UGA Football

Smart, Bulldogs preview Vanderbilt game

Kirby Smart
Photo: Steven Colquitt/UGA

ATHENS, Ga.  – Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, addressed media on Tuesday ahead of Saturday’s Homecoming matchup against Vanderbilt at Sanford Stadium. They offered the following comments:

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement … 

“I think Dawg Walk being at 9 in the morning is really early. We’ve got to get out there and get the fans out there as early as we can. We need a great turnout for this game. Our players need your support. We need a great environment. We’re looking forward to that with Homecoming. I think any chance you get to get back (home), I think it’s awesome to get back. We’re playing a very well-coached Vanderbilt team that’s very disciplined and executes very well. Watching them offensively, they have a lot of similarities to our offense, and they do a really good job of being physical. They’re very well coached. I’ve got a lot of respect for their offensive coordinator (Andy Ludwig), who I’ve been against before. Their defense speaks for itself. They’ve done a really good job stopping a lot of teams in this league. They play really hard and they do a great job there. I think Coach (Derek) Mason is one of the best defensive minds in all of college football and he has done a really good job with their defense. The challenges are definitely in front of us, and we got started a little bit on that stuff yesterday, and that will continue today.”

On Jonathan Ledbetter and his impact on the field…

“We’re expecting him to be back this week. How much he’ll play, I don’t know. He’s handled everything we’ve asked him to do very well. He has worked really hard. The best thing he’s done is made our offense better, being over there competing against them. Of the six weeks he’s been over there I think he got Scout Team Player of the Week three or four times, so it wasn’t like he was just over there on a knee. He was taking a lot of reps. He was disruptive to them on the scout team in order to give us all these looks of the hard players we’ve been having to block. He’s been the guy that would go in there and play those positions. We’re excited to have him back. We’ll work him into the rotation. How much he’ll play will depend on how he practices this week, and he’s been told that. We’re looking forward to having him back.”

On head coach Derek Mason and Vanderbilt’s defense…

“As long as I can remember, I remember Vanderbilt being good on defense. I think Coach Mason brings that pedigree. He was at Stanford. He’s been part of a 3-4 system before. He does a lot of things that make it very difficult to execute on offense. He takes away what you do best. They are very physical and they play really hard. They attack the ball. I’ve always enjoyed watching them against the opponents we played. When you looked and said we’re getting ready to play somebody, I want to see what Vanderbilt did on defense against them, so you’d pull that tape up. We had some similarities from my history and Coach Mason’s, and there was always respect for how they play defense. They play very good situational defense, and they take things away from you in certain situations, make you play kind of against what you want to do.”

On consideration of making a move at quarterback against South Carolina…

“I think the question that you asked the other day was if every position is up for grabs when it comes to competition. That’s true at quarterback. I think Jacob (Eason) understands that and respects that, that day-to-day you’ve got to go out and earn your position. You’ve got to do that week-to-week. I don’t think that decision is based on statistics, 3-of-14 for whatever, 14 yards. I don’t think it’s based on that. It’s based on your ability to execute and perform within the offense. Sometimes outside circumstances affect statistics, whether it’s dropped balls, whether it’s poor breakdowns in protection, whether it’s tipped balls. There’s a lot of things that affect that. That position will be evaluated just like every position will be. You asked if we considered changing during the game. We did not.”

On Ledbetter’s ability to help in the pass rush…

“I think he helps. I think he’s worked really hard at that part of his game. Again, I’ve talked all year about the 250-290 range, we have nobody in that range. We have really big or we have outside backers. Jonathan falls in that mold. He’s a guy that can play ‘three technique’ if he has to. He can play outside if he needs to. He’s played outside backer before. He does a lot of things. He’s more in the mold of David Marshall, just a year older. It gives us some more flexibility there.”

On Nick Chubb’s performance at South Carolina…

“I thought he was more explosive and fresher this week, but I also thought he was that way at Ole Miss up until the injury occurred. It was the injury that set him back. He certainly didn’t look the Tennessee week the way he looked this week, but he didn’t practice much. It was a deal where he was leading up to getting better, and we didn’t think that he was where he was for Ole Miss the same place he was against Tennessee. Tennessee he was hampered a little bit. He looked better Saturday. I think he’ll continue to improve as long as he stays healthy.”

On if any position groups have surprised him…

“I wouldn’t say anybody that’s surprised. I would say it’s more improvement. I think several of those groups have improved. I think the defensive line has improved, not necessarily in pass rushing and affecting the quarterback but striking blockers and knocking people back and controlling the line of scrimmage. I think the offensive line has improved. I think it’s a deal where we emphasize each week us going good on good makes us different from everybody else. I think everybody does it. I think we’re doing it more than most. I think the only way to get better throughout the season is to not go against the scout team guy that’s maybe not as good competition, and we go against each other because we are priding ourselves on being physical, being tough, and going against each other. That gives you a chance to improve when you go against better people.”

