Georgia can't duck the Alabama question
It took Steve Spurrier to say what Kirby Smart must be thinking an uncomfortable amount of the time, at least in the recesses of his mind. Leave it to the Head Ball Coach to speak truth to football power.
Cutting to the chase during an SEC legends panel Tuesday, reminiscing but also summing up the last decade and change, Spurrier turned talking season up a notch with this brutal truth: "To win it all, you've got to beat the Big Red Elephant from Tuscaloosa."
There it was. The elephant in the ballroom. The large land animal standing between Smart and Georgia and one or two national championships.
Spurrier wasn't talking to Smart, but he might as well have been because the more the Georgia coach dodges and deflects the Alabama question, the more he denies a necessary obsession.
When will Georgia be Bama and beat Bama? When will Smart topple his football father, Nick Saban? Has one of the best head coaches in college football missed the best chances he'll ever have?
The Alabama question and its corollaries dogged Smart all day Tuesday at SEC Media Days. He downplayed it when he said, "We don't have Alabama on our schedule." He lightened the mood when, asked to address Saban's 16-0 record against his former assistants, he quipped, "I'm well aware."
Painfully so. Smart's been a part of the two most intestine-twisting of those family coaching-tree affairs the last two seasons. His Captain Ahab-intense quest led him to the most disastrous coaching decision in league history in last year's SEC Championship Game.
Even Spurrier took an indirect but unmistakable shot at Smart's inexplicable failed fake punt from midfield late in the fourth quarter of a tie game, which handed Alabama the opportunity to win the game, which, in short order, it did. Of course.
How do you survive the desperation of Fourth-and-11 a year after the devastation of Second-and-26? How do you return to the scene but flip the script? You play little games to prepare yourself for the next opportune moment.
The way Georgia tackle Andrew Smith described "Adversity Thursdays" in Athens, random deviations from the strength and conditioning routine are designed to train the Dogs to handle the kind of sudden change that marked their last two crimson encounters. Like, say, a backup Alabama quarterback thrust into duty with Georgia seemingly in control.
Another avenue of attack is getting your team's mind right with a motivational alchemy of philosophy and psychology. Hence the 2019 Georgia motto: Do More. As Smart explained, "We're looking for the aggregate of marginal gains."
That's high-minded rhetoric for a pursuit that comes down to blocking and tackling, but Smart knows his formidable enemy as well as anyone. He helped build that monster. A frightening fact: Eleven of the last 12 national champions - or every one since Saban famously deplaned in Tuscaloosa - have either been Alabama or beaten Alabama. The exception was 2013 champ Florida State, led by another Nick's Kid, Jimbo Fisher. The Seminoles avoided the Big Red Elephant only by the grace of the Kick Six.
Don't misunderstand. Georgia doesn't have to beat Alabama to own an elite program, and Smart doesn't have to beat Saban to become an elite coach. He and his Dogs are pretty much there. But they do have to beat Saban and Alabama to fulfill the promise of Smart's version of the process.
The Alabama question can't be answered in full in July, but it will be asked, and it better be addressed in Athens in some way every single day.