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Smart, Bulldogs preview 2017 Florida game

UGA Football
Photo: SEC Network+

ATHENS, Ga. — University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, previewed the upcoming game against Florida with media on Monday. The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs take on the Gators at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday in Jacksonville.

Smart and the Bulldogs offered the following comments on Monday.

Head Coach Kirby Smart 

Opening comments … 

“I would like to open with a congratulations to Carla Williams (new Director of Athletics at Virginia). What a great opportunity she’s been presented with. Tremendous job she’s done for Georgia athletics. I’ve known Carla for a long time — I am happy for her and her family, for the opportunity they are getting.

We are getting ready for Florida. We prepared a little bit Thursday. Worked some on Florida Thursday, about 50% of the practice on Florida, 50% just on us getting better, like we did most of the week last week.

It’s an exciting game when you talk about a neutral-site game in Jacksonville. I think all the players really enjoy that atmosphere, the 50/50 stands. Great opportunity to go play a good football team. We’re going to continue getting ready today.”

On struggling to run the ball against them last season … 

“I think they have a tremendous front this year. Last year, they probably had more depth, more guys up there. Still have a quick, athletic front. They get off the ball really well. I’ve seen a lot of their defense because we’ve had games that we’ve played crossover teams. Certainly explosive, quick. It will be a challenge. It’s hard to run the ball in the SEC. I keep telling y’all, it’s really hard. It’s something you have to be committed to. You have to do it a lot. You have to try to wear people down. But they get off the ball. They do a really good job. They did last year, as well. We’ll find it tough sledding, I’m sure.”

On a true freshman quarterback starting in an environment like Jacksonville … 

“Any time you have a true freshman starting, it’s challenging. I think this kid has grown. He’s gotten better each week. Hope that continues through the bye week. You reference Jacksonville. I think what makes it challenging is the Florida defense that happens to be in Jacksonville. It’s not just the fact we’re playing in Jacksonville, it’s that we’re playing against a caliber of defense that has been really, over the last 10 years, one of the best defenses in the country. So you look at what they’ve done, the players they’ve had, style of defense they play. They’re attacking, they’re aggressive. Randy Shannon does a great job with them. So it’s always a challenge.”

On the fan support Georgia has received this year and if it is different than in years past … 

“You start with the opening game for us against App State — incredible atmosphere, packed house. Then you go to the Notre Dame game. Each of the road games, they’ve been really incredible as far as the atmosphere they’ve created for the players. I think the energy of our fan base has been great. A lot of that enthusiasm comes from playing well. I mean, you play good, you create a good atmosphere. The night games have helped with that. Whatever the magic potion has been, it’s been good for our players. We certainly hope it continues in Jacksonville.”

On being a part of the Georgia-Florida series as a player in the 1990s … 

“I think trends are pretty commonplace. It has a lot to do with who the quarterback is, who the defense is, who the players are. At the end of the day, it boils down to players, guys making plays, not turning the ball over, how you respond to a little adversity. In this game, it’s traditionally been a seesaw type game. I mean, I don’t get too much into who won last year, who won the year before that. It’s a whole lot more about what we’re going to do this year, because that’s really all we can control. We can control how we play this year, worry about the things that matter. I don’t think any of that matters.”

On coming into the game as a sizable favorite … 

“I just don’t think that you worry about that. I mean, it ultimately comes down to how we play. The number one thing we are concerned with is what is going to allow us to play our best football game, what is going to allow us to be more sound in execution, what’s going to allow us to protect the ball, attack the ball better defensively and offensively. It’s not about what the favorite is, what the line is. I mean, it’s going to boil down to how we play. That is the one thing we can control, is how we play. That’s all we can worry about.”