On major issues with the short week heading into Vanderbilt…

“I wouldn’t say major issues. I’d just say longer hours for the coaches, making decisions a little quicker than you’re comfortable with. You’ve got to move a little quicker. We started on the bus back on Vanderbilt and used those three hours. We met and we’ll continue to do that a little later than we’d usually do. As far as the kids go, we try to make it as normal a week (as we can). Today is a Tuesday practice, so we’re going to go out there and practice like it’s a Tuesday, then practice like it’s a Wednesday, and go with it the next couple days. The more routine for them, the better. I think the coaches can handle it because we’ve all had short weeks before, and we’ll have to game plan a little bit quicker.”

On Trenton Thompson facing double teams…

“That usually occurs in the run game, so I think in the run game if he gets doubled we get a lot of singles up there. That’s probably not the case in pass protection. I think Trenton has continued to improve. He’s got to continue to get better, and he’s got to continue to develop as a player.”

On South Carolina’s defensive approach against Jacob Eason…

“I think the biggest thing with Jacob is getting him more reps and allowing him to develop. South Carolina didn’t do anything outside of what they always do. It was more a matter of him not being comfortable with the protection, so he got a little rattled at times and started looking around. It wasn’t anything they did to confuse him. I think the best thing we can do is give him a better picture in practice of what he’s going to see in the game and try to simulate that, and throw and catch the ball more. That’s the end of the equation, try to put him in the same environment he’s in in the game. We can’t simulate wind. We can’t simulate some of the things South Carolina did with our scout team. We’ve got to do a better job of putting him in situations he’s going to be in in the game.”

On the impact of having both Chubb and Sony Michel…

“It’s comforting to have both guys. You know you’ve got two really good football players who not only are great players but they’re really good leaders on our team. They kind of motivate the rest of the team by the way they run the ball. I think when you see a guy run through an arm tackle, you see a guy with really good toughness, I think it inspires the offensive line to block harder. It inspires the receivers to block harder. The guys sitting over there on defense, resting, they play with more energy and passion when they see their backs churning for extra yards. We take a lot of pride in that. I think Coach (Dell) McGhee does a good job with those backs and continuing to improve them. I think the two young kids (Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield) need to continue to improve as well.”

On Eason’s strong points as a player…

“I think those are the biggest things. Composure is one of the best things he’s got going. The other thing that gives him an opportunity are the players around him. He doesn’t have a big offensive line but he’s got an experienced offensive line. There’s three guys up there who have played a lot of football, really four that played a lot of football. That gives him confidence. He’s got good backs around him. That allows him to have some confidence as well. Jacob knows that he’s had his ups and downs this season. He’s had his ‘wow’ moments and he’s had his bad moments. I think when you are starting a true freshman you know that you’re going to inherently go through some of those. You’ve got to encourage, you’ve got to teach, you’ve got to improve him as a player so that there’s progress there.”

On the punting game…

“I think confidence is a factor. I think routine is big. Again, you’re talking about a true freshman out there (in Marshall Long), and I think Vanderbilt has got one too. Their guy has been struggling. It’s a situation that he’s got to get more confidence, continue to improve. I feel like the protection has been good for him. Tennessee did a really good job on us from a coverage standpoint, but he has improved as a kicker. He’s getting more and more confidence as he goes out there. He had the three times that we got (South Carolina) pinned in in the last game, and some of them were lucky with rolls. But I think it’s a situation where I think when he’s in rhythm he kicks well. If he gets out of rhythm he struggles some. A lot of that is being a freshman. The biggest thing we can do to improve those guys is give them a routine, help them with that routine, and let them stick with that and be confident about it.”

On Reggie Carter…

“I expect him to play this week. He was cleared last week and he was an emergency guy that if we needed him he could play. Both of those two other kids were playing good and they took all of the reps in practice. We felt good about them playing, so they played. Reggie was ready to go if we needed him.”

On Greyson Lambert’s impact on Eason…

“I don’t know in-game wise, because I’m not as involved in that. I am in a lot of meetings with the both of them, though, and he does a great job helping (Eason) with coverage. He meets extra with Jacob each week to go through coverages he sees and helps him learn how to study film, which is really important for a freshman. You’ve got to understand, these kids didn’t study high school film like they have to study in college. Greyson has been through that in two places, so Greyson really helps tremendously there. As far as in-game wise, I really couldn’t tell you a whole lot.”

