Kirby Smart, Players Talk South Carolina, Preview Upcoming Game

Kirby Smart, Players Talk South Carolina, Preview Upcoming Game

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Kirby Smart, Players Talk South Carolina, Preview Upcoming Game


Georgia football coach Kirby Smart and some players discuss last Saturday’s win at South Carolina and provide a preview of this weekend’s game vs Middle Tennessee State.

The game will kickoff at 7:15 p.m. and will air on ESPN2.

Kirby Smart

Opening Statements…

“We usually talk about our team in these sessions, but I’d like to take a minute to congratulate the university and President Morehead on the latest U.S. News and World Report of the 13th ranking in public institutions. I think that’s pretty special. We sell that hard in recruiting. And anytime you’ve got a top-15 university, public institution, it sells itself. And that’s something that we’ve been really proud of and I know the university’s proud of that stat and continue to climb in those rankings each year.

So really proud of that and with that, I’ll move on to MTSU, Middle Tennessee. I’ve got a lot of respect for their coach, a guy I’ve known for a long time in this profession. He helped me at a very young age, learning how to recruit on the road. I traveled and recruited some when I was working for Coach (Chris) Hatcher with Coach (Rick) Stockstill.

He does a great job. Always had just tremendous respect for the job he’s done. He’s one of the longest tenured coaches at his school, in the country, having been there, I think, since either ’06 or ’07. And he does a tremendous job. A lot of respect for him. His son’s a quarterback. He’s a really good football player. They beat three Power 5 schools in the last six or seven years. And they’ve got really good athletes, a really good football team and our focus kind of turns to them.”

On playing outside the SEC

“I’ve got a lot of respect for these programs. I’ve got a lot of respect for student-athletes that play at these programs. I think games like these, a lot of times, are an opportunity for their programs to survive and stay alive and financially they’re important to some of these programs.

So I have mixed emotions about it when it comes to that. Because I think when you look at the NFL and week in, week out, playing the caliber of opponents they’re forced to play it forces parity on more people. And I’ve said before I’ve been in favor of, whether it’s a nine-game SEC schedule, doesn’t matter to me. It’s not something that we shy away from.

I think it’s good for the fan base to have better games, the home-and-home. I think those things are good for college football. But you have to look at it through two people’s perspective and sometimes these programs wouldn’t survive. I’m a big advocate for football in general and I think that they need these games to survive financially. Without them, some of these programs may not be able to survive.”

On his evaluation of the pass rush performance

“We’re always looking to improve the pass rush. I think that you’re never where you need to be, but that’s an area we want to improve. Two things have to happen in pass rush: You have to cover him long enough to rush him; and you also have to stop the run to force them to pass the ball. And we’re a run/stop team first. That’s what we pride ourselves on, which probably takes a little bit away from the pass rush, to be honest with you. So it’s an area that I know since we’ve arrived we’ve been pretty good on defense here.

But if you’d say one thing you’d say we’ve been insufficient in pass rush. You don’t get both worlds because you could be good at pass rush and not real good at run defense. So we pride ourselves on that, but it’s something we really work on. I think it’s really important for these guys not to give the quarterback a lot of time to sit back there because he’s really good at it. They also on the other hand know it’s hard for them to block some of their guys every down in, down out so they get rid of the ball quick. You have to be careful how many times you overdo the rush because they have an incredible screen game, and the quarterback is a very good decision-maker. He knows where he’s going with the ball. And they have really good skill players to get the ball to.”

On playing Cade Mays when Andrew Thomas left with an ankle injury

“Andrew Thomas’s is still an ankle sprain. He’ll be out for the day, hopefully be back for the game, but we still don’t know, we’ll see tomorrow. Today is rehab on it. I know he’s been doing some stuff on the treadmill. Hopefully getting back.

