Smart, Bulldogs preview 2019 South Carolina game
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Smart, Bulldogs preview 2019 South Carolina game

Kirby Smart
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. —  University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, previewed Saturday’s game against South Carolina. The Bulldogs and Gamecocks 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 … 
“It’s on to South Carolina, who I’ve been very impressed with. I think they’re playing a lot better. They’ve gotten better throughout the year, you can tell from Game 1 to Game 2. They’re healthier, number one. They’ve got a lot of guys playing at a high level. I’ve got a lot of respect for the way Will [Muschamp] runs the program. I think they’re doing a really good job. Both coordinators really get after you. They put pressure on you in three phases — offense, defense, and special teams. They do a great job up front. Defensively, they’ve got a lot of big guys and a lot more big bodies than they’ve had in the past, and they’re healthy.

Offensively, they’ve got one of the best wide receivers that I’ve seen on tape in Bryan Edwards. He does a very good job. [Ryan] Hilinski is a very talented quarterback. We recruited him hard here. He’s got extreme arm talent. He can make all the throws. And they’re doing a lot of things that are tough to defend offensively, and they put pressure on you from a special teams standpoint.

So, an exciting game. I want to challenge our fans, who have always responded to challenges, to get in your seats early and get ready for an early kickoff. Our guys will need that support, and we’ll need the crowd noise and the impact that we had in the Notre Dame game, we’ll need that same thing going against a young quarterback. With that, I’ll open it up.”

On if he is happy with the offense and big-play ability … 
“Am I happy with the offense? Yeah, I’m happy with what we’ve been able to do, sustain drives. Do we want to be more explosive? Yes, we want to be more explosive. I think we’re always looking. We have a goal of 1 of every 8 plays to be explosive. In this game, we were 1.1 out of 8.3, so we missed our goal offensively of being explosive. That’s our standard. That’s not — some teams may have they want 1 out of every 5, but we want 1 out of every 8 plays is our goal, and we were 1 out of 8.3. So we just missed it. In some of that, they did a good job of — you take one or two blocks downfield and one more play is explosive, and you make that goal. But we’re always looking to improve, and the same thing with defense. We’re trying to not give up explosives.”

On playing better in the second half compared to the first half … 
“Settling down, I think. Playing and understanding what the team is trying to do to us. Maybe we’ve got to do a better job as coaches of preparing them early in the game. I think, when you’re a good defense, I do think that you don’t see the same things. So what happens is, in the history of the really good defenses I’ve been with, you go into a game expecting one thing, and the other team has worked really hard to try to counteract that and get off tendencies to do different things. You see different stuff because they’re trying to generate plays against you, and that’s been the case for us, but we’ve got to do a better job starting off for sure.”

On his friendship with South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp and their time together at Georgia … 
“Yeah, it was not like a close relationship when we were here because he was a fifth year senior captain and I was a redshirt freshman that we were really in two different places. I mean, he was good to me, but it wasn’t like we had a friendship. We were at two different spots in our career. Where we became closer was the opportunity he gave me to come to Valdosta State, and we worked together there, and then we worked together at LSU, and those two years we spent in the same staff, we probably bonded more than we did while we were here. But he’s always been a very intense coach, good football coach. I think he does a good job running the program, and that has allowed us to share information when possible, when it’s not about scheme and it’s more about philosophy, but he has been a good friend. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”

On Jake Fromm taking deep shots down the field … 
“He’s taken some shots, and we’ve hit some. I mean, we take shots in practice. He has progressions that he reads, and he goes through his progressions, and he looks for the right throws. I don’t know that it’s all about — being explosive is a lot of things. It’s blocking downfield. It’s winning one-on-ones. It’s speed, vertical speed versus horizontal speed. There’s a lot of things combined in that. I mean, just look at us defensively in reverse and say, okay, what have we given up explosive? Well, two of our explosives are busts. One was against a team that came in. We gave up the play early in against — was it Murray, I think it was? Or Arkansas – it was Murray. So we gave up a big play in that game off of a bust and then give up a really big explosive last week getting off of a bust.

So, some of that is mistakes where he’s going to capitalize on those errors if he gets those opportunities, but we haven’t had a lot of busts in coverage where they left a guy free or somebody just messed up. George had an explosive where he won one-on-one outside. Those are the ways you get an opportunity to get those explosives down the field, but it’s not a matter of him not reading it correctly or us not calling it because a lot of times the progression is deep to short or short to deep or across the board, and he does a good job of finding the right guy with the ball.”

