UGA Football

Smart, Bulldogs preview South Carolina game

Kirby Smart

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

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement … 

“Our 24 hours is up and we are on to South Carolina. They played a really good football game against an undefeated Texas A&M team Saturday. They’re playing really well defensively. Will (Muschamp) has got them playing hard. They play really sound football defensively. They’re young offensively but they’ve got good athletes. They’re bringing their two wide receivers back who are both really deep threats and good receivers. Those guys have not really been completely healthy the whole year. Deebo Samuel is one of the best wide receivers in our conference when healthy. We’re looking forward to the challenge of playing those guys in an extremely tough environment, which I’ve been in before and I know a lot of the kids on our team have been in. They have a great environment over there, especially when they play at night. We’re looking forward to that opportunity.”

On Will Muschamp’s influence on Kirby Smart’s coaching career after playing together at Georgia…

“I think I’ve had so many hits since then that I don’t remember (playing together) all that well. I just remember that he was a senior and I was a redshirt freshman. He’s a very good friend of mine, good friend of our family’s. We’ve been good friends for a long time, and that’ll remain that way throughout. As far as the coaching influence on the coaching career, we just overlapped a couple of times and both worked for Nick (Saban). That’s the overlap.”

On Nick Chubb’s status…

“We feel good about him going into this week. We’re not holding him back in any kind of way. He was cleared to go for (Tennessee). It was more of a deal of was he better at the time than those other backs? Was he completely healthy? Was he able to run at full speed? He didn’t practice the whole week, so it made it a lot harder for him to go in and get reps. This week he’s cleared to go. We’ll see where he’s at and make sure he builds his reps as the week goes and is ready to go for the game.”

On Sony Michel…

“He’s a passionate, fiery leader, which is what we as a coaching staff and an organization have been craving guys that are willing to speak and show their emotion. He’s one of the few guys who’s done that. He’s taken on that leadership role. We’ve got some leaders on the team who aren’t as vocal as others. They kind of lead by example. He’s been willing to speak up, and I think it helps when you have a guy that is willing to do that. I see it in his play. He fights so hard and wants to play well and wants to do well for Georgia that you ache for people like that if the end result is not good for him.”

On Rico McGraw’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Tennessee…

“It’s the rule. It’s probably a good rule for college football. You’re trying to teach young men about discipline and doing things the right way. It’s about a team atmosphere, and that’s what we all want. Specifically, I talked to the team about it, but it wasn’t a rant and rave about it by any means, it was just a very honest and blunt truthfulness. That’s the way they need to hear it. That’s the way it needs to go from there.”

On kickoff coverage…

“Kick coverage starts with the kick. There’s kick placement, there’s height, there’s depth of kicks, ability to drive balls. Our biggest problem so far has been kick placement, meaning the ball hasn’t been kicked where we’ve wanted it kicked. Sometimes it has hang, sometimes it doesn’t have hang, sometimes it’s not where it’s supposed to be. You design a coverage a certain way, you expect the ball to be kicked there. That’s the number one thing we’ve got to improve. On top of that is coverage, but your coverage gets exposed sometimes by where the ball is. We put the best guys we can on there, and the best way to work on it is to practice it. We go out there and every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, we practice it. We’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to continue to change things up and find people to cover kicks and find the best guys available that we can on our roster. That speed, toughness, decision making, a lot goes into kickoff coverage. Instincts. We’ve got some freshmen that I have been dying to help us on kick coverage, but it’s not instinctive for them because they didn’t do it in high school. They’re having to learn their way through it, but we’ve definitely got to improve in that area. It’s a thrill a minute every time that we do it. We harp on it. We sit in this room each day and we harp on it. We’ve got to improve it. You’ve got to have alternative kicks in order to protect you too, so now you’re practicing this kind of kick, that kind of kick, you’ve got to have all kinds of kicks when you can’t kick it out of the end zone at a 30 or 40-percent rate. You’ve got to continue to improve in that area, and we’ll continue to do that. The kicking competition is wide open in my opinion, especially the kickoffs.”

On the opportunity to coach against Will Muschamp…

“I really don’t think it does (add fun). It’s not about that. He was at Texas when (Alabama) played them for a national championship. He was at Florida. He was at Auburn. It’s never really been about that for me. He and I are good friends. We talk time-to-time. It’s never an extra motivation, because that’s not really what it’s about. It’s about our players and their players. It’s business-like for us, it’s not really about (our relationship).”

