Kirby Smart showed his hand on Georgia 2023 season, if only for a moment

LOS ANGELES — Kirby Smart operates at a different intensity level on the sideline, matching or raising the emotions of the Georgia football players he coaches.

That ability to stay in tune and motivate is part of what has separated Smart from his coaching brethren along with providing the Bulldogs with an unmistakable edge.

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“Aggression,” Smart said to ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe as Georgia took the field for the CFP Championship Game on Monday night at SoFi Stadium.

“That’s what we want to do. We’re going hunting tonight.”

Georgia played the 60-minute game it planned for, dominating TCU from sideline to sideline, and in the coaching booth until the clock ran out with the Bulldogs over the Horned Frogs by a 65-7 count.

The Georgia repeat was expected once the Bulldogs had survived the CFP Semifinal challenge from Ohio State, slipping by 42-41 when a 50-yard Buckeyes field goal attempt went wide in the final moments, the clock striking midnight on a New Year at quite literally the same time.

Georgia was a two-touchdown favorite over TCU, 51-45 winners over Michigan, but few could have imagined the most lopsided national championship game in history would play out.

READ: How Georgia football staked claim to dynasty, the amazing plays

Smart, his intensity and emotions flowing over, celebrated with fans as he left the field, counting off the No. 1 to represent the 33-18 CFP Championship Game win over Alabama last year, then a No. 2 for the victory UGA scored last Monday night,.

And then Smart raised a third finger, allowing the Bulldogs fans to dare to dream of an unprecedented third-straight unified championship might be ahead in 2023.

Smart said before the season this Georgia team would be the hunter, and that despite losing an NFL record 15 players to the 2022 draft, he felt this group could compete for championships.

And in that brief moment at SoFi Stadium, still wearing the personality of sideline general and leader of young men, Smart allowed the competitor in him to show through with the three-finger prediction.

Smart was back in CEO mode by the next morning, calm and collected at the mandatory champions press conference, attended by the head coach, offensive MVP and defensive MVP.

Stetson Bennett was not present, and while Smart did not know the whereabouts of the 25-year-old former walk-on, he indicated he wasn’t surprised, flagging down All-American Brock Bowers to take his place.

While Bennett saved his most accomplished performance for the title game, accounting for six touchdowns, most knowing consistency is not part of the storybook legacy.

No matter, the Bulldogs’ historical 2022 campaign was in the books, and the leaders of the next year were all present and accounted for after the game.

Like their leader, the Georgia players also dared to speak of another championship run in 2023.

RELATED: Georgia players embracing three-peat challenge

But also like Smart, they also spoke of lots of hard work ahead, and a one-game-at-a-time mentality.

Smart shared concern that, with so many returning players this next season, complacency might creep in.

The Bulldogs head coach correctly predicted after last season that it would not be so much of an issue in 2022 because there were so many new players — and a “new” team — that there would be little to no sense of entitlement.

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Georgia football will still be reliant on new players in 2023, though perhaps not so many.

Talent and playmaking drop-offs are inevitable at defensive tackle and safety, with Jalen Carter competing to be the No, 1 overall player chosen in the NFL draft and Chris Smith taking his uncanny and timely playmaking at safety to the next level.

Broderick Jones is another first-round lock, quite possibly the first offensive tackle off the 2023 NFL Draft board.

Georgia never did find an outside linebacker that could fill Nolan Smith’s shoes in the edge rushing department, and there’s work to be done for anyone to show the versatility Kenny McIntosh flexed as a plus-500-yard receiver and runner.

Smart has expressed great confidence in his quarterbacks room, and while there may be more talent and athleticism on the rise, none of the current cast have the valuable experience Bennett brought to the table.

Already, Georgia has the momentum of two Freshman All-American selections returning, and safety Malaki Starks led the defense in snaps, and defensive end Mykel Williams was the sacks leader.

Linebackers Smael Mondon Jr. and Jamon Dumas-Johnson — the top two tackles leaders — are also back.

There will be challenges, to be sure, but Smart has already shown us his hand — quite literally — and in two weeks the next adventure will begin.

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