Cade, I was excited for Cade as much as I was disappointed for Andrew because Cade’s worked hard. He came in mid-year and worked really hard. Biggest reaction I had was I’m glad we practiced the way we did. I’m glad that he has to go against really good players day in, day out so it’s not unusual for him. And he did some good things when he went in. I think the overwhelming consent was when he went in that, like, just like took over. A lot had to do with the body blows that occurred before that. But he had some mistakes. He did some things that weren’t real good but he did some good things, found positive in it, but also find area for improvement.”

On if there was any element of surprise to Cade Mays’ entry when Andrew Thomas left the game…

“Was I surprised? Was I surprised that he went in?…You don’t think we talked about that? Don’t think we met about that? There’s no surprises when you’re prepared. So for us that’s been talked about long before things happen in the game. Sometimes in the game you make rash decisions and you don’t make, in the heat of the moment, the right decision.

So we talk about that every game: This is the first; what happens if he moves, two go down, who is third? You have to do it at every position because in a game things can happen fast. And no surprise that he went in. That was a decision we all made as coaches based on how we practiced. You can’t make that decision in the game. You gotta practice the players where they have an opportunity to play.”

On Tyler Simmons evolving into a blocker at wide receiver…

“I think physicality is a learned trait that he’s learned over the course of time. First of all, he has stature and a body that’s 200 pounds. He’s physical. He’s tough. I mean, basically we’re not going to play you if you don’t do that. So the reward is I get to play in the game, catch the ball if I block. And he had two — two really good blocks. Everybody saw the one, but he knocked the guy to the ground early in the game early as well. So he’s proven to be a physical blocker. He catches the ball well. He’s got good speed. Built like a running back. And if he continues to get better and practice better, he can be a really good player for us.”

On educating players on tackling and if it has changed in the last year…

“No. We really haven’t. We’ve never taught them to lead with their head or aim or target for someone else’s head. We certainly don’t teach that.
We practice a lot thudding, which I call thud, when you wrap up without taking them to the ground. Coach Tucker says it all the time to the defensive guys; it’s harder to thud than it is to tackle. When you can go tackle a guy during the game, it’s usually easier than thudding. Thudding you have to hit him properly. You gotta wrap up without going to the ground, which is a safer, more practiced way to tackle. It’s sometimes harder on our guys in a practice to do the thud than it is to go physically tackle someone to the ground. We always talk about aiming for midsection, aiming for the lower spot and not ever leading with the head. And those are things I know we’ve always taught, everywhere I’ve been, we’ve taught. We didn’t teach guys to target. That’s important for the game so you don’t lose guys.”

On the competition at each position…

“As much as ever. I mean, I’ve got my message set with the team today and it’s really about that alone. It’s not anything about who we play nor any disrespect for Middle Tennessee. It’s totally about us and competing within practice. We’ve got some really good competitions going on where guys are battling for playing time, guys battling for spots. And the best way to measure that is not against the scout team player, but a good-on-good situation, which every day, including today, we’ll do good-on-good situations and try and find out where guys are and continue to earn playing time. I think the only way you develop your team towards the end goal, which is to be as good as you can possibly be by the end of the season is to improve during the season. And that’s where I think we can separate ourselves because we can improve during the season. We have enough depth to go against each other and continue to improve and that’s the end goal for us.

On the inclement weather this weekend impacting practice…

“First one with the weather, I’ve seen what’s coming. Certainly my thoughts and prayers go out to the people in the South Carolina community and the area that may be hit by it. But right now we don’t think it’s going to affect us a lot other than wind possibly. And there’s not a lot we can do to control that. We’ll continue to work on Middle Tennessee and get ready for it.”

On Deandre Baker’s interception in the South Carolina game and his ball placement inches before the end zone

“Obviously I was disappointed that he would do that prior to crossing the goal line. I think it’s an effect of not having many opportunities to do that. He had almost the exact same situation in the spring game. And we went back and showed him that and said, hey, you’re across the goal line and went across and handled the ball the right way, and he did. He’ll get some extra practice doing it today.”

