Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2020 football game at Missouri
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Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2020 football game at Missouri

Kirby Smart
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and two players, Kearis Jackson and Erik Stokes, spoke with the media on Monday ahead of Georgia’s upcoming game at Missouri on Saturday, Nov. 14.

Georgia and Missouri will square off at 12:00pm ET on ESPN. Mark Jones will call the play-by-play, Dusty Dvoracek will provide analysis, while Quint Kessenich will report from the sidelines.

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

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Statement

“We have a dinged-up football team.  We have injuries in some tough positions, but our kids are fighters and I know they’ll handle that the right way.”

“Missouri- I think Eli (Drinkwitz) has done an incredible job taking over and really having locked in and gotten the ability to throw eye candy and move people around.  Defensively they play really heavy fronts. Historically when we’ve played Missouri, they’re hard to run the ball against so they do a really job of mixing things up. He’s taken his offense and you can see the elements from App State where they have a ton of shifts and motions.  You know, after last game, that’s something we have to improve on. They do it really well and they really confuse people in how they play the game. His quarterback (Connor Bazelak) is doing a really good job. It’ll be important that we clean up the mistakes we made the last game in order to not make those and also that we play better on special teams to help our offense with our field position- that’ll be big for us.”

On the passing game not clicking and how to improve that…

“I think the number one thing is the accuracy.  It’s not that we protect the quarterback better, it’s accuracy in terms of completion percentage, getting open receivers.  We always say- you have to make your layups and that’s the most disappointing thing about the last couple games is the accuracy and the ability to hit the open guys and defensively, not giving gifts away. So how do you improve that?  You have to improve your accuracy. You have to improve, number one- when a guy gets the chance to catch a ball, catch it, but when you have him open you can’t over throw him. We missed out on some opportunities there.  A lot of that can be held to a good run game, which we have shown the ability at times to run the ball on some hard boxes. Missouri gives you hard boxes almost every single snap.  It’s one of those challenges that we have to improve on.

On the quarterback competition…

“Stetson is day-to-day with a right shoulder AC sprain.  SO we don’t know.  He is going to find out today if he is going to be able to go out there and throw. It’s one of those deals that we don’t know how effective he’s going to be- whether he’s going to require another shot to do it.  We are going to get all three of those guys (D’Wan Mathis, JT Daniels, and Carson Beck) ready. And the one who does the best job will be ready to plan and if Stetson is ready to play and he does the best job… the toughest thing for Stetson is he is not going to be able to take a lot of reps early in the week, but we do a ton of walk thru today and a lot will be determined by Tuesday and Wednesday’s practice for us.”

On the status of Georgia Pickens, Kenny McIntosh, Jordan Davis, and others…

“There are a lot of them.  Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint had a fractured, dislocation ankle.  They repaired that this morning with surgery. He is out the remainder of the season. They expect a full recovery, similar to what James Cook had at one time, Riley Ridley had it at one time. Both of those guys recovered fully.  He is in great spirits, he’s a great kid, and has a great family. He had his surgery done today. Kenny (McIntosh) we are hopeful to get back. Kenny actually made the trip last week because we felt at the end of the week he was in an 85-90 percent of his full self.  His hamstring was bothering him more than his knee now- he had some hamstring tightness, but we feel like he’s going to be able to go. He probably could have gone in an emergency Saturday, but we weren’t completely comfortable with it.  We are hopeful to get him back this week and certainly need him.  Kendall (Milton) is going to be out probably 3-4 weeks with an MCL sprain from the injury he got in the game. It’s not permanent but it’s something we have to get him back from. With George (Pickens), it boils down to really a pain tolerance. He was able to practice last week somedays with a no-contact jersey. But it boils down to, can he handle the pain of the upper extremity? If he’s able to do that, then he’s able to go and we are hopeful that he will be.  Lewis (Cine) is in concussion protocol, so we don’t know if he’s going to be cleared for the week.  That will depend on the testing he has to go through.  Jordan (Davis) is week-to-week. We are hopeful to get him back, we just don’t know when that’s going to be.”

