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Bulldogs suit up for Lexington contest

Michael Barnett
Photo: Lauren Tolbert/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. – Tuesday’s 64-degree weather welcomed the University of Georgia football team to the Woodruff practice fields, where the Bulldogs practiced for two hours in preparation for their upcoming matchup against Kentucky.

Saturday’s Lexington contest is slated for a 3:30 p.m. start time on CBS. Both SEC East teams boast a 7-1 record on the season, with a 5-1 clip in conference play. The Wildcats are undefeated at home at Kroger Field.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

On the importance of big-game experience…

“I think big game experience is valuable, but I also think [Kentucky] has played in big games. They’ve had a good team now, for two or three years, they’ve been in the hunt. I felt like the game that we played up there two years ago was a big game. They had a great atmosphere, a really good crowd. They’ve got a lot of experience. Every game is relative of what you think of it. So every time they play an SEC opponent, we play an SEC opponent, it’s a big game. They’ve got seniors who have played in a lot more games than some of our younger players.”

On maintaining the edge in big games…

“It’s a big stage every week. I mean, TV – I don’t look at it that way. Look at Kentucky, the emotional win in their game and the way they won the game. That’s for you guys to talk about and the fans, but we’re next man up. We’re going through the same process we go through every week. When you change the process, it makes them think that some games aren’t as important as others. They’re all important.”

On Tyrique McGhee at the star position…

“He’s physical. He strikes and tackles and plays bigger than he is. He’s not afraid of contact. He’s tough. I know the culture he’s from at Peach County; they’re all tough down there. I’ve always said I’ve seen some of the most physical practices I’ve ever seen in my time recruiting at Peach County, and that’s where he’s from. He might not weigh much, but he’ll hit you and he’ll strike you. He loves football. He understands our defense, which helps him. A big part of it is knowing where his help is and using that.”

On the development of the Kentucky…

“I think Mark’s done is make great headway into Ohio into the north. W=When you think about the players on that roster from that state, it’s amazing. The guys he’s gotten from that area where he has really good ties. I’m assuming it’s one of the closest places in the SEC, I don’t know that for sure. It’s probably one of the closest in the SEC, and gets them to come in there and play….I think the commitment to the university, selling out for the program and the team is important. The best teams I’ve been around care about the team. And that’s what he’s got going right now.”

On Smart’s evaluation of senior ILB Natrez Patrick and junior ILB Tae Crowder…

“Up and down. Natrez is a guy that will be the first to tell you that he hasn’t played sometimes as good as he has in others. That’s part of football. I ‘m not one to sit here and be critical. Natrez gives us everything he has at practice. He leads our team; he’s very smart. He understands our defense. He’s missing tackles, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t work at it. He works everyday to get better. Does extra cardio. Natrez is one of our leaders. He leads by example by how he practices. He leads by telling guys when they’re not giving good effort.

Tae has been a pleasant surprise for us. He’s gotten better. The development of Tae has come from a lifetime of not playing defense or linebacker. He’s finally starting to get more and more comfortable, so he that he can strike people and block. He has extremely long arms, and is getting better.”

On the evolution of the team chemistry…

“There wasn’t a lot of fun after LSU, I can tell you that. [After the Florida game] was good. We’ve had some really good moments in our locker room. We had some guys that played really good in those games. I certainly enjoyed the process of this team growing and getting better. Was the Florida locker room good? Yes. Was the LSU locker room good? No. But all those in between have been somewhere in the middle of those two. The Florida locker room was good because it was a big win. We give our guys 24 hours to get used to it, and move on. The next one’s just bigger.”

On what Smart’s message to the team would be about the College Football Playoff rankings…

“I should have talked to our team about that, I didn’t bring it up; who knows what they’ll be thinking tonight. I’m not curious, because we all know the end is what matters. You get caught in that, you’ll fall pretty quick if you get caught up in it. Bottom line is, pretty much every team that’s in there, if you win, you’re in. A lot of them are going to play each other…Be wary of the postings and the hype and all the stuff that’s involved with it. It’s really just a distraction. The older ones heard it all last year, because I know all of them will see it and pay attention to it and be on their phones looking at it. But it doesn’t matter; it really has no effect at all. What matters is how you play. You want to go impress those guys, go play well.”

Sophomore ILB #32 Monty Rice

On the celebrations after Florida…

“It’s always a big game, especially for the kids that are from Florida that are on this team. You always want to beat Florida, that’s a huge rival.”

On what changed after the loss to LSU…

“Reality struck. You can lose, no matter who you are. We started off 6-0, and you might have some guys that think we can’t lose, but we can. Anybody can be beaten in the SEC if you don’t show up and play.”

On Coach Smart’s postgame celebrations…

“He needs to learn new moves.”

Junior ILB #30 Tae Crowder

On the switch from offense to defense…

“It’s always a challenge just because I switched. So, it’s just trying to keep practicing hard just trying to get used to it….It’s reading and reacting. You just have to keep knowing what you have to do, and that’s all about preparing for the other team as well.”

On Kentucky’s offensive challenges…

“Every team has dual threats. It’ll be a great challenge for us, but everybody’s got good players.”

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