UGA Football

Smart, Bulldogs preview Ole Miss 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 game at Ole Miss. They offered the following comments:

Head Coach Kirby Smart 

Opening statement…

“We’re moving on to Ole Miss, an extremely talented football team that, as all you know, they have two losses to two really good football teams. We’ve got a great challenge in front of us. They have a very good head coach who does a great job in all aspects of their program. I’m very familiar with their program, and they’ve been very successful since Coach (Hugh) Freeze arrived. They have arguably one of the best quarterbacks in all of college football (Chad Kelly). I’ve got a lot of respect for this guy. I’ve seen this guy play since he was in high school. We recruited him, I’ve been around him, I know a lot about him. He was at a junior college right over by Tuscaloosa. He’s a great player and they’ve got really good wideouts around him. They’ve got one of the most disruptive defenses in the country. I know statistically you’ll try to find weaknesses in their defense, but when you watch them they are very talented and they’ve got a good ball team. We’ve got to focus on us, we’ve got to focus on getting our team better, and we’ve got some deficiencies that we’ve really got to work on. We’re going to try to improve those this week. With that I’ll open it up.”

On similarities and differences between the Ole Miss and Mizzou spread offense…

“There are some differences. They’re very talented. They’re a different spread than say Missouri. They run the ball. People say they don’t, but they’re committed to the run. They have to protect their offensive line. Their quarterback is as talented as I’ve seen at throwing the ball. He doesn’t make many mistakes. He’s very athletic, which makes it hard to get him on the ground when you do get a guy free or you do win a pass rush because he can scramble. The wideouts are big and physical, and there’s a bunch of them. Some of the most talented ones are true freshmen. I don’t know that I’ve seen a group as deep as this one at wide receiver where they’ve got so many guys that can go in the game and play. They don’t drop off when they change out guys, and that includes the tight end (Evan Engram) who’s especially talented. We’ve got a great challenge ahead of us. They’ve played two really good defenses on tape and they’ve scored a lot of points and got a lot of yards. You can see I haven’t shaved. That has a lot to do with it.”

On Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram…

“He’s talented. He runs like a receiver. They put him in spots where he can get vertical down the field. The guy runs by DB’s, and he’s a tight end. When you’ve got a tight end that runs faster than your DB’s you’ve got a problem because he can get matched up on a linebacker. They do a really good job of putting him in situations to get him the ball. He’s a good blocker, too. They don’t ask him to do a whole lot of blocking, but what he has to do he does well.”

On applying lessons from playing Mizzou’s Drew Lock to Ole Miss’s Chad Kelly…

“Drew Lock didn’t run very much. He didn’t take off and run. He has the capability. He’s got the athletic ability. He just chose not to. (Chad Kelly) is not like that. This kid is willing to do that. I actually think he enjoys it sometimes. He’s like a linebacker playing quarterback. He’s a little bit like a rodeo bull rider. This guy will do anything and he’s good at it. Trust me, I know from experience. He’s good.”

On Smart’s familiarity with Ole Miss helping preparations…

“As far as the preparation, it just helps knowing you’re familiar with their offense. When you turn the tape on you get a lot of ‘Oh yeah, I remember that. Oh yeah, I remember that.’ You’ve seen that. That wasn’t the case last week. There was a lot less. It doesn’t really matter because you’ve still got to go out and stop them. It’s just there’s familiarity, but they have familiarity. They’ve played defenses extremely similar to ours twice already. When it comes to scheme, they probably already know what they’re going to do. Hugh Freeze probably went home last night at 5:30 in the afternoon because he knew what he was going to do against our defense. He’s seen it before. It’s our job to try to create confusion and make it harder on them.”

On matching intensity…

“I don’t know the answer to that because our hunger and intensity better be pretty intense to go to Oxford, Mississippi, one of the top teams in the country the last two or three years, and go play on the road in the SEC which we learned last week is extremely difficult. The environment will be just as or more chaotic when we go to Oxford, Mississippi, I can reassure you that. Our guys will be ready to play and we’ve got to get them focused on it. The challenge, to me, is a lot more about the time that we play, for both teams. It’s a different environment when you crank it up early.”