On how he addresses the team mood…

“They are competitors.  I you have a competitive nature about you, which most good football players do, it’s about the program, it’s about the seniors. It’s about leaving your legacy. It’s about the number of wins your senior class can have and the bowl opportunities you have.  It’s about us. I have really felt that our kids- I’m tell you- I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me, but I also felt there was a lot of fight in our kids on Saturday.  For as many things that went wrong, we missed tons of opportunities, those opportunities are gone. Our next opportunities is with Missouri. I personally think they have a really good football team that is getting better. When you watch them play throughout the year, they have gotten better with each game. Eli (Drinkwitz) is one of the best coaches around. When you take what he did at App State and what he’s been able to do at Missouri, so that’s all of our attention.  It goes to that. Our kids will handle it the right way. They handled it the right way after the game Saturday night. We got to see some of the leaders yesterday as they stopped by. They’re hurt. They understand this is the situation we’re in and they have to go play well.”

On Lewis Cine’s ejection…

“Tough. Tough deal because he felt like he was—what we always talk about is going for the target area, from the chest to the waist, and he had a couple of hits earlier in the year, I can’t remember what game it was, but he had the exact same hit and he went for that target area. We see it every day in practice and in scrimmages. He’s a vicious hitter, a striker. We’ve had drills with him where we’ve told him he’s got to go full-speed, run through the mid-section of a bag or body, and he was trying to do that in that case. He felt like Kyle (Pitts) saw him coming and he dropped his head to protect himself, and it ended up being head-to-head contact. It’s unfortunate. That’s part of our game. The only thing we can coach Lewis to do is maybe aim a little lower. The lower you go, the less chance you have of hitting somebody head-to-head. It was certainly a scary collision.”

On playcalling in the secondary with Richard LeCounte…

“Richard doesn’t make all of those calls. The way defense work, you have a linebacker that makes a call, and then you have secondary sides. You have a free side, strong safety side, Richard handles the strong safety side, which is usually field side. And Lewis handles the free safety side, which is usually the weak side or the boundary side, so that side stayed kind of intact when you’re talking about the linebackers with Lewis. The other side, Chris’s (Smith) side, was him and the strong side linebacker. I thought Chris handled communication very well. He’s very bright, communicates in a lot of ways just as good as Richard. Our breakdowns had a lot more to do between linebackers and coverage, communication of the free safety and the corners in the boundary, and some really bad eye control. What I call eye control is ‘Are you looking at the right thing?’ It has nothing to do with the scheme they did, just has to do with I’m looking at what I’m supposed to look at, and I’ll cover him. If I look in the backfield, then I won’t cover him. Don’t pop out of the ground 25 yards downfield, and we had some bad eye control, not communication.”

On improving eye control…

“All of the above (on the field, in film study). (During) the off week, we had a list of goals for the defense, and number one was communication coming into the off week, how we communicate in coverages and adjustments. Number two was eye control. So, we really tried to harp on those things and make guys accountable for communicating, but obviously, didn’t do a good enough job of it.”

On Stetson’s deep throws and working to improve…

“(The injury) complicates him getting better at the position because I don’t know how much work he gets. If he’s able to go, he’ll get some reps. If he’s not able to throw, then his reps will be cut down. Accuracy comes with experience. Accuracy comes with timing. Accuracy comes with consistency in who’s out there. If it’s one receiver, he might be running 21 miles an hour, and another receiver might be running 22. But you’ve got to hit your lay-ups. You’ve got to be accurate. That’s probably the number one—when you define the quarterback position, accuracy ranks right up there with managing it and not turning it over. Accuracy is probably the defining factor of that position, and we have been very accurate in terms of completion percentage, at least not consistently. We’ve been there in spurts, but we weren’t Saturday.”

On the status of JT Daniels…

“He’s going to get reps. He’s going to get work because, we just talked about it, Stetson, we don’t know if he’s going to be there or not. The great thing about JT is, he begged to go down to the scout team to get work when he wasn’t early on. He wanted to go down and compete, throw and get better against our defense. So, it’s not like he’s been sitting on the shelf, not getting many throws. He’s been getting a lot of those.”