On Rodrigo Blankenship as a weapon on special teams…

“He’s been incredible, to be honest with you. I think our special teams staff does a tremendous job of making sure he’s fresh. He does a tremendous job of taking care of his body. It’s shown in the last two games with the power and drive consistently. Most guys wear out as the game goes on, maybe have to kick another kicker, or maybe don’t kick him at all, he just continues to pound the ball and does a great job doing it. He’s a leader on our team. And he’s awesome to work with. I mean, he’s become a weapon. And we have to use him as such.”

On the heat at the South Carolina game, on the sideline in the sun and how the oxygen tank surfaced…

“I probably wouldn’t be the best to talk about that, because I don’t really even notice the heat as a coach because I’m not in pads and we’re out there in it every day.

I certainly know some of our players, when we go visit with them on the sideline, are using the oxygen tanks. And I think Ron (Courson) could talk to you more about that. I’ve been told it’s more of a placebo effect — it’s mental more than anything. But we’ll supply our players with everything we can to help them be at their best.”

On having a different message or approach last year as opposed to this year… 

“I don’t think so. I really think the approach and the deal is that the pats on the back sometimes are not real. The pats on the back are all conditional. And we’re not into conditional love, conditional improvement. We want to improve unconditionally; we want to be loved unconditionally. And the way you do that is by trusting and believing in your teammates and getting better. And we’re going to try to sell this team today, this week, and every week on getting better, because we can’t control all these outside forces. We can’t control what other teams do. We can’t control what people say. All we can control is how we work; and if the leaders buy into that message and understand that we have to get better to get where we want to go, then we usually can do that.”

On playing two quarterbacks being a trend in college football…

“Yes, I think it’s very important to have three quarterbacks on any roster, because when you don’t have three, you’re a play away all the time. And I think that’s no better evidence than in the NFL because those guys usually carry three on the roster and they have emergency guys. But it’s become more and more of a trend because I think, A. guys have left more often now. And, B. guys get injured, because they’re spread and they’re running more. So you’ve got to have to protect the quarterback and have the ability to have two quarterbacks that can play.

On if the message changes when expectations are met…

“I don’t think so. I certainly coach from the beginning whistle to the end whistle exactly the same all the time. I don’t think the scoreboard matters. So if the scoreboard doesn’t matter, why, if we’re down 25, 30, whatever like we were down at Ole’ Miss (in 2016), should I be coaching different than if we’re up 25, 30 against somebody at home. I just don’t see the difference in that, because I believe in what we tell the players, which is playing to that standard, and playing like the scoreboard is not there. So if you coach the same way, then the expectation for the player that goes in, whether you’re up or down, is exactly the same.”

On the improvements he would like to see in Demetris Robertson…

“I don’t know that Demetris (Robertson) didn’t get on the field earlier. I thought Demetris played a good bit and will continue to. He’s going to have to compete in practice. And we’ll all want to play the best players here. And those guys are at the top of their game. We’ll have a good rotation going. I think right now the wide-out position, we have good depth because we have guys that can do different things- a lot of guys that are really physical, maybe a fast guy, maybe a vertical threat guy. But at the end of the day, when you turn the tape on, the guys that get open are going to be the guys that play.

And South Carolina did a good job in pressing some of our guys. It was a good thing we could run the ball because they had hands on a lot of our wide-outs and creating separation was really important.”

Q. Do you hope to get Justin Fields’ work on the game balance (inaudible) goal is to win the game?

“I think the important thing for Justin (Fields) is that he continues to improve. He’s worked hard, and we want him to continue to improve as a player. And that’s what’s going to make our team better. And that’s what is important for his future to continue to do that. I would love to get him an opportunity to get into this game.”

ILB Juwan Taylor:

On the heat in the South Carolina game and how prepared the team is to play in those conditions… 

“It really starts in our off season workouts. The whole offseason we practice outside, workout outside and run outside. We have been ready for that game.”

On Baker dropping the ball and his reaction… 

“It was an immediate reaction. It looked like he dropped the ball behind the goal line, so I just scooped it up just incase.”

