromm completed 67.3 percent of his passes last season for 2,749 yards and 30 touchdowns — with only six interceptions.  Swift ran for 1,049 yards and 10 touchdowns and averaged 6.4 yards per carry. Thomas and guard Solomon Kindley combine to form one of the toughest left sides in college football.

Smart spoke highly about his veteran quarterback when asked whether he thought he could be a future NFL quarterback.

“I think Jake’s got tremendous ability,” Smart said. “He’s a leader. That’s the first quality you look for.

“We had a guy come speak the other day to our team talking about characteristics that scouts look for. He checks every single box on that list. He’s won a lot of football games. He’s thrown touchdowns and hasn’t thrown interceptions. All of those qualities he has are going to give him a chance of success whenever he chooses to go to the NFL.”

The big question mark on offense for the Bulldogs is at receiver, where UGA lost 130 receptions, 1,905 yards and 22 touchdowns following last season before it was announced that leading returning wideout Jeremiah Holloman (24 catches for 418 yards and three scores) was dismissed from the team this summer.

Cal transfer Demetris Robertson and veteran Tyler Simmons (nine grabs for 138 yards and two scores) are candidates to take on leading roles as the team’s top pass catchers. But keep an eye out for veteran tight end Charlie Woerner (11 catches for 148 yards) and true freshmen Dominick Blaylock and George Pickens, who Smart commented on during his time in front of the media at SEC Media Days.

“We’re excited to have George,” Smart said. “He’s come in this summer and worked tremendously hard. He knew what style offense he wanted to play in. He saw an opportunity when he saw two guys declare early for the draft in Mecole and Riley and Terry Godwin leave and then Isaac Nauta, there was a lot of touches there available, and I know he wanted to have an opportunity to play with a quarterback like Jake Fromm. We’re excited to have him. We’re looking forward to seeing him work and earn his opportunities.”

Defensively, Georgia has holes to fill in its front seven, but tackle Tyler Clark is an all-star candidate, and the secondary, led by veteran safety J.R. Reed, should be a team strength.

Linebacker is an area where Smart wants to see more speed. But he likes what he has in starting ‘backer Monty Rice, who finished third on the team in stops (59) last season.

Tae Crowder, who had 53 tackles, including six for loss, two interceptions and 1 ½ sacks in 2018, is also an impact player for Georgia. Redshirt freshman Azeez Ojulari and true freshmen Nolan Smith and Nokobe Dean, along with veteran Walter Grant, are candidates for meaningful paying time this fall.

“Monty Rice, this is a kid that’s a very good leader on our program,” Smart said. “He works day in and day out, really does a good job in the classroom. He was banged up last year. He’s one of our faster linebackers, which we’re trying to increase some speed at that position.

“We were a young defensive football team last year. We had a lot of guys from the previous season that were gone. We have a lot of guys coming back. We should be able to do some more things. We should be able to be a little more aggressive and given the opportunity to do that if we want to.”

Georgia’s quest for the elusive national title begins when it opens with SEC foe Vanderbilt on the road on Aug. 31. As for another shot at Saban and the Crimson Tide, well, that will just have to wait. But the Bulldogs “Do More” motto suggests Smart’s team is focused on making that happen once again.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach Saban and his program,” Smart said. “I probably wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for him. I also understand we have a really good program too.

“We have been able to recruit at a high level. I’m excited about this team coming back. The biggest thing is concerning ourselves with us and not concerning ourselves with somebody else.”