Smart, Bulldogs preview Arkansas State game
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Smart, Bulldogs preview Arkansas State 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 against Arkansas State. The Bulldogs and Red Wolves kick off at noon ET on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium.

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

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement … 

“As we move on to Arkansas State, I want to make mention that this is a really, really good football team. They do a tremendous job offensively and defensively, and you could see that last night right when we flipped the page to look at them. They’ve got some really good defensive players — explosive, quick. They lead their conference in a lot of categories. I have a lot of respect for their quarterback. They’ve got the best wideouts and skill guys we have probably faced when it comes to a combination of three or four really good receivers. They have a lot of experience upfront, a lot of returning guys. They picked up a couple of transfers who are really good players. So, when you watch them, they jump off the tape at you and are explosive offensively, defensively and special teams. Blake (Anderson) has done a tremendous job with this team, this program. We know what he’s had to go through and I have a lot of respect for him and what he has been through and how he has pushed through it.

“So, I have a lot of respect for this team. It’s a really, really good opponent, and with us kicking off at 12:00 p.m., we have to get our minds right and get ready to play.”

On using his team’s rushing success in recruiting … 

“It helps. I think the product of NFL players and running backs that we have has helped us recruit. The No. 1 thing guys look for is will I get an opportunity, will I grow and develop, will they teach me a skill set that will allow me to play in the NFL, which is more than just carrying the ball because backs in the NFL nowadays are doing less and less of that. They don’t carry the ball much. They catch it and they play on special teams. It’s not as much as a down-hill run league as much as it is an outside zone, stretch, perimeter pass, play-action, matchup and special teams. That is what we ask our backs to do, so we try to sell No. 1 you are going to get a great education. No. 2 you are going to get an opportunity to carry the ball. You are going to have fresh tires when you come out because you are going to play with other good players. You have one of the best offensive line recruiters and coaches in the country, so it’s a good combination-sell, but it’s more than just yards. It’s a lot more about how I am going to grow as a player and develop in a pro-style system.”

On the timetable for R-So. OL Isaiah Wilson’s return …

“No timetable. Not sure when. He’s out of the boot. He’s able to put some pressure on it. He’s going to be doing some underwater running and working on some things, but we have no idea — he may be available this week. I have no idea. It’s just going to be wait and see.”

On his assessment of So. OL Trey Hill so far … 

“Trey has done a good job of communicating. Trey comes in and meets extra as the center has to do to call fronts, to get looks, to really watch tape and be the master of his trade. Jake (Fromm) does some of that, too, so Jake helps with him. It helps having a guy that’s got a lot of experience and is as bright as Jake is. I am pleased with Trey. I think Trey can really focus on giving six seconds strain is what I call it. He’s got to strain longer and harder in order to improve. I mean he’s playing well, but he can play better. That’s what we are trying to get out of Trey is his best self, and how does he get his best self? He’s got to strain a little harder.”

On the status of Jr. DB DJ Daniel and senior DL Julian Rochester … 

“Julian is cleared. Julian is cleared completely. Julian is healthy. He is practicing, doing everything. He’s got to go out and earn playing time. He’s got to go out and out-compete guys and work. I do not know that he’s 100 percent confident in himself right now. He’s coming off an ACL. It would be like Zeus (Zamir White) and all those other guys that come off of those. And when you are in the trenches, it’s every down-in, down-out. You’ve got 600 pounds on you, so that part is up to him to earn that and the way he plays and practices and continue to work on it.

“D.J. is dealing with a little bit of a hamstring. It was bothering him the other day, so we ended up holding him out.”

On convincing freshmen that blocking and those kinds of things help them earn more playing time … 

“It’s not hard. That is just reality. You don’t sell them. You just turn on the tape. They realize that if I don’t play, that’s probably why I am not playing. Once they understand that they can contribute on special teams and they can protect the quarterback, then they get more opportunities.”

On freshman WR George Pickens’ blocking abilities … 

“Oh, he has a long way to go as far as a blocker. He had a good block the other day, but he’s not our best blocker. He does a lot of other things well. What I have enjoyed is his willingness to block and to grow as a blocker. He’s out of control on a lot of blocks. He thinks every block he is going to be able to go knock them out. He’s got to learn that they see him coming. He’s not invisible, so he has to do a good job of position blocking, fit up, sustain blocks and not try to go for the big hit all the time. But his willingness to do it is what has allowed him to play at this point because when he’s willing to do it and he knows who to block he’s pretty good.”

