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

Kirby Smart
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and four players, Demetris Robertson, Christopher Smith, Travon Walker, and Tre’ McKitty, spoke with the media on Monday ahead of Georgia’s game at home against Vanderbilt on Saturday, Dec. 5.

Georgia and Vanderbilt will square off at 4:00pm ET on the SEC Network. Taylor Zarzour will call the play-by-play, Matt Stinchcomb will provide analysis, while Lauren Sisler will report from the sidelines.

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

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement …

“I will open with this is our Senior Day, our seniors’ last home game. They have done a tremendous job for our program, and I am excited to see these guys. I would love to see their families, but we do not get to do the traditional Senior Day routine. We will get to bring the players out. Hopefully our fan base will turn out and be there the right way to support these guys because I know it will mean a lot to these guys for our last home game.

“Moving on to Vandy. It was unfortunate to get the news about Derek [Mason] yesterday. He has become a good friend — a guy that I have a lot of respect for in this profession. The job he’s always done with units while he was at Stanford, and they have always played so hard at Vandy. I have gotten to know him in the offseason and have taken a trip together with some other coaches with he and his wife. I have a lot of respect for Derek, and I know the future will be bright for him. He will have a lot of opportunities moving forward because he is a really good football coach.”

On if he feels validated how well the hiring of Coach Scott Cochran has worked out …

“The job he has done has been tremendous. I think the greatest impact he has on our organization is not through special teams, and I knew that when I wanted to hire him. The greatest impact he has is on the young men that are in the organization in terms of daily impact, life skills, support. During the COVID time, the 2020 time, which is very different — I think it has been an exponentially even better hire because he is tremendous at his relationships with the players. He’s played a large part in our leadership group, which has been a tremendous help to me in terms of being able to spend time with those guys and talk to guys. The special teams skill set is almost like he’s developing in that area, so his energy and his passion is there. He’s always liked to do it, but I didn’t think I was getting a finished product that was going to know everything about special teams. He’s going to grow — he has grown. He’s gone and met and learned and educated himself and has coaches all over our staff who have coached it. He’s done a fantastic job putting the pieces in place to be successful in the units. Now, fortunately, we have a really good punter, a good kicker — and we put our best players out there who help us be good statistically. But, we are not where we need to be. The big emphasis last week was ‘hey, punt return is lagging behind.’ We cranked it up on punt return and did a better job.”

On if any seniors have indicated they are coming back and the transfer of D’Wan Mathis …

“Yeah — we are excited about the Senior Day and just really a big week for them because it’s their last chance to have a home game. As far as those conversations, we don’t really have a lot of those conversations as far as the return. They’ve got the opportunity to do that. Each kid is in a different scenario. Some Senior Bowl invite, some an opportunity to grow and get better, some an opportunity to graduate. So, we do not really get into it right now. We are concerned with Vanderbilt, and we will worry about that when the regular season ends.

“As far as D’Wan goes, like I said the other night, he has handled everything first class. Every conversation he’s had with me has been the right way. He did not want to be a distraction for the team, and he was very hurt and disappointed that things came out before the game. That bothered him because he did not want to be a distraction for the team. He wanted to handle it the right way, and he wanted it to come out today when he entered the portal and that is exactly what he asked and that is what we did. I am excited to see his future. He’s going to be a really good football player. We want him to stay here — there’s no doubt we want him to stay here. We have encouraged him to stay here. But I also respect that is his decision, and we are going to help him every way we can with a transition. I think he’s got a bright future.”

On the impact of sports on women, in reference to Sarah Fuller kicking for Vanderbilt…

“I think they have the opportunity to go compete now, more than ever, but it is still not where it should be. When you see a young woman, like Sarah, do what she did Saturday, so many hopes and dreams of many young girls hang on that. I have a daughter that absolutely loves sports and loves basketball because her mom played basketball. And she got that opportunity because of people like Teresa Edwards and all of the people who came out and played basketball for so long and made it okay to compete hard, to sweat, to dive, to be physical, to be aggressive, to be competitors. I think Sarah carries on that tradition- the way she goes about things and what she’s not afraid to do. You know, not worried about what somebody is going to say. If she has a chance to help the team or contribute, then by all means, go do it.”

