Kirby Smart’s first year at Georgia a learning experience

After Saturday’s loss to Georgia Tech, Kirby Smart’s first season as head coach of the University of Georgia took another wrong turn.

The 2016 season for the Georgia Bulldogs did not meet expectations, but it may have tought Kirby Smart everything he needs to know about being a head coach in the SEC.

The Highs

Smart’s first two games against FBS foes showed a lot of promise. After trailing in the fourth quarter in each of those games against North Carolina and Missouri, the Dawgs battled back and found ways to win both of those games.

Against no. 9 Auburn, Georgia played its’ best game of the season. The defense put the shackles on the SEC’s top offense, holding Auburn without a first down in the second half. And in a disappointing season it gave Smart his signature win.

The Lows

Against Ole Miss and Florida, Georgia got embarrassed. The Rebels held a 45-0 lead over the Dawgs in the third quarter and the Gators held Georgia to a pitiful 21 yards rushing. The Dawgs didn’t show up for either of those games and the score reflected that.

The week two matchup against Nicholls nearly provided the low point of the season when Georgia escaped with a 26-24 victory over a team who finished in fifth place in the FCS’ Southland conference.

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What was almost one of the best wins for the Bulldogs in 2016, was by far the most heartbreaking loss when Tennessee connected on a 43-yard Hail Mary as time expired.

The month of October was not good to the Dawgs, as they went 1-3 in the month, but the 17-16 loss to the Commodores was unacceptable. With the game on the line, they elected to run the ball with their 160-pound wide receiver.

Saturday’s loss to the Yellow Jackets was a culmination of the entire season. After a fourth down stop early in the fourth quarter and holding a 27-14 it looked like the Dawgs were going to cruise to another win over their in-state rival. But the wheels came off in the fourth quarter and the Jackets found a way to win.

Coaching Errors

After Eason’s touchdown to Ridley in the final seconds against Tennessee, Smart elected to “sky kick”, kicking the ball short and Tennessee was able to take it across midfield. Yes, the 15-yard penalty backed up the kickoff, but had the Dawgs kicked it deep or even just kicked it out of bounds, there’s no way Tennessee gets far enough for Joshua Dobbs to heave one to the end zone.

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In the final seconds of the first half against South Carolina, Smart showed poor clock management. After a holding penalty backed Georgia up, the clock ran out while Smart still had a timeout in his back pocket. Either Smart didn’t get the timeout off, or he didn’t actually know the clock was going to start after the penalty, and it appeared to be the latter.

Not getting the Dawgs prepared to play against cupcakes like Nicholls and UL-Lafayette was another example of poor coaching. While the Dawgs did jump out to a 21-0 lead against Lafayette, they messed around and allowed the Ragin’ Cajuns to hang around and stay in the game and only managed a 35-21 win. They also allowed 465 yards in the game, which was the third most of any game this season.

While 7-5 is far from what Smart and Georgia had in mind coming into this season, it did provide the most valuable thing of all: Experience.

Smart had never been a head football coach at any level and in 2016 he was thrown into the fire of the SEC. And after just one season at the helm, he’s experienced almost everything there is as a head coach, now the question is will that experience turn into wins?

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