On freshman LB Nolan Smith’s success and what he still has to do …

“Nolan is smart. Nolan listens. So, when you give Nolan a plan and say, ‘this is the way I want you to rush on this defense, or this is the way I want you to rush on this particular tackle,’ he does it. He applies what he learns. He plays with just maximum effort. He’s like a wild man, hair on fire, I’m never over. A lot of football is effort. You can take 10 five-stars, and 10 three-stars and you go out there and put one other guy on the team to make 11 and the team that plays the hardest usually finds a way to win the game, and that’s what Nolan does. He plays hard. That makes football important to him. It allows us to play in a lot of situational football. He’s got to continue to do that. He going to get matched up on better and better — like this week, he is going to play better tackles than he played last week. He’s got to use his skill set, he’s got to use his trade and he’s got to understand how the defense is engineered to make it work.”

On R-So. QB Stetson Bennett’s performance and areas of growth…

“Stetson is going to grow as a player; he continues to grow in practice. I’m looking for him to improve in all facets: his accuracy, his timing, his confidence, his points, his decision making. He did some good things, but he did some things that he doesn’t typically do in practice and you really can’t point to why. I think that’s probably true of every quarterback. I mean, Jake had things in the game that we missed some opportunities that we ask, ‘why in practice did you do this and what made you do this different in the game? Are we giving him the right looks to make the right decisions? How much like the game is our practice?’ The higher you get your practice reps, just like the game and what they’re doing defensively, the more accurate your players are going to play in the game. So, we’ve got to continue to improve that. Stetson’s got to continue to improve his decision making, what is he going to do when he gets flushed out of the pocket, Mike points, a lot of different things. But he’s willing to work on it and he’s committed to that. I love the way Stetson competes in practice and the way he’s growing as a player.”

On Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson’s wife losing her battle to cancer prior to the season…

“I can’t even begin to fathom or understand what he’s gone through. When I first heard the news, I was crushed for him, his family, his kids. I can never imagine what he’s having to go through because that’s really tough. Obviously, he loves family because he made the choice to step away and was able to go be with them and now, he’s come back. I’ve met Blake a couple times and I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a person and a coach. I can’t imagine what he’s had to go through as far as his family, all his family, his kids and everything.”

On D’Andre Swift growing as a leader…

“D’Andre relishes that role. I think he understands that he’s one of the inspirational players on the team; he inspires others to do more by the way he competes on the field, the way he runs the ball, the energy he attacks practice with. He tries to set a good example for the young players. When George (Pickens) has a bonehead penalty, Swift was one of the first guys to visit with him and talk to him about it because he knows he can help him with that and he knows George is going to be a good player so here’s an opportunity for him to impart some of his wisdom and knowledge on George, and I think Swift does that really well.”

On live tackling in practice…

“We don’t do a lot of tackling. We do tackling in preseason camp but we don’t tackle live a lot during the season, we don’t have many opportunities. As a matter of fact, in three or four years, we haven’t done any. There’s nothing to do with injuries, it’s just we don’t do a lot of tackling.”

On seeing more of the depth chart in a game like Saturday’s…

“We’ve got some young players that need to grow and need more experience. They probably need to value practice and understand the reps they get in practice carry over to the game. Sometimes when you get in the game and think you’re ready to play, maybe you find out you’re not and you’ve got to go back to the drawing board and look at yourself in the mirror and ask ‘what do I have to get better at so I’m ready the next time my number gets called?’ and we’ve got guys that have to do that.”

On keeping the team focused in a stretch of games when Georgia is favorited…

“We don’t look past today, that’s the thing. We’re focused on today and getting better at us. I think when these guys turn on the tape like we did last night, we don’t ever lie to our players, we say ‘this is what it is and here it is for you to see, you be the judge.’ We did that last week and we’re going to do it this week. The tape speaks for itself this week. [Arkansas State] is a really good football team. … They have a really good quarterback, good wideouts, they have explosive players on defense, and all-conference players all over the place in a conference that I’ve got a lot of respect for.”

