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Smart, Bulldogs preview 2017 Tennessee game

Kirby Smart
Photo: Kirby Smart/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. — The 4-0 and No. 7-ranked Georgia Bulldogs spent time with media on Monday to preview Saturday’s game against Tennessee. Kickoff for this weekend’s contest is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET in Knoxville, Tennessee on CBS.

Head coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, offered the following comments during Monday’s media session.

Head Coach Kirby Smart 

Opening comments … 

“We’re excited for the opportunity to play a good Tennessee football team that’s 3-1. We know a lot about them. They know a lot about us. We get to play each year. Of course that was my crossover game where I was before, so I knew a lot about their program and the game last year.

We’ll be traveling with probably over half the guys who have never been to Knoxville, never played in that environment with probably over 35 of our 70 guys having never set foot in that stadium before. So any time you go on the road in the SEC it presents a lot of challenges from a crowd noise standpoint, and they always do a tremendous job of being really loud up there. They do a great job. That’s a tough place to play.

So our focus is on Tennessee, and trying to get better and improve during the week.

On freshman quarterback Jake Fromm playing in an environment like Neyland Stadium … 

“Any quarterback that plays there knows it’s tough to play in that crowd noise. Obviously Jacob (Eason) has played in those environments before when he’s played all over the SEC. I’d like to think Notre Dame was very loud at times. We didn’t have to go on silent a whole lot, but we had to practice it all week, so Fromm has dealt with that from that standpoint.”

On if last year’s game is any motivation … 

“You have to be careful psychologically with that. Our guys, we talk about it every Thursday we go over that play, and every Thursday before that play we always have — that’s what you do on Thursday, every college in America works on Hail Mary and that play. So you try to execute it best you can. But more important than that was the discipline to stay on the sideline and keep your helmet on and execute prior to that so that it doesn’t come down to that. But certainly that play is a factor. But there were a lot of plays in that game that were a factor. We don’t use that as motivation. Our motivation is about us and trying to get better.”

On addressing the controversy in the NFL with his team … 

“Yeah, with our team we have a leadership committee that we formed and we meet with them regularly. It’s a topic that comes up. Came up last year. We talked to them about it. Haven’t talked to them about it much this year. We let those guys bring it up and talk about things when they need to and address it as a team, but that’s not one that’s come up regularly. Of course, we’re not out there during the National Anthem anyway.”

On the possibility of playing sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason …

“Correct, possibly count on Eason. That’s the deal. We don’t know. Possibility, yeah. We’ll bring him out there and see where he is just like we did last week. We think he’s closer because last week he improved as the week went on. We expect the same thing. Again, I’m coming in here after three days off for him because he didn’t do anything Friday. Then Saturday he went out and warmed up some, and Sunday he didn’t do anything. So we’ll find out a lot more today based on practice and the reps he’s able to take.”

On back to his playing days and how things went after big wins … 

“I don’t go back to my playing days much, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t remember that far back. I would try to use examples of things, but I’ve done that from more of a coaching standpoint, not from a playing standpoint. I just don’t remember many of those games, and I don’t think those games are relevant to now. We try to preach to our guys that every game has a history and life of its own, and every game is independent of the next game. If you try to relive or live in the past based on your last performance, humility is a week away. It doesn’t matter. No team cares what you did last week. They don’t care. Nobody in the SEC cares what you did last week. They only care what you do this week, and that’s the focus this week.”

On the status of redshirt-freshman offensive lineman Solomon Kindley … 

“We don’t know if he’ll be able to go or not. We’ll find out a lot more today. As I said, we didn’t go out and do anything yesterday, so we find out today a lot more — get to see what they can do. Certainly we have other guys capable of playing guard because we’ve been through this injury already once.”

On Tennessee playing two quarterbacks in Quinten Dormady and Jarrett Guarantano … 

“Yeah, he’s a good athlete. He played a lot Saturday. He’s a good player. I think they can use both of them in similar ways. But he’s certainly a good athlete that can mix it up and do some things like (Joshua) Dobbs did.”

On the potential of Jake Fromm remaining the starting quarterback…

“I’m going to say it again. The focus for Jacob Eason is to get healthy and be part of this game plan and learn what to do. The focus for Fromm is to focus on improving and getting better. The point for both of them is to have team vision, to have the goal to make the team better. Both are working on that. It’s not just about them individually. Jacob Eason has to focus on getting healthy, getting 100%. Jake Fromm has to focus on getting better and improving. While they’re both doing that, they both have the team goal and vision in mind.”

