UGA defense talks with the media at Allstate Sugar Bowl
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UGA defense talks with the media at Allstate Sugar Bowl

J.R. Reed
Photo: Steven Colquitt/UGA

The 5th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs held their second practice on Saturday in preparation for the upcoming Allstate Sugar Bowl game against the 15th-ranked Texas Longhorns on New Year’s Day.

Before Saturday’s practice, outside linebackers coach Dan Lanning, along with senior Jonathan Ledbetter, juniors Tae Crowder, Tyrique McGhee and J.R. Reed, and sophomore Richard LeCounte met with the media to discuss the upcoming matchup.

Below are quotes from the press conference via UGA:

2019 Allstate Sugar Bowl

Georgia Outside Linebackers Coach

Dan Lanning Quotes – 12-29-18

DAN LANNING: We’re really, really excited to be here. I know that our staff and players have really enjoyed the hospitality of the Sugar Bowl. I know a lot of coaches and players get to go their whole career and don’t get an opportunity to play in this game. We’re fortunate enough to have a little bit of both — some guys that have had some experience in this venue as well as some guys that haven’t. So I think we’ve really been impressed with the setup. Everything has been really first class. Obviously, our number one goal is here to come take care of business when it comes to the game. But everything surrounding the game has been a lot of fun for us as a staff and as players as we move forward.

Q. Wonder if you can talk about how the dynamic, how it’s been since Mel [Tucker] left for Colorado. And I know Kirby [Smart] has been working on the secondary. But, as far as play calling goes, how has that been going? How it will go for the ball game coming up?

DAN LANNING: I think a lot of people put a lot more into that than is probably the actual case. We make a lot of decisions during the week before you ever get to the game. So, when you look at a specific situation in the game, a lot of those decisions have already been made. But I think the right answer is that everybody is going to be involved in that just like they have been all week. You know, a combination of Coach Smart, Coach [Glenn] Schumann, Coach [Tray] Scott, and myself are working really hard to put together a great plan and have a great plan for these guys. But, when we get into the game, a lot of times those decisions have already been made.

Q. When did Kirby say, “Hey, we want you to go do the press conference in the big room?” And have you done a podium press conference before? What’s going on with the play calling? How is that working out with the staff?

DAN LANNING: We’ve been divvying stuff up as a staff. Everybody’s kind of stepped up and done their part. The defense we run is the defense we run. And that’s not necessarily going to change.  But everybody’s been involved in how those pieces will be divided. Everybody will be involved in the game just like they are for every one of our games. Coach [Mel] Tucker is, obviously, a phenomenal coach. We’re all really, really excited for him and his opportunity. But just like, when he was here, a lot of those decisions were made before he stepped out on the field. Coach Smart and I talked about it a little bit about it yesterday coming up here, doing the podium experience. Definitely, my first Sugar Bowl podium experience and a little different than being at Park Hill South High School when I was assistant coach. But the football field is still 100 yards last time I checked. We’re going to be okay when we step out on there.

Q. Can you talk about the problems that the Texas receiving corps presents? And have you seen a receiving corps that has this amount of weapons this deep this season?

DAN LANNING: Yeah. I think that’s one of the things that’s really, really exciting for our guys. Obviously, Texas is really talented at wideout. And, when you look at it on paper, what sticks out most is their size. They’re big guys, can really stretch the field, and have connected on a lot of explosive plays this year. You talk about plays over 20 yards. They’ve had a lot of those. So for us it’s a unique challenge. But I think that’s something our players are really, really excited about. Obviously, Texas is a premiere program. They’re a national brand. So this game for us is really exciting to go against a great opponent with those tools, with those weapons. I’m excited to see how our guys perform.