On how he has improved through the first two games… 

“I would say that the whole defense has improved. Everybody has bought in to what Coach Smart wants us to do. Flying around the field, being relentless and playing really physical.”

On what he knows about Middle Tennessee’s offense… 

“They have a really good quarterback. He has a really strong arm and he likes to get the ball down the field. They have a lot of offensive weapons.”

K Rodrigo Blankenship:

On being SEC Special Teams Player of the Week… 

“I actually hadn’t found out about that until about 10 minutes ago. It is a great honor to be recognized this week and I just hope that I can continue to perform at a high level for my team.”

On the first time putting on a Georgia uniform and the feelings associated with that moment… 

“I think the first time I put on a uniform in practice was 2015 on the first day of camp. I just thought about how I needed to go out and learn as much as I could from Marshall Morgan because he had kicked here before me and had done a phenomenal job. I just wanted to take in everything that I could and try and learn from him.”

On how he’s grown and how things have evolved over the past two years… 

“I think that everything that has transpired over the past two years has been a result of me working as hard as I can and doing everything in my power to be the best teammate and asset to the team, day in and day out. I think wanting to be the best kicker I can be for my team is what has driven me from the moment I stepped on campus. It has been amazing to be with this team each and every year and to continue to grow.”

On Kevin Butler’s impact… 

“He’s awesome. It was incredible to have him with us and to be able to learn from one of the best kickers in college and NFL history. It can never be a bad thing to have the opportunity to learn from someone like that. Having him out there at practice and at games to pick his brain and talk shop with him was an incredible opportunity that all the specialists have had. Some of the things he has imparted on us in terms of technique and mentally training and preparing us for games each week is something we are going to hold onto for a long time.”

DT Julian Rochester:

On the defensive line’s approach with balance of run and pass… 

“We have to be able to be two-way players, because we have to be able to turn it on when we have to play teams that like to pass the ball, but also have to hold the point to stop the run. It is a challenge from the coaches to us to go ahead and make those changes each play so we can get the right pass rush.

On how the pass rush can improve against Middle Tennessee … 

“It is a great opportunity to get better since they are a spread offense that passes a lot. And then we play Missouri next week so we have plenty of opportunities to show our pass rush abilities and two weeks to get better at it. They are both air-rated attacks with Drew Lock of Missouri and Brent Stockstill of Middle Tennessee. They can both throw the ball really well so it is a great opportunity and challenge for us.”

On confidence and depth in the offensive line when a player goes down like Andrew Thomas did Saturday… 

“Yes, a lot of confidence. No look back, next man up. Andrew (Thomas) is a great player and will get back the best way he can. However, we have no issues when someone else steps in. Cade Mays did really well stepping up. He is a young guy that works really hard, is consistent and is a grinder.”

On improvement in the defense through two games…
“I would say the consistency. We are flying around to the ball, all the young guys are flying around to the ball. I think as a total team defensively, we have been really consistent. That has been the best part.”

WR Tyler Simmons:

On the expected focus on blocking as a wide receiver at Georgia…

“You definitely know. Especially playing in the SEC, with all the short runs that the running backs have, it’s going for six and blocking downfield. It’s definitely something you know you have to do…that’s emphasized around being a receiver at UGA. You know you’re going to come in and make the plays when you’ve got to make the plays, whether it’s catching the ball or blocking. It’s really emphasized.”

On redshirt sophomore Cal transfer Demetris Robertson…

“He’s just watched and picked up on everything. We haven’t had to say much to him. He’s silently coming in and coming along. That’s what we like.”

On the competition in the wide receivers group…

“It’s going to be a competition everyday in the SEC with any position, especially receiver right now, with how many we have and how much depth we have. When it comes down to who travels, it’s all about who contributes the most on the team as far as special teams, offense and how you’re doing on and off the field.”

On Terry Godwin’s skill set…

“For Terry, of course he has wonderful hands and catches the ball well in traffic. He’s very versatile. I like him in the slot and out wide. A lot of us are just wide-outs, and some are in the slot, but he can go both ways.”

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