Smart, Bulldogs preview 2019 Auburn game
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Smart, Bulldogs preview 2019 Auburn game

UGA Football
Photo: Chamberlain Smith/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. – University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, previewed Saturday’s game at Auburn. The Bulldogs and Tigers kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

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

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement … 

“As you guys know, today is Veterans Day. We have two special guests I’d like to recognize. Colonel Todd Phinney and his son, Captain Trevor Phinney, both combat pilots. We appreciate all you’ve done and all the service you’ve provided to our country. Also, Coach Dooley, marine veteran, and appreciate all you’ve done. And his son-in-law, Destry Rogers. Thank you for all the service you guys have given. (Applause). Certainly appreciate that.

Moving on to Auburn, tremendous program, tremendous football team. They got two really tough losses in which they played two really good football teams and played them right down to the wire. But they’ve got a tremendous program. Gus has done a great job. He’s playing with a freshman quarterback who I think is going to be a really talented player in this league for a long time. He’s been in some really tough games already, and he’s played really well. And when you look across the board, opening with Oregon, who’s one of the best teams in the country, to beat those guys and be a true freshman and go out there and do that is really hard to do. Their defense speaks for itself. They’ve got a ton of guys that are going to be drafted on it. They got guys that seem like they have played in our conference for ten years, and it seems like we’ve played against that defensive group a lot, because all those guys, seemed like they started as freshmen from the secondary to the front. So they’ve done a great job. Coach [Kevin] Steele does a great job with their defense. They play really hard, and they’ve got a really good football team. So we’ve got a huge challenge this week, especially coming off the physical game we just had. It’ll be a challenge this week to get our guys prepared, healed up and ready to go against a really tough football team, in a tough environment to play in, on the road at Auburn. But that’s what the SEC is about, and that’s the next game up for us.”

On how much blocking schemes on the offensive line change from week-to-week … 

“The matchups are different every week. The schemes are not extravagant or a lot different. I mean every offense has a different way to present a play. But they block the play the same way. Gus’s offense, they’re going to run certain plays, but they’re going to have a different presentation to try to window-dress it and make it a different picture, the same way our guys will do. So the matchups change. The schemes don’t change a lot. They got really physical players up front. They strike blockers well. They play really hard, and they rotate a lot of guys that play in there, and they’ve proven that by how they’ve played some really good offenses.”

On what Auburn does offensively … 

“Yeah. It’s very different. They do a good job of changing things up. You throw in the tempo with it. You throw in some of the most elite speed guys in the country on the perimeter, and what you get a recipe for is potential big plays, and they do a good job of attacking your perimeter and your edges. He has the ability to get on the perimeter with every play, but also pound and you grind you. A lot of teams aren’t committed to the run. They don’t run gap-scheme plays and they don’t run things like that, where these guys are not — you know, they have all the runs. They have a little bit of this, a little bit of this, a little bit of this but in every one of them they’ve got the ability to get the ball on the perimeter and they’ve got players to get it on the perimeter with, so he does a good job changing that up.”

On how this year’s defense stacks up with some of the best defenses he has coached … 

“The number one thing that stands out is their work ethic. I mean they work really hard every day. The meetings, the game planning meetings are a joy to be in, because they’re very interactive, meaning they communicate with you. They don’t just sit there and listen. They answer questions. They ask questions. They take on the personality of their defensive staff, which is energetic, and play hard. I mean, you’re always going to have certain qualities with a good defense, which is physical, fast, good open-field tacklers. They’ve got some of those same traits as the good defenses I’ve been able to be around. But this group probably doesn’t have just the star elite player. There’s no guy on there that you can say is just going to be a first-round pick. That’s not what this is made of. It’s made of a group of guys that buy in to doing it the right way and play team defense. And we’ve been very fortunate with that and gotta continue to do that down the stretch run. You gotta be able to tackle and not give up big plays.”

On the youth of his defensive staff and the defensive players … 

“Yeah. I think somebody mentioned that there were a couple of third downs that I was thinking it was three true freshmen, but I guess it was four because I wasn’t counting Travon. You look out there sometimes and you’re like, man, everybody out there is coming back. Everybody out there has got another year. So it is relatively young, but I would argue that in college football, youth is the way of the life. There’s not a lot of guys sticking around all the way through senior years. So you get a lot of freshmen, sophomore, juniors playing on these teams.

As far as our staff they work really hard. Dan does a good job leading them; and each guy brings a lot of energy, enthusiasm and ideas, and they kind of own their position groups, and they do a good job putting the overall plan together and not trying to do too much, but trying to give the other team some problems, because if you line up in the same place all the time, you eventually get blown up. And we try to make sure our guys are moving around or getting in an advantageous position, and Dan and them have done a good job of that.”

On Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown … 

“Derrick is an extremely good athlete. I mean, first of all, when you put athleticism in a person’s body that is that size, I mean, he was a great basketball player. He’s a great athlete. You can see him when he gets — he has ball skills. He gets interceptions. He gets fumbles. He’s around the ball, and he’s explosive. You got that kind of twitch and you’re as big as he is, it’s hard to block, and he’s been a very disruptive player in this league for a long time.”

On Jordan-Hare Stadium and how tough it is to play there … 

“They do a tremendous job. I mean, I would assume everybody feels that way that goes there and plays, not just an Alabama or a Georgia coach, because those are two of their biggest rivalries. But I would assume it’s like that for everybody, because they sell out their crowd just like our guys do. It’s loud at home. They’ve got a really impactful home field and home crowd, and this is probably their biggest home game of the year so far. So I know they’ll be ripping and raring to go. But I mean, when we go to Tennessee, it’s loud. When we go on the road and play in the SEC, it’s loud. But Auburn is one of those places that brings the environment that you expect in the SEC.”

On Lawrence Cager and Trey Hill injuries… 

“We’re expecting Lawrence to be able to go out and practice today. Should be fine. And Trey has got an ankle, but he’s going to be able to practice today as far as we know. I’ll find out more when I get out there, but they’re both cleared to practice.”

On when he first saw Dan Lanning’s qualities… 

Well, I’d seen that before I ever brought him in. He worked at Alabama with us. And I’d seen his ability to interpret information, to relay information to coaches and just work with him. And when you work with somebody as many hours as we spend up here, you find out a lot about them, their work ethic and what they’re all about. And he was somebody that we had on our radar for a long time, and he went and was successful at Memphis, did a great job coaching there. So he was an easy hire to come here as our outside backers’ coach. And since he’s been here, he’s done nothing but lead and do a good job and continues to demand and command the respect of the players. And players like him, and he does a good job, so he and Schumann have both done a good job of that.”

On the speed of Anthony Schwartz…

“You try and know where he is. They do a good job of putting him in different locations. They don’t leave him in one spot. He’s not always the feature guy. Sometimes he’s the decoy, and sometimes he’s not the decoy. And you don’t really ever know which one he’s going to be. And he’s very explosive. I think awareness is how to handle it, because we got the players we got; they got the players they got. And nobody in the country is as fast as that guy. So nobody’s going to be able to match up with him and just run with him. You gotta have ways to put people over top of him. You gotta have ways to protect against him. You gotta have ways to get your hands on him. They’re going to get him the ball. You gotta go tackle him. Good thing we’re not in a track race against him. We gotta play football against him, and he’s a really good football player.”

On the progress of Richard LeCounte…

“He’s worked really hard. Richard has always worked hard. He’s always been a competitor. The thing you know about Richard is he loves football. And there are very few days out there that he does not give you his best, that he does not just enjoy it and love the game. The difference in Richard now and then is he’s bought in a little more into the understanding of what I have to do within this system, what is my job. And I have to make calls and decisions on my side of the field that are critical to our success. And I said after the game, I think in the last two to three weeks, he’s taken a little more ownership in that. He’s taken a little more initiative to watch tape and not just think I can just go out there and ball. I gotta go understand and play within the defense to make plays, and he’s doing a better job of that.

On the defense’s goal of shutting down the run game and it being more important this week… 

“It’s no more extra important this week than it ever is. It’s important every week. But you can’t do it at the cost of giving up explosive plays, and that’s the balance you come to with Auburn. You can sell out to do that, and you got explosive playmakers on the outside. They got some really good wideouts. Seth (Williams) is a great wideout. Eli (Stove), they’ve got guys that have been there and played. So you can’t sell out and stop the run and expose yourself to the wideouts they’ve got and a quarterback that’s a good playmaker and ability to throw the ball and is playing as good as any freshman I remember playing in this conference, walking in and just playing straight off the street, and he’s done a good job of that. So these guys have got good players. We can’t sell out and stop the run, if that’s what you’re asking.”

On George Pickens and it being an emotional game for him…
“They’re all big. I realize what you’re pointing at and saying with it being emotional, that he was committed to them for a long time. But that doesn’t take away from what happens when you step inside the lines. I mean when you step inside the lines, you have to go execute, you have to focus on the task at hand. You have to block out all the noise and the outside stuff, and you have to go play. That doesn’t change week to week.”

On tough decisions in recruiting and seeing players from the state of Georgia playing elsewhere…

“There’s always tough decisions. There are tough decisions on Georgia kids, with Georgia kids. I mean, there are tough decisions, period, in recruiting because number one, you can’t get everybody you want, and you want to get the ones you want, and you’re never 100 percent on the ones you do want. So you have to make really hard decisions. You try to make them based on intangible factors and things that you think are critical to their success and to your needs.

And there are a lot of Georgia kids, as you look down this roster, there’s kids that we recruited hard that they beat us on, and then there are some that they didn’t. But at the end of the day, the state line that you grew up in probably doesn’t matter in this game, just like we have some Alabama kids. At the end of the day, it’s going to be about how you play.”