On the battle of choosing a starting quarterback from the coach’s perspective…

“I’ll be honest with you, I want the one that gives us the best opportunity to win to play quarterback. You tell me, who is that? Tell me who it is. I can’t answer that. It’s based on the performance during the week. How do I look at it? I look at it like Malkom Parrish. Does anybody know? Did you all count the reps or any of that? Malkom Parrish was coming off an injury. I know he plays a different position, but Malkom Parrish played some on third down. He didn’t play the whole time, but you could argue he’s a starter. He’s a starter. Why didn’t he go out there and start? He’s 100%. He’s able to do some things but not everything. I view every position the same where competition creates and breeds success. That’s what we’ve sold this program on. Developing competition throughout practice and it will continue to be that way at all positions.”

On the challenge of Tennessee’s Marquez Callaway and Georgia’s secondary…

“The challenge Tennessee presents, Marquez Callaway is a really good player. I think Brandon Johnson is a kid who I watched practice several times in high school. He’s a really good player. He had a big game last week. I know they’ve been hit by the injury bug, those two players. I have a lot of respect for Josh Smith. He’s a kid that has played really well for them. When I was at Alabama he was really physical. He plays well in the slot. They have a good receiving corps. As far as our secondary, we want to continue to improve.”

On defenders trying to knock the ball loose from opponents, and how much of that is done in practice versus reacting in that moment…

“I would think that we practice that a lot. That’s our objective is to knock the ball off of them, tackle them and catch it, get yards after catch. I’ll be honest with you, sometimes in practice I get extremely frustrated because we don’t do as well in practice as we do in games.

So we’ve got a really good look squad and a quarterback over there that can sling it pretty good. He’s frustrating in practice because they’re more open than they are in games right now. So we’ve got to continue to improve that and that’s what we’ll keep doing today.

On improvements in the secondary and buying into Coach Tucker’s philosophy…

“Well, they bought into it last year. I don’t think it was a situation of against the philosophy, because I’ll be dead honest with you, the philosophy didn’t change a whole lot. Because the guy that was here before was similar in nature to what we believe in. So there wasn’t a change in philosophy. I think they have had a lot of reps on it. I think Deandre Baker is playing pretty well. I think we have had a lot of other positions by committee because we’ve had to rotate some guys all over. I certainly think pressure and loss-yardage plays, tackle for loss has helped the quarterback make a quicker decision. So the play of Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy and the guys up front do have an effect on the back end. We have to continue to improve in the secondary because we see lapses every week in practice that can’t happen in games.”

On Neyland Stadium being such a tough environment…

“It’s loud, loud, loud. They’re right on top of you, and they’ve got two people in every one seat. You know that. It’s loud. It’s tough.”

On Malkom Parrish embody the defensive plan…

“Yeah, it’s a tremendous help in practice because I never get to give Malkom his due credit. Up until he got injured in camp he was having one of the best camps. That was the one injury blow that hurt me as a coach because he was number one in effort in practice, number one in toughness. Not all corners like to hit people. He likes it, and he was doing things the right way. To have that happen to him was just bad circumstances. It’s part of the game, injuries happen. But he has not complained once. He’s been in every meeting since. He’s out there cheering guys on, coaching on the younger guys. So it’s great to get his spirit back, his energy back, because he has an impact on it. The other night a lot of players would not have done what he did, not be 100%, but be cleared and be willing to go in the game and go play at the risk of possibly getting beat or looking bad. He didn’t care. He was like, “I’m going to give you all I’ve got, Coach,” and that is a consummate professional to me.”

On the depth at running back and the challenge of choosing who plays…

“I think anytime you have the running backs we have, you do have to find ways to get them the ball. Some of them are better in some ways than others, and we leave that to the opponents and you guys to figure out what that is. But each one of our guys is probably a little better at something than the other one. The thing I’m most proud of is the job Coach (Dell) McGee has done of getting those guys to buy into special teams. People don’t notice, but D’Andre Swift is on punt. He’s on punt return. Sony (Michel) is a starter on punt and he’s elite. There was a play the other night, you don’t know it, he’s standing down there in front of the guy’s face, and he does that every day in practice. Nick (Chubb) has always been really involved. He’s not as involved this year, but he always has been. I’m really proud of the way they’re doing, and Elijah (Holyfield) can help us on special teams in the future.

On Elijah Holyfield not playing against Mississippi State…

“He just never got an opportunity to. The lot of guys didn’t play. Shoot, we want to get him on special teams, get him involved, we just didn’t get an opportunity.”

