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Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview Missouri game

Kirby Smart
Photo: Kristin M. Bradshaw

ATHENS, Ga. — University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, met with media members on Monday to preview the upcoming game at Missouri.

Smart and the Bulldogs offered the following comments during Monday’s media session.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Comments …

“Onto Missouri, who Barry Odom, similar to myself, is coaching at his alma mater and through the SEC head coaches’ meetings I’ve gotten to know him well, got a lot of respect for him. He’s a really good ball coach. I thought the job he did last year was just remarkable to go through the tough start they started with and then to come in and really play us tough and then to go on, I guess, a 9-1 streak is what they’ve been on, and they’ve got a really good football team.

Obviously a premier quarterback in the country, a premier wideout in the country. They’re really big. They’ve got massive tight ends. Their front on the defense is leading the SEC in rushing defense, and they’re really physical up front. So when you look at them as a whole, they’re SEC built. They’re really a physical team, and I think he’s done a tremendous job. They’ve made a commitment to the run game this year with the hiring of Derek Dooley. They’re trying to run the ball and be more physical, and they’ve done that in their first games. They’ve got good backs. So our guys are excited for the opportunity and we’ll get to work on these guys today.”

On how Missouri QB Drew Lock has improved over the last few years … 

“I don’t know if his arm can get any stronger. He can make every throw. He threw the ball outisde of the stadium last year on us. I think the biggest thing is his maturity level, his confidence. He’s seen the coverages. He’s seen the checks. He understands where he wants to go with the ball. He’s got as fast of release as I’ve ever seen. He can get the ball out so quick, and he does such a good job of keying your defenders and knowing where to go with the ball. You can tell they really work hard on it, and I think he’s just more mature. I think anytime you play in this conference and you go to the venues he’s gone to to have three years under your belt or being in your third year, it makes it a lot more comforting. He throws the ball with purpose. And he puts them in the right play a lot, and he’s a really good athlete. The guy takes off running on his some zone reads, he keeps the ball and he exposes people. He runs for 20 and 30 when he takes off and does it. He just doesn’t do it very often. You can tell he’s a good athlete. So I got a lot of respect for him, and you can tell the way he runs and scrambles and throws the ball he’s a competitor.”

On whether or not the defense has shown its ‘full hand’ over the last few games … 

“Probably not fair to say that. Probably fair to say we haven’t pressured much. Obviously, based on the statistics, we haven’t pressured a whole lot, but I don’t know that we’ve held back on any. I mean we’re a run-stop-first team, and we haven’t had a lot of opportunities. Like I said after the South Carolina game, I didn’t think that we rushed the passer real well and affected the quarterback. I don’t think we had many opportunities last week.

But no, I wouldn’t say we’ve held back. We are who we are. We’re not keeping secrets. We’ve got tape out there of what our defense is, and they’ve got tape out there of what their offense is. I think that’s — a lot of times you do special things in certain games and you might have your change-ups, but for the most part you are who you are, and I would say the same thing offensively.”

On Missouri TE Albert Okwuegbunam … 

“I’ll call him Albert for shortness sake. But he’s a really good player. I mean the guy is — and Derek being a tight ends’ guy, they know how to use this guy. He’s really talented. And the other kid, Blanton, is a great player. I don’t know that you’ll see a combination of two tight ends — everybody talks about our tight ends, these guys when you watch them at warmups, for the last two years when you go over and see this Blanton in warmups, he looks like an offensive lineman. He’s huge. And he can run. And 81, Albert, is a tremendous athlete. They put him in receiver locations. They do things with him that they do with receivers. But he can also double up and come block. So that creates an issue for us, because you don’t have many defenders that match up as well with 6’5, 265 out there on the perimeter. So they do a good job using those guys. They’ve got talented players on offense, which is why they’ve got really good numbers.”

On what he sees from other SEC teams so far this season … 

“Yeah, we’re focused 100 percent on Missouri because we know what they’ve done and we know how we felt during the game last year. There were some times they were really explosive on us, and we’ve gotta go out and focus on playing these guys.

As far as the rest of the SEC East or SEC, I can’t tell you. I’m not concerned with it. I’m really focused on the challenges that Missouri presents, which is really big, physical players, experienced quarterback, a tough place to play. All the combinations that you look for, they’ve got good players at each position.”

On Missouri offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Derek Dooley and what has changed in Missouri’s offense … 

“Yeah, you always look at all of it. You look at everything and you kind of put it in a compartment and say, okay, what can they pull from. So yeah, we look at last year. They have some similarities to their offense last year, and they’ve also got some differences. They’ve got some differences in their run game, and they’ll have different things. Every offense has different things for each game. So they’ll have some new wrinkles, and they’ve got a good team. So we’ll have to go out and play well.”