On the reason for improvement on the offensive line … 

“I don’t know if I could pinpoint one moment there was a total buy-in. I think the group as a whole, it’s a little different group. I mean, we’ve got guys that have done it by committee for the most part. We’ve rolled some guys in there. We’ve got good backs. We had good backs last year. I think the fact that we’ve been a little more open in our personnel groupings has helped. I don’t know one thing, one overriding factor. I think the receivers have played better and blocked better. That’s allowed us to spring some more runs, do some more things. A few more RPO’s mixed in there have helped. There’s a lot of things that are cumulative. Second year in the same offense. A lot of things affect that. I don’t think it’s one thing that we can pinpoint. But I do think the offensive line has matured and is playing a little better.”

On strength Coach Scott Sinclair and his understating of what it takes to win in this league …

“He’s built confidence in our players. I think they recognize they’re stronger than they’ve ever been. They see that in their gains, in their body weight. As far as his experience in this league, he really didn’t have much experience in this league. I do think that part is somewhat overrated because I think if you’re a good strength coach, you’re a good strength coach. I don’t think it has to be your understanding of this league. This league is very unique in size, speed, toughness across the offensive lines and defensive lines. I think he understands that. He’s coached good players before. He’s been places before. He and his staff do a great job of motivating our players, but also convincing them they are stronger, they are more physical by the way they work in the weight room.”

On Florida redshirt-freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks and the Gators’ offense … 

“They have tremendous wideouts. They’ve probably got the best wideout group we’ve faced combined with the fact that their quarterback has one of the strongest arms I’ve ever seen. I knew Feleipe well in high school, recruited him — know the arm talent that he has. I mean, they’ll see the Missouri game. We know what we’re in for. We have to do a good job covering those guys. The toughest part is they’re a lot more physical up front and bigger than, say, Missouri was. So it’s going to be a task. We’ve got to do a tremendous job defensively against a good quarterback and a group of wideouts that are very talented.”

On his assessment of the strength of the SEC and the possibility of two teams in the playoff…

“Yeah, I have no idea. I’ll be honest with you. I don’t get to watch enough games. I’m not a good judge of how talented the SEC is. I’ve spent the last seven days watching Florida, getting ready for future opponents in the SEC. I’m going to leave that to you guys. I’m focused on getting ready for Florida.”

On the importance of the Florida game as a coach and reflecting on his time in this game as a player…

“Every game is special to me as a coach. I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think there’s one that’s more special than another. I think it’s special to these kids. I mean, we recruit a lot against Florida, but we recruit a lot against all the SEC teams. We have several guys on our roster from Florida. It’s the second most represented state for our team. So, I mean, I think that makes it important. At the end of the day we’re trying to go 1-0 this week. Florida is the next opponent. That’s the most important thing.”

On the challenges of playing road games at night and the concerns for player recovery and coach prep work…

“Both. I mean, there’s rest and recovery for the players. It’s really challenging for coaches. I think that’s part of the job because you might be back up after getting in at 3, 4 in the morning. You got to go back in and start to work on the next opponent, turn it over quickly. The players it affects more than anything. I think their sleep habits get screwed up. They sleep in on Sunday morning. Next thing Monday morning they have 7 a.m. study hall or class at 8 a.m. It’s tough on them to get a routine going. That part is challenging for the players.  I think each and every one of us in the SEC will admit the reason for it is the fact that we’re playing on ESPN and they’re making more money for it.”

On the advantages of disadvantages of playing at a neutral site…

“I think it is what it is. The biggest disadvantage, advantage to me is the recruiting aspect. I’ve always said you lose a great opportunity once every other year, and you figure in your state you’re going to have a hundred top players. Every four years they’re in high school, there’s two opportunities to bring them to a big game, to an environment that would be second to none. You lose that opportunity. You don’t get that opportunity. They also lose that opportunity. So the both of us, if anything, that’s the impact. I don’t think it’s an impact on the outcome of the game. I don’t think it’s an impact on anything other than the fact you lose an opportunity at a good chance to recruit prospects and have them on your campus.”

Injury update on Trenton Thompson, DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle, and David Marshall…

“Yeah, Trenton was able to practice (last week), do mostly everything. We think he’ll be fine. He’s cleared to go practice. Daquan is still battling back. David Marshall is cleared and ready to go.”

