Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2020 football game against Florida
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Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2020 football game against Florida

Kirby Smart
Photo: Mark Cornelison/UGA

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and three players, Zamir White, Jamaree Salyer, and Tyson Campbell, spoke with the media on Monday ahead of Georgia’s upcoming game against Florida in Jacksonville on Saturday, Nov. 7.

Georgia and Florida will square off at 3:30pm ET on CBS. Brad Nessler will call the play-by-play, Gary Danielson will provide analysis, while Jamie Erdahl will report from the sidelines.

Below is a transcript of the Florida press conference which was provided by UGA.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement … 

“I will open with a quick comment about Richard LeCounte and his situation. Obviously, thoughts and prayers go out to his family and Richard. I was updated by Ron [Courson] — he was moved from an ICU room to a regular room, which was a good step, good news. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. He’s got wonderful parents and we’ve been in communication with those guys. They have been up here, been able to be with him during this time. I know our team sent a bunch of video messages and things like that to him yesterday, and we are all hopeful and expect a full recovery. 

“With that, I will move on to Florida. Dan [Mullen] has done a great job there with their team preparing those guys. They are high-powered, got a lot of really good skill players, an experienced quarterback. They throw and catch the ball really well. They have a really good unit and a good team. I thought the defense played really well against Missouri. Todd [Grantham] has them playing really hard. It was the first time they had lot of their core guys back up-front, and they’ve got some big guys up-front. They’ve got a really good team, really good special teams, so — as always — it should be a great game.” 

On what makes Stetson Bennett the starter and if there is anything physically holding JT Daniels back … 

“The only physical limitations [with JT] are still coming off the knee, which he hasn’t shown a lot of ailments coming off the knee. He’s been out of the brace, been able to throw the ball. He’s done a good job. He actually comes down and throws on the scout team and competes and does a really nice job down there with us. Again, the decisions we make as coaches are decisions we have to make. They are tough decisions, no different than they are at who plays corner, who plays tackle. There are a lot of really good competitions out there going on. Ultimately, we feel like Stetson gives us the best chance to win right now. D’Wan [Mathis] gets a lot of work, a lot reps, and competes really hard at that and continues to improve. When he shows us that he is the better guy, then he will be the guy up. Same thing with JT — JT probably doesn’t get as many opportunities as Stetson does and D’Wan does because we works with us some down there on the scout team. But, at the end of the days guys, the decision has to be made by us that gives us the best chance to win. We do that based on the total body of work. Those are decisions that have to be made.” 

On injuries on the defensive side of the ball … 

“It’s a laundry list. You would probably be better off asking me specifically about guys because I do not really know — we haven’t had a chance to practice, so I will find more out throughout the week, throughout the day. We think Quay [Walker] is going to be fine, we think he is going to be able to play. Julian [Rochester] is probably out. Jordan [Davis] we are going to find out more on. We are hopeful he is able to play. Lewis [Cine] we think is going to be fine. He had an ankle sprain. Obviously, Richard [LeCounte] is probably out — I mean Richard is not going to be able to play. We do not know when we will be able to get Richard back. Past that, I do not know who you would be asking about.” 

On expounding on Jordan Davis and what the safety position looks like considering what they will have to cover this week … 

“Chris [Smith] has played a lot for us. Richard came out of the one game for targeting, and then he came in and played for Lewis the other day. We feel like Chris has gotten a lot of experience. Chris works really hard in practice and he is ready to play. Tyrique Stevenson has worked back there, [Latavious] Brini has worked back there. We’ve had Major Burns work back there, so that’s what it looks like at safety.Then, like I said on Jordan [Davis], we will find out more as the week goes on.”

On how to stop Florida tight end Kyle Pitts … 

“He’s really a great player. Any time you play a great player you’ve got to have a good game plan. Like you said, I don’t think anybody is stopping him. It’s limiting explosives, matching up, winning some 50/50 balls — that’s what he’s best at. It’s impossible — people think you can just double cover him. You can’t do that. They put him in places where you can’t double him and you’ve got to do other things to other people. They’ve got other good players besides just him and the quarterback knows where to throw the ball to give him a shot. There’s not an easy answer for that. It’s not like a text book answer of this is how you stop him. You are not going to do that. What you do is contain him and hope that you don’t get hit on explosive and that the team understands where he is.” 