On the advantage of having multiple playmakers on Special Teams…
“Well, if they continue to toe-meet-leather well like Rod (Rodrigo Blankenship) has done I think Jake (Camarda) would be the first to tell you he has to get some more hang on some of his kicks and his distance has to match his hang. We have to do a good job covering him better, and that’s something we continue to work on. Mecole (Hardman) has always been an explosive player with the ball, and I was very pleased to see him get his first opportunity to return one all the way back. And looking at it, there were a lot of guys that helped him do that. We always demand excellence in special teams. We work really hard on it, and we’ll continue to do that to try to create advantages in the kicking game.

On sticking to the run game and if Georgia will be 100 percent at the running back position this week against Missouri…
“Yeah. We expect to be 100 percent at the running back position like we were Saturday. As far as what our game plan will be, I don’t think I should divulge that. Are we going to stick to our plan to be balanced? Absolutely. Are we going to go out and try to throw it every down? They don’t throw it every down. They score a lot of points, but they do it in different methods. So we’re going to do and prepare to be able to score points the best way possible and stop them from scoring points is the objective.

On following up on Camarda …
“I would say he’s gotta improve where his distance and his hang match. Not necessarily — he’s kicking the ball well. It’s just sometimes that he outkicks his coverage, and we want our distance and hang to match, meaning if we kick it 50 yards, we want five-second hang. And he’s done it for the most part. We just had a couple Saturday that he didn’t do that.

On if they ever focus on pinning teams inside instead of the ball going for a touchback on every punt…
“Yeah. We try to do. I mean that’s the goal. He has a certain yard line that we have that he sky kicks it, which would be pinning it. At a certain point we want him to kick it full. Well, there’s a couple yard lines that he’s hit it full and he’s hit it so good that he kicked it in the end zone, not with that intent. So he probably has to use his pitching wedge instead of his eight-iron sometimes and just be able to do a little better job with it. But that’s something that we always work on. There’s never the intent to kick it in the end zone, and I think a lot of those — he hasn’t had many sky opportunities. The one he had against South Carolina right before the half, I thought he did a great job. I think he pinned them on the eight or nine or something. But some of his other kicks have been out of sky territory and he’s just bombing them.”

On using the corners against an air attack offense like Missouri…
“Yeah. I don’t know that I would say we had four corners. I don’t look at it that way. That’s not how we explain it. I mean Mark (Webb) is a corner, but Mark plays multiple positions. (William) Poole is a star. He’s a nickel. So he’s not really a corner. But we’ll do the things we have to do to try to contain him. I think you guys see the stats and you say, ‘oh, they have to play a lot of DBs.’ This team is big who we’re playing. They are huge on the offensive front, including their tight ends. They have much better backs than they’ve had in the past. They are a more physical team. So to put four corners out there, they have a 6’5 and a 6’6, 265-pound tight end, I don’t think those corners are going to match up real well with those tight ends when it comes to them being able to be multiple in their formations. So they do a good job of keeping you honest in that regard.”

On the injury update of Andrew Thomas and Terry Godwin…
“Andrew (Thomas) we’re hoping will be able to get active a little more. He’s been running. He’s been moving. I don’t know that he’ll be able to practice today, but he’s probably going to be rehabbing and be out there with us. Hopefully we can get him back.

Terry (Godwin) is okay. Terry should practice today. He does have a contusion. But I think he’ll be able to go today.”

On his relationship with Derek Dooley and the changes he’s made to Missouri’s offense…

“I think Derek (Dooley) has brought some good changes for them. The physicality, I think, is what Barry’s (Odom) intent was in getting Derek devoted to running the ball, which they did at the Cowboys and Derek’s been throughout his career. The commitment to that, to running the ball, even though you have a potential high-round draft pick at quarterback, they still have a commitment to running the ball and being physical. I think that’s important in this league. And they’ve made that. That’s the biggest change that I’ve seen, but they’ve kept a lot of the elements that are tough to defend in this offense. So he’s done a good job of that.

As far as Derek and my relationship, we worked together at Miami. We’re good friends, and we were at LSU at the same time. I have a lot of respect for his dad, and Derek and I have always been good friends.”

On the strategy to have D’Andre Baker stay on one side of the field or to have him follow key players…
“I don’t know how that’s going to work out because I don’t know exactly what they’re going to do. So it’ll be a little bit of a chess match when it comes to what will they do. I’m certainly not going to show our hand to what we’re going to do. We have to wait and see what they do with their wide-out, who’s an exceptional player, seen last year by everybody. I mean he lit up the stadium; and he has lit it up this season. Nobody’s really been able to keep up with him. So we’ll have to see how they play with him and see what we do. We have the ability to do a lot of things with our guys. Their place of play doesn’t make it easy.