On coaching etiquette and not running the score up on opponents as opposed to taking a knee to run out the clock…

“I don’t know that that’s a fair assessment. I didn’t watch the Alabama game. I’ve been on the headphones with Coach Saban and I have a lot of respect for him. There is many a times that he has said, ‘hey, that guy on the other sideline is a coach too and he’s worked for me or I know him’ and he has made a decision to take a kneel. But what you’re not going to do is tell your guys to not go out there and compete and get better. We were able to do that. We had a drive there that took however many minutes off the clock. Daijun Edwards got a lot of work. A lot of- five offensive linemen who have hardly got to play this year got to go out and play. There were a couple wideouts that got to go out and play, and tight ends, and freshmen. I look at it as, we weren’t going down the field not trying to score, we were trying to score. At some point the game can be ended by a kneel and you get an opportunity to do that. It doesn’t matter if that was on the minus one or the plus one. When you can take a kneel to end the clock and not have to run another play and then you move on from it. I do think there are times when you have to try to get your team better and get continuity. We did that. We threw the ball to Arian (Smith) in a situation when we didn’t have to. We want to continue to grow our team and get better.”

On the chance of seeing Richard LeCounte and Jordan Davis this weekend…

“I’m hopeful on both of those guys. I’m hopeful to get them back. There is a chance that Richard can get back. I don’t know how realistic it is for this week but he’s doing more. He’s running now and he’s with us. He’s back into things. There is a chance that he can get out there and play by this week and I’m hopeful that Jordan can as well.”

On what Richard LeCounte has meant to him since he’s been at Georgia…

“I don’t know if I’m correct in saying this, but I think he was the very first commitment that I received upon getting the job. He was for the next season, he was an early commit. He was one of the first ones. I still remember the day that he was an eighth or ninth grader and he visited Alabama with Raekwon McMillan. He came over and I got to meet him then. His personality was so infectious. The whole time I recruited Raekwon, I got to know Richard. That relationship carried over when I got the head job here and he was one of the first to jump on board. He has been so loyal to Georgia in an era when that’s not normal. It’s normal to decommitt, move here, decide late. He committed early, he was a great player, he stayed an extra year for his senior year, and he loves the University of Georgia. That makes somebody special and people will remember that for the rest of his life.

On the conversations with underclassmen regarding the NFL Draft…

“We gather information on these guys based on how they play, what’s going on, how big the pool is at their position. We try to be very honest with them, don’t get emotional about it. We’re not recruiting them like people say. That’s a decision that they have to make. What we want is to arm them with information, and I say the same thing every year, ‘We’re going to give you the information to make the best decision possible.’ Ultimately, you have to make the best decision possible. What value do you put on a degree? What value do you put on preparation, because 100 percent, the higher you get drafted, the longer you’re able to stay. So, ultimately, we want these kids to get drafted as high as possible. There’s value in coming back because they cannot develop in that league. There are no practice reps, there is possibly no Combine, there is no coming to OTAs and getting you better. You’re there, and you’re going to be good enough or you’re not. We can still develop players, and every general manager, scout you talk to says, ‘If you’re going to have someone grow and get better, they’re much better doing it in your organization than ours’ because they don’t have the freedom to get them better. We don’t have a lot of those conversations right now. We’ve had a few, but we don’t have those conversations because we want the kids to focus on being student-athletes and finishing out the season.”

On Arian Smith recovering from injury to score on Saturday…

“He’s worked hard. He’s earned the right. He thought all along he would be ready for Florida. We didn’t know if he would be ready for the Florida game, and he got cleared somewhere along that week. But clearing doesn’t make you ready to play. He had not stopped to come out of a break, caught balls—there was a lot of thing he wasn’t able to do. He’s been working really hard. He stays after practice; he gets extra throwing. We don’t have enough depth to get all the guys the work they want because we can only be on the practice field for so long, so he stays extra and gets extra throwing, learning routes, learning the offense. I’m very pleased with his work ethic and his attitude. He’s just like, ‘I want to do anything I can to help the team, Coach. If it’s special teams, then I’ll do it.’ It was great to see him make a play after coming back from injury like that.”

