UGA Football

Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview North Carolina game

Kirby Smart
Photo: Steven Colquitt/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. – Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, addressed the media on Monday ahead of Saturday’s season-opener against North Carolina at the Georgia Dome. They offered the following comments:

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement … 

“We’re excited for the first game. I’m really excited about the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. I’ve been very fortunate to play in three of those, and I think anytime you get to play in an awesome atmosphere like the Georgia Dome, it gets the kids really excited. It’s not hard to motivate them for the first game. You get the chance to do that. Gary Stokan (President and CEO) and his staff do an unbelievable job preparing this event, selling it out; and the Bulldog Nation certainly deserves a great turnout and great atmosphere to play this game in.

We’re excited for it. These players have worked really hard. I think it’s different than the NFL where you get preseason games and you get an opportunity to see guys play before the real game. In college football you always try to simulate that. It’s hard to do, especially from a special teams standpoint.

So these guys have done everything we’ve asked of them, and they continue to work. They’re excited for the opportunity, and we’re looking forward to it. Got a lot of young guys, an opportunity to go out and play. With that I’ll open it up.”

On junior TB Nick Chubb’s status … 

“He’s been cleared. It’s a situation where he’s scrimmaged and done a lot of things. He’s had a lot of practices where he’s carried it more than five to seven times, and we feel good about Nick. He feels great. He’s ready to go. So he won’t technically be on a pitch count by any means.”

On any updates on the quarterback situation … 

“No. No starter has been named. We’ll continue to practice guys and get those guys ready, and when it does, we’ll let you guys know.”

On the number of ‘ors’ on the depth chart … 

“Well, a lot of guys are playing. A lot of guys on defense are going to play. When your mom and dad read the paper, they like to know their sons are on the roster. A lot of ‘ors’ on there because you gotta play a lot of people when people play fast. We got a lot of great competition at a lot of positions. A lot of guys deserve ‘ors’.”

On the possibility of playing multiple quarterbacks … 

“We’re going to see how it goes. First thing we have to do is figure out who’s taking the first snap before we worry about the next guy coming in. I think it’ll reveal itself the next couple of days. Continue getting those guys reps and get both of them ready to play — that’s the plan.”

On replacing talent on the defensive side of the ball… 

“Yeah, it’s tough anytime you lose a good group. They had a really big group (last year). You know, when you talk about Leonard (Floyd), (James) DeLoach, a lot of those guys, (Chris) Mayes made a lot of plays. Jordan Jenkins, man, made a lot of plays. So when you talk about the number of starts and opportunities those guys had, when you change those out, I think that’s where you get the anxiety from is a lot of guys playing in their spots and going in for the first time, although some of them may be talented, they’re going to be asked and called on to play a more significant role than they’ve probably ever played when it comes to the defensive snaps.”

On if junior TB Sony Michel is cleared … 

“He’s been practicing. He’s been practicing every day. He goes out there and does everything he can. He hasn’t been cleared to tackle live. It’s a situation that’s day to day and we’re getting updates every day, and he’s doing more each practice.”

On playing a significant number of freshmen … 

“Certainly. I mean we’re going to play the guy who gives us the best opportunity to win. We’ve stood firm on that the whole way through and whoever that is — I have no reservations about a guy’s age. If you’re old enough to play, then you’re old enough to start. If you’re good enough to play, then you’re good enough to start. It comes down to what’s the best opportunity for us. It’s not about the age factor.”

On how freshman QB Jacob Eason has handled certain situations in practice … 

“He’s done a good job. We’ve gotten a little more into game planning, so he’s done a good job managing those, and we’ll make a decision based on the next couple of practices.”

On any updates on sophomore DT Trenton Thompson … 

“Yeah. Trenton’s playing really hard. He’s a kid that’s gotten better with every practice. You forget that this guy was a true freshman last year, so a lot of times they’re not on the field as much as he was. He had to kind of grow up in the line of fire last year. And he’s come a long way. He’s really a good effort guy, he’s got a good motor, runs to the ball and covers a lot of plays down for us and kind of erases a lot of mistakes. He does a great job. I’m really proud of where Trenton is and expecting him to be a good leader for this game.”