On capitalizing on turnovers…

“Any time you get turnovers you want to capitalize on them. Any time you get a possession by way of punt return or kickoff return, you want to capitalize on it. Sudden change is an important part of your game. People practice it in camp. We practice it as a defense. ‘Hey, we give up the ball, we’ve got to go out and stop them.’ Offense, they give up the ball and we’ve got to go score points. The best way to do that is execute. There’s no hidden remedy for converting after a turnover. It’s more putting the pedal to the metal and trying to stomp on people’s throats when you get the opportunity. You get that by developing your team.”

On Mecole Hardman and how close he is to contributing on defense…

“When he develops and plays well enough in practice (he can play in the game). He’s trying hard. I’ve spoken to the fact that he’s competing, he’s playing with toughness. He’s just not the guy right now. He doesn’t play as well as the other guys. He’s a great kid that competes every day and he’s learning a new position. It’s completely foreign to him. People go in motion, people go in stacks, we call different coverages.  There’s a lot to playing cornerback that he’s got to experience and grow at. He really has come a long way. He’s put himself in position that he’s close to being able to go in and execute in a game-type atmosphere, but we’ve got to play the best players that give us the best chance to win. That’s what we’re always doing as coaches. I’m pleased with the progress he’s made.”

On South Carolina’s Brandon McIlwain…

“He does a great job in space, making plays. They run plays designed for him to run the ball, then they give him the option to run the ball. He is very quick, very fast, very elusive. A smaller guy in the pocket, but the guy has good arm strength. It’s one of those deals that he is a freshmen so he’s going through a little bit of what (Jacob Eason) goes through where you see some formations, you see some plays where it’s like ‘Wait a second, was it supposed to be that way or was it supposed to be another way?’ (McIlwain) can run and he can elude, and that always creates issues for defenses when you’ve got guys like that that can extend the play like (Josh Dobbs) did against us on Saturday, it makes you defend the play longer.”

On watching the final play on film…

“I think philosophically you have to have a belief in something you believe in. I’ve believed that for a long time. Coaching 17, 18 years, I’ve seen it done that way for a long time. To be honest, every kid on the field executed their job. We got a little boxed out by (Jauan Jennings), but it wasn’t like you can watch the play and say ‘This guy didn’t do what I told him to do.’ We got out-jumped and (Jennings) timed his jump a lot better than we did, which I think everybody saw. Dom (Sanders) and Quincy (Mauger) were in position. They jumped up, (Jennings) got the ball at the highest point. (Lorenzo Carter) kind of got a surge back on him. He ended up behind it. Instead of coming forward into the jump he ended up behind it and kind of got pushed back by everything. At the end of the day their guy timed the jump almost perfectly and got the ball at the highest point. We’ve got guys right at that same point and we can’t get the ball out. It’s not philosophically I think that’s the wrong thing, it’s executing it and maybe practicing it more and finding some other ways to play it.”

On running to the perimeter out of the shotgun…

“It’s easier on Jacob (Eason). It gives Jacob the ability to see the whole defense. He can throw the ball from the shotgun, he’s comfortable in the shotgun. It’s not like we sat there and say we’ve got to be in the gun for him. We’ve got to be able to run the ball both ways. Everybody talks about the perimeter runs, but we tried some perimeter runs the other day that didn’t work, too, some tosses and things to try to get outside. It’s really what the defense is willing to give you, you’ve got to find what works and you’ve got to keep getting better. We’ve got to block and tackle better, that’s the bottom line at a lot of positions. Did we improve on that? We probably improved some. But we’ve still got a long way to go when it comes to being efficient on defense and offense from a standpoint of the entire game.”

On improvements he saw on the offensive line against Tennessee…

“I think we were opened up a little bit more. When you open up the edges it makes people looser. When people are looser you have an opportunity to bounce things. There’s more holes for runners. It also opens up the edges for pressures and it also puts people at risk for pass protections. You’ve got to be willing to put yourself at risk to pass the ball and get guys ‘pass-pro-ing’ more often without help. You don’t have edges. You don’t have tight ends. You don’t have everybody in the box. If you can’t be as physical as you want to be then sometimes you have to loosen up. I think that helped, from that perspective. Every week there may be a different game plan. It’s going to depend on what gives us the best chance to be successful against that defense.”