On offensive injuries and if he expects George Pickens, Kenny McIntosh, Matt Landers, and Ben Cleveland to play…

“Ben [Cleveland] should be fine. George [Pickens] and Kenny [McIntosh] are continuing to work and do what they did last week. We are hopeful they’re able to play. They’re certainly further out from their injuries and we are hopeful they’ll be able to. I can’t tell you anymore other than that because I don’t know a lot. They’re rehabbing every day, Ron [Courson] updates us every day and we are hopeful they’re able to play. Matt [Landers] should be able to go.”

On defensive injuries, specifically Tyrique Stevenson and Jordan Davis..

“Jordan [Davis] is going to be day-to-day. Jordan has a chance to be able to play and we are hopeful he’s able to play. It is his elbow, his injury.  We’re hopeful to be able to get him in a brace and don’t know if he’ll be able to play or not, we haven’t practiced. Tyrique [Stevenson] is fine.”

On if he thinks he’s getting the level of quarterback play he needs in order to get where he wants to get and where can they improve…

“We can improve in a lot of ways. We can improve by protecting the ball, sliding once you make a good decision to run and when you get near contact you can get down. Making good decisions with the ball, in terms of if you’re going to throw it out of bounds, throw it out of bounds and if you’re going to hit the check down, hit the check down. There’s a lot of places we can improve. We can improve with our route-running, route-communication, our ability to finish blocks on the perimeter when we get the ball on the perimeter. There’s tons of places we can improve.”

On Julian Rochester…

“He is out.”

On the change of this week’s schedule due to election day on Tuesday…

“They can do their voluntary activities and then we also have a speaker that we have scheduled for them. Some in-house things. We were able to do a little bit yesterday, in terms of a light walk-thru. We didn’t get back from Kentucky until late in the afternoon and were able to do some things yesterday (Sunday), just really light, not a full-fledged practice. So, we’ll practice today and practice Wednesday and Tuesday we’ll have a speaker.”

On the overall effect of the defensive injuries…

“It certainly affects you.  You don’t have as many guys available so it limits your availability and your ability to play more players. At the end of the day we have a lot of guys that practice who don’t get to play and now will get an opportunity to play. Those guys work really hard for those opportunities. I look forward to seeing them play, to be honest with you. That’s what they came to Georgia to do, to play in some of these big games. We’ll have some guys that have to step up, play more snaps. And it may put a little more of a burden on some of the guys that were already playing, probably play more snaps in regards to that. Everybody in the country is going through that. It’s something that you go through when you play this kind of schedule, you’re going to have injuries. We have been very fortunate, so far, in terms of COVID and we hope that continues because that could limit us even more. These guys are competitors.  I don’t know how it’s going to affect things because a lot of it depends on what we’re having to defend. With Florida, they have a very versatile attack.  They can be many forms of offensive; in terms of vertical passing game, screen passing game, run game. They have good backs- thick, heavy backs that run the ball at you and a big offensive line to do it with.”

On the LeCounte’s accident and its impact…

“It doesn’t matter what kind of player he is, it’s one of our players, one of our family members. When you get news like that, it’s crushing, it’s disheartening. It just makes everything flash before you, all of the experiences I’ve had with him, and it was a scary moment. It was a very serious crash. He’s very fortunate to have his helmet on and to be where he is now. He is very fortunate, according to Ron and the doctors, considering what most people have when they have one of those motorcycle accidents. Certainly was scary for our team, for everybody in our family, everybody in our organization. It was scary for him and his family. It makes you hug your kids a little more at night for sure.”