On the placekickers … 

“You know, at place kicker it’s continued on. It’ll probably be decided in the next 24 to 48 hours. We’ve got some good indications which way we’re leaning, but just want to finalize it, talk to the guys and have a couple more kicking periods. Really, the same way at punter as well.”

On preparing for North Carolina wide receiver and return specialist Ryan Switzer … 

“He’s a scary guy. First of all, he’s a great route runner; he’s really savvy, very intelligent. Knows how to attack leverage and get open. Very dangerous returner. He’s fearless. He’s been a major emphasis for us. He’s really good at what he does. Good thing is we got a guy that can simulate him back there that does a lot of the same things. So we’ll be using Isaiah (McKenzie) to help with that aspect.”

On nervousness going into his first game as head coach … 

“For me, the amount of pressure that I’ve put on myself as a defensive coordinator for the last 10, 11 years, I really believe there’s a lot more decisions that go into that position than the head coach. There’s 70 plays in a game and you gotta call 70 defenses. It’s a lot different when you’re the head coach and you’re deciding timeouts and to go for it on fourth down or not, you know, the things the head coach has gotta decide. It’s a lot different. When it comes to the game day, yeah. But not week to week, absolutely not. How we practice, who plays quarterback, all that’s a whole different story. But when it comes to game day I think the confidence in what we’ve done up to this point allows me to be comfortable with where we are.”

On which quarterbacks are getting the most reps at practice … 

“Yeah, they’re (Greyson Lambert and Jacob Eason) repping the most… Those guys are repping, and they’re getting ready for the game, preparing for the game. And to be honest with you, it’s less about what Brice (Ramsey) did and more about what Jacob and Greyson did. Both of those guys have done a really good job; and to be honest with you, Brice did, too, but we can’t get three guys ready.”

On his success in neutral site games during his time at Alabama and any advice from Nick Saban … 

“Coach (Nick) Saban has to get ready for his game. And to be honest with you, I’m getting ready for North Carolina. So experiences I draw on are from the fact that I played in this Dome three times to start off, not from calling or talking to him.”

On which coaches will be in the press box and which ones will be on the field … 

“We’re doing that just like we’ve done the scrimmages. So we practice with the guys up, guys down. We talk about it before.”

On the first-half suspension of North Carolina WR Mack Hollins   … 

“He’s really good. I’ll just say that. He’s the best gunner, kickoff cover guy, plays on every special teams. He is a dominant feature player. Now, the thing is they have other big wideouts. They’ve got Bug Howard from Wilcox County, who’s a really good player, too. And they’ve got other guys that are matchup problems. But certainly when you’ve got multiple guys out there, it makes it that much tougher. He’s a really good player.”

On preparing for UNC’s weapons … 

“Absolutely. I mean when we tried to watch punt return, our punt return against their punt, we couldn’t find many reps. That’s usually not a good sign for the defense. So when you start looking at how you want to return the ball, you look at when they punt it, they don’t have many punts on record. So it’s not ever a real good feeling as a defensive coordinator, guy on the defensive side of the ball, because they go up tempo; they go fast. We know they’re going to go fast. They know they’re going to go fast. So it’s their M.O.; it’s what they want to do, and they feel like they’re at their best when they go fast. So it’s a big part of the game, and it’s a big adjustment for us because we don’t see that every day. So obviously Coach (Mel) Tucker has got his hands full as well as the rest of the team.”

On looking back to the 2012 Georgia vs. Alabama game at the Georgia Dome … 

“I really have been so focused on this game that I haven’t thought about that a lot. I mean it was a very emotional game for me because there was a lot of ties there across the sidelines. So that’s always a challenge. That’s probably what I remember the most.”

On North Carolina junior QB Mitch Trubisky … 

“He brings a different dynamic. He’s a very mobile, athletic kid. They can run the ball with him. He can scramble. Things open up. He played a lot last year in a lot of different situations. They rotated those guys early on, and they got some design quarterback runs that are really hard to stop with him because it’s like having the eleventh guy running the ball. And he’s a really good passer. He’s probably the best quarterback that nobody knows about, because in my mind it’s almost like he’s a returning starter because of what he played early in the year, and the guy does a really good job with offense.”

