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Smart, Bulldogs preview 2017 Georgia Tech game

UGA Football
Photo: Steffenie Burns/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. — University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, previewed the upcoming game against Georgia Tech with media on Monday. The Bulldogs take on the Yellow Jackets at 12:00 p.m. ET Saturday in Atlanta.

Smart and the Bulldogs offered the following comments on Monday.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening comments…

“We’ll start preparing today for Georgia Tech and the team. With Thanksgiving break going on they have a little more time, which is good this week, especially, because they get to come in and watch a little extra tape against a unique offense that we don’t get to face every week. I know our kids and our seniors will be excited to go play in Atlanta and also play a team that the last three years has beaten us twice, so it gives us an opportunity to send these seniors out the right way. And a great rivalry game that’s been in this state for a long time, I think they have got a really good offensive football team and a very good defensive football team that is doing a really good job on third downs. I think Coach Roof does a good job executing and they’re very sound in what they do, and obviously Coach Johnson is one of the best in the business at what he does. He knows the answers to it, he knows the problems with it, and you’re not going to trick him. You got to be very disciplined and you got to do a great job of getting off blocks and tackling the man with the ball. So that will be the objective this week as we prepare for Georgia Tech.

On the elements of Georgia Tech’s defense that has been described as “dangerous”…
“There’s cut blocks, but there’s cut blocks in all of football. They’re just really good at what they do. They’re probably better at it than most people because they work really hard at it and it’s what they specialize in. Everybody’s got what they’re good at, that’s what they’re best at is running the football. And they do it on the perimeter, inside, outside, they mix it up, they wait and see what you do and they have got answers for what you do. So at the end of the day it is your job to stop it and that’s what we got to do. That’s the challenge ahead.

There’s danger in all of football, isn’t there? So you got to do a good job of executing, playing the blocks. And we’re allowed to cut them, too.”

On preparing for an offense you only see once a season…

“It’s a challenge. It’s why they’re really effective offensively, because they’re not the norm any more. People don’t prepare to play that. When you think about high school football, it used to be that people ran the triple in high school offenses and a lot of the most successful programs in this state had been a part of that. It’s slowly gone the other way, where teams, it’s almost like a dinosaur, people don’t do it any more, so people don’t know how to defend it. So it’s challenging. The kids on your defense didn’t come from high school programs that had to play against it, where, back in the day, they might have done that more often. So that’s the game within the game. That’s the motivating factor for our players to go out and — they’re trying to win one for the seniors, trying to win one for the University of Georgia and they’re playing a unique style of offense and they got to buy into that, they got to embrace it. I think our seniors will. As a matter of fact I know they will, they have already talked to me about some ways we’re going to practice and things we’re going to do to help with that. So I’m excited about that part and they’re ready to take the challenge on.”

On the preparations for playing Georgia Tech prior to this week…
“A lot more than we did last year. We have taken every Monday in the season and we have targeted certain amount of time each Monday, depending upon who our opponent was, towards Tech periods.  I felt like you have to familiarize yourself, really the players, if nothing more than your scout team, scout team can only be so efficient doing something they don’t do all the time, but they can be as efficient as possible. So those Mondays have been really critical for them, those Mondays have been critical for our young players who haven’t been exposed to it. We have worked really hard on that. And then we spent some time in the off week, but the off week we spend time on all of our upcoming opponents but Georgia Tech being one of those, we did work on them.”

On Georgia’s success of playing in Atlanta although it’s difficult to play on the road…
“I think it’s been more to do with the fact that Georgia has played well there. I think a lot of the kids are at home, a lot of kids are from that area. I don’t really know what to attribute that to. Usually has something to do with the X’s and O’s and the players involved in the game.  I haven’t really been part of that series for a long time, so I can’t attribute it to anything.”

On the importance of proving Georgia’s red zone defense against Georgia Tech…
“Well it’s important, but you got to take all your stats and all your numbers and just throw them out because what we have done in the red zone has zero to do with Georgia Tech. So Georgia Tech will not be concerned with what we do in the red zone because nothing that we have done is indicative of what they will do. You know what I mean? Their offense is completely different. So we have got to play good red zone defense in this game and we did not do that last year, but what we have done up to this point has nothing to do with what’s going to transpire on Saturday.”

