Thursday, February 22, 2018
Colleges

Georgia coach Kirby Smart struggling as Florida game approaches

Times wires

ATHENS, Ga. — Kirby Smart's first season as Georgia's head coach isn't going as planned.

Visions of an SEC East title, a premier bowl game and a high national ranking were essentially ruined by last weekend's stunning home loss to Vanderbilt.

Fans might be getting restless, but Smart insists he's still confident in himself and his staff despite the Bulldogs (4-3) losing three of four.

"Welcome to the world we live in as coaches," Smart said Tuesday. "You've got to figure out what you can do best and better to get these kids a chance to be successful. I think that comes through a lot of things — confidence, improvement, recruiting. There's a lot of areas that we're going to improve on. But am I questioning myself? No, not at all."

Smart spent eight years as defensive coordinator at Alabama, where he helped the Crimson Tide win four national titles under head coach Nick Saban and was made the nation's highest-paid assistant in 2013.

Smart was hired by his alma mater last December, replacing Mark Richt and hoping to make the Bulldogs a consistent contender for the SEC East title.

It's hardly been an easy ride.

Georgia had a No. 9 ranking after winning the opener against North Carolina, but it's been out of The Associated Press poll since losing to Tennessee on a last-second touchdown pass three weeks ago.

"With this job comes criticism. I'm accepting of that," Smart said. "I've seen it. I've seen it with good friends. I've seen it with programs I've been in. That doesn't scare me. What I'm worried about is our team and our players developing and getting better. That's the most important thing."

Smart is using the first two days of this week's bye to work on fundamentals. They're off until Oct. 29 against Florida.

The offense lacks identity. Nick Chubb began the season as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate but has five games under 100 yards rushing. He had just one below the mark in his first two years as the starting tailback.

Freshman quarterback Jacon Eason isn't getting much time to throw. The Bulldogs have allowed 17 sacks, most in the Southeastern Conference.

His protection was better against Vanderbilt as Eason threw for a career-best 346 yards. But Chubb and Sony Michel combined for just 68 yards rushing and neither touched the ball on a late fourth-and-one pitch that fell apart.

The Bulldogs clearly must get Chubb, a bruising runner, more involved. He dominated in two games but otherwise hasn't been used enough.

"I'm very pleased with how we run it some games, and then I'm very upset where we couldn't some games," Smart said. "You've got to be diversified enough. That's the truth in the SEC and in college football."

Special teams play has been poor. Before Rodrigo Blankenship hit on all three attempts last Saturday, Georgia had gone 4 for 9 on field-goal attempts. Big blunders against Vanderbilt dropped the Bulldogs to a No. 120 ranking in kickoff coverage, 57th in kickoff return average and 60th in punt average. They also rank 70th punt return average.

Smart is taking a closer look at what he can do to get it all fixed.

"I think I've got to be just as much hands-on with everything," he said. "I think the parts that I'm hands-on the most would probably be the defense and special teams. The offense, I get to spend time there, but there's only so much time in the day."

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