On his approach to the Georgia quarterback situation … 

“I think the biggest difference is just watching the offense from the perspective of the offense instead of from the perspective of the defense. So everything we watch, every decision the quarterback makes I’m analyzing what quarterback is making what decision, what broke down, why did it go wrong; did it go wrong because of the decision he made? Did it go wrong because of communication or did it go wrong because the receiver or the O lineman or the tight end messed up or the running back didn’t block right?

So, you have to make subjective decisions when you watch that, but you have to be objective about the whole process. I think that’s the hardest part being head coach is analyzing every play — did the guy do what he was supposed to do to give us a chance to have a successful play? And that’s not normal for me; that’s not where I’ve been before, so now that you delve in that area, you sit there and you try to make the best decision for the team, and that’s ultimately what these things come down to.”

On practicing at the Georgia Dome on Saturday … 

“We went to the Georgia Dome on Saturday, and that was more the value of avoiding the heat. You know, we don’t play outside first game of the year. So we don’t have the capability to go anywhere and practice. In the past, we’ve tried to use the Falcons facility. That was down, so we couldn’t go there. To be honest with you, I’d have been just fine going there. But we couldn’t go there. So it presented a great opportunity. And as of now, we’re not planning on walking through Friday there.”

On his comfort level with the offensive and defensive lines … 

“They’re closer to being set. We’ve got some guys that are playing winning football. But I’m very comfortable with the guys we’ve got, the guys that have worked hard. I’m not comfortable with the depth. I don’t know any coach that’s comfortable with the depth they have on the O-line and D-line.

So, we’re going to try to play a lot of guys, both offensive line and defensive line, to keep those guys fresh and let them play. Now, the ones that can play will play, those guys I feel like can play winning football that are ready to play. And I certainly feel better than I did in the spring because those guys have put a lot of work in and gained a lot of confidence. But I wish we had a little more depth, for sure.”

On if he will feel any sense of relief when the starting QB is named … 

“No. Not at all. I don’t think it’s about that. I think that the biggest thing is we can give every guy an opportunity to go out and be successful. It’s a burden to you guys, but it’s not a burden to me. For me, the most important thing is making the right decision for who’s going to go out there and be successful and execute for our team and our program and for the other guys so the other guys can be successful. But it’s not — it’s never over. It’s a continuous, just like who the right corner is. If he doesn’t play good, then we have to change it.”

On the status of freshman DL Julian Rochester … 

“Julian’s done everything we’ve asked Julian to do. He’s done a great job for us and we’re excited about where Julian is. I continue to answer that question over and over and over. Julian’s done a great job.”

On junior LB Lorenzo Carter … 

“Lorenzo Carter is a guy that works hard every day. He gives great effort in practice. We’ve challenged him to play with more toughness, but I wouldn’t call him a personal project of mine. I would say those are your words. But Lorenzo has done everything we’ve asked him to do.”

On what position groups have made strides during fall camp … 

“A lot of our groups have made great strides. I’ll be honest with you, the O-Line has come a long way, gained a lot of confidence. I think the receivers are working really hard. It’s hard to not call out a group that’s not working hard when you’re out there for 26, 27 practices, pushing through in the heat, and those guys have all shown progress. We challenge every guy to play with grit and determination. And that’s what we want them to do. And if they don’t hold that standard, then we get the leadership and also the coaches to kind of call them out on it. And that’s the expectation I think each group has shown improvement and must continue to do so if we’re going to get where we need to be.”

On any updates on sophomore DE Jonathan Ledbetter … 

“Jonathan continues to get treatment, and Jonathan’s practicing with the team. We hope he continues to show improvement, and he’s given us no indication that that wouldn’t be the case. He works out with the football team. He’s in school, but he continues to get aftercare and be in some different programs, and we’ve encouraged him to do so. The progress has been there. Just gotta continue.”

On Julian Rochester’s role and the role of freshmen playing upfront … 

“We’ll have to play a lot of guys up front. So the plan is not about what year you are in school, it’s how ready you are to play. And each one of those guys has repped in camp, so our expectation is that all those guys will be able to go out there and perform to our standards. Certainly going to be probably a little anxiety for those true freshmen, but to be honest with you, they’ve all come in and really competed hard and they all play really hard.”

