Smart, Bulldogs preview 2019 Tennessee game
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Smart, Bulldogs preview 2019 Tennessee game

Kirby Smart
Photo: Chamberlain Smith/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. – University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, previewed Saturday’s game at Tennessee. The Bulldogs and Volunteers kick off at 7 p.m. ET at Neyland Stadium on ESPN.

On Monday, Coach Smart and student-athletes offered the following comments.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Statement…

“We’ll start off with Tennessee. We worked on Tennessee a little bit last week, as well as some of our future opponents. But primarily on Tennessee on Thursday. I think Jeremy (Pruitt) is doing a great job with the situation he’s in. I certainly know this. They play hard. They play physical. You can turn the tape on in the third and fourth quarter and watch how their kids compete, and they play the game the right way. You look at last year’s game with us, they fought extremely hard, made it a game there in the second half, and the games they’ve been in this year they’ve just had a lot of turnovers and their defense has actually forced a lot of turnovers. They’ve just turned the ball over quite a bit and it’s hurt them some in some games. But they have a good football team, have a lot of players that we recruited, and have a lot of respect for the coaching staff. I think they do a great job, and they’re kicking butt in special teams, which will be an extra challenge for us, because we didn’t fare as well last time out in special teams. So this will be a tough ballgame, at night, their place, and our guys have to get ready to play.

On if he’s motivated by his time here as a player here against Tennessee…

“Not really. I don’t think the games that I play. These kids don’t think about that, it has no impact whatsoever on this game. Most of them weren’t born when that was going on. So I don’t think it has much impact on it. I think it’s a rivalry game, and I think that when you’re going to play a team that’s a rivalry game for you and also somebody you recruit against and they come into our state and recruit a lot we recruit a lot in their state, it’s an important ballgame, but that’s more to do with the here and now than the past.

On if he’s going to talk to Cade May about the added emotions for him playing against Tennessee…

“Well, he had that last year. I know it wasn’t there, but it was the same emotions, I think, that he played with. Obviously when your father plays for that school and you grow up in that town, there’s a lot of emotions there. But Cade has played in a lot of big games. He’s played in a lot of snaps, a lot of positions. I think he understands that he cannot let the emotion get the best of him. He knows a lot of the guys on their team and kind of was around a lot of them, but Cade as good control, he has good self-control, and he understands what he can and can’t do, and he’ll play hard just like they’ll play hard against him.”

On the dynamic of going up against Jim Chaney’s offense…
“I think there’s a lot more to it in your guys’ stories than there is in real life. It’s going to boil down to which guy blocks properly, which guy covers properly. There’s no, like, secrets. I mean we know what they do, they know what we do. But that’s the case every week. That’s what the tape’s for. So there’s a lot of familiarity there. And at the end of the day the players have to go out and execute. They have to play with a passion and energy and enthusiasm to beat the guy across from him and not make it about what our defensive coordinator calls or what their offensive coordinator calls. I just don’t think that matters a whole lot. At the end of the day it’s blocking, tackling, turnovers, explosive plays, executing and doing it with a lot of passion.”

On if he’s seen enough of Brian Maurer at quarterback in the Florida game to know what’s different about him compared to Jarrett Guarantano…
“No. I don’t know that I’ve seen enough. Obviously he’s a really good athlete, but so is Jarrett. I mean, they both can run the ball and both do things with that package. I thought he came in and did a good job. First series he was in there he did a nice job moving the ball down the field, and he is a good athlete. We know him from high school and have seen him play.”

On the injury updates of players in the secondary and on the offensive and defensive lines…
“Eric Stokes we think is going to be able to practice today. Again, he did not practice on Thursday. He conditioned and ran and moved around, but he wasn’t able to practice today. He’s supposed to be able to go full go in practice. Tyson (Campbell) is still limited a little bit, hoping to get him back before the end of the week. He’s recovering quickly. Don’t really know any on the defensive line. Solomon (Kindley) we expect to be able to go out today and do some work. We think he’s going to be cleared to play but we just don’t know if he’s going to be able to or not. It’s going to depend on how many reps he can get today and tomorrow. Kearis (Jackson) is cleared to play. He’s going to be able to play. We think he’s going to be able to go out and do a good job for us. He practiced last week. Like I said, he’s been practicing all long. It’s never gone away with his situation. He’s just going to have a different brace on, a different splint on, but we think he’s going to be good to go.

