Smart, Bulldogs preview Texas A&M game
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Smart, Bulldogs preview Texas A&M 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 Texas A&M. The Bulldogs and Aggies kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET.

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

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement … 

“Murray [Poole], thank you for everything you’ve done. You’ve been awesome and a pleasure to work with.

Before I get started and move on, I would like to apologize for something I said after the game Saturday night. That’s not indicative of who I want to be or what I stand for, and you know you messed up when you get home to your wife and she’s more upset that — you won the game, but she’s more upset at something you said, and that’s not what I represent and that’s not the kind of behavior I want to have. So I want to say that to Dawg fans out there and everybody. I’m going to try to handle that a lot better. And it was an emotional win, and I was very emotional in that, but gotta do a better job than that.

To Chamberlain [Smith], I also want to say she comes to every Thursday night to this event in here. We have a radio show. She’s here with us every Thursday night. She takes pictures. She does an outstanding job. And that was a very scary moment, I know, for our players and for me, because we looked over, and she was motionless at the time, and it was a pretty scary situation, I know, for Brian [Herrien] and Jake [Fromm]. But we want to wish her well and thank her for all the work she does. She does a tremendous job.

With that, I’ll give a couple updates on the injuries. I don’t ever know exactly who you’re asking about, but Cade [Mays] is banged up. Don’t think he’s going to be able to practice today, but we think he’s going to be able to play and he’s going to be able to hopefully practice Tuesday.

Ben [Cleveland] is still fighting the injury bug, too, on lower extremity. We’re hopeful he’s able to go. And then [Lawrence] Cager will be cleared to practice. Just be a matter of whether he can sustain.

A little bit about Texas A&M. Jimbo Fisher is an unbelievable coach. This team will probably be one of the most talented teams we’ve played against. We all know who their three losses are against. I feel like the three losses are against Top 10 teams that are really, really good football teams. And they have an immense amount of talent. As far as their receiving corps will be one of the best we’ve played against. They have a total of eight or nine starters back on offense. Really, basically every position outside tight end and a running back is coming back for their team. And when you watch them on tape, it really jumps off the film at you.

So our kids understand the challenge we got. It’s part of the grind in the SEC to be beat up and have to play another good football team. And that’s what they are. They’re coming to Sanford Stadium for the first time. So Jimbo and I have been on a staff together before. Obviously Coley and him have been on a staff together for a while and got a lot of respect for the way his teams play. And they’re really good in all three phases. So this will be a big test, after an emotional win that we’ll have to prepare really well for. So with that, I’ll open it up.”

On Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond being dangerous with the run and passing … 

“Very much so. He is probably improved as much as a player from high school to now as any quarterback I’ve ever seen. I liken it to when Dak [Prescott] first went to Mississippi State and Dan [Mullen] took him and did all these really good things with him, Jimbo has really — this kid has a tremendous arm talent. We know the athlete he is. We know he can run. But it’s not like you say this guy is a runner first. He’s a really good passer, and the beauty of it he plays in a pro-style offense and throws to some really good weapons and checks things, moves things around, but is extremely athletic. And when I say athletic, I don’t mean, oh, he’s going to scramble for a first down. When he takes off running, he continues running. And there’s guys out there that just can’t catch him. He doesn’t always look to do that, but when he does, it’s extremely dangerous. Makes you play him a different kind of way, so we’ve got a tough charge in front of us.”

On Texas A&M running backs Isaiah Spiller and Cordarrian Richardson   

“I hate to compare it, but it’s completely different football, so don’t misquote me on this. But it’s like the triple option of today when you have two backs in the back field, because nobody knows really how to defend it anymore. Coach Dooley is back there; he could probably tell you how to defend it, because you toss the ball and you run a sweep, and nobody knows how to handle a lead blocker. Now, they don’t do that all the time. Don’t get me wrong, but when they do it, they’re very efficient. He still has option plays; and it keeps people honest. It keeps you from saying, I’m going to do an overload this way or I’m going to do one of these unsound defenses to go attack the quarterback when they run an option play. And they do a tremendous job of it. They’re very different runners, but he did some of the similar same things at FSU when he had Dalvin. He uses some different plays to really highlight the two backs he has. And they’re running the ball more and more efficiently as the seasons — like you can see how they’ve gotten better and better and better at running the ball every game, and it really came to fruition against South Carolina.”