On how turnover margin correlates to winning…

“Turnover margin would be the greatest indicator most seasons that NFL and college teams do their studies of who wins games; that’s not always the case, but it’s more times than not. There have been years where explosive plays have been a greater indicator of who wins games over turnovers. To have explosive plays sometimes you take more risk which in turn creates more turnovers. I do think havoc rate leads to turnovers; when you have havoc, you have more opportunities for turnovers. You look at what happens, a lot of turnovers are more tackles for a loss, a lot of turnovers are sacks. So, if you’re having havoc, tipped balls have a higher percentage of getting intercepted. When you start looking at havoc rate going up, turnover rate goes up; therefore, in turn, you feel like you have a better opportunity to win statistically, but it’s not 100 percent, just like nothing is.”

On if the skill of tackling has been suffering in order to avoid contact and preserve bodies…

“I don’t know. I think tackling has always been a tough art to conquer. If it was perfect, everybody would do it and every body is looking for a better way.  You’re looking for a safer way and at the end of the day, football is a contact sport. It’s a tough sport. You want to be a good tackler? You have to practice tackling. Every coach is trying to create moving dummies, donuts- things that are moving, because it’s only realistic when you’re hitting something moving.  The best way to tackle is to practice the art of tackling against people. We don’t tend to tackle to the ground a lot, but we do a ton of what we call ‘thud’, which is essentially putting yourself in a position to make a tackle without tackling.  A lot of times, and Coach Mel Tucker used to say it all the time, it’s harder to thud than it is to tackle. In tackling, you get the opportunity to go to the ground, but with thud you have to try to stay up. We coach thud and we try to do a good job. Sometimes it probably hurts us in the game because a guy thuds and doesn’t tackle. Those habits have to be broken. Every team in America will tell you that they need to be a better tackling team.”

On how to reduce the number of turnovers…

“I’m always concerned about turnovers. Turnovers are a part of our game. You’re never not concerned with turnovers. We created two and gave away two. We came out dead even. The two we gave away, I think both of them were preventable. A lot of turnovers are not. Sometimes those things happen when guys make great plays. Look at Mark Webb’s. He put his hat right on the ball and it exploded the ball out, very similar to what happened to (Eli) Wolf. They’re part of the game. How do you prevent them? You emphasis it. You talk about ball security. You do everything you can to create those environments with your scout team. We do a lot of that. We try to promote and reward players who get turnovers.”

On looking at trends of teams outside their schedule…

“We have quality control guys that get every offensive touchdown in the NFL, every offensive touchdown in our league, every defensive sack, every defensive pressure, and we have people go through those and watch them.  On Sundays we bring them in and see if they can relate to us or give us something that we don’t have or if it’s a good idea. We are constantly in the pursuit of getting better. You can’t just look at your tape and the team you’re playing’s tape. We’re trying to see what somebody else is doing that might be better.”

On D’Andre Swift’s leadership and how much help he was in getting Zamir White ready for the season…

“I think from a confidence stand point of ‘show you how’, D’Andre does a good job of that.  Zamir is a self-motivated person. He doesn’t need someone to come in and motivate him or tell him. He’s driven by the fact that he’s been through some tough injuries and he’s worked his tail off. He is a self-starter. He is motivated in and of himself. I don’t think he needs Brian Herrien or D’Andre Swift. I think that he’s a great kid that is motivated to do things well and he’s getting better each week.”

On Netori Johnson’s transition to the defensive line and if a game or practice indicates playing time…

“If you go against Trey Hill every day for 50 snaps, it just makes you better. He gets to go a lot against Trey. He goes with our twos in practice, he goes with our threes in practice. He gets a lot of reps. I was very happy that he got to play the other day. He busted his tail to get the opportunity to and he will continue to work. If he’s the best guy then he’ll play.”

On assignments of support staff and the process of working on games in the coming weeks…

“Nobody in our building is going to be working on Notre Dame this week. We won’t have anybody working on Notre Dame this week. That’s not our focus. I have too much respect for this team (Arkansas State) and too much respect for how they play. We’re not working on Notre Dame this week.”

On his assessment on James Cook so far this season…

“James (Cook) is a great asset for us. He’s very versatile. He can lineup in the backfield and runs the whole play. He can bounce outside, he can be a slot receiver. He can be a rocket guy, he can block. James does a lot of good things. One of his best redeeming qualities is his toughness. He runs the ball tough and he does a good job. He is working to improve his ball security. We knew this last year. He was one of our better players last year. He was coming into his own and understanding of what kind of roles he had to do and understanding the offense.  That’s a growth and maturity process which he’s been able to do. As he continues to be able to do more, we want to use him more.”