On issuing challenges to the team to be more physical…

“There’s not doubt it’s in what you do. Your actions speak much louder than your words. We’ve got some people who can talk about being physical, but show me. You show me by how you practice. To be honest with you, for the most part we had really physical practices last week. We expect the same this week. It’s a standard. It’s what we believe. It’s not like we do it one week and don’t do it the next. They’ve got to wholesale believe that this is a culture that’s got to be created on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, to dominate and go against each other, challenge offense and defense because that’s what it’s going to be on Saturday.”

On capitalizing on turnovers…

“Execute. You have to execute in the red area. We talk really hard about sudden change, I think everybody in the country does. It’s not one remedy. If we could remedy it I promise you we’d be selling that remedy and we’d be giving it to everybody. It comes down to execution. It comes down to going out and you’ve got the defense on their heels, they just came off the bench, they don’t want to be out there and their offense just turned the ball over on them. We’ve got to go execute. We’ve taken the philosophy that you try to run it down their throat. We’ve taken the philosophy that you take a shot. We missed a couple of shots that we had after turnovers that we thought were there. We’ve got to hit those. We’ve got to make the layups.”

On managing the kicking game…

“The decision is based on where the kicker can make the field goal. What you do is in practice, you practice field goals and then you decide where can he make it at the highest percentage. If he makes 100 percent of them from the 30, what do you think we’ll do in the game? Yeah, we’ll do it. If he doesn’t make 100 percent from the 30, we then decide are we better off punting or going for it from the 30 based on what his percentage is from the 30. I’m a big statistician. I’m going to go off what the statistics say. So when Rodrigo (Blankenship) makes 100-percent of his field goals from the 30, or maybe 90 (percent), or 80 (percent), then we’d go there. But if wind is a factor, you have to play defense and maybe stop the other team so you try to pin them back like we did three times. If the ball goes up and it goes backwards in the wind and he punts it 16 yards then I think maybe we should’ve gone for it, but that’s after the fact. The decision is based on what you do in the week when you kick field goals. That’s basically the decision. Whether to punt it or

go for the first down, when it’s 4th-and-1, statistics say you have a better chance of getting it than 4th-and-8. It also depends on the situation in the game. Are we ahead? Are we stopping them on defense? There’s a lot of things that go into that decision, and you’re right, they’re difficult.”

On Julian Rochester earning more playing time…

“He’s done it by practicing hard. He’s striking blockers, playing physical. I think he understands the defense a little better now, so when he hears a word it’s not the 10th time he’s heard it, it’s the 100th time he’s heard it. He’s getting more confidence and he’s playing run blocks really well. He’s hard to block because he’s a big guy. He has position flexibility. He can play the ‘five,’ the ‘nose,’ and the ‘three.’ He has improved, but he’s kind of done that by the way he’s worked.”

On the run defense so far this season…

“Vanderbilt is a little different (than past opponents). They’re very good at running the ball and they’re very physical. The biggest problem for us right now is we’ve got a short week and we’re almost having to play a completely different offense. The last couple of weeks, it’s been a lot of carry over, carry over, carry over, with a lot of the same personnel groupings. It’s not that way this week. It’s completely foreign, other than our offense, which we go against a little big in practice, it’s completely foreign to our kids. That’s the struggle that we’re having defensively is these guys are doing different stuff than we play week-to-week. You can’t say ‘Oh, I can rely on last week.’ No, you can’t rely on last week. You’ve got to go put a completely new package together, and it’s completely foreign to our guys.”

On behavior of players inside the locker room…

“I expect our players to behave to the UGA standard which is character, integrity, all of the right things. I think the locker room can be a sacred place where the players get to get away. They get to be amongst themselves. But I think the leadership within your team helps control that locker room. They set the tone for what is permissible and what’s not. That’s set by the leaders. The better leaders you’ve got, the better tone you’ve got.”

On Michael Barnett…

“He has not played a whole lot. Michael has done a good job and he’s really competing hard. I think we’ve got to be playing more d-linemen than anyone in the country. We’re playing a lot of guys. He just has not gotten into that rotation yet. I think (Coach Tracy Rocker) is playing eight or nine guys up there, trying to keep them fresh. It’s not that he’s not doing anything right or doing something wrong. He’s competing. He’s trying hard. He’s just not in the lineup of the guys we’re rotating in. He’s been really close a couple weeks. Da’Quan (Hawkins-Muckle) was a little banged up last week. (John Atkins) has been banged up some. He continues to work and he practices hard, but it’s just we’re only able to play seven or eight of those guys. That’s the deal there.”