On if his players take on his passion and personality … 

“They probably do. Our players have passion and energy. I have it. I wear my feelings on my sleeve all the time. You see it out there, when Travon [Walker] got a sack. That’s kind of who I am. You just gotta be able to control that and make good decisions, and I didn’t do that. So I regret that part of it. But I also am the one that has to represent this organization, and I want to do that the right way. And it was an emotional win, but obviously we moved on to Texas A&M now, and that’s the focus.”

On this being Texas A&M’s first trip to Athens and if they should play more often … 

“Yeah. Don’t know how to make it happen other than a nine-game conference schedule. It’s crazy that they’ve been in how many years? You all know better than me…So that’s how many years? Seven years and they still haven’t played Georgia. That’s kind of wild to think about. But I mean I know their fanbase is passionate. I mean from when we played there at Alabama, they bring — you will see their fanbase in Athens, because they all want to make this trip, just like it’ll be reciprocated when we go there whenever that is. So very passionate fan bases. It’s sad that doesn’t happen often enough, but our conference is big and we got a lot of good football teams, so it takes time to circle it and go all the way around it.

I’m not really here to debate the nine-game schedule versus the eight-game schedule. It’s just that’s the way it fell, and that’s who we got. I know this: Their team is not intimidated by any environment. Okay. They go to Clemson and play. They go to Tuscaloosa and play every year. They get to play at Auburn every year. They get to play at LSU every other year. I mean, that’s not going to be what this game is about. They grew up in Texas high school football. 80 percent of their team is Texas made. So they got a good football team, and they got a team that they’re going to be in every game they play, because they’re well coached and they got good football players.”

On the running backs breaking longer runs… 

“You know, there were several runs the other day that were close. They were good runs. They just weren’t super explosive where we got to the second level. Some of that’s the back end. Some of that you don’t create the angles when all the extra guys are in the box. You can attribute it to a lot of things. I attribute it to good defense. I think of Auburn, you turn on that tape, they run to the ball. They hit. They tackle. They got really good, a lot better than people even thought, corners, and they’re physical up front. So they got a good football team. And so does Missouri, guys. I mean you start looking at it, they got good football teams in our conference. I mean look at us defensively. We’re not giving up a lot of explosive runs either. So across the board it’s tough to do that, and we’re certainly looking, trying, reaching, trying to find ways to create those advantageous situations. But I just know our conference is very defensive when it comes to rankings and statistics. There’s a lot of good teams in it.”

On the running backs playing with a chip on their shoulders… 

“I think the whole team is that way. I think you play better when you have a chip on your shoulder. And I certainly think the defense and special teams would be in the same boat as the offense of — you’re motivated — I always say this — intrinsically not through what people say and write, because when you’re motivated by that, it controls. And the narrative is, oh, well, everybody said bad things about Georgia, so then they start to play better. That’s really not the case. The case is they’ve worked really hard to get better and improve. And sometimes the outcomes we have are based on what the opponent does, not based on what we do. And each guy on our offense, I guarantee you they’re giving the best they can. They’ve had great practices. We go against them good-on-good. I see them make good plays. Just hasn’t come to fruition in a game, at least not against Auburn as often as we’d like. We had good drives, and I thought the offensive staff did a really good job. The three touchdowns we had were all plays they come up with and designed and had for Auburn. They weren’t every-game plays. They were plays meant to help us against Auburn, and they did.”

On coming up with new plays to execute… 

“It’s never difficult to come up with new things. But you have to be careful, good football teams do what they do. Best football teams I’ve been around, they’re not tricking you. You don’t trick people in our conference. You block ’em. You don’t scheme ’em. You find a way to get your best player or whoever your guy is a way to be successful. So I don’t know that we can just scheme them up. But we certainly had new wrinkles to the same plays that proved to be successful in that game, and they hit at the right time, because a lot of our drives didn’t amount to much, but the ones that did didn’t end in field goals. That’s probably more important than having a bunch of field goals. And that proved to be the difference, at least in that game.”

On facing opponents coming off a bye week and the disadvantage that brings the offense…

“About the off week, obviously we don’t control that. I couldn’t remember what you said first. But I didn’t realize that, if that’s the case, five of the last six seems — that seems crazy. I didn’t realize that that was the case. I didn’t know the stats, somebody said, about them being 9-0 after off weeks, or Gus had been 9-0 after off weeks, and I’m glad nobody told me that before the game.”