On South Carolina running backs coach Thomas Brown and coaching running backs in 2005 … 
“Thomas was one of the hardest working players we had in that room. I had a really good room of running backs. There were four or five really good backs. Kregg Lumpkin, Danny Ware, Tyson Browning, Thomas Brown. There were good backs in that room, and he was probably the hardest working, quietest guy that came to work every day, extremely physical and explosive for his size. He’s just a great leader, great person. He continues to be that way as a coach. What was the second part?”

On what he learned as an offensive assistant…
“I think coaching the running backs was more than just effort. It was psychology. It was management. You got four guys in the room that all want the ball. Protection, protection of the ball, and protection of the quarterback was an ultimate goal, but it was a good experience for me to see how offenses think about things.

I think that was probably one of the most valuable years of my career because I looked at it through the eyes of an offensive staff – [Neil] Callaway, [Mike] Bobo, Coach Richt — of how they analyze a defense and how they see things.”

On an update of Jordan Davis and the impact he has on the defensive line…
“To be honest, I didn’t see a huge difference when he wasn’t out there because the things he impacts are the run game, and we were able to control the run game pretty well. The play he was in there, we actually had a run come out. We would play a run right early when he was in there and fit it a lot more right as the game went on.

We think Jordan is going to be fine. He’s not going to be out there today early on. He’s going to be rehabbing when you guys are out there, but he’s going to be fine to go. We expect him to be able to play.”

On where he sees Brian Herrien from the off-season to where he is now…
“I think the confidence, I don’t know that it’s major improvement. The Brian that I’m seeing now is the Brian I’ve always seen. The difference is you guys are seeing him. You say, why didn’t he play? The guys that are in the NFL is the reason he didn’t play. Brian has been perfectly capable. And when he got that opportunity, he seizes his opportunity the times he got in the past. He’s just getting more opportunity now.

I think his vision, his decision-making, he catches the ball well out of the backfield. He runs really hard. I mean, he runs physical and explosive. To be honest with you, he practices that way. So, when he goes out to practice, he doesn’t treat practice different than a game. I think those practice habits have allowed him to be successful in games. It’s just you guys are getting able to see it now.”

On the continued emergence of depth at running back, particularly with Zamir White…
“I don’t see it as an emergence. I see it as it’s kind of been there. When you say what’s the deepest position on our team, you would probably argue that running back is the deepest position. Those guys compete really hard in practice. They work for their reps. We thought Zamir had some really good work last week. His protections have just become where he’s really physical in his protections. He’s one of our best pass protectors. So he’s earned that right and that trust to get out there, and we’re pleased with his growth, and he’s added more depth.

I mean, he started on punt return in this game [against Tennessee]. He did more things in this game than he’s done in the past. With him, and Kenny [McIntosh] is showing up more and more on special teams for us. He’s figured out that that’s an opportunity for him to gain trust, and he’s done that. So those guys are working really hard.”

On if he’s surprised by the number of true freshman quarterbacks starting in the SEC and if you feel more comfortable having them be game managers towards the midpoint of the season…
“Yeah, I think it’s a trend you’re going to see because, number one, they’re getting hit more. So there’s a chance of injury. They’re running more, so there’s a greater chance of injury. So you’re seeing backups who happen to be true freshmen because quarterbacks don’t usually stay the long haul and they leave, so you’re seeing more backups, but you’re also seeing more talented freshmen arrive.

This young man [Ryan Hilinski] is talented. This young man has a talented arm strength. He can make all the throws. To see him go in the games he went in — I mean, just look at the Alabama tape. He went out and played against one of the elite defenses in the country and spun the ball as good as anybody. He’s got a great release. He’s got intuition on throws. Very instinctive. He’s going to be a really good player in this league for a long time, in my opinion.”

On the injury update of Tyson Campbell and Solomon Kindley…
“Tyson will be trying to go today. I don’t know much, so I haven’t seen him since the game or since we left for the game. He didn’t go. We’re hoping to get him back, but we don’t know. I’ll know more by the end of the week. Then Solomon should be good. He’s cleared to go today. We thought, if he had to go in the game, he would have been able to go. So we have him practicing today.”

On the status of Julian Rochester…
“Yeah, Julian played well. He came in and has just been practicing. We’ve been grooming him to get him ready and get him in the rotation and felt like it was the time to do it. He’ll get opportunities to continue doing that if he continues to do everything he’s supposed to do and work hard in practice, if he continues to do that. The biggest thing is we’ve got to get some quickness and production out of those guys. That’s what we’re hoping he can help with.”