On balancing QB pressure and supporting the secondary on defensive play calls…

“I don’t know. That’s like a question that keeps you up at night. There is no answer to that, there’s no perfect answer to that. You can say ‘well you rushed him and you were wrong’ or ‘you covered him and you were wrong.’  Ultimately, you have to have guys that dominate their box. If I’m lined up over the guard, I have to be able to beat that guard one-on-one because somebody’s going to get one-on-one matchups. I’m not for bringing more than they can block because they’ve got guys out there that can run and catch the ball. It’s the dynamic that we deal with all the time. There is no right or wrong answer to that. You’ve got to be able to pitch. You’ve got to throw the fastball, you’ve got to throw a curveball. You’ve got to be able to change it up and you’ve got to throw the slider. You can’t do the same thing all the time. I’ve sat and watched three teams play them, and nobody’s really slowed them down. From that standpoint, you’ve got to create turnovers, you’ve got to do a great job effecting the quarterback. That’s hard to do with (Kelly) because he’s seen it all before. There’s nobody that’s invented a defense against the spread that’s going to stop it totally. They are producing offensive numbers for a reason. They have really good players. You’re a lot better off saying I’m going to play sound defense, cause turnovers, stop them in the red area, force field goals, don’t give up big plays. All the things we preach on defense. That’s what’s important to stop the spread.”

On building confidence in the kicking situation…

“They’ve got competition between each other, and that will continue. We kick field goals almost every day now. It’s a matter of putting them in situations to get them to kick better. I can’t simulate the people in the stands that they have to deal with. That’s something that each one of them has to work on individually, and we’re trying to help them with. To be honest, we’ve got to practice it. We’re going to continue to do that.”

On scoring off turnovers…

“We always stress it. We want to score every time we get a possession, but especially after a turnover. We get it in their territory, we want to get it down there and get points out of it. I think one of the big struggles with that is we haven’t made some of our field goals and we haven’t capitalized on them. It’s something we talk about all the time. Starting off the season, that was a big focus for our offense – to be in the red zone and be able to score touchdowns and not have to score field goals. That’s a big part of being able to run the ball too.”

On challenges with an 11 a.m. kickoff…

“The biggest thing is getting the mentality of your players right. It’s a different mentality when you have to do that. The night before is different. It’s nothing like our trip last week where we’ve got two meetings, one at night, one the day of the game. This is a wake up, eat a pregame meal, go play. They’ve got to have their mindset ready for that. I think Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are important for that because they have to have a routine. We want to keep that routine. I think that’s a big advantage for whichever team handles that best.”

On the game-winning play call and what it revealed about Jacob Eason…

“That didn’t really reveal anything about Eason to me because I’ve seen him in practices and I’ve seen him compete. To be honest with you that play’s done. We’ve got to worry about Ole Miss. They’re going to have some really fast guys rushing. I’m really worried about what they’ve got rushing, No. 10 (Marquis Haynes) especially.”

On comfort with the QB situation…

“How much more comfortable? I think with the reps he’s gotten, he’s grown and he’s gotten better. The kid has grown up a lot. I think with each and every rep he’s got to continue to grow. When you make one mistake you try not to make that mistake again. When you don’t call a play right you try to call that play right every time from now on. He’s shown the propensity that when he makes a mistake once he can usually correct that. But you’re talking about exponentially how many things can happen in a play that he’s never seen and now you’re trying to fix all those things. Sometimes they’ve got to happen before you fix them. You don’t learn unless you get the experience. He’s gotten some valuable experience the last two games, but let’s be honest, he’s a freshman.”

On what stood out about Eason’s play after watching film…

“The big thing with Jacob is he has improved every game. That’s what we want to continue to do. He continues to improve and develop, and it helps our offensive football team. Jacob has done a good job up to this point. He has to stay in that mindset of being able to execute that offense. That’s the most important thing. Jacob’s going to be able to start our game, assuming he has a good week of practice he will. That’s the plan going forward, is that if he continues to practice well and do the right things then he’ll be the starter.”