Q. Following up on that, are Lil‘J [Humphrey] and Collin Johnson comparable to anyone y’all played this year?

DAN LANNING: Yeah. They’re exceptional players. They’re really, really talented guys. Immediately you turn on the film and they stick out. They create some matchup issues for our guys.  So, for us, like I said, I think our guys are really excited. Our last game was the 1st. Our next game is the 1st. So having that much time to be able to prepare and watch film, those are two guys you definitely have to focus on. And we’ve done that.

Q. What stands out about J.R. Reed? What makes him such a good player, and what has he done to your defense?

DAN LANNING: He’s kind of a veteran. Not kind of a veteran. He is a veteran. But he’s way mature beyond his years, even though he’s a little bit older guy in the room. He just has a calm and control when he steps on the field. I think our guys really trust him. Our defense really gravitates to him because he understands the communication. He understands all the pieces and elements of our defense and really does a great job getting our guys lined up when it comes to communication. And, obviously, he makes great plays.

Q. How does knowing that Deandre [Baker] is not going to play in this game altered the preparation and game plan itself? And who then, if anyone, can fill that void?

DAN LANNING: We have a lot of guys. We play a lot of personnel groups. We do a lot of different things with a lot of different players in our defense already. We’ve been fortunate enough to be in some situations this year where we’ve been able to play a lot of other players beyond Deandre when it comes to Tyson Campbell, Eric Stokes, Mark Webb that have played a lot of significant snaps for us. You don’t replace Deandre Baker. He’s a great player. We’re really, really excited for him as he’s moving forward, but we have a lot of guys that have gotten significant snaps this season. So I think that that piece, that transition will be smooth.

Q. With a fresh set of eyes on Sam Ehlinger, I wonder what did you see as to why this guy did not throw an interception for as long as he did?

DAN LANNING: He appears as a guy that really has a great concept of their offense and what Coach [Tom] Herman and their staff are trying to get done. He’s a good decision maker, and he’s not careless with the ball. I think the threat that probably shows up to us on film is when there isn’t something there, he has the ability to run with his feet and take off and create plays, which he’s done a great job with all year. So he’s not a bad decision maker. He doesn’t make a lot of bad decisions, protects the ball which obviously always gives you a chance.

Q. Now that you’ve been with Coach [Kirby] Smart for about a year or so, what do you feel like you’ve been able to learn from him with him being a former defensive coordinator and how would you describe him as coach?

DAN LANNING: In coaching we all see ourselves as teachers, but Coach Smart is also a learner. If there’s anybody he can absorb some knowledge from, soak up some information from even as a guy that’s been as successful as he’s been, he’s looking for that opportunity to continue to learn and expand and adapt and change. I think that’s what really makes guys like Coach Smart unique, is they’re looking for opportunities to improve themselves. And when you work for a guy that’s looking for an opportunity to improve, it really makes it easy as an assistant coach or a player to say, dang, I’ve got to get better, there’s something I can work on. There’s something I can improve and that’s something that really sticks out to me about Coach Smart.

Q. The departure of Roquan Smith left a big hole in the defense from last season. Can you talk about the way the linebacker group has developed, especially the guys on the inside?

DAN LANNING: Yeah, I think that’s interesting. When you look at inside linebacker, that was obviously something that everybody talked about before this season started. And he’s obviously playing pretty well right now in the NFL as well so we knew what we had with when we had Roquan. It’s really exciting. It’s really been a combination of a lot of players playing on those inside positions. I think we have four guys that have over 200 snaps at inside linebacker which is pretty impressive. But they’ve continued to grow and play really well throughout the year, stepping up. And Coach [Glenn] Schumann obviously does a really, really good job with the development of those guys. So it’s exciting to see him step up and not have a big drop-off at that position.

Q. Did you have a chance to follow Mel [Tucker] to Colorado as defensive coordinator? And also what are the chances that you might be Mel’s replacement at Georgia?

DAN LANNING: I don’t really want to speak to that. Right now our focus is on this game. I have all the respect in the world for Mel Tucker. I love Mel Tucker. He’s been a great mentor and friend in this business. But moving forward right now, our focus is on this game on the 1st.