On how teams use the bye week… 

“Well, I think you rest your team. Most coaches have a philosophy in the bye week you don’t go practice for the other team you’re going to play. Kids get sick of it. You can’t practice for the same team for two straight weeks without getting fed up with it. I’m always concerned with that. What you do is you rest your team, you look for new ideas. You look for new plays, new wrinkles, a new way to do the same thing. I think that part helps you, but you’re also always concerned about coming off an off-week how they’re going to respond.”

On the improvement of the run defense over the last three years… 

“I think Dan (Lanning) has done a good job. This is no knock on Mel (Tucker), because I’m as much responsible for it as anything. Dan’s done a good job of bringing — whether it’s new ideas, less risk averse. We got secondary back. I mean, when you got a new secondary and you got true freshmen, true freshmen or sophomore that haven’t played back there making — because last year’s defense was almost so completely new, because if you go back to the year before that, there were kids that had played for three and four years off that team that went to the National Championship. So it was a tough year defensively, man. You were holding on every time somebody moved or motioned. This year you feel more comfortable being aggressive, and we’re reaping the benefits of experience.”

On blocking out the outside noise of playoffs and the future…  

“That’s not a message. You don’t control that. These kids live and die by these things, man. I mean they got them with them. They’re going to see it. They’re going to hear it. What you try to emphasize is the facts. Here are the facts. If we block and tackle people, we’re pretty good. You know what I mean? If we block and tackle people, if we do simple better, we’re pretty good. If we don’t and we turn the ball over and we don’t play well on special teams and we give up big, explosive plays, we’re not very good. So what’s going to allow me to do those things? None of the other stuff matters. None of it matters. So if you get their focus on playing better and getting better, especially the second part of your roster, because we got 2s that are having to play now. So now this week more 2s are going to have to play. The next week maybe more 2s are going to play, because you got more guys getting injured. So how do I get the rest of our roster better is really all we focused on.”

On how important punter Jake Camarda’s overall performance was on Saturday night…
“In that moment it was obviously one of the pivotal — I mean it was a field position game. So with him doing that, he flipped the field position, did a tremendous job. Can’t say enough about — I mean the thing about all the confidence in sticking with him, we’re at practice every day. So you don’t get the fortune of seeing that. But he does that all the time. So everybody’s like, well, is Jake going to continue to be your punter? Yeah, he hit 60 yards at practice. It’s just a matter of when it comes to fruition in the game. You just keep working with him. I think psychologically he’s handling things a lot better, and mentally he’s been much stronger and he’s done a really good job. He was very impactful in that game, and just hope he can continue to do that. And we have to cover him well, because you can outkick your coverage when you punt. He’s close to doing that. He’s just booming the ball, but we’ve had good coverage with him.”

On if it seem like quarterbacks are getting hurt more often and if he finds himself thinking more about injuries…

“Well, I think this has been talked about several times. I do think they’re getting hurt at a little higher rate than usual. I don’t know if that’s an outlier or if that’s going to become the norm. I think it’s because design of offenses is all NFL mentality, get the backs out, get everybody out. You don’t see people max protect; you don’t see people seven-man protect. You see people run their quarterbacks. That’s an extra option to rush the ball. As offenses have grown and scoring has exploded, so has the exposure of quarterbacks. And defenses take less regard for contain, for true base defensive principles, and all they look for is how can I hit your quarterback. Right, wrong or indifferent, that’s what they’re trying to do. That’s what we try to do; that’s what everybody tries to do. So when you do that, they get hit more, and when they get hit more, they get injured more. And I don’t think the trend is going to go away. I think our conference and NCAA rules are trying to protect quarterbacks more, so we actually coach the decision you make to stay off the quarterback, because that’ll kill you, and they’re protecting them. But ultimately they’re getting hit more, legally hit. And that creates more injuries, which is tough.”

On D’Andre Swift’s ability to get to 1,000 yards at this point in the season… 

“He’s always been really talented. I don’t know- the talent, maybe his quickness, his knowledge, his protections, his route running, all that has improved throughout his career. Dell (McGee) has done a great job with him. But he’s always been uber talented the whole time he was here. He was just playing with some really good players in the back field. What I think this year has shown is the exact question everybody had: Can he endure, can he take on the load, can he handle the responsibility of X number of carries, whatever that number is, and I think he’s proven that, that he can do that well. And I mean, to me he’s one of the most talented players in the country. He makes things happen when they’re not there, and we certainly wouldn’t be where we are today without him.”