On his philosophy of the pass rush…
“My philosophy is to get after the quarterback, to affect the quarterback, to make it hard on him to execute. But it’s easier in football to hand the ball off to someone and run it than it is to throw it to someone and catch it. So if you don’t stop the run, you don’t control the run game, you will not be able to stop anything. So, the important thing for us is always to affect the quarterback. This game’s completely unique, playing Georgia Tech has nothing to do with that, I’m assuming you’re talking about a base philosophy, but the philosophy is to get after the quarterback, the philosophy is to make it difficult on him through coverage, through rush, through everything. But first and second down you have to be able to convert to a pass rush, because you got to be able to stop the run. Our defensive front is built to stop the run, it’s not built to rush the passer with a 300-pound man that’s playing nose guard or 4 I. That’s not what they’re build to do. They have to be able to convert, they got to be able to push the pocket, you got to affect them with disguise, bat balls, and then when you get a chance to get after them, you got to get after them, but that’s not really this week.

You always want to, when they pass it, they have got to get after the quarterback, everybody’s got to be able to get after the quarterback, ultimately. You want to be able to get sacks, get lost yardage plays, but we have had more TFL’s this year than we have been having, so we have changed some in regard to that because a tackle for a loss essentially is a sack, even though it’s a run play.”

On Georgia’s run/pass ratio and if the run game will carry the Bulldogs to a championship…
“I think that each game is different. I think each opponent is different. I think that you have a base foundation of balance and balance is what we want. Some of our imbalance this year has been indicated by the games, the scores. If you take one-score games and you do the ratio run-to-pass it’s not going to be the same as the games that we have had leads and we’re running the clock out. There’s a distinct difference in those. So to be able to win a championship you got to have balance. We continue to improve on our balance- our ability to throw the ball down the field, our ability to open things up. But if we open things up and threw the ball down the field, I would beg to question what we’re doing with #27 and #1 the rest of the time. So it’s a Catch-22 to be balanced, but at the end of the day to win you got to be able to do both and you play really good teams you got to be able to do both. But we have also had some statistics this year that are probably not exactly accurate when you talk about leads in the games.”

On the discipline needed in rivalry games…
“Well you said the word. The word’s discipline. It’s not about what they do, it’s not about anything they say or anything they do before the game. That controls nothing of the outcome of the game. Our focus and concentration is on playing our best football game. Our job is to go over there and get ready to play at noon, get ready to go and get after it and have the best possible plan we can put together to allow our players to be successful. Their focus has to be on executing the plan, not on all the drama with the rivalry.

The leaders have to control the message throughout the week. You’ve already made a decision on Monday what you’re going to do on Saturday when a guy shoves you. And you either make the decision to do the wrong thing or you make the decision to do the right thing. We talk to our players all the time about that. It’s something they have to be able to control. They have to have discipline; they have to make good decisions in the heat of the moment. A rivalry is a rivalry, I’ll be honest with you, our guys want to win every game. We have a lot of rivalries and this is one of the biggest ones. But our guys have to make good decisions in the heat of the moment, because the heat of the moment’s going to happen.”

On Malik Herring’s increasing role on the D-line…
“He’s very conscientious about his job. He’s very prideful in knowing what to do. He’s increased his role throughout the year because he’s continued to get better. He works kind of half the day on our scout team and does a good job working down there. He gives good effort and we tell him he earns reps with us by how he performs on the scout team and he’s done a good job of that. He had a little more role last week, so he was able to go in and play some. He’ll continue to grow that role this week. He’s extremely athletic; I think he’s a talented young man that’s got to continue to get bigger and more physical.”

On the contributions to the program of the seniors who returned for this season…
“I go into each off-season with a plan to talk to the third year guys. I’ll be honest with you, you know, that’s not, you really shouldn’t be leaving after your third year unless you’re going to be a first, maybe a second round pick, depending upon the positions. So I think that every year you go into that with that approach and if they understand what’s best for them, then they usually handle that the right way. So I’m really proud of these guys that decided to stay, because I think it was the right decision for each one of them individually. That’s the most important thing. The next thing is, what have they done for this team? They have been great leaders off the field. I know you see it on the field, but you don’t get to see it in the meeting room, you don’t get to see it when a guy’s late, you don’t see it when a guy does some undisciplined penalty out of bounds and they grab the guy. That part is what they bring of setting a standard, the standard that we want to play to, they help set that standard. So the guys that are younger in the room, they will then try to emulate the older guys. And when you have that, you have what you want. To have seniors, usually the best teams in the country, they have seniors, because the seniors have been there the most, they make the least mistakes, they have been through it, they’re very calm and that’s what our group has been, good leaders for this team.”

