The Georgia Bulldogs had three ‘stinging’ losses in 2016 to Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Georgia Tech. To fix that, Head Coach Kirby Smart and his coaching staff began making plans for the Georgia players to be able to get the job done in what they call “Situational Football.”
Jacob Eason hits Riley Ridley with a 47-yard touchdown pass with just 10 seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs a 31-28 lead. But Georgia then loses a 34-31 heartbreaker when Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs connects with Jauan Jennings on a 43-yard Hail Mary at the final buzzer.
Georgia, trailing underdog Vanderbilt 17-16 in Sanford Stadium, reaches the Commodore 41-yard line in the waning minutes but, on fourth-and-one, wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie is stopped short of the first down by Vandy’s star linebacker, Zach Cunningham, thus allowing the Commodores to hang a stinging defeat on the Bulldogs.
Again in Sanford Stadium, the Bulldogs are trying desperately to hold on to a 27-21 win over state rival Georgia Tech but then Techs Lance Austin intercepts Eason in the waning moments in Georgia territory and the Jackets proceed to get a 6-yard scoring run from Qua Searcy with just 30 seconds remaining, and coupled with Harrison Butker’s kick, sting the Bulldogs, 28-27.
Obviously, all three of these 2016 losses in Kirby Smarts first year at the UGA helm, came in critical situations that the Bulldogs simply didn’t handle well. And that’s why, once the season ended, Smart and his coaching staff began making plans for the Georgia players to be able to get the job done in what they call “Situational Football.” In the off-season and in the recent spring drills, Smart recreated last season’s major gaffes on the field, running the very same plays that beat Georgia and drilling into the Bulldogs’ collective heads what they need to do to prevent them from happening again, should those same situations arise in the future.
Indeed, situational football was a recurring theme for Georgia in this year’s spring practice, will be big in the summer workouts and especially in August preseason camp as the Bulldogs work to anticipate every possible situation they will encounter in the new 2017 campaign.
Said Smart at the outset of this year’s spring drills: “Obviously we’ve got some areas we’ve got to improve on, starting with the special teams. That’s a big emphasis for us in all the kicking units. Red area, offense and defense red area, we’re going to target those areas and do a little extra. A lot of situational football, where we put guys in situations and say go play to put them in situations that you can’t simulate in scrimmages.”
And the coach continued to point to the importance of situational football practice all through the 15 days of the Bulldogs’ spring workouts.
“Basically, every day we start our team meeting with another situation,” Smart said in the team’s fourth week of practice. “We have the entire team in here. We go through a situation. One of them might be two minutes, and the offense has to get a first down to win the game. We had that situation come up against Tennessee — we weren’t able to do it! Then we had to stop them because we had a sack/fumble. So we did stop ’em. We got the ball back. We did score. So what we’ve tried to do is replay the situation.”
“I’ve spent a lot of time during this offseason talking to NFL teams,” Smart continued, “because these NFL teams deal with this every game. Every game comes down to that. College football, I think, 50 percent of our games come down to one score. So if that’s the case, we’ve got to simulate those. So every single day, except the first practice, we had end-of-game situations at practice. I think it makes Jacob (Eason) a lot better. It makes Jake Fromm a lot better. And defensively, it’s been great.”
“They put you in real game situations in practice so in a game, we’ll know how to respond … even if we’re down or if were up by 10, if we have to get the ball back, things like that,” said Junior cornerback Deandre Baker. “Games like Tennessee, Kentucky was a big one and Auburn, they put us in those same situations to learn from and correct what we did wrong.”
Senior tight end Jeb Blazevich said the situational football concept is emphasized in every single practice by the Georgia coaching staff.
“We do a lot of situational football in practice,” he said. “We do coming-out drill, get-the-ball-back drill, and even today (in final practices leading up to G-Day), coming out in two minutes. We do things in scrimmages, we’ll always watch some of our games in the past, how it comes down statistically, this is what games come down to. Like today, if we don’t get a first down, that’s an average of 2.5 points that we give up. So we just understand that side of football and then we go out and practice it. It’s like, now we can put ourselves in that situation.
“For example,” said Blazevich, “our one game against Tennessee. Our quirks there, we can clean that up and then we can go out and practice it so we can be in that environment. On the flip side for defense, same game, change up some of those things and be in kind of that mental mindset before practice. (Kirby) brings out the examples we need to see, good, bad or ugly. We see what we did good, see what we need to fix and see what we absolutely butchered out there. It’s pretty transparent in this building. There’s no soft skin … you’re going to learn and get over it and get better. And that’s the good thing; we do have that shot to get better.”
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