On quarterback Jake Fromm completing almost 76 percent and ranking pretty high in the nation in passing efficiency…
“Jake does a great job leading our team, our offense. He understands the game of football really well. He handles protections. He handles a lot of what the defense does and gives to us and takes from us, and he does a nice job of managing that. We put a lot on his shoulders. And especially when he goes on the road, he has to do a good job understanding there’s more to it than just the right play. Sometimes it’s the tempo or it’s the shot clock that he has to deal with, getting the call and getting us lined up. But he’s picked up where he’s left off. He’s very highly efficient. He makes good decisions with the ball. He protects the ball and puts us in the right play a lot.

On improvements of Jake Fromm from the off season and through the first four games of the season…
“His leadership is the biggest difference. I mean he’s kind of always been a leader, but he’s taken that more — I guess it’s more tangible to me. I see him affecting other people. I can see him going and talking and communicating to young wideouts, to helping get guys lined up, challenging guys to play with more energy and effort and toughness, and he’s not afraid to confront and demand. Not that he ever was, but he’s doing it more often now.

On if he puts the shut-out win in Knoxville in 2017 on the path of the program’s rise…

“I think they were in such a different state in time at that time, you know. Their program was in a different direction than it really is now, and I don’t look at that game as any kind of indication of where we’ve gone. Jake (Fromm) played well in a tough environment, but we had a different football team. You know, we had an extremely — very experienced defensive football team, and we had some really good players on offense at the skill positions. I think that game obviously has nothing to do with this game. They’re playing with a high motor and a chip on their shoulder and they’re playing extremely hard, and we know we’re going to get their best shot and our job is to make sure they get our best shot.”

On if the College Football Playoff committee prefers more offensive teams…

“The other games don’t affect us at all. I mean I don’t think they affect us at all. I think that it’s not my job to rate what other teams do or how many points they score or how many points they give up. Our job is to go play the best football game that our kids can play, and that’s what we try to do each week with the ultimate goal of winning the game in mind, and we go play at the highest level we can, and if we’re not doing that, we try to figure out which ways we can do to do it better. But that’s all we do.”

On the depth of the offensive line following injuries… 

“We’re thankful that we have depth, because like last year, the depth played a major role in our season, because we missed some guys last year. With similar injuries this year; we’ve had several guys go in and out of the lineup. I think that’s one of the defensive and offensive lines are those spots that you had the highest risk of losing a guy because of what goes on in there in the trenches, and it’s tougher in there. So we’ve been fortunate that none of the injuries have been significant, but I think everybody’s got the same problem, so you’re always shuffling O-linemen to put them in the right spot. Same thing with defensive linemen to find the spot to get some depth to be able to play guys, and we’ve been fortunate to play a lot of guys up front. But we’re getting ready to go on a stretch now where it’s going to have to be for a long time.”

On Eli Wolf’s transition from Tennessee to Georgia… 
“Seems to be smooth. I mean there’s a lot of similarities into the way we do things here and the way they do things there, at least from his perspective. So it’s not like something brand new for him. There’s a lot of carryover. Offensively, different words and some different things. He’s in his — I don’t know what number offense in the last four years, but he’s in a different offense again, which he went through there and he went through coming here. So the transition has been smooth for him because he’s bright, he picks things up, he’s smart. But he works hard at it, and he’s got a lot of pride in knowing what to do, and that part he spent extra time on so that he could have an effective senior year.”