On the attrition of wide receivers and its effect on the offense…

“Never would I say you have the speed you want. I don’t think any coach…everybody wants to be faster. Everybody wants the fastest guys possible. But I do feel like we have gotten open more this year, whether that’s by alignment, assignment, the level of competition. We’ve gotten open and we’ve missed some, but we’ve hit some. I think we’ve improved in the passing game. We just haven’t reaped the benefits of it, but we’re not accurate enough. We don’t hit enough open guys. The toughest thing for me is the swinging gate of injuries: this guy’s in, this guy’s out. Kearis (Jackson) has been a warrior because he’s banged up. He got a hip pointer early in the year and he’s consistently gone out there and given us good effort. George (Pickens) has been out some. Marcus is out. Matt (Landers) has been out. A lot of different things there in terms of guys being able to have the continuity you’d like to have, especially on offense.”

On Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint’s handling of his injury

“In terms of his approach to the injury, the kid is a great kid. I saw him coming out to the second half, coming out of the locker room for the second half, and he was already in great spirits. He said, ‘Coach, it’s part of the game. Injuries are part of the game and you understand that when you get into it.’ He was in a really good mindset. I know he’ll work really hard to get back and he was trying to help other guys on the sideline. That’s the thing about this team’s DNA is there’s a bunch of fighters, bunch of competitors. They don’t feel good about what happened, nobody does. But they’re fighting to come back and compete, and that’s what defines who you are.”

On dealing with team adversity this season…

“For me, I don’t hone in on the adversity, the problems, the issues. We are fortunate, knock on wood, in terms of COVID. We have been unfortunate in terms of injuries and they seem to happen in bunches. We’ve had quite a bit. I certainly didn’t think coming out of the game that we would have some of these injuries we had in the Florida game. But you don’t control that. You don’t focus on it. You get next man up and you try to prepare those guys to play.”

On what he learned from watching film from Saturday’s game the areas D’Wan Mathis needs to improve on…

“The number one thing would be starting with accuracy. He’s got to improve that. The number two thing is the management of the offense, in terms of play-call, communication, motion-shifts, snap-count—a lot of things in that nature –which he has improved on. He’s gotten an opportunity to go with the twos for three or four weeks and grown and gotten better. He got an opportunity the other night, in the game, to see where he is. I think he understands that he has to improve and work, and he is willing to do that. He’s committed to try and get better to help the team. He’s an extremely passionate competitor. You see it when he runs, right? He tries to run guys over whether he can or can’t—that part is a great, redeeming quality about him. But, he has to grow up in other areas and improve. He wants to do that. He wants to become a complete player.”

On what he has seen from the scout team work that JT Daniels has done…

“JT [Daniels] down on the scout team, like Stetson [Bennett] when he was down there before, sometimes you get to do things without risk and reward because your job down there is to get the ball in the air and throw the ball, service the team, get a look. He’s not down there all of the time. We have [Nathan] Priestley and Jackson Muschamp that do a good job as well. JT likes to go down there and compete and throw some—so he spends time with our offense. He’s in all of the meetings with our offense. He goes down there and throws every now and then. JT’s got a good arm, there’s no doubt about that. It’s one of the deals that he is getting better and better every day with mobility. You feel good that he is able to move around and do some things down there with us. Again, he’s going to get some reps with Stetson out, and we’ll find out where he is.”

On what growth he has seen in Stetson Bennett so far this season…

“Experience is the best indicator. We have such a small sample size on all of these guys. It’s really tough because you don’t have the spring sample size, you don’t have summer sample size—you have fall camp and the games we have. So, [Stetson Bennett]’s sample size of game-time is larger than the other guys. There’s been progress made in terms of third down decision-making. He’s made some good decisions. Look, he stood in the pocked the other day on the third down and took a shoot—took a bee-bee and knew it was coming, and that’s what you want your quarterback to be able to do. He fired an inaccurate throw, and from that point on his accuracy started to go down a little bit. I don’t know if that was because he was inaccurate or because of the injury. You have to feel like it had something to do with the injury, but he wasn’t as accurate or effective after that. That part he has to continue to work on.”