On if Brian Herrien is the type that you kind of pull for a little more when he has a successful game since he’s been patient in getting playing time…
“I pull for all of our guys. The guys that practice hard and go out there and play, you want them to be successful just like you do anybody else. He works hard. You can say he’s been patient, but he’s been a contributor in every way. I mean, the guy has played almost every role on every special teams. He’s first in line when we do stuff for special teams. I’ve seen him carry the ball plenty in practices and know that he’s talented enough.

I don’t think you look for greener pastures at Georgia. You continue to work and get better because the green pasture is what the O-line opens up. I mean, they open up green pastures for you to have the ability to run, and you’re not looking to run away from here and run away from a good physical O-line where you get the opportunity to carry the ball.”

On assessing the defensive line and stopping the run game… 
“You know, we haven’t fit things real well all the time. We haven’t tackled the way we’re supposed to, especially in space, and some of that comes off the passing game, but we have to play better in space. We have to be a better tackling team. That comes from perimeter runs from running backs. So I’m not pleased with how we have played, as far as contact and contact toughness. We have to improve on that and get better because that’s a hole when you watch football in general, tackling tends to go downhill as the season goes, and we can’t let that happen. A lot of that starts with our defensive line, controlling it from getting out of there.

On facing an opponent coached by a former staff member… 
“Talking about Tennessee’s with Coach Chaney. Yeah, I’m worried about South Carolina right now. I’ve forgotten about that totally. They did a really good job. Got a lot of respect for those guys and how hard their kids played, but I’m worried about South Carolina right now.”

On Zamir White handling the ins and outs physically and mentally… 
Zamir’s physically — our kids lift, run, practice every day. There’s probably more wear and tear on a Tuesday, Wednesday practice than there are sometimes in games. I think the psychological part of knowing and understanding what my role is in the game, and not every game’s the same. I mean, you just don’t know. So part of being a good football player is I’m ready to go when my number’s called. I tell the guys all the time, because you prepare well in practice doesn’t guarantee you’ll play, but if you don’t prepare well in practice, it guarantees you won’t. So that goes perfect for Zamir. He prepares properly and gets ready. It doesn’t guarantee that he’ll play. He deserves to, and I want him to, but it doesn’t guarantee he’ll play. But if he doesn’t do those things, it will guarantee he won’t. He’s handled that well. He prepares and gets ready to play. He prepared getting ready for Notre Dame just like he did getting ready for Tennessee. It wasn’t different. It was just us making sure it happened and also him preparing to take advantage of the opportunity and practicing the right way so that we know he’s ready.”

On facing teams coming off bye weeks…
“Well, it’s a reality that you deal with, kind of like the kickoff time. You don’t have control over it. You take it, and you go, and you do the best job you can with it. In a two off-week year, I found, it seems like, obviously, there’s more opportunities just statistically for that to happen. So when there’s a two off-week season, which there is this year, there’s more that have that chance of happening. You worry about it as a coach, but it’s something you can’t control. So when you can’t control t you just move on and say, hey, maybe we didn’t start good defensively last week because we were off the week before. Sometimes there’s some roughs there, and sometimes playing in a game is good for you. You get to grow and develop. I do think the healing part is helpful and getting fresher, recovery time. Those things are probably beneficial for the team that’s off, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to go out there and play the game, and everybody’s playing the same number of games.”

On campaigning Rodrigo Blankenship for the Heisman… 
“I’m ready to start now. I mean, Hot Rod does a great job. He does everything he’s asked. He’s a great leader for our team, and he’s very consistent. He has an approach to the game and an approach to his method of doing things that is unique to him. He believes in it. We trust him a lot, and he’s been a tremendous leader, you know, just in this room with our team because people see how hard Rod works. So it’s an honor to have him on here, and he works really hard.”

On forming connections with families during the recruiting process… 
Yeah, I think you connect during recruiting, and you spend more time with the family during recruiting than you do with them just as a player a lot of times. The toughest part about, when they come here as a player, their families come for either team events in the spring, team events in fall camp, banquets and galas. A lot of times you get to see the family, you don’t always get to see them around game time because we’re so busy with media and with recruiting afterwards. So you don’t get to spend as much time as you want with them. But the connection you form with their family, you know what made their son and daughter who they are through everything they do, and you see a lot of that with these kids, and you know the trials and tribulations they may have had at home, and you’re so happy for them when they have success on the field because they worked so hard for it. But just as important to me is the development of the guy that’s not having success right now, that’s going through the hard time of growing pains, of I haven’t quite been able to crack the lineup, but I’m getting close. Those are the ones that stick — the Brian Herrien and the guys that stick it out and stay and work, they’re rewarded by their patience are the great stories.”

