Kirby Smart showed his hand on Georgia 2023 season, if only for a moment
@mikegriffith32 Posted on January 13, 2023
LOS ANGELES — Kirby Smart operates at a different level of intensity on the sideline, matching or heightening the emotions of the Georgia football players he coaches.
That ability to stay focused and motivated is part of what has separated Smart from his coaching brethren, along with providing the Bulldogs with an unmistakable edge.
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“Aggression,” Smart told ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe as Georgia took the field for Monday night’s CFP Championship Game at SoFi Stadium.
“This is what we want to do. We are going hunting tonight.”
Georgia played the 60-minute game it had planned, dominating TCU from sideline to sideline and in the practice booth until the clock ran out with the Bulldogs over the Horned Frogs by a 65-7 count.
Georgia’s repeat was expected after the Bulldogs had survived a CFP semifinal challenge from Ohio State, falling 42-41 when a Buckeyes’ 50-yard field goal attempt went wide in the dying moments, the clock striking midnight on New Year’s Day, literally . the same time.
Georgia was a double favorite over TCU, a 51-45 winner over Michigan, but few could have imagined that the slowest national championship game in history would be played.
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Smart, his intensity and emotion flowing, celebrated with fans as he left the field, wearing No. 1 to represent last year’s 33-18 CFP Championship win over Alabama, then No. 2 for the win the last that UGA scored Monday night,.
And then Smart raised the third finger, allowing Bulldogs fans to dare to dream that an unprecedented third unified championship could be ahead in 2023.
Smart said before the season that this Georgia team would be the hunter, and that despite missing out on an NFL-record 15 players in the 2022 draft, he thought this group could compete for championships.
And in that brief moment at SoFi Stadium, still wearing the persona of the wing general and youth leader, Smart allowed the competitor in him to emerge with the three-finger prediction.
Smart was back in CEO mode the next morning, calm and collected at the mandatory champs press conference, attended by the head coach, offensive MVP and defensive MVP.
Stetson Bennett was not present, and while Smart did not know the former 25-year-old’s whereabouts, he indicated he was not surprised, calling for All-American Brock Bowers to take his place.
While Bennett saved his most accomplished performance for the title game, accounting for six touchdowns, most know that consistency is not part of a storybook legacy.
Regardless, the Bulldogs’ historic 2022 campaign was in the books, and next year’s leaders were all present and accounted for after the game.
Like their leader, Georgia players also dared to talk about another championship in 2023.
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But also like Smart, they also talked about a lot of hard work up front and a one-game-at-a-time mentality.
Smart shared the concern that, with so many players returning this coming season, complacency could creep in.
The Bulldogs head coach correctly predicted after last season that it wouldn’t be as much of an issue in 2022 because there were so many new players — and a “new” team — that there would be little or no sense of entitlement.
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Georgia football will still be dependent on freshmen in 2023, though perhaps not as much.
The decline in talent and play is inevitable at defensive tackle and safety, with Jalen Carter competing to be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft and Chris Smith taking his quirky, timely game to safety to the next level.
Broderick Jones is another first-round lock, likely the first offensive tackle off the 2023 NFL Draft board.
Georgia never found an outside linebacker who could fill Nolan Smith’s shoes in the edge rush department, and there’s work to be done for anyone to match Kenny McIntosh’s versatility as a receiver and 500-yard rusher.
Smart has expressed great confidence in his quarterback room, and while there may be more talent and athleticism on the rise, none of the current cast has the valuable experience that Bennett brought to the table.
Georgia now has two returning All-American selections back, and safety Malachi Starks led the defense in rushing and defensive end Mykel Williams was the sack leader.
Linebackers Smael Mondon Jr. and Jamon Dumas-Johnson — the two leading tacklers — are back as well.
There will be challenges, for sure, but Smart has already shown us his hand – literally – and in two weeks the next adventure will begin.