Everybody would just say, well, just put D’Andre (Baker) on him. Let him shadow him. Well, it’s not that easy, because the ball could be on this hash, that hash, fastball. They go quick; they have a lot of tempo. It’s not that easy.”

On what he has seen in Elijah Holyfield in practice over the last two years leading up to this point…
“Same thing that I see now. He practices tough, physical. Every day for him is physical. There is not a day he goes out there and says ‘I’m taking this day off or I’m not going full speed today’. He’s not a guy you have to motivate. He loves the game. He practices hard. I think he really likes competition because when he gets thudded by a guy, he always likes to come back and get that guy back. You kind of see that out there in his play. He likes contact, and he’s a bowling ball. He’s hard to bring down. He’s really tough.”

On his assessment of the quarterback play so far and what he saw from Justin Fields on Saturday…
“I have been pleased with both guys (Jake Fromm and Justin Fields). I think both guys are improving. Both of them have room for improvement, and they both continue to work hard and prepare. I think the biggest thing for each one of them is can you continue to prepare at the right level so that you’re prepared for every situation you could be presented in the game.

As far as what Justin (Fields) did in the game the other day, I thought he did a good job.”

————

#13 Elijah Holyfield | Jr. | RB

On preparing for the Missouri game…

“It’s another work week. We’re excited about who we’re playing and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

On building on his success of the Middle Tennessee game…

“I’m just trying to keep focused on same the things I’ve done to get to this point so far and not losing sight of those things.”

On his growth this season…

“I think I’ve tried to get in better condition for more carries. Trying to get stronger, bigger, faster, just all the things any other guy would do.”

On the mindset of breaking off a 66-yard run…

“It’s kind of a weird feeling. I don’t really thing that much. When they’re calling the next play that fast, you have to get your mind off that run and get back to the next one. I was more so trying to get to the next play.”

#20 J.R. Reed | Jr. | DB

On sophomore defensive back Richard LeCounte…

“He’s done a good job. He always has room for improvement. Richard’s like a little brother to me, so I’m always pushing him to be better. Good isn’t good enough, and great isn’t great enough. So I just always push him more and more. The more he gets better, the more the team gets better, and the better I feel.”

On junior tailback Elijah Holyfield… 

“He’s probably one of the most physical backs we’ve seen. He’s learned from Nick (Chubb) and Sony (Michel) and how to practice. He pushes us in the secondary and the defense to really get after it. He does a good job. He’s probably one of the hardest backs in the SEC to bring down.”

On the challenge of Georgia’s conference schedule…

“It’s fun. I love it. That’s why people come to play at Georgia. That’s why I came here, is to play this good of competition. It’s great teams that can pass the ball, like (Missouri senior quarterback) Drew Lock, who might be a first-round pick, a first-round quarterback. That’s always fun. I love the challenge.”

On the Missouri receiving options of senior WR Emanuel Hall and redshirt sophomore TE Albert Okwuegbunam…

“Those guys are very speedy on the outside. They can run past anybody. We’ve got to play with good technique and stay over the top  and not allow a lot of big plays…We’ve got to not give up those explosive plays this whole game, no matter who it is.”

#13 Jonathan Ledbetter | Sr. | DE

On the challenges that Missouri brings… 

“They have a great football team. They have a great passing game and a great quarterback that is seasoned, he has been there for a while. We played him last year and the year before that. We’ve had close games with them and it is just going to come down to executing. We’ll have to have a lot of communications like we did in the South Carolina game. We also have to just play smart and play in the ways that benefits the defense. We don’t want anybody isolated in this game. We are going to try to play as a unit.”

On playing earlier this past week and at Missouri… 

“We do practice in the prime time heat of the day which is good for us. It definitely works a lot of guys out for those games that are in the middle of the day and are 90 degree weather, because you are more prepared for it. With this past week with the hurricane and everything, I hope everybody was safe and everything is good. We played at noon which really prepared us for this next week. Technically this week it’s 11 a.m. for our bodies, but it prepares us for that.”

#9 Jeremiah Holloman | So. | WR

On breakout game in home state… 

“I was really just happy to be able to be here and show what I’m capable of doing. It’s all about going back to the basics and doing everything right. I’ve been feeling confidence in practice by doing things over and over again so the game didn’t really make or break me. It might of validated it for people outside of the program, but it’s just something I’ve been repeatedly doing in practice.”

On ways he has improved while being at Georgia…

“I’ve grown in practice. Coming in I wasn’t big at practicing all the time in high intensity. It was new to me. So being here and getting after it, I’m buying into it. I’m buying into special teams and learning day-in and day-out on how to be a better student of the game. It took halfway through my freshman year to realize that the guys that really bought in during practice, it was paying off for them.”

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