On an adjustment after changing offensive line coaches…

“Usually you’re blocking the plays that you have installed offensively. So philosophically, whether it’s the power, a lot of people block the power the same way. Some people teach different steps, different splits, different things like that. For the most part, running plays are running plays. I think across the board, when you watch college football, a lot of people block the same plays the same way. So when you talk about scheme wise there’s not always a lot of change. I think philosophically there could be changes in how you play people, what protections you use. Some ‘o-line’ coaches are different from others. I’m certain there’s been some changes in that room in that dynamic, but a lot of the plays have been the same. To me, the biggest difference is you’ve changed the coaches but a lot of the personnel is the same on the offensive line. You’ve got to do a great job of getting those guys better, you’ve got to keep getting them stronger throughout the year and we’ve got to become a physical football team that can run the ball.  Our identity is not going to change. We’re going to do that. We’ve got to be stubborn and believe we’re going to do that. We’ve got to just play better.”

On offensive line shuffle…

“We’ve looked at every combination we can, and we’ll continue to do that. Those guys practice when y’all aren’t there, besides the 12 minutes you are there. They do those things, and we look at them. We go against the defense. We go against Trenton (Thompson) and (John Atkins). Then we go over and do one-on-one pass rush when you guys aren’t there. And we do (pass protection). And Isaiah (Wynn) plays tackle and different guys play guard. At the end of the week we say ‘what’s our best lineup?’ I hope that answers your question.”

On settling in to the season…

“It’s not really like that for me. To be honest with you, the season is the season. It hasn’t been the first this, the first this. I feel like the first game was a road game because we played at the Georgia Dome. It’s really not, for me, I feel like every week has been the same. It’s game week. We have a game week routine, and that routine has been the same. It hasn’t been one week different than the other. I’ve tried to maintain that the opponent names, faces, all of that doesn’t matter. We’re trying to focus on us, because we’ve certainly got a lot to work on. We’ve got a long way to go.”

On improving on run blocking from the Missouri game…

“We have to be able to run the ball better. Effectively, we talked about run efficiency. We were only run-efficient in the first game. Efficiency for us is success at which you run it at first down, second down and third down. We haven’t been run-efficient that last two games. When you ask how do we do that better, we have to create opportunities for our kids to be successful in. That’s the challenge we have as coaches, and that’s the challenge we’re going to issue to our players.”

On possibly giving scholarships to kickers…

“We didn’t have any (kickers) to sign this year because when I got here this year every good kicker that I knew from recruiting was going to sign somewhere.  We’re going to always go in and recruit kickers. It’s a matter of whether we’re going to commit a scholarship to it or not. That is not a policy by any means. I firmly believe that you’ve got to have a great kicker. I’ve been around when you didn’t. That to me is can we find the best one, and can the best one be the best one? I’ve been around the ones that come and they’re the best one at the camp, then they come in to your place and they’re not, and now you’ve got them for four years. I think there’s a fine line in that. Just like I experienced at Alabama last year, we had (Eddy Pineiro) who was unbelievable. We were going to put him on scholarship, no doubt. He was committed there, and then he ends up flipping and going to Florida. That’s a guy that’s going to be a difference maker. Certainly, certainly going to be able to scholarship that guy. We’ll continue to look in that mode.”

On comparing Charles Harris and Marquis Haynes…

“They’re both really good players. Coach (Jim) Chaney really felt, and I felt like Charles Harris was a really good player coming out the game. He was even better than we thought. Going into this game, Marquise Haynes is a really good player. We know that. We’ve seen it first hand. He’s a dominant pass rusher, he can disrupt plays. He’s a talented player. They’ve got some similarities, but Haynes has just done it for a longer period of time.”