On Eason’s progress as a player and Coach Smart’s expectations of him…

“I’m not really into expectations, that just really not my thing. I can’t say that I expected him to be here or there. What does he need to improve on? I think we talk about those things week-to-week with him. He’s got to do better with his play-action fakes. He’s got to be more detailed with his drops. He’s got to be more exact in reading coverage. He’s got to be able to communicate a little better. All of those things have been a work in progress since he got here. It’s not like you’re saying ‘Oh, this is what he’s not good at.’ This is what he’s got to improve on. I don’t think anybody on our team can’t improve, including me. We’re trying to improve everybody. It’s just he’s at a position that gets a lot more magnified. He’ll continue to do those things. The guy works really hard at his trade. He’s learning how to work hard because he’s never had to do some of the things he’s having to do now in order to be good. We’ll continue to work with him and he’ll do a good job.”

On Tyler Clark’s play…

“He has worked really hard. He’s another one of those 300-pounders that can play multiple positions. Look, those freshmen d-linemen have a long way to go. I’m not going to sit here and tell you they don’t. They have a long way to go. At a lot of places they wouldn’t be playing right now. They would be learning to play, but they’re getting on the field training, which is invaluable. They’re having to learn out on the field, which I’m really proud of how they’re competing. What they do is they play really hard and they play physical, but we’ve got a long way to go at that position to have the dominant players in pass rush we need to have. He has earned the right to play more by how he practices. If he continues to do that then he’s going to push to be a starter and compete with one of the older guys. The great thing about that position right now is that we’ve got great competition. Nobody can relax because the other guy will jump right in front of you with one day’s practice. We need more of that.”

Senior OLB #41 Chuks Amaechi

On freshmen defensive linemen…

“Our freshmen are starting to spread their wings and play a lot more freely. I saw it a lot with Tyler Clark getting his first sack and Michail Carter getting his first tackle.”

On Vanderbilt’s running attack…

“It’s different because they run a pro-style offense, which is similar to our offense. We got a good look at that during fall camp and we see it everyday during practice when we go against our offense. It’s going to be nitty-gritty game in between the tackles, and we like that.”

On how Georgia affects the quarterback…

“It’s really about keeping the quarterback in the pocket and then being patient.  We want to keep the quarterback on his heels, not on his toes, so that he can’t run and won’t be forced up.”

On Coach Smart’s challenge to be more physical…

“We’re always coaching fundamentals, but it turns into a challenge and a game to see who can beat who across the line.  We had more edgy-ness this week, which showed on the field this week.”

On the defense going forward…

“We’re trying to find and show our identity.  We want to show that we’re relentless.  You saw that with the constant pressure on the quarterback and the sacks.”

Sophomore ILB #6 Natrez Patrick

On the challenges of a short week…

“It’s different, but it’s just another week.  Tuesday and Wednesday are our tough days and we have a plan for this week.”

On the effectiveness of Georgia as a run defense…

“I feel like last week helped us because South Carolina only had 30 yards rushing.  That was a a positive boost for us knowing that Vanderbilt runs the ball as much as they do, so we want to feed off that energy and build off of it.”

On Jonathan Ledbetter’s return…

“He is pumped. He’s been at it for a long time.  He’s been getting Scout Team Player of the Week every week, so he’s definitely been pushing to get back on the field, and he’s ready.”

Senior WR #81 Reggie Davis

On getting close on deep balls…

“I think we are getting closer. We just need to keep practicing. Repetition brings perfection, so we will get it soon.”

On importance of younger players getting more vocal and buying-in…

“It definitely is. I feel like everyone on the team is becoming more outspoken and trying to become leaders. It is definitely making us a better team. As people get more into practice, people start speaking out more.”

On successful running game and role …

“We have been preaching being physical and being more physical than the other team. And we are practicing physical so it is showing up in the game. So that is what is opening up our run game. We (receivers) have to block safeties and corners because you know Nick (Chubb) and Sony (Michel) will do the rest at the line, but when they reach the secondary, that depends on us.”

Junior TB #1 Sony Michel

On relationship and competition with Nick Chubb…

“We are kinda like brothers. Most of the teammates on the team are real close and Me and Chubb are very close, we live together. We see each other every day, so it’s great. It’s like whatever he does, I want to do. He is going to go in there and do some great things, which makes me want to go in there and do some great things.”

On being in the Georgia running back fraternity…

“I think it is great to just be a part of that fraternity. We have guys always rooting for us. Every Saturday morning we get texts from guys like Keith (Marshall) and Todd (Gurley) to have a great game. And Brian (Herrian) and Elijah (Holyfield) are two talented guys…You can expect a lot of great things from the both of them.”

On view of Jacob Eason handling South Carolina game…

“I think he handled it pretty well. I didn’t see him down about it at all. It’s a learning curve. You gotta know what it feels like to not succeed before you succeed. And I think he knows that. He goes out there and plays for the team, so he was happy that we got the victory.”

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