On the importance of the senior class in this season…

“They’ve been the glue. It’s easy for them to opt out. I guess you could say it’s an avenue to get out, but to me, in life, you can’t opt out of that. You’ve got to go out and compete and work and challenge yourself, and that’s what these kids have done. They’ve done it for each other, stuck together. They’ve done a really good job thus far of maintaining social distancing, washing hands, not having major issues in our organization, and I appreciate the guys that have done that and the people that have helped them. The senior class has been the glue of that. They work really hard each day and I think they want to leave a legacy of being the winningest senior class to ever come out of here—that’s a feather they want to stick in their hat. If they want to do that, they’ve got to finish this thing off right.”

On reflections of the 2020 season…

“I don’t know what else to say about it. It’s just day in, day out. Maybe a more specific question because I can’t even…it seems like it’s been a year or two years within the last eight months. There’s been a lot of stuff going on. Our kids have handled it well, with the support of the organization and the support of the kids. I’m really pleased with how hard these guys have worked and continue to work, and the attitude they have when come in each day because it’s not like that everywhere when you talk to people. If you don’t have a great attitude at work when things aren’t going your way or people are opting out, we haven’t had a lot of those issues.”

On the growth of Ben Cleveland…

“Experience. You can’t put a value on experience. That’s what people don’t understand. Everybody wants the freshman O-lineman to be the best, the five-star to come in. But on the offensive line, the number of times he’s seen games and pass-offs and twists, he knows what they’re going to do before they do it. He’s got great size. I think he’s played more physical this year. He’s had a better attitude and commitment to being a good player. I think he went through some spells last year where he would probably admit that he wasn’t at his best. It’s been more meaningful to him this year. He’s played better. He’s been a really good leader for that unit. He’s been a tremendous leader for our team and he’s got a bright future. He’s a guy that didn’t like the information he got last year and he’s going to like the information he gets this year better, in terms of where he is as an NFL prospect.”

On facing his second interim coach this season, and if he sees wrinkles in situations like this…

“No. You don’t have time. There is only so much you can do in a week. I just found out yesterday. The biggest thing you sometimes see is the jump in energy or enthusiasm because you have a new voice, you have somebody new up there. Maybe you reach a kid that wasn’t being reached before, and he plays harder or better because of maybe a better relationship with that coach. But, you’re not going to see a lot of change in scheme. You may see possibly more enthusiasm, but I don’t know that. I don’t know the relationship they have with their [offensive coordinator] there.”

On if he is surprised about coaching changes during the financial situations for most schools because of COVID-19…

“I don’t have an opinion on that. That is not my field.”

On what he has seen from JT Daniels the first two games he has played and what he is looking for him to improve on…

“Good decision making—that is the most important thing, to continue to make good decisions. If it’s not there, take off and run with it, throw it away—which he did the other day. He threw it away one time. There are going to be times where you don’t have the perfect call, or maybe they got the perfect defense into a call, and hey, you have to punt, you have to throw it away. That’s what I want to see him do and continue to get better at.”

On an update on Mark Webb not seeing action during the South Carolina game…

“Mark [Webb] was just dinged up a little bit, and he could have played. We weren’t going to play him unless we had to or maybe we had some other injuries because we are thin at the [defensive back] position. We didn’t have to play him, so we didn’t. We think he’ll back this week.”

On a breakdown of Demetris Robertson’s recruiting process…

“In terms of Demetris [Robertson], D-Rob, he is another one that I had recruited a long time and had a good relationship with. Coach [Glenn] Schumann had a good relationship with him from our time at Alabama. He had been over there. We continued that relationship once we got at Georgia—got to know his family really well. He made a decision to go to Cal, and we were very honest and forthright and said, ‘Congratulations, we’re here for you. Keep in touch. Good luck.’ He went out there and decided he wanted to be closer to home. He reached out to us and decided to come back. He’s done nothing but work hard. He’s a kid that probably came in with unrealistic expectations, which I think is so unfair and causes these kids so much undo, unrest. What happens is all the people around them and all the support elements they have, their family, friends, put this pressure on them. D-Rob did nothing to deserve that. All he does is work really hard for us. He’s a good football players and been really helpful and even more recently started to make some more plays. We are hoping he can continue to do that.”