On previously coaching against Jimbo Fisher…
“Yeah. We had one game I think the first year maybe. I was on staff with him at LSU, and I’ve been around Jimbo almost all my life. As a player, he was a coach coaching there at Auburn and things. So I’ve been around Jimbo a lot, got a lot of respect for him, and he’s always been a close friend.”

On the impact the senior class had and final departing thoughts for them as they play their last game in Sanford against Texas A&M…
“Just proud of everything they’ve meant to our program. Some of those seniors are part of our first class. A few of those, I don’t know how many, the Tae Crowders and Mike Barnetts were already here. So it’s a unique group. It’s the first group that we’ve had for four years, and I’m happy for them. I want them to be able to enjoy the moment, but also understand that there’s a very emotional game following it up. When you have the senior day, it’s always an interesting dynamic for those guys because they go out and have a different routine before the game. But they’ve meant so much to this program. Just want them to know that our university and our alumni will be here for them forever, regardless of where they go on to, that we’re going to help them and they’re Dawgs for life.”

On how this team stacks up against the previous two years being 9-1, as far as health and the evolution and where they stand…

“I think every team is different. You know, it’s really different because you think about three years ago this week or whatever week it was, you’re in completely different position. I mean you’re coming off being undefeated and getting your butt whipped, to last year, more similar to this year, having one early. And then each year is different. I think this team is getting better. I think the biggest things — I mean this team is going to be defined what it does going forward, not what it’s done in the past. And that’s always the case. And this is a big one, because they have a really good football team, and our guys are coming off an emotional victory where we have to go get prepared for the grind of the SEC, which is another good football team.”

On defining third-and-manageable in offense, looking at the three-and-outs, and if there is a common theme in terms of down-and-distance…
“Well, manageable, with our offense, third down has been anything from 1 to 12. I mean, we’ve had a lot of success on third-and-long during the year. I certainly don’t want to be in those, and if you want to keep people off balance and you want to change things up, you’re going to have to live with some third-and-tens, because you’re not always going to complete some shots and some explosive play actions. But it’s something we’re always looking to do, to not be as predictable. And it’s also, we have to serve who we are, and we have to make sure that we can get into those situations where Jake (Fromm) has a chance, whether it’s to win it with his feet or he has a chance to win it with shorter routes or keep them honest on the run in third down. But obviously we have to improve in that area, and this will be a big test for us.”

#51 David Marshall | Senior | DE 

On what has led to the improvement in the run defense… 

“We just worked on it the whole year, the whole spring, during fall camp. It improved with that and we have a lot of talent on the defensive line. There’s just so much talent on the defensive line this year. We worked really hard on it so it would make an impact in the game.”

On what Coach Dan Lanning brought to the run defense side of things… 

“He brought a lot, puts a lot of pressure on the defense. He wants more tackles for loss, more sacks, more interceptions, so we just practice on that the whole season. We prove in the game when we can stop the run and stuff.”

#17 Eli Wolf | Graduate Student | TE

On what he thinks about the rhythm of Georgia’s offense, specifically considering last weekend’s game against Auburn…

“Auburn’s defense gave us a lot of problems. They’re a very talented group, but we expect more out of ourselves. We expect to get third-down conversions, and we weren’t doing that very well. First and second downs lead to third downs, so we’ve got to do better on those, too. [Our offense] was a little stagnant, but we’ve just got to look at film and get better, and we’ve got to execute better this week.”

On the ways the passion of Georgia coaches affects the players…

“It rubs off in a pretty big way. Everyone can see the passion [Coach Smart] had after the game was over, and it was really cool to see. It’s really awesome, as a player, to see that your coaches are that much more invested— it’s not always that you have a head coach who is so tied into your program, so it’s awesome to see.”

On his thoughts about senior day and the impact Georgia’s seniors have had on his transition to UGA…

“The seniors here have been awesome, and they took me in right away and treated me like family. It’s going to be an emotional day, but rightfully so. A few guys will probably tear up, but that’s what that day is for, and these guys have given four years to this program— five in some cases — and it will be great.”

#13 Azeez Ojulari | R-Freshman | OLB

On facing a mobile quarterback in Kellen Mond…

“He’s a very mobile quarterback. He can run, he can throw. He’s very mobile so it’s going to be a very different type of game plan this week for sure.”

On being back in this spot after losing to South Carolina…

“We always knew we controlled our own destiny, we always knew we could be back in this position and just continue to work and do what we have to do to get back.”

On blocking out the noise regarding the future…

“We try to do is focus on one game at a time and focus on this week for sure. We just go week-by-week and we’ll get there. It’ll work out.”

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