Q. I just wondered, have you interviewed for the Georgia’s defensive coordinator job or would that even be necessary?

DAN LANNING: Our complete focus has been this game. And leading up to this game, we had our signing day. So I think opportunities and decisions will be made. There is a ton of interest. This is a Georgia defensive coordinator job. There’s a ton of interest in that job. We’re going to be able to attract a lot of great candidates for that position, and we have a lot of great people on staff and in‑house. Like I said, I think people are taking a piece of the pie stepping forward and moving this game and what it will look like has a play caller, signal call caller standpoint in this game. And then after the game, I think there will be some decisions made as to what that looks like moving forward.

Q. One of the guys that stepped up in the middle has been Tae Crowder who has changed position from running back. Talk about his development.

DAN LANNING: I think it’s really interesting you talked about a guy named Roquan [Smith] earlier. Roquan played running back in high school as well. And Tae Crowder played running back. That always seems to be a really smooth transition for players that have good vision. They can play the running back position and then turn. And when we look for linebackers in our league and certainly like the Big 12, you’re looking for guys that can run and Tae is one ever those guys that can run. And you don’t create some of those same matchup issues that can happen on a backfield or a wide‑out, that he might have to match up with or a tight end that he might have to match up. So that’s something Tae has done a really good job with this year.

Q. How have you seen Monty Rice develop not just as a player but as a leader of that group?

DAN LANNING: Monty has got a great personality. I don’t know if everybody knows that who hasn’t been around our program. He’s a guy that’s a lot of fun to be around, has a smile on his face, and works extremely hard at his craft. He’s a smart guy, really intelligent ant he’s a heavy hitter. When he puts his pads on, I think guys feel it.  So it’s exciting to see some of the things that Monty has been able to do this year and looking forward to the things he’s going to do for this program for a long time to come.

Q. As far as your own particular position group, I know D’Andre Walker has provided a ton of leadership in that standpoint but it’s a young position. What were some of the challenges they faced this year, and how did they ultimately progress to your satisfaction?

DAN LANNING: D’Andre’s role obviously shifted from last year to this year. He’s done a phenomenal job for us. I think we’re really excited about the things D’Andre has done this year and how he’s kind of a dynamic player from a standpoint. He’s the guy that can set the edge and have heavy hands and play the run but also has the ability to rush the passer. He’s done a great job with that. And Adam (Anderson) is a guy that has just continued to come along throughout the season, get a better concept of what we do defensively. And his athleticism really speaks for itself. He can run for days and it’s always good whether you have guys who can run on the field. But we got some other guys like Brenton Cox, Azeez Ojulari, Walter Grant that have all done a really good job this season, helping us in a number of ways.

Q. You talked earlier about the quarterback and his ability to run. When you think back to your team’s game against LSU, Joe Burrow ran 13 times for 60‑some yards. Do you see any similarities or comparison to what they do with their quarterback and LSU and Joe Burrow in that game?

DAN LANNING: Offensively they’re a lot different team than LSU. But, yeah, there’s definitely some similarities between the two quarterbacks. They’re both really good players. And both can hurt you with their feet if you don’t do a good job being accountable for the quarterback. So I think that’s something that we’re prepared for. But as far as offenses go, they’re two completely different offenses.

Georgia Defensive Player Quotes

Jonathan Ledbetter (Tucker, Ga.)

On how he’s changed as a person and a player

“I try to take it one day at a time and slow down. It’s the little things that start to matter more when you get older. You start to realize they have more input for the big things. If you do those right, everything starts to fall into place. I learned that recently.”

On Assistant Coach Dan Lanning

“Even last year, he came in and worked with us a whole bunch when we were doing our regular packages. I was playing outside linebacker, and he was coaching me and doing extra meetings – all types of stuff. He is a great guy and a hard worker. He and Coach (Glenn) Schumann are identical in their work ethic. They are always in a book, always studying something and eager to get more information and more knowledge about football. When you have coaches that are still knowledge-seeking, that sets the standard for your players. You then have players that have the same habits and do the same things.