On how ready he is to just focus on football … 

“Well, I really think I’ve been focused on football since we started off. So game week for us started last week. This is like kind of anti-climatic for me because we’ve already been in game week. We started that on really Thursday or Friday. So, for us, we’re into the game week mode. Where most weeks it starts on Monday, it didn’t start on Monday in this case. So we’re kind of into it, and to be honest with you, my focus has been on this team, getting this team better. There’s a lot of things I can’t control outside that that have nothing to do with the outcome of the game. So we’re focused on the guys that can play, and that’s what we’re doing.”

On the development of sophomore WR Michael Chigbu … 

“Chig is a very smart, bright player that kind of is a lunch pail guy. He comes to work every day, gives you all he’s got. He’s very intelligent, knows how to line up, physical blocker, great hands. I’ve really been pleased with him with his attitude. Not only that, he’s a guy that takes ownership in the special teams, and he goes out and competes in the special teams and helps our team, especially from a depth standpoint.”

On freshman RB Elijah Holyfield … 

“Holyfield is out there, going to do as much as he can today. He’s still gimpy on the ankle, but we’re going to get all we can out of him.”

———

Junior ILB Reggie Carter 

On the start of the season…

“Everyone is pumped up and excited.  We have progressed and keep getting better everyday.  We’re ready to play someone else instead of going against ourselves.”

On the excitement of playing in the Georgia Dome…

“It’s great to be playing in the Dome.  Me personally, I’ve never been there before, but we’re still going there to play a football game and that doesn’t change things.  It was great to go there on Saturday, but it was still a regular practice.”

On the speed of North Carolina’s offense…

“It’s a concern because they move real fast. In practice we’re moving on right to the next play and our scout team is doing a real good job of that. We’re focused on us getting faster. Playing fast teams in the past has helped us, but many thanks to our scout team because they are getting back to the ball real fast and that has really helped us prepare.”

———

Senior Center Brandon Kublanow

On the progress of the offensive line during the preseason…

“The offensive line has come a long way.  I think a lot of guys have developed during the offseason, so I’m excited for them.  We’ve definitely developed into a pretty good group.”

On the return of Nick Chubb…

“It’s exciting. I’m happy for Nick. He went through a lot this offseason and worked extremely hard. He’s an amazing guy. He works hard. He’s an extremely humble, quiet kid. I think it just stands to his character. Everyone is excited to watch him go out there and play.”

On playing in the Georgia Dome…

“It’s going to be fun for the season opener to be in the Georgia Dome. It’s my hometown, so I’m definitely excited for it.”

On the quarterback discussion…

“I went through a similar thing last year. It’s nothing new to me. Whoever it is, that’s who it is and they’ll be great for us.”

———

Sophomore DT DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle

On the difference for him this year compared to last year…

“It is very different. Last year I was kinda nervous going into game week. I didn’t know what to expect, but this week I do. I’m excited and ready to get this thing kicked off.”

On the benefit of having Tracy Rocker on staff…

“It has provided a lot since he was one of the coaches last year. We are still learning, so it’s like we are just picking up where we left off at.”

On the level of excitement for this game … 

“We look at every team the same. So it’s not we are going to get excited this week and next week we aren’t because Nicholls is coming in. We respect all our opponents. So we are going to happy and excited for any game it is.”

———

Sophomore WR Terry Godwin

On the level of excitement for him personally and for the rest of his teammates … 

“I’d say the level is very high. We have been waiting all spring and summer for this. I know once it gets there, we are going to be on all “P’s” and “Q’s”. We are going to be ready when we first come out.”

On his mentality compared to last year … 

“I feel like I know what to expect when I go out there for the first game. I know what the defense and the offense is going to bring into the first game. And I know what the coaches expect.”

On the receiving corp … 

“We are all smiles. We know what we have to do and what our job is. I’m very confident in everyone in that room whoever we put out there. We are going to go out there and do the best we can — make the right blocks and also make the great catches.”

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