On how the newly proposed facility is going to impact the team in the future…

“It’s going to be a tremendous asset for us. When you start looking at location here and what they’re able to do.  This team meeting room is 13th in the SEC, I think, in terms of seats. The weight room gives us an opportunity to work our whole team and not have to do three and four workouts of smaller groups in there. We can have two groups or one group if we want to with the size of our weight room. It’s going to create a lot of benefits for our players to be able to use the facility and help us recruit.”

On the timetable for D’Wan Mathis…

“He’s day-to-day. Every day I ask. Tomorrow I’ll ask again and hopefully one day he’s going to be cleared and we’ll be able to take him out there and play. I don’t have a set timeline, like week seven he’s going to be able to go out there and do this… He’s been able to do more and more every week, and we continue to grow that. He does a little bit more each time, but he’s not cleared yet.”

#22 Nate McBride | Jr. | ILB 

On if he enjoys his role on special teams … 

“Definitely, I enjoy special teams because it helps me get on the field. Coach Smart does emphasize special teams a lot because it may not seem like an important part of the game because everyone notices the quarterbacks and the defensive backs but special teams, by itself, can get you to the pros. Take Jayson Stanley, for example. He didn’t get many snaps on offense but he was all the way special teams and he had a great preseason with the falcons.”

On coming in with a strong recruiting class and the thoughts of the talent in the recruiting classes that have followed…

“We have some talent, I will tell you that. Each year is just going to get better and better. You see the freshman with Nolan Smith, George Pickens, Nakobe Dean. It is truly unbelievable, the talent that we get each year. The sophomores have also stepped up. Quay Walker has stepped up a ton, he is now playing on defense. I am happy for him because he has worked hard just like everyone else. We have great numbers each year coming out and I think it is going to continue that way.”

On if all the talent coming in has caught him off guard with the amount of competition he faces… 

“I am at Georgia, I knew there was going to be competition. I think our recruiting class started the movement, I guess you could say. Getting these top recruits, you just have to come each week prepared to give your best.”

#24 Prather Hudson | Jr. | TB

On how much he takes to heart doing the little things right…

“If you do the little things, those turn into the big things. That’s how you perform on Saturdays; that’s how you’re ready on Saturdays. It’s a combination of a lot of things. In the film room is where you really hone in and learn from the mistakes you made in practice and in the game. The more film the better, because I think that translates to the field, and that’s how you better understand it.”

On how he and the older guys prepare the younger players (Zamir White, specifically)…

“Coming in, they know the expectation. [Zamir] knows he’s got to be able to pass protect, and I think he’s done that really well. Learning the little things is huge in pass protection. You’re learning where to go every pass protection pick up. That’s one of those things that’s helped. We’re always helping each other. It’s not really one person helping one person; it’s a combination of all this.”

On how his attitude has changed going from last year to now…

“The main thing is being a leader. It’s to make sure, if you’re on special teams, that you assert that leadership a bit. You know everything, so it’s your job to make sure the young guys know how to play special teams. You’ve got to get after it a little bit and assert your dominance.”

#51 David Marshall | Sr.| DE

On what he can say about the competition and completeness of the defensive line… 

“We are definitely complete. We have a lot of talented guys and have a lot of guys who can play in the game. They come out and work really hard everyday and we just have a lot of talent this year on the defensive line.”

On Mark Webb and his growth process coming in as a wide receiver and making the transition to defense… 

“He has handled things pretty good. Coming up as a wide receiver and transitioning to defense, he is definitely getting more comfortable playing defense. He plays a little more and executes what he needs to do on the defensive end. It is all coming together for them.”

#55 Trey Hill | So. | OL

On his expectations for himself this year…

“Just coming in here and learning more. Just doing more for the team. Just make everybody better.”

On what and how he has learned this year…

“I learn basically everything in the film room. Just looking at different things, from calls different things I can make better.”

On last year setting the tone for this season…

“Last year gave me experience. It gave me the learning ability to do the things I am doing now. I think it has made me better as a person and a player.”

On his communication skills on the line the of scrimmage…

“I feel like we are pretty good. We have to make all the calls on the o-line, telling everybody what they should be doing. It is a lot of pressure but I take it on each and every day. It is something I have to do or our job on o line won’t get done.”

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