On what he has seen from the Vanderbilt quarterbacks…

“I think both of those quarterbacks are going to be good players. Mike [Wright], we looked at last year, late in the recruiting process and thought a lot of him. He went on an unbelievable run and had one of the best closings of senior seasons that I’ve seen a kid have in a long time, in terms of making plays and big games. I thought he was a really good player. They do a good job developing him by giving him a roll, and getting him in the game. I think they do a tremendous job of that. Then the [Ken] Seals kid has been tremendous too. He’s great with the RPO game—to be in our league and play as a freshman at that position in and of itself is pretty hard to do. Those guys are doing it and doing it well. They may not have as many weapons around them as some of the other freshman quarterbacks do, but they do a great job offensively of keeping people off balance, using tempo—see how they started the game against Florida. They did a really nice job.”

On how much of an impact Daniels had on the run game decision making during the South Carolina game…

“He had some RPOs that he actually threw and some were complete and some weren’t. Some of the looks were advantageous for the RPO, meaning that they had too much in the box. We don’t have to attach RPOs to all of them just like everybody in college football doesn’t. If you are having success running the ball with an extra hat in, you don’t have to call the RPO. You don’t have to throw the RPO because there are bad things that can happen balls batted and things like that, and you could have had five yards on a run. You have to weigh out what your success ratio is on extra people in the box versus throwing the ball. If you give JT the choice every time, he’s going to probably pull it and throw it. But, if you are having success running the ball, you don’t have to do the other. It wasn’t more that they dictated anything, it was more that, hey this is what was working and that’s what we stuck with. We certainly have confidence in JT to be able to throw the ball.”

#16 Demetris Robertson | Senior | WR

On whether he will be taking part in Senior Day and whether he is considering taking the extra year of eligibility…

“I am taking part in Senior Day. I don’t know what the future holds. I really want to graduate, and my family wants me to graduate, so we will sit down and see what happens. 2020 has so many things that come with it. You can’t shut any doors. You just have to weigh every opportunity, every possibility.”

On what it has been like to deal with the high expectations and pressure that accompanied his transfer to Georgia…

“Obviously, people have seen what I did at Cal. Every situation is different. These are two totally different systems in how we run the ball. Clemson has a completely different system. Ohio State has a different system. I’m just doing what I have the opportunity to do and what Coach [Smart] wants me to do.”

#29 Christopher Smith | Junior | DB

On Richard (LeCounte) and Mark (Webb)…

“It’s definitely a special moment for those guys who have put the work and time in, they have left a mark on the program. It will be sad to see them go.”

On the biggest challenge he faces…

“The biggest challenge is getting used to playing football again. Some guys don’t play games for a very long time and I haven’t. Getting back into the swing of things, up to game speed, knowing when to slow it down and make more plays. I’ve been getting more comfortable out there and it’s going to continue.”

On if he was surprised about the response he got…

“No, because I haven’t been on the scene for a while and I haven’t made a name for myself, but it’s something I’m trying to do every time I step out on the field.”

#44 Travon Walker | Sophomore | DL

On the plan going forward…

“Coach has been talking about competing the whole game from beginning to end. The emphasis for this week is playing a perfect game.”

On his defensive senior teammates…

“I want to thank the seniors because they have been a huge help to me. They helped me deal through a lot of the difficulties I had. For them to have the chance to be the most winning class in Georgia history is huge and I want to thank them for being there.”

On Jalen Carter making an impact…

“It always takes time for a freshman to come in and get comfortable with the scheme and playbooks. He did that, and it allowed him to play faster and help the team.”

#87 Tre’ McKitty | Graduate Student | TE

His thoughts on the season and how the time has flown by…

“It feels like yesterday I just got here and was training over the summer. It’s been a great experience these last few months and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

On his first touchdown as a Bulldog…

“It felt like a long time coming, but I was excited to finally get one in there. The rest of the game we were running the ball well, so I was happy.”

On what keeps Georgia sticking together…

“Guys have their different reasons for opting out, here we’re just trying to finish out the year strong. We’re not really in control of our destiny as where or who we’ll play. As a team we’re keeping our heads down, working hard and controlling what we can control to finish the season strong. We’re all bought in right now.”

On Sarah Fuller…

“I thought it was awesome, it was a huge milestone in college football. To have a female play in a college football game it created a lot of buzz and I think it’s for the better.”

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