On the NCAA-mandated off day for Election Day…

“In terms of the NCAA, the decision was made a long time ago and they didn’t realize how proactive these athletic departments would be in terms of, number one, registering student-athletes to vote and getting them to vote. We think over 90 percent of our guys have already voted. Our guys have done a really good job. The few that haven’t would be because they were already registered back home, and we had some guys who weren’t here when we went to register, and they might not have registered yet. But we have over 130 players and we’ve got less than nine who haven’t voted. So, the intent was to give them the ability to go do that. Well, it’s unique now that it was such a point of emphasis on our athletic department and our athletic administration did a great job of getting 100 percent of our student-athletes to vote. We’ve almost done that, so tomorrow will be more of an opportunity for them to work on other things: academics, to clear their mind, for whatever they want to do. But we’re going to have a speaker for it. It’s not whether I’m for it or against it, that’s not important. What’s important is getting our kids an opportunity to vote and that’s what most of them have done.”

On the Florida-Missouri fight and its potential as a teaching moment…

“I was aware of it. I think I was coming back from the hospital with Richard when somebody texted me the video of it. To be honest, I haven’t seen much of it since then because it’s been a whirlwind since our game and Richard, and the sped-up pace of this week. I haven’t had time to really think about it, it’s not pressing for us. Obviously, it’s a teaching moment for all of us, but it concerns me every time a player gets tackled on the sideline or gets close to the sideline, of an altercation between two teams in rivalries breaking out. They all know. Dan [Mullen] knows and Eli [Drinkwitz] knows that you can’t have that. They understand that, they know. You’ve got some people within your staff that prevent those things from happening, and we don’t want them in the SEC and you’ve got to do a good job. It could happen to any program in the country, you don’t want that.”

On using the bye week to prepare for Florida…

“We looked at everybody during the off week that we play after Kentucky. So, for us, our traditional off week is three days. We take the final opponents, we watch them. We say, ‘Who does something that we don’t see?’ If they do something our offense does, we see it every day, so what’s the point. If we see something that we don’t see, then we’ve got to work on it. Along with Florida, South Carolina, Mississippi State, Missouri, Vanderbilt, all those teams, we went through them and we did some work on those teams. Then, towards the end of the off week, we worked on Kentucky.”

On potentially banning motorcycles or motorbikes…

“No, I haven’t really thought about it. I think making good decisions and choices is important. I think sometimes when you try to ban things, you do more harm than good. A lot of guys use them around campus, mopeds and scooters. Georgia has a history of mopeds and scooters have been an issue, and some of our players have them, and it’s been an issue ever since I got here. It was an issue for Coach Richt, but this was different because it was a dirtbike or motorcycle, whatever you classify it as, which probably brings a little more danger. Not a lot of our guys have those.”

On what he has seen from Zamir White over the past few weeks … 

“Opportunities would be the first thing. I felt like he’s always been really effective, to me, in terms of toughness. He’s getting more comfortable with our run-game. We’re probably doing a better job putting a hat on a hat. When you have the run-game you have you get better at it as you do it. Now, teams get better at defending you as you do it as well, so you have to decorate it different ways. I think we’ve gotten better in the run-game because we’re running similar runs and carrying them over from week to week. He’s certainly, I thought last week was one of his [better performances]. There were times that he had contacted in the backfield that he turned into a five-yard run. He turned three-yard runs into six-yard runs. He ran behind his pad, he kept his balance. I thought he did a really good job.”

On the alignment between him and Coach Todd Monken in terms of making offensive decisions … 

“I would say he has total autonomy when it comes to offensive decisions, in terms of selecting what he carries into a game, play-calling—that’s what you hire people to do, to do a job. You turn it over to them and say, ‘Hey, what’s the best job we can do?’ Now, he has a tremendous staff with great experience. Matt Luke is a guy that has great experience. Cortez [Hankton], Dell [McGee], [Todd] Hartley—all of those guys are a concerted effort in terms of making game-plans, making decisions about personnel and plays. He is really highly organized which is what I really like, in terms of each coach having a responsibility to present to him their thoughts for that game plan of the week. He does a really good job of that. In terms of quarterback-play, we’re aligned perfectly. We talk about it each week. We talk about it before each game. We talk about it after each practice. We talk about where guys are, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are, and how we think their strengths can benefit our game plan. We go through that. We go through that after each game. We have a lot of communication about it.”