On if this is the mix that he expected as far as how your offense and defense are playing and his philosophy on how complementary football works at Georgia …
“Complementary football is meant to be where you help each other. That really doesn’t change anywhere you coach. You want them to be complementary. You want both sides to help each other out, whether that’s us creating an advantage through a turnover, or the offense getting the ball out of a coming-out situation and flipping the field position. I don’t think any coach would tell you they don’t want complementary football. But to the extent that we’ve been able to play it, there’s been games that we’ve really done a good job of that, and there’s been games that we haven’t.

The two work independently within the game, but they’re always working together too, whether it’s eat up time, force turnovers, create field position, you’re always trying to help benefit each other, and that’s something that we talk about and we work on hard, but ultimately it comes down to the individual success of both sides that makes it a complement.”

On the back story on George Pickens…
“George is a kid that we recruited all the way throughout, and came over to a couple home games. We had him over in the summer. I mean he’s a kid that had been here several times. He played on a 7-on-7 team out of Georgia. So he got to spend a lot of time with a lot of the kids we recruited. Didn’t really know until very late. I forget exactly when it was, but I thought in our home visit it was very obvious that he was thinking about making some change.

He saw the ability to throw the ball at our place, and he saw three guys leaving, you know, and once we had three guys leave our team, two left early in a tight end and a back, it cleared things up for him that he thought he was going to be able to have an impact and decided to come.”

On if it seem strange that this may be the last time Georgia and Auburn play in November for a long time…
“Hadn’t really thought about it that way. I mean, if it’s not them, it’ll be somebody else; and you know, it’s a dog-eat-dog world in our conference. It’s every week, man. There are good teams to play, and you can’t take anybody lightly. So whether it’s early in the year, late in the year, I don’t think it changes much.”

#77 Cade Mays | Sophomore | OL

On his thoughts going into this weekend’s game against Auburn…

“It’s a really big matchup. It’s the oldest rivalry, so it’s definitely a big game. We really just have to come out and play hard.”

On how Georgia’s blocking challenges differ week-to-week / thoughts on Auburn’s Derrick Brown and Deshaun Davis…

“Every week in the SEC, you know you’re going to draw a great opponent if they’re playing in the SEC. We see great opponents week-to-week, and every team brings something different to the table. Brown and Davis are big, physical, hard-nosed football players. They’re very experienced veterans, so they’ve played a lot of ball.”

On what goes through his mind when he’s lined up across from players like Derrick Brown…

“[Brown] is definitely a great player but no matter who’s lined up across me, I just try to focus on my technique in my mind and try to get it done.”

On what George Pickens brings to the offense in terms of his energy and enthusiasm…

“He just brings a great vertical threat— a lot of energy, a lot of charisma. He’s just a great person to have on this offense. He has a big personality. He’s going to celebrate. He’s going to be playing hard out there on the edge. He’s going to be blocking a guy, getting in his face to let him know he’s there.”

#94 Michael Barnett | Senior | DT 

On your memories of the environment at Auburn from the game in 2017… 

“I just remember it being really loud there, the atmosphere was wild. I know that played a big part in us taking that loss. With that said, there were also things we could’ve done better in that game. The atmosphere at Auburn is extremely electric.”

On being one shut-out away from being the first team to record four in a season since the 1970s and how important that is to the defense… 

“I don’t necessarily feel that the shutouts are becoming more important as much as the details and our standard of what we do on defense. A shutout is great when it happens, but at the same time, we really focus on our techniques and what we are supposed to be doing despite all the statistics.”

On the makeup of this defense and the success despite not having a “superstar”… 

“The players on this defense don’t pride ourselves on trying to be superstars. We try and fit in the scheme of the defense and do what our coaches are telling us. As far as the defensive linemen, we try to play our gaps and focus on techniques. We don’t look at individual statistics that much. We just worry about our fundamentals and executing whatever scheme the coaches are telling us.”

#20 J.R. Reed | Senior | DB

 On trying to contain a quick receiver like Anthony Schwartz…

“You just got to get people to the ball. With those kind of guys, you have to contain and don’t let him get in open space. We have to tackle and can’t let him get loose.”

On Defensive Coordinator Dan Lanning and how he has emerged as a leader at Georgia…

“Coach Lanning is very relatable to his guys. He’s a player’s coach. He’ll get the guys going. He does a lot of things outside the box to get guys motivated that I wouldn’t even think about.”

On how Coach Lanning gets his guys motivated…

“He finds little stats, like last year we knew Missouri, they ran the ball on us, they had four touchdowns, 182 yards, 5.2 yards a carry. So those are things that engraved in my head while we’re going through practice and so we knew we had to go out there and stop the run. Doing things like that and showing us, basically like going to the doctor, showing us what we need to fix after each game.”

On what stands out to him with this defense…

“We’re just guys that go out there and do their job. It’s not about everyone, it’s not about one single person, it’s about guys going out there, doing their job and guys working hard.”

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