On knowing the talent of J.R. Reed and the defense in general…

“Spring practice is when we knew (about J.R. Reed’s talent). Because when he got here, I guess, in the fall of last year, we knew he couldn’t play. So we didn’t put him out there in a bunch of situations. He was kind of confused, figuring the defense out. Then the spring came and he did a good job on the scout team last year. Coaches saying, “hey man, J.R. Reed’s going to be a good player”. But he’s looking at a card. Then when the spring came, and it was like, this guy’s a starter. So we were proud of that. As far as the defense, I think there have been good defensive players at Georgia for a long time. It’s getting them to play well, putting the right package together, and putting the perfect storm together with the talent that we had, and getting these guys to play well. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think we played really well in the spring. I told you all that repeatedly and I don’t change that. We still have not played our best. We still have guys that do not strike blockers the right way and do it the right way consistently. We have a couple guys that turn down hits. I know to you guys we’re looking at stats and the numbers, but there are several plays in that game that are this far from being the other way that we don’t do it right, and we’ve got to make those plays.”

On coming from a program that was not quarterback centric and building his own philosophy…

“That’s a hard question to answer. I look at that program as being in the past. I’m trying to build this one on the philosophies that we believe in, which is toughness, effort, being physical, being dominant at the line of scrimmage, having big, physical people, winning on special teams. The quarterback is a piece of that puzzle, right? Some people would say he’s the centerpiece of that puzzle. To who it is, that to me is each and every year it will be independent of the previous. Who is the best quarterback? No. But really, the program does not revolve around the quarterback it revolves around the culture. When you get the culture right, it takes care of the other.”

On the challenges Fromm will face in his second road game…

“Well, the obvious to that would be the crowd noise because it is going to be loud. I understand the multiple defense. Coach Shoop does a great job. He always has, of changing it up and doing some things. They present a lot of challenges with their defense. So he’ll be focused on attacking them, not necessarily living in the past. I think Jake (Fromm) does a good job of game planning and aspect of watching film and studying tape.”

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Senior Tailback #1 Sony Michel

On coming back following sitting out the Samford game …

“It felt good. I was able to go out there and play a little bit of football enough to run the ball a couple of times and help get some good yardage and put the team in good position. Enough to play my part and my role for this team”

On if last year’s game against Tennessee motivates the team going into this week…

“You never want to take an “L”, but that was last year, it’s in the past. What we want to do is build for the future and right now we are just focused on this year and this year’s team. They (Tennessee) have a different team from last year. They don’t have the same players or different personnel groups so we kind of have to go off of that and move from there.”

On recent high scoring games against Tennessee…

“It is an SEC game, it is going to be a fourth-quarter game. I’m sure most of our guys on our team know that and we are going to go into battle focused. We have to have a good week of practice, it is not a week off or just another game, but we just have to really focus on playing Georgia football.”

On Kirby Smart’s management of hype around team…

“He is just doing a tremendous job on telling us how hard we need to work each week to prepare for a team. We haven’t had our team meeting this week yet but i’m sure his message is going to be strong for our team. It is going to be affective and I’m sure everybody on the team will be willing to buy in.”

Junior Center #53 Lamont Gaillard

On if his play against Mississippi State was his best yet…

“It could of been my best game, I don’t really look at it like that. I just think about doing my job and just doing me. If I do that then we are all going to be on the same page. When I go out there, I just play.”

On the offensive line’s performance versus Mississippi State…

“I think we did good against Mississippi State in pass protection, but we can do better, a lot better. This week we have to just focus on us, not really them. But they have good defensive players and we’ll learn from them. We just have to be ready for this week.”

Graduate Defensive Back #35 Aaron Davis

On improvements the secondary can make…

“We definitely left a lot of plays out there as far as turnovers. I feel like I dropped two interceptions, J.R. felt like he could have had his hands on a few. We can definitely pull more turnovers, help our team out, help the defense out, create big momentum plays. I feel like that’s something we can always do. As far as better discipline on every single snap and communicating with each other will all help us be a better secondary.”

On last year’s Tennessee game serving as motivation this week…

“Not at all. Last year is last year’s team. They have a new team, we have a new team. Last year’s not a motivation for us. We’re just looking at it as the next game, so it’s the most important game for us.”

On the physicality of the secondary…

“That’s something we pride ourselves on, being physical. We don’t want to be known as the secondary who’s afraid to tackle or anything like that. So it’s something we pride ourselves on, something we practice everyday, so being a tough secondary can only help the team in all areas. That’s something that we definitely look to have in us.”

On Malkom Parrish…

“That’s been Malkom since the day he’s been here. He’s someone that’s going to work hard, bust his tail to do whatever he can to get on the playing field. When he gets on the playing field, he’s been playing very well for quite some time. That’s the type of guy Malkom is, and we appreciate him. He’s tough. We always say he’s one of the toughest dudes on the team, so we appreciate everything he does. Anytime he puts himself out there on the field, whether he’s completely 100 percent or not, we know we’re going to get everything he has from him.”

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