On kickoffs and coverage units…

“We had guys getting injured, so we were getting depleted there. Tim Hill went down, who had been doing a good job. Reggie Wilkerson had an ankle in the game. That wasn’t what contributed to the kick coverages. I think it was more ball placement, hang time, those things with Rodrigo (Blankenship). He knows. We’ve been very honest with Rodrigo, he’s got to improve in that area. To be honest he did show improvement against Nicholls, then it went down and he didn’t kick as good. If he’s not kicking as good I can’t continue to do the same thing. We’ve got competition going on at that. Just like the ‘o-linemen,’ they practice every day and we chart it. We usually tend to make decisions based on what happens in practice. That’s what we did last week. He kicked better in practice, but he didn’t do that in the game, so we went with (William) Ham.”

On satisfaction with the secondary play…

“First, what’s your definition of ‘satisfied?’ I’m never satisfied when you give up as many yards passing as we gave up. Satisfaction to me comes in every player playing to the best of his ability and every coach putting those players in the best situations. Have we done that? No. So I am not satisfied.”

On Christian Payne’s play on Saturday…

“Christian Payne played a really good game against North Carolina. He played physical and did some good things for us. The last two games he probably hasn’t played as well. He has caught the ball out of the backfield very effectively, and he is a tough, hard-nosed player that plays as hard as he can. We’ve got to do a better job with him of getting some movement on people and creating some space in the run game. I think he knows that. That’s a challenge for him, and he’ll continue to work at it. I am very proud of him that he caught most of the balls thrown to him. It gave us a different element in the pass game in the last game.”

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Sr. OLB #41 Chuks Amaechi

On his reaction after game-winning touchdown…

“I wasn’t looking. I saw it was 4th-and-10 inside the 25-yard line and I turned around and looked towards the fans. I was looking at their reaction. I saw wide mouths and heads in laps. I couldn’t hear anything, I just went completely deaf.”

On Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly…

“I followed him through junior college football since I was a JUCO guy, too. No matter where he went or the adversity he had, he was relentless and always wanted to win.”

Jr. FB #47 Christian Payne

On his play at Mizzou…

“I thought it was decent. I think there is a lot of room for improvement for this week as far as fundamentals and stuff that I can improve on in practice this week.”

On effectiveness in blocking…

“ We can do a lot better than what we did. It’s about us going out there and executing and doing our job. That starts in practice, being able to execute in practice. And if we can do that then we will have the confidence to do it in the game.”

On two come-from-behind wins…

“I think it has shown a resiliency in the team. Being able to have those kinds of wins. Showing them we aren’t going to stop, we aren’t going to give up or anything. We are going to keep fighting and keep chopping until we get the victory.”

R-So. OG #53 Lamont Gaillard

On the offensive line against Missouri…

“We did a good job protecting our quarterback, but there were some things we could have fixed.  We are going to fix it this week as we get ready for Ole Miss.”

On Jacob Eason at quarterback…

“Jacob is Jacob.  He is going to do what he has to do and we are going to protect him.  He’s a great leader.  He is doing whatever he can to help the team and we need him for that.”

On his mindset going into Ole Miss…

“Preparation. We need to get ready for them. They’re a good team, everyone knows that, and hopefully we bring home a win.”

On following Coach Smart’s mindset of preparing for the early kickoff…

“We follow everything Coach Smart says and does.  If we just keep following him, he’s going to make us better, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Jr. ILB #45 Reggie Carter 

On Georgia’s turnovers against Missouri…

“Our goal is to get three turnovers every week and we got five. We kept it contagious and we hope that will carry over to this week. We practice turnovers and that shows in the game. You practice how you play, and we’ve expressed that we want to get turnovers. We took advantage our opportunities.”

On facing Ole Miss TE Evan Ingram…

“He is a huge part of their offense. I hope our scout team does a good job of imitating him this week, which is really hard, but we just have to prepare and watch film on him.”

On the team’s ability to overcome a deficit…

“It says a lot about who we are. We’re starting to create an identity as a team who always fights and plays hard. I am really proud of the group of guys we have. I love my team, I just really love this team. We just keep fighting. It’s both the players and coaches. They instill in us that things are not always going to go our way, and they haven’t, that’s part of a football game. Other teams make plays and we just have to have a short memory and be able to get it done on the next play.”

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