Kirby Smart’s fundamental fix to a big-play problem 

Posted: 11:14 am Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

By Jay Black

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart calls out to players during pregame warmups before their NCAA college football game against Mississippi, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Oxford, Miss. No. 23 Mississippi won 45-14. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart calls out to players during pregame warmups. He will be doing a lot more yelling this week.

When you get exposed and whooped like Georgia did last week, the list of problems is as long as the drive is to Oxford.

“We’ve got to show improvement at pretty much every position,” said Kirby Smart during his press conference this week.

Yeah, improvement would be good because the Dawgs went from stumbling around against lesser competition to falling off the cliff against the first very good team they saw.

“We’ve always said around here that humility is a week away,” said Smart.

September 24, 2016 Oxford, Miss: Georgia Bulldogs defensive tackle Trenton Thompson tries to grab Ole Miss Rebels Van Jefferson in Oxford Saturday September 24, 2016. BRANT SANDERLIN/BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Trenton Thompson tries to grab Ole Miss Rebels WR Van Jefferson

And that’s exactly what last week was. A humiliation.

It’s one thing for a defense to bend and hang in there the best they can. Sometimes an offense will make the play, even if you do everything you can.

But the last two weeks, Georgia has struggled at times to even get in the way.

The big play is now becoming a big deal.

This season Georgia has given up 18 plays of more than 20 yards. That ranks 76th nationally. Half of those plays have gone for 30 yards, dropping UGA down a few more pegs in the rankings (11th in the SEC, 86th nationally).

The problem — says coach Smart — is simple.

Georgia had a hard time tackling anybody, including Ole Miss QB Chad Kelly

“Great defenses are built around tackling,” said Smart, “and we didn’t tackle well.”


Smart says UGA had 15 missed tackles last week. That’s quite a bit. So have the defenders gotten the memo?

“We have to tackle better in practice,” says defensive back Aaron Davis. “That’s the only way it’s going to translate into the game.”

“It starts in practice,” says defensive lineman DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle. “You miss tackles in practice, you miss tackles in the game.”

So everyone’s got the talking points down.

The big fear though is most of these big plays are coming against what is supposed to be the strength of this defense. The secondary has been “lit up.”

Of those 18 big plays UGA has given up this season, Ole Miss had six of them last week –in the air alone. Missouri and North Carolina added a total of six more.

But stopping the pass as a whole has been problematic this month.

Ole Miss Rebels wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow grabs a pass in front of Georgia Bulldogs cornerback Malkom Parrish

Against FBS schools (so throw out Nicholls) Georgia ranks 103rd in the country and next to last in the SEC allowing 287.3 yards per game. Last year, against the same class of competition. Georgia was second in the country, in part because of all the running and option teams UGA faced last year. Still, that’s a long drop.

“The offenses we play,” said Smart, “they get explosive plays on everybody. So it’s more about limiting those.”

So how do you do that?

“Tackle better,” says Smart.

I see a trend building.

As complex as football can be, it’s amazing how much the basics can come back to bite you. There is no coaching wizardry or magic that can fix that.

Just work.

“It’s hard to scheme around fundamentals of football,” said Smart. “Blocking and tackling are the number one things you have to do in football and we aren’t a good tackling defense. You don’t cover that up. You confront it.”

Sometimes the only way you buckle down and fix things is when you know it’s broken. Ole Miss did a lot of damage last week.

The question for the rookie coach is this: how good of a handy man are you?