On Jim Chaney’s offense and the younger players learning his offense…

“I think it’s a challenge, but we’re going through the same thing defensively. We’ve got those young ‘d-linemen,’ we’ve got a couple young linebackers. We don’t really have a lot of young guys playing in the secondary. Any time you’re going through those changes, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not a change for the defensive linemen because they’re new. They didn’t know anything coming in. You go to the offense, you’ve got a lot of freshmen playing that are having to learn. Riley Ridley is probably the biggest guy that’s trying to adjust because here he is coming off an injury. We lost him mentally for a week where he was out with the hand injury. For him to get back, get going, learn the things we’ve got to do each week it’s important. Those guys, offensively, do a good job of teaching our players the game plan and making sure each guy can execute the game plan. Otherwise you wouldn’t have (Isaac) Nauta out there, you wouldn’t have Brian Herrien out there, you wouldn’t have Jacob (Eason) out there, and (Riley) Ridley. There are some young players that have been able to help us. We’ve got to continue to do that because we have to get the guys who can make plays on the field.”

On the pass rush on Tennessee’s Hail Mary…

“Philosophically you have to make a decision in the offseason, in the preseason, how you’re going to rush that. Different yard lines we do different things. The closer they get, it becomes a normal play. The further out they get the more we want to defend the people that are going vertical. That’s the decision there. There’s some different things we can do game-wise, but if you’re going to play the way we play with putting our best jumper and our biggest guy back there to defend the pass, that’s what you’re forced to do. That’s not what everybody does. That’s not what we’ll always do. But philosophically that’s what we felt like. We discussed it coming out of a timeout and we wanted to go with what we practiced.  That’s what we practiced. That’s what we practiced in camp. That’s what we walk through. That’s what we do every Thursday. We just simply went with our philosophy. We believed and trusted in that. That’s not to say it’ll be the same all the time, by all means.”

On improving team discipline…

“What I said after the game, I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of lack of discipline, because I actually mentioned there were 95 percent of the guys on the team that do what they’re supposed to do. I said lack of discipline gets you beat. That’s a key. To improve discipline you make guys do what they’re supposed to do. They go to class on time. They go to meals on team. They show up to meetings on time. They get behind the line when the coach says get behind the line. They obey everything the coach demands because when you don’t do the little things right then the big things show up. It’s really important to me that everybody on the team does the little things right, and that’s the ‘five percent’ that I’m talking about.”

On David Marshall and Jonathan Ledbetter’s availability…

“David is expected to be back. It’s a deal that he’s going to be non-contact today but he’s going to be able to go out in practice and run and move around and do more stuff, which is really helpful to us. The guy is really playing well and helping our team in an area of need. I’m hoping he is (back). No, Ledbetter won’t be back.”

On the play of the secondary against Tennessee…

“I think we competed harder. There were sometimes people maybe got behind us that (Josh) Dobbs didn’t find them, and there were some times that we covered them better. (Tennessee has) got good wideouts, but, again, our focus is on South Carolina who’s got two really good wideouts coming back. We’ve got to focus on us getting better, and that includes tackling and covering.”

On how the coaching staff has performed so far…

“I don’t think you look at it from the aspect of what you’ve done well. You look at it at what you can do better. We can always put our players in better positions to be successful. I think a big part of coaching is the decisions you make on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday night affect Saturday. The decisions you make, and the decisions we’ve made, have got to put our players in a chance to be successful. That’s situationally third down. That’s situationally two-minute. That’s kicking game. All that stuff goes into it. I think we can improve in every area as coaches. That’s what we’re trying to do, to find different ideas that create problems for the other team without creating problems for ourselves. Using our best players in the kicking game is very important to me. I would rather have a guy out there in those kicking situations that’s the best player we can put out there and make him conditioned more so we can play on offense and defense. We’ve got to use the best players we’ve got in all situations. To be honest with you that’s constantly under evaluation because if there’s a better way, my vote is to find it.”