On what challenges Kyle Trask can present to the Georgia defense…

“Experience, number one. You have some quarterbacks in our league who have experienced and seen everything, and you see the maturation of quarterbacks as they play against teams. They’ve seen that look, they’ve seen that two-trap, that quarters, that quarter-quarter has that man, that extra-overload blitz—they’ve seen it so they know how to attack it. The maturation that he’s had is he has played in our league now. Once you get that valuable experience, it’s hard to trick them. You don’t trick guys—they’ve seen it before. You have to ultimately be able to defend their people with your people. You’re not going to win a scheme battle with, ‘Oh you’ve got a guy free.’ You’re not going to scheme somebody free. They have to win one-on-one. You’ve got to cover Kyle Pitts, and Kyle Trask knows that, and he does a good job at finding him and finding the other guys he has as weapons. He’s a really, really good football player because he has savvy and awareness.”

On how he strategizes to allow all of Georgia’s talented players have touches versus just “riding the hot hand”…

“It’s a conditioning element. There are a lot of things that go into it. How do guys practice? How do they prepare? How do they protect the quarterback? How reliable are they with ball-security? I thought Zamir [White] and Dell [McGee] did a great job subbing those guys last week because Zamir was running the ball really well. He was running the ball physical. I am comfortable with where we are and how we’re playing our backs because to get through our league, as you see with Kenny [McIntosh], you’ve got to be able to have multiple backs. You certainly draw on that experience when guys go down.”

On his continual conversation with D’Wan Mathis and where his head is right now…

“I talked to him before practice—I talked to him for a while. We kind of visit each week with the quarterbacks to keep them updated on where things are… He wants to play. He is a competitor. He wants an opportunity to get in and compete. We gave he and JT [Daniels] a lot of reps in the off-week. We will continue to give guys as we can get ready reps to grow those guys and get them ready to play.”

#3 Zamir White | Redshirt Sophomore | RB

On the mood of the team within in the last 48 hours…

“It’s a next man up mentality. All of the backup guys prepare every week for this, so we will be fine.”

On how the team is going to step up…

“The guys know their role and they know they need to step up this week and do their part.”

On how he wants a long game-changing type of run and what is holding him back…

“I don’t think anything has held me back. When you play in the SEC it’s hard to get longer runs, we’ve got to keep going.”

#69 Jamaree Salyer | Junior | OL

On the younger players stepping up…

“It can be tough for these young guys. I’ve been thrown into the fire against South Carolina and Auburn, two of the best defensive lines in our conference. It’s all about being ready, getting that practice time, leadership and confidence.”

On what is it like when the OL has the game on their shoulders… 

“We take pride in it, it’s a school that has produced great offensive linemen. We take pride in knocking people off the ball. We play physical and hard, if the game gets put on our shoulders we go play as hard as we can. We play for Zamir [White], James [Cook], Kendall [Milton] and Stetson [Bennett]. Whoever has the ball we play hard for them. No one has a problem with the game on their shoulders, but when it is, we go make it happen.”

#3 Tyson Campbell | Junior | DB

On the positions he’s prepared to play…

“Besides corner, I’ve practiced nickel and dime for certain packages. So, I can play those types of positions.”

On how UGA’s defense is going to deal with Florida’s passing game and Kyle Pitts…

“Like we do every week when we play any offense— trust the game plan given to us and try to execute it in the best way possible.”

On how he is viewing this SEC East / top-10 matchup and his and his teammates’ thoughts on polls that have UF winning…

“Every year, this matchup is always an important matchup of our season. It always leads to bragging rights over the SEC East, and it’s one of the biggest college football rivalries. As far as seeing preseason stuff, we don’t really pay attention to that. We know people are going to have their own personal opinions, but we can only control what we can control. That’s what we’re going to do and move forward.”

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