On if your bowl really registers if you aren’t playing in the College Football Playoffs

“I have been on both sides. I am not going to lie – it is different when you are in the national championship from a player’s perspective because you feel like you are going toward something. But with Georgia, if we are in the game, we are going to play our hearts out and give it all we got. That is the cool thing about our team. It does not matter if we are in the national championship or we are in the Sugar Bowl or we are in any bowl. It does not matter because we are going to play. We are going to show up. We like to play good football games – it is what we do.”

On not worrying too much about the game, scoreboard, etc.

“The crazy part about it is, especially being in the SEC, you are going to play good football teams, and they are going to make big plays. It always goes back and forth. If you are really in a good football game, there are so many momentum swings. You just have to keep swinging. That is exactly what it is – you just have to keep throwing punches. Just how many punches you can take and throw is who stands on top in the end.”

On the Texas offense and quarterback Sam Ehlinger

“We need penetration. He (Sam Ehlinger) is a great quarterback. He is mobile. He likes to run and lower his shoulder. He is not afraid of contact. He has some great receivers with some great size. DB’s have to be locked in and on the same page communicating with each other. I think if we go out and play our brand of football and execute and make sure we are on our toes… in these bowl games, scoring goes up a lot because of tackling so we have to make sure our special teams are tackling and running to the ball. Just have fun, ultimately. This is a good opportunity to be in a great bowl game – just to play with the boys one more time.”

J.R. Reed (Frisco, Texas)

On the biggest challenge on the defensive front

“Well, you just have to play the ball. Those guys [Texas] do a great job catching the ball. They are going to make some catches. That is what they do. You cannot get down when they do that. You just have to keep going onto the next play. Playing the ball is the most important thing.”

On what schools he grew up rooting for in Texas

“As a Texas kid I just watched football. I would just kind of watch and cheer for whoever and cheer for certain players.”

On his transfer to Georgia

“I just believed in myself first off. I really depended on myself and realized the challenge. That is why I wanted to leave (Tulsa) because I realized the challenge (of playing at UGA) and believed that I could do it. I knew there was a new coaching staff, too. And when there is a new coaching staff, they always want to get new guys and guys they like in the games. So, I took advantage of that and made the best of a great opportunity for me.”

On the excitement to play a school from his home state

“Yes. Anytime I get to play Texas or Oklahoma, in that area, I always get excited. I have a lot of friends that go to those two schools, and I always get excited to play those teams.”

On the team’s motivation after being left out of the College Football Playoffs

“(We are) playing for the seniors. These guys have put in a lot of work over these last three or four years. Some of the guys are leaving early so they have put in three years of work. Really just playing for those guys. Also playing for the ‘G’ on your chest and having pride about playing in this game.”

On if this is a “message game” for Georgia

“I wouldn’t really call it a message game. It’s a big game being the Sugar Bowl and a New Year’s game but I wouldn’t call it a message game.”

Richard LeCounte III (Riceboro, Ga.)

On Texas’ wide receivers

“They are pretty good. From what I have seen on film, they are physical, big-bodied receivers. They remind you a lot of Mike Evans, who played for Texas A&M and the Buccaneers. They are a pretty good group, but I think we are still the best DB core in the nation, so we are going to go out there and show everybody what we can do.”

On the impact of losing Deandre Baker and his impact on the team

“I found out a little bit after you all found out. I am so proud of Dre and the things he did for this university. I saw something on the internet that he hasn’t been scored on in like 724 days or something like that. That is a major accomplishment. Some of the things he did on the field can’t be replaced. He really set the standard high, being the guy that he is and being a mentor to me and my fellow teammates. Since he was not practicing, he was there coaching us up on the sidelines, making sure we do everything that we need to do, because we are next up. His time is up, but he did everything that he could. We wish we could be playing in that playoff, but things didn’t go our way. He is here cheering us on, being a great role model and the great guy that he is, so I really appreciate that from him.”