On cleaning up mistakes after the Missouri game…

“I think the biggest thing is play with better technique, understand where your help is, try not to put them in those situations. A lot of things combined. Throw more deep balls. Let us play more deep balls. Cover guys, cover fast people. Practice.  You try to address them on what you call, how you play what you call, then the technique you use when you call it. The only way to get better at stuff like that is really to work on it. We tried to attack some of that. We’ll continue to.”

On having so many guys back on the D-line and ability to affect the quarterback…

“I think the depth will keep us a little fresher. I mean, it’s not a matter of getting back some elite, great rusher. It’s not the case. I think it’s a matter of how many guys they keep and protecting with. They keep seven guys in and protect, it’s tough to get rushed with four guys. They’ve got seven. You have to be able to hold up in coverage when people max protect. You have to do a better job of affecting the quarterback when they don’t pass-protect. Hopefully having more depth will allow us to do that.”

On working with Carla Williams over the years…

“It’s great. I think Carla has a great relationship with the student-athletes. She cares. They know she cares about them personally. She’s done a tremendous job for the University of Georgia in the way that she represents Georgia and the way she represents student-athletes. She did a tremendous job with the academic side of things. She was a great asset for me, especially when I first got here from bouncing ideas off of, finding out how things worked. She did a tremendous job.”

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Graduate Nosetackle #97 John Atkins 

On the bye week and Florida week…

“We just have to attack the week. Like what Coach Smart said, last week was a work week. We can’t let Florida beat us throughout the week. We have to come to practice and practice hard. If we have a bad practice then Florida beat us today. We use that as our mindset — attacking the day, everyday.”

On memories of past years versus Florida…

“I haven’t really thought about it until last night when coach told us to stand up if you have beaten Florida and no one stood up. The road to win in the east goes through Florida so you have to be able to beat them. It’s a big rivalry, you don’t want to lose to a big rival.”

On Florida’s offense…

“If you look at the stats, Florida is only three points from being 5-1 this year. They were two points from Texas A&M and one point from LSU. They are a great team and they are physical. They have one of the biggest offensive lines that we will face.”

Senior Tight End #83 Jeb Blazevich

On Jacksonville … 

“At Jacksonville, it’s always been an awesome venue, 50/50. It’s a really unique environment. At this point, the grass is always greener. It would be interesting to switch it up maybe. It’s awesome being down there too. World’s largest tailgate. I know they get a bunch of rowdy fans in there. Everyone loves it and we love playing there.

On Coach Kirby Smart’s experience as a player in the Georgia-Florida series … 

“It’s always good to have him be able to identify with exactly what we are going through having been there. All the coaches have been there once now. I don’t think it matters what field, when or where, we are just here to play ball. I don’t think that will have a huge impact on us. We are ready to play anywhere.”

Junior Center #53 Lamont Gaillard

On Florida’s rushing success against Georgia last year…

“They had a great defense last year, everybody knew that. We struggled, but it’s a different team now, so the focus is on this week.”

On how much the senior leadership has contributed to the Georgia success…

“A lot. They preach it everyday. If you follow them, and have good leadership, everything seems to work out. With practice, the games, everything.”

Senior DB #35 Aaron Davis

On Florida’s explosive plays this season…

“That’s something we go over every game, so Florida’s no different. We just know that they’ve had a lot this year, as far as explosive passes. So that’s something that they’re probably stressing on their offense that they look for. You can count on every single game, so that’s something we look for.”

On Florida’s record…

“They’re dangerous every year; Florida’s a great team. That’s no one to sleep on. No one is thinking we’ve already passed them, we know they’re going to bring their game. They’re tough, they’re coached well over there. Regardless of their record, they send a lot of guys to the NFL every single year.”

On the senior leadership…

“I think first and foremost, just the chemistry. A lot of guys have made sacrifices to come back, and bringing back that chemistry together and having another year, leadership is crucial as far as helping to get guys developed, helping the team rise to the occasion.”

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