On Jordan Davis’ role in controlling opponents’ run game…

“I think he’s always working on his stamina. It’s important that he understands that he has to be able to sustain and play for long periods of time. We’re not going to ask him to play every play on defense. We ask him to play for his kind of stretch. He does a good job of that. He has to continue to improve on it. He has to monitor his weight at all times because it can get out of sorts on him in a hurry and he has to stay on top of that. But he plays with good pad level, and he plays with good strike, and strain. He’s really hard to block. But he has to be able to do that, and, you know, ultimately our ability to stop the run is factored by a lot of other things outside of him, because he’s one guy that’s in one gap compared to the 11, 12 gaps out there. There’s a lot of space that people can run the ball outside of him. But when he plays hard and he plays low pad level, he’s hard to block.”

On the challenge Tennessee’s Juaun Jennings poses against the secondary…

“Well, he’s one of the most physical players, competitive players, competitive toughness that I’ve ever seen. I mean he repeatedly blocks people. He plays physical at the point of attack. He goes up and attacks the ball. He’s always had really good ball skills, and after he catches it is when he sometimes becomes the most dangerous because he’s really hard to get on the ground. He’s physical. So he does a good job. They do a really good job of moving him around and using his skill set, and he’s one of the better receivers we’ll face this year. When you get in the SEC, it’s week in, week out, there’s going to be a really good wideout on the other team, and he’s one of them.”

On Tennessee’s team compared to a season ago… 
“Their depth, their physicality. They were thinner at some positions last year. They’ve got more guys. They’re rolling and playing more guys. They’re playing really hard and they play really physical. You look at the games they’ve played this year, they’ve had some self-inflicted wounds. Otherwise, they’re winning or in those games. And you know the way they’re coaching and the way they’re demanding, they’ve got a good staff, they’re going to push these kids, and they’re getting them better. They’ve had a whole week to get better and improve, and I think it shows on tape when you watch them how hard they play, that they’re on the brink of something special, and you can tell these guys are playing hard, and they’re playing with a lot of young guys. There’s a lot of guys out there that were recruited last year in a lot of situations.”

On Azeez Ojulari and what he brings to the outside linebacker position… 
“He’s on the field a lot because we feel like he’s our best either-or player. He can stand up. He can rush. He communicates well. He plays really physical. He strains, rushes the passer. So when you start talking about the attributes of an outside backer, first down is very different than third down. And you want somebody that can do it all. But there’s guys that have roles on our team that are specialized to be better on this situation and other guys that are specialized to be better at run situation. But, yeah, he does both pretty well. It allows him to play a significant amount. He still rolls, but he plays more than those other guys because he knows what to do. He practices really hard. He’s very productive. And, you know, we need those other guys to step up and play to the same level he is. Nolan (Smith) does that, providing kind of a spark. Jermaine Johnson is starting to do that a little more. Walter (Grant) has done that and even (Robert) Beal is starting to do it more and more. So the more guys we can get that can play that winning football, it really helps us.”

On Dominick Blaylock and the spark he’s provided the last few games…

“Well, Dom’s a really hard worker. First of all, he’s put himself in a situation to be successful because of how hard he works. He goes out to practice every day, and his level of practice standard is the same as his game standard. I mean he plays so hard in practice. He does everything you ask. He’s a very assignment-oriented guy. He has a knack for getting open. He understands coverages and route structure. He understands our offense. So he can play multiple positions. He can go outside and play. He can play inside. And he does a really nice job of doing that. And he’s even become better as a blocker and more physical as he’s in the weight room and continuing to lift. So I love the way he works. He never complains. He just goes out there and puts his best forward each and every day, and we need him to continue doing that because it’s a position that we’ve been light at, and he’s a position guy that can help us at the wide receiver spot.”

On Dominick Blaylock’s mental approach and how it shows in all aspects of his game… 
“We knew it in recruiting because we had him in camp. He came in and competed and worked really hard in camp. And he had done it on Friday nights. He went on some of the biggest stages there were on Friday night and played against the best teams in the state and he performed well. He was usually the best player on the field. And they used him very well. They put him at Wildcat quarterback. He returned kicks. He got the ball in the slot. You knew he was a playmaker by the way his coaches used him. And he took on all those roles in high school, so you felt like he would be able to do the same thing in college. He went to an All-Star Game, scored two touchdowns. Anywhere he’s gone he’s been one of the most competitive people on the field, and he’s continued that trend at our place by outworking people and just busting his tail.”