On Isaac Nauta and his skill set…

“There were a couple of times that he was in the wrong formation. On (the timeout) we wanted to use the timeout anyway because we wanted to talk about the play we had called situationally. He had a couple of times where he lined up in the wrong formation and we had to flip it over. I think Isaac has grown as a player. He’s got to continue to get better as a blocker and more physical as a blocker. He can improve in that area. He catches the ball well. He works hard. I think each one of those tight ends have got to block better. When you look at every tight end in the SEC, you know what you say? ‘Oh, he’s not a great blocker. Oh, he’s not a great blocker.’ Well it’s because they’re blocking pretty good players. You want those guys to improve, and we’ve got to put them in a position to block good pass rushers so that they can do that. It’s the limitation of every tight end. Jeb (Blazevich) is a physical guy that gets after it blocking. Jackson (Harris) tries to do the same thing and Charlie (Woerner) is a guy that’s improving in that area. It’s a position we’ve got four guys who are pretty dependable, but at the same time, they’ve got to block and get movement if we’re going to put them in the game and be able to run the ball.”

On playing at different times throughout the day…

“It really doesn’t matter. As long as both teams have got to play at the same time, what does it matter? It doesn’t affect us. I do like routine where you have the Friday and Saturday routine the same. That’s changed a lot. It is what it is. It’s what helps give our conference money. It helps make us one of the wealthiest conferences because of the TV. You can’t have it on one end and not on the other.”

On the players moving on past an emotional game…

“I think the outcome of the game sometimes can affect the players as far as dwelling on it. I don’t think the fans lingering on it (will have an impact). We’ve got to move on. It’s simple, guys. This game is simple. You’ve got to move on to South Carolina right now. Texas A&M probably didn’t respect South Carolina, and they went into the half in a dog fight. This is a good football team that’s playing really hard for their new coach. That’s where our focus has got to be. That’s where my focus is. I certainly think that’s where our players’ focus is. We’ve said since camp that there’s a 24-hour rule. You guys can linger on as long as you need to, but we’ve got to go. We’ve got to move on.”

On the tight ends’ role in the offense…

“I thought they were used less (against Tennessee). We had less tight ends on the field. You’re referring to the fact that (Nauta) caught the ball. He had six or seven catches. I think that was more of he was targeted. We had less tight ends on the field than we’ve had in previous weeks. We’ve got to continue to use those guys because they’re good blockers and they give us an opportunity to do more things. They create problems for the defense, too.”

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Senior C #54 Brandon Kublanow

On handling the close loss …

 “It has been a tough couple of days, but you deal with it and move on. I definitely avoided turning on the TV, but we just have to keep working. We control our own destiny now. We control what we can control. We just have to get ready for South Carolina now.”

On facing former Georgia coach and now South Carolina coach Bryan McClendon …

“Coach B-Mac is a great coach. He helped us a lot. He was our head coach going into the bowl game last season. I’ve known B-Mac since recruiting, since he recruited my area. Great guy, I’m excited for him, excited to see him and it will be fun to compete against him.”

On South Carolina …

“I know they are a great team. I’ll see their scouting report here in a little bit. I know they have some older players and some younger players. They have some good vets on that defense that come after the ball. I know Coach Muschamp, I’ve played against him the last 3-4 years, so I know he will have his team ready. It will be a good game.”

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Senior OG #73 Greg Pyke

On rebounding from the loss to Tennessee…

“I watched the film, and not just the play at the end affected the game, there were many plays that affected the game. The one play at the end was heartbreaking, but we win and lose as a team. There is no finger pointing. Now it is on to South Carolina.”

On playing with QB Jacob Eason…

“You can’t deny his talent. He is still a young quarterback. He is 18-years-old, like I said, but it helps to have guys like (Brandon) Kublanow and me up front, veteran guys that have played a lot of ball to help him out with calls and everything.”

On taking positives out of the last two weeks…

 “Not just in the last two weeks, I thought there was something different about this team going into the summer. Being a senior and being a fifth-year guy, there is something different about this team. I think we never gave up against Missouri and it went down to the line against Tennessee, so I think this team knows that if we are down or we are up that we need to finish the game.”

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Senior DB #2 Maurice Smith

On his personal performance against Tennessee…

It was definitely one of my best games. I was proud of myself, but honestly it would have been better with a win. I can put my personal achievements away and look forward to a win instead of what I do on the field. The team is bigger than my achievements.”

On choosing to transfer to Georgia…

“I still think this is the best decision, and I told Coach Smart that the other day. I want to thank him and the coaching staff for giving me an opportunity to play, and the guys for bringing me in. I don’t look at the wins, we have opportunities in the future to come and we can still be a great team.”

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