Kirby Smart was asked to assess the performance of first-year offensive coordinator James Coley during a press conference on the Monday following Georgia’s 20-17 double overtime loss to South Carolina in Sanford Stadium on Oct. 12. Georgia’s fourth-year head coach was also asked to discuss how much influence he exercises in offensive play calling.
But Smart didn’t answer either question.
“We’re definitely looking forward to Kentucky right now,” Smart said. “It’s the biggest concern we’ve got, and we’re going to focus on that. I think the most important part of an offense is scoring points.”
South Carolina entered the matchup against then-No. 3 Georgia with a losing record and exposed the Bulldogs’ offensive weak spots.
The Gamecocks’ front seven bullied the highly-touted Georgia offensive line and sacked quarterback Jake Fromm three times. Georgia wide receivers were unable to create any separation from South Carolina’s secondary, and the vital Georgia run game was never established.
Coley’s offense accumulated four turnovers and mustered just two touchdowns against a team that falls in the middle of the SEC in scoring defense.
Georgia ran 95 total plays against South Carolina — 52 passes and 43 rushes. Exactly 20% of Georgia’s plays (19 of 95) earned 10 yards or more, and only three of those 19 plays were running plays. Coley’s offense produced just one play of more than 20 yards — a 33-yard catch by George Pickens late in the third quarter.
The traditionally run-heavy Bulldogs were held to a season-low 4.0 yards per rush, but they still elected to run the ball consecutively on first and second down 10 different times.
“If the strength of your team is your backs, you feel like they can make guys miss, and the strength of your team is your offensive line, you try to rely on your strength,” Smart said. “Once they negate that, you’re not able to move them up front, you’ve got to try other things. We tried to do both.”
The Bulldogs’ longest rushing play of the game was a 14-yard carry by D’Andre Swift that came when Georgia was down 17-10 with less than a minute before halftime. That drive ended in a blocked field goal attempt.
According to Smart, the Bulldogs met a rush efficiency metric that focuses on success in short-yardage situations. Smart defined rushing efficiency as earning four or more yards on first down, half of what is needed on second down and converting on third down.
“Rush efficiency, for us, has been something that’s been indicative of success,” Smart said. “We’ve never been an efficient rushing team, by what we measure it, and lost a game since we’ve been here, which tells me that we were able to run the ball efficiently.”
Smart acknowledged that rushing efficiency doesn’t equate to an improvement in rushing average and that Georgia needs more explosive runs. But Smart chalked much of that to the players’ effort and blocking, rather than placing any blame on Coley’s play calling.
When given another chance to evaluate Coley, Smart deflected to the ongoing search for offensive rhythm and once again emphasized turnover troubles against South Carolina.
“That’s for public opinion,” Smart said. “I think that right now, offensively, we’ve got an identity that we’ve got to create more explosive plays. We can not turn the ball over ... when you go back and watch the tape, there were a lot of successful runs in there, as many as there weren’t.”