On players that stood out during the bye week that might see more playing time…

“There’s so many guys out there working I’d hate to single anybody out. There’s nobody that just like leaped up the depth chart, if that’s what you’re asking. There were some guys that were dinged up and banged up that didn’t get as many reps, and there were a lot of guys in the two’s and three’s categories that got a lot more reps because we wanted them to get some quality work or try to develop and play. There are some positions that we’re not as deep as that sometimes the one’s are the guys that need the reps because they don’t have a lot. And then sometimes the ones that played and started for three years and we’re trying to develop another guy to be a backup so we put him in there with the one’s. But there’s nobody that just jumps off at me that I thought is going to be out there starting this week that wasn’t last week.”

On if Nakobe Dean is playing at 100 percent following the early-season injury…

“Yeah, he’s playing at 100 percent. I feel like he is. He’s out there playing situational football. He plays in the first, second down rotation. He’s done a good job. I do think that the setback held him back some from being able to play every snap and also from getting the reps. There was a brief time in there that he couldn’t get as many reps, and it probably hurt him there from a mental standpoint. But he’s picked that back up, and he’s working really hard and pleased with what he’s doing. Just continue to get better.”

On the possibility of Tae Crowder being All-SEC or NFL prospect material as a senior… 
“I can’t compare him to other guys because I’m not watching all the other guys in the league. Tae has taken ownership in his job, and he’s become much better at being able to adapt and change to what happens within a game, within a play. Something checks, something changes, so many formations you get from offenses nowadays and so much complicated scheme stuff that he’s able to help get us right besides Monty (Rice) being the only guy that can do that. So he has grown at that. I think the fact that he’s gotten better at that allows him to make some plays. But to all those questions about, I don’t know, I don’t think he would be concerned with all those things right now. He’s trying to play his best football for his teammates so that we can be successful on defense.”

#55 Trey Hill | Sophomore | Center

On Jim Chaney being on the other sideline…

“It’s a very unique feeling. Our coaching staff used to be over there, theirs used to be over here. It’ll be a pretty good battle.”

On what you remember about going into the game against Kentucky last year and how Coach Pittman had you prepared for that…

“It was really just an adrenaline rush. I just had to focus on remembering everything, all the calls with being a freshman at the time. I just remember going out there and being me.”

On being banged up and having to shuffle guys in and out of positions while still performing at the highest level…

“I think this week was good for us. I think whatever guy goes in whatever position is going to be good for us.”

On success against SEC teams and what has attributed to that success…

“I think our preparation and the way we practice. Our Tuesday and Wednesday practices play a huge role. Just going out and practicing hard everyday.”

#13 Azeez Ojulari | RFr. | OLB

On his Tennessee-commit brother and the possible dynamics at this weekend’s game…

“It’s going to be a good one. I know he’s going to be there, but I’m still trying to change his mind. I know he’ll be rooting for me and the Vols for sure, so we’ll see how that plays out.”

On his progress this season…

“I feel like I’m getting better every week, actually. I come in and work hard every day to try and impact the rest of the outside linebackers to progress every day and week to get better.”

#30 Tae Crowder  | Sr. | ILB

On how he used the bye week…

“For me, I saw it as a work week. We really didn’t want to get complacent this week and wanted to focus on us for a little. I worked on small, fundamental things like feet work, staying disciplined and sticking to the keys.”

On how he used the bye week…

It would be great. That’s the plan, and it’d be something really special for us.

On how much a factor he thinks Jim Cheney will be in terms of play calling on defense…

“It will depend, but we’re just focusing on preparation this week. I’m sure Coach Cheney will probably try to mess with our defense a little, try to scheme a little. We’re just going to stick with what we know.”

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