On how Ryan Hilinski compares to Jake Bentley… 
It’s hard because you see Jake in the first game, and we played Jake a couple times. There are a little different quarterbacks. Hilinski has a quick release. He’s got the ability to get it out. He’s got great velocity on his ball. He’s athletic and mobile enough to get around in the pocket and move around and do some things. He just does not play like a freshman. Not that Bentley does because Bentley is certainly not a freshman, but Hilinski’s done a great job of whipping the ball, throwing quick game stuff, vertical down the field. He’s got a really good group of wideouts, and they do a great job of putting them in successful situations. So he’s made that transition really smooth.”

#20 J.R. Reed | Senior | DB

On the hunter vs. hunted message Coach Smart gave against South Carolina two years ago and what he remembers about that game… 
“That is our mindset the entire year. We want to hunt people, attack people, instead of feeling like we are being attacked. Even if we were number one during that game, it feels like everyone is constantly coming for you. We want to play our best against everyone.”

On how he has continued to adopt that mindset over the past two years… 
“It is a saying that I really like and a saying that I tell the DBs a lot. We emphasize that you don’t have to be attacked, you can be the one attacking. We apply that to defense all the time.”

On what goes into a halftime at a game like Tennessee to lead to such an effective third quarter defensively… 
“Just making adjustments and staying calm. Everyone figuring out what they need to do individually and then making sure everyone is on the same page. Everyone just focusing on coming out after halftime and doing their job.”

#87 Tyler Simmons | Senior | WR

On what has led to Georgia’s type of offense/its efficiency…
“We’re just big on the running game. We’re a run-first team. That’s shown on the field. When we get the big plays, we get the big plays, but staying consistent and driving down the field is our biggest thing, as long as we keep the ball moving.”

On whether Georgia has the potential to be a “big play” offense…
“We definitely have the potential to be a big play offense, where we’re coming out and might score on the first play of the game or first play of the drive. Just keeping the ball moving is our biggest thing, though. As long as we’re doing that, we’re good.”

On the uniqueness of Brian Herrien’s [Sr. | RB] situation coming in to his first season at Georgia…
“With Brian coming in, he had some of the best in front of him. He got a chance to learn from those guys and learn from what they were doing right— he gained the little details about special teams and everything. Then it comes down to waiting on your number to be called and being ready then. So, just to see all his hard work and everything he’s put into the game pay off, it’s really great.”

#35 Brian Herrien | Senior | TB

On describing his own running style…
“My running style, I kind of like to bruise, I kind of just want to hit the defense as much as I can so then as the game goes on, the defense is going to want to come back making the same tackles. They’ll kind of get to the side, hesitate a little bit and at that point, I can just run by them.”

On his favorite runs…
“My favorite runs usually aren’t the longest runs, they are the hardest ones, like the tough ones that shouldn’t have been a gain, or should’ve been a loss and kind of get back to the line of scrimmage or a gain a couple yards.”

On earning a run by breaking tackles or running through a hole in the offensive line…
“We call it Dawg Yards. If the offensive line opens a big hole and you run through it, that’s kind of like the offensive line’s part; but the Dawg Yards come from you when you get contact and you still break the tackle or you make somebody miss and after contact you get yards, that’s Dawg Yards. We want the runs like that instead of the open hole. We want to work for a lot of them.”

#94 Michael Barnett | Senior | DT

On the defense adjusting at halftime to what the offense is doing…
“We just really read our keys and really focus on what we’re messing up. The things that we do well, I feel like we’re supposed to do those things well. That’s the game of football. We practice all week to get those things right. So, when we execute them right, we’re happy, but at the same time, those things that we get wrong, we have to fix those things. So that’s what we primarily focus on.”

On the biggest factors to a rush defense besides good tackling…
“Really it starts up front with us. We just have to hold the points and read blocks and making sure nothing comes in our gaps and making sure we push everything that’s supposed to come on the inside to the outside and let the outside defenders handle what they’ve got to handle. I feel like I did pretty good [this season] but there’s always room for improvement.”

On opponents being fresh coming off a bye week…  
“I feel like Will Muschamp is just like how Coach Smart is. So on those bye weeks, I feel like they got a really good work in. Every day in the SEC you have to prepare like you’re going into battle because you never know. They’re going to give us their best shot. They’ve been well rested and they’ve been probably working hard and watching film as well as watching our games to see what they can capitalize on. So I feel like they did exactly what we did, find mistakes and just capitalize on them.”

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