On the eye discipline needed for the secondary to avoid deep passes down field…
“Yeah, that’s exactly what you just said, eye discipline. It’s what got us last year. You don’t have good eye discipline, you don’t have good eye transfer, they can get you. And they watch every play. They know when you mess one up. It doesn’t take them long to figure out, whoops, he’s not looking at the right thing, and then they expose you. And you say, well the alternative is don’t be so aggressive with them, but you have to stop the run and they do a good job with what they do. It’s one of the focuses of this week- is doing my job, executing my job, having great eye discipline, eye transfer. Everybody you talk to that plays them that’s one thing they come back to is not giving up the cheap, easy touchdowns. When you watch them play throughout the year, they have hit bomb after bomb after bomb, people have the same problem. So it’s an eye discipline thing and you have to play really well on the back end.”

On Lorenzo Carter’s improvements this season…

“Well, biggest thing he’s become an every down player. He’s gotten a little bigger, gotten more physical, he’s been able to play some in nickel packages. We moved him around so that he could play field boundary. He can do different things, he can stand up, match patterns. He’s improved that part of his game and that’s the part that he probably needed to improve the most and I’m glad he came back to do it.”
On the relationship between Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and their ability to share plays without ego getting involved…
“Well, it gives you a confident coaching staff. Certainly you feel good about either guy being in. They don’t have egos, that’s the beauty of those two guys. Sony probably could have gone anywhere in the country, just like Nick probably could have. They chose to come together and what started as a really good rivalry has become one of the best friendships in college football. Those two guys deserve every accolade they get if not more and they are what college football’s all about. They’re unselfish, they’re program guys, they represent the university the right way. I mean, when you start talking about ambassadors for this program, they will be ambassadors for a long time.”

On Roquan Smith being named one of the five finalists for the Butkus Award…
“Well I think it says a lot to his overall leadership, the way he’s played, the passion and energy he plays with. It says a lot about the defensive front in front of him who have been able to hold people and keep people off of him to allow him to make the plays. He’ll be the first to tell you that when he goes unblocked, he’s a really good player. Those guys up front deserve a lot of that for taking on 600, 700 pounds a lot of times so that Roquan gets to run free and he’s done a tremendous job of leading this defense. He is the signal caller, bell cow, spokesperson, he does a great job of that and no greater honor than to be considered among the best in the country at your position and he’s very deserving of that.”

— — 

Senior NT #97 John Atkins

One facing the Georgia Tech triple-option offense…

“You have to be disciplined. You have to be eye disciplined. You have to be technique sound.”

On the remaining games this season…

“That’s what a lot of guys came back for. We’re not really thinking about the SEC Championship game, we just have to go out there and play hard.”

On improving Georgia’s red zone defense this year…

“Last year, our whole red zone defense wasn’t that good. That’s been the main objective the whole year, is to get better on our red zone defense.”

On finishing out the season strong…

“It’s all about how you attack the week. You have to come out and be ready to practice.”

Senior OT #77 Isaiah Wynn

On the success of running backs Sony Michel and Nick Chubb

“It means a lot. We take pride in that. I’m glad they’re getting to that point, and as an offensive linemen, you couldn’t ask for a better running back duo.”

On motivation for this week’s game…

“Beating Georgia Tech. Just because those are the guys we don’t want to lose to. Of course it’s a big rivalry, it’s rivalry weekend. Definitely not a game you want to lose, whether you’re going to the championship or not.”

On playing his last game in Sanford Stadium against Kentucky…

“It was definitely a good way for me and the senior class to go out and do something we’ve never done, being undefeated in Sanford Stadium and also going undefeated in the East. It was a great feeling.”

On sophomore Mecole Hardman flipping field position as a returner…

“It’s awesome. He gives not just the offensive line, but the whole offense in general a good starting point, as opposed to being back by the 20. He’s a dangerous weapon, and any time he gets back there, you know he’s going to make something happen.”

Senior OLB #7 Lorenzo Carter

On the high stakes of each game…

“Every game this season has been important. We just have to make sure we don’t look too far ahead. We need to keep taking it one game at a time. That is what got us here so we are going to keep doing the same thing. The most important team is Georgia Tech this week.”

On improving as a senior…

“I just wanted to be a complete player and an all-around player. I think i’ve done that. I also wanted to become a better leader and I’ve done that too. I’ve been just working on myself as a player.”

On facing the triple-option offense…

“It’s tough. In the triple option, you have to stay focused. You have to read your cues and make sure your eyes are disciplined. We are going to do a good job, because we’ve put emphasis on it. We’ve worked on having eye discipline no matter who we play. We are going to focus on Tech and focus on the triple option.”

On coming back for his senior season…

“There are no regrets. Everyday I come to the locker room and get dressed for practice, I sit back and am thankful that I have the chance to be with my teammates and be in the program. I’m excited.”

On senior leadership…

“It’s all about experience. We all have it and we just want to shine the light onto the younger players. We’ve made mistakes, but we just want to make sure that they don’t make the same mistakes.”

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