On the biggest thing he has learned as a coach with helping keep players’ mindsets focused after a setback and using reverse psychology…

“I would say after Tuesday or Wednesday I would have a better idea. I can’t sit here and say, ‘I know today,’ because you haven’t gotten to see them face-to-face and eye-to-eye with all of them. But, one of the best things I have learned is they feel as bad as you do. They tend to get over it quicker than you do, meaning they are short-term in everything they do. They jump on social media, and they hear so many things outside our walls that can influence behaviors and decisions and maybe feelings. We try in here to live in a bubble of, ‘Hey look, let all of that stay out there.’ Only thing you can worry about is when you come in here and go to work, have a good attitude and approach it that way. I think a lot of that comes from the leadership and the coaches. I have stressed to our support staff and our coaches that, ‘Look, you’ve got to provide energy and enthusiasm to the players—to they feel that coming from you and you’re not hangdogging.’ So, call it reverse psychology or whatever you want to call it. A lot of times after our wins is where we have the biggest corrections. After our losses we have to be able to emphasize what we did well, but be really technical about what we did wrong so they see it… I think you have to be that in terms because outside of it, they get a lot of negative energy from outside of it in terms of what we can’t do and what we haven’t done. You have to be honest. You have to look at the tape and show it to them and say, ‘Hey this guy is open—it’s not that he’s not opened. The play worked. We have to complete the play and finish the block.’”

On if Stetson Bennett is healthy will he start on Saturday…

“That is a great question—great question—only to be answered by the end of the week. Great question, Mark.”

On how much injuries are football-related or not having much of an off-season this past year with normal conditioning and help from the strength and conditioning and athletic training staffs…

“I have wondered that myself. You always start questioning, ‘Oh wow, we’re having injuries.’ Everybody wants to point at the trainer or the strength coach or whatever, but so many of them are freaky deals. You see them, too. Kendall Milton’s—you see his plant and you see him take a knee from the side, that’s an MCL. What does that have to do with it he lifted or ran? It’s there. Marcus’ [Rosemy-Jacksaint]—the guy tried to keep him from scoring, and clipped him right on the ankle down there. I mean it’s like, ‘What does that have to do with the exercising or running?’ It’s football, is what it is. The accumulation of those—I don’t know. I would say that if there were more soft-tissue injuries, I would question that. If we had a ton of hamstrings and pulls, but a lot of ours aren’t those—they’re breaks. That is tough, that is part of the game.”

#10 Kearis Jackson | Redshirt Sophomore | WR

On the chemistry between the QBs and the WRs…

“It was just one of those days where we couldn’t complete balls so it’s something we have to work on. Has it been a problem all season? No, we do our thing in practice, we just have to transfer it over to the games.”

On Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint..

“When that injury happened,  it brought tears to my eyes. Knowing how hard Marcus has worked to get to his position and the type of guy he is, he’s become more of a leader and more vocal. He just wants to be the best version of himself. When injuries like that happen it’s crazy. Knowing how hard he has worked and for him to have an injury like that, it takes a toll on everyone.”

On JT Daniels and Carson Beck…

“As quarterbacks their job is to get the ball to us and be able to play when their number is called. I’m confident with anyone they put back there. We just need to do our job as receivers and the O-line protecting them.”

#27 Erik Stokes | Junior | DB

On the communication issues Georgia had against Florida and the impact of Richard LeCounte’s absence…

“Not having Richard was a big thing. He’s just really one of our big leaders and all that stuff, on and off the field. It was the communication that we really messed up on, that we really hounded ourselves about. We already knew coming in that we were going to over-communicate and all that, so seeing that we really messed up on communication— it’s the one big factor that I feel that, as a leader, we messed up on tremendously.

On the amount of holes Florida’s offense was able to find and whether the breakdowns on UGA’s defense was on the linebackers or back end…

“We take that on as a back end, as well, because we never want to single out any linebackers or any of that stuff. We take that on because anything past 20 yards, we believe, is DBs. Just seeing that and all that stuff keep happening, we feel like as a back end, we should have done stuff better. We should have helped our linebackers even more, so we don’t place any blame on anybody. We always take a look at ourselves in the mirror first.”

On what he will say to the younger guys to keep them motivated considering UGA no longer controls its destiny in the east…

“My message to the young guys is, ‘Hey, man. You never know when your moment is going to happen. Everything is crazy that’s happening in every game, so you never know when it’s going to be your moment out there. I just want you to be ready, because I never knew my moment for the Missouri game two years ago was finally going to happen.’ I’m just going to tell them they have to be ready, stay into the playbook. You have to do everything right and all this stuff, because you never know when your time will be called, and I just want you to be ready for it. I don’t want them to miss an opportunity and to just go out there and give it everything they’ve got. We still have a lot to play for and all this, so I’m just going to keep motivating my young guys to make sure their heads aren’t gone and make sure they are good.”

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