On the young DBs stepping up to replace Deandre Baker

“That’s what these guys came here for. There is no adversity. We always knew that Dre was a senior and he was going to be able to leave, so we had our guys getting prepped all season to be able step up in this position and make these plays. It’s not something that shocks us or anything like that, because we knew that at some point we were going to have to answer the bell and be able to move forward. I think this is a great game to be able to show how we are doing.”

On playing defense for Coach Smart

“He has been a great guy to play for. He is very intense, something that you would want. I don’t have any regrets coming here. I know every day I am going to get my coach’s best, and that is all you can ask for. So, I have to personally ring the bell, show up every day and give my all. That is all that you can ask for from a coach.”

On being motivated for the Sugar Bowl

“We are amped up. We are going to play like this is any other game. We come out and give our all. That is what we do and that is what we practice for. We are going to come out and play just as hard as we have played any other game. There is no added incentives or things on our mind. We are just focused on playing Texas. Everything that has happened in the past is in the past, so we are geared up and ready to play this next game.”

Tae Crowder (Hamilton, Ga.)

On the Sugar Bowl

“The opportunity to play in any bowl is great but the chance to play in the Sugar Bowl is special. The experience is different, and you never know what is going to happen.”

On the team’s attitude going into this game

“We just want to keep performing the way we have in the second half of the season. We want to make a statement for the SEC and the reputation our conference carries.”

On how this year feels different from last year’s College Football Playoffs

“We are going to approach every game seriously no matter the circumstance. There is a different feeling, but this is still a big game. It is a statement game and very important to Georgia football.”

On the Texas offense

“Sam Ehlinger is an excellent quarterback with a solid running game behind him. It is not about the Texas offense though. We have to focus on ourselves and Georgia defense.”

On how to shut down the Texas offense

“We have to play together as a team, cut out little mistakes, and execute.”

Tyrique McGhee (Byron, Ga.)

On whether Texas is game planning differently with Deandre Baker out

“Honestly, I think they are just focused on their game plan just as much as we are. With (Deandre) Baker not being here, I think they believe a little bit. I don’t think there is any drop-off in our guys between Erick Stokes and Tyson Campbell at cornerback. We are confident in the cornerbacks doing their job and holding up.”

On Tyson Campbell’s preparation for the Sugar Bowl

“I think he is ready. For him to get those games under his belt early on in the season, regardless of the productivity or whatever happened, I think he is ready. Nothing beats experience, especially at this level. I think he got the little bit of experience that he needed, and he will be ready.”

On defensive meetings and practices being different without Mel Tucker

“It isn’t that much different. Here at Georgia, we have a standard. The coaches are around each other so much that they start to act like each other. You can’t even really tell the difference. They are still scheduled the same way. The only thing that we miss is his (Mel Tucker’s) personality. He can have a whole room light up. But even Coach (Dan) Lanning, Coach (Glenn) Schumann and Coach (Kirby) Smart running the meetings has been great.”

On the team’s motivation relative to last year’s semifinal game

“I think there is a standard here at Georgia. I do not think there is much of guys not getting motivated to play this game. As an athlete, any time you get on the field, you are going to try to get out there and compete. You are going to compete, especially against a historic university and athletic program like Texas. They have a lot of great players, especially on the offensive side of the ball. If you can’t get motivated to play against another opponent, you shouldn’t be out there on the field.”

On the opportunity for other players to step up with Deandre Baker out

“It gives them the opportunity to showcase their talent and what they can do, as well as what (Deandre) Baker has taught them. Baker is a great leader. He has taught them everything from little tools that they can use on the field. It gives guys like Tyson (Campbell) and Eric Stokes a platform for them to showcase their dominance on the field.”

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