Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2020 football game at South Carolina
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Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2020 football game at South Carolina

Kirby Smart
Photo: Perry McIntyre/UGA

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and four players, Channing Tindall, John FitzPatrick, Justin Shaffer, and Jermaine Johnson, spoke with the media on Monday ahead of Georgia’s upcoming game at South Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 28.

Georgia and South Carolina will square off at 7:30pm ET on the SEC Network. Taylor Zarzour will call the play-by-play, Matt Stinchcomb will provide analysis, while Alyssa Lang will report from the sidelines.

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

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement … 

“We open with our preparation. We started yesterday as coaches and players today for South Carolina. Obviously, I’ve got a lot of respect for their program, what they did last year with us, how hard their kids play. They’ve got a lot of kids who are from our area and from our state. We recruit a lot of the same kids, so we know a lot about them. We are moving on with these guys, starting today.”

On where JT Daniels needs to improve to meet his potential and how high the ceiling is for Daniels … 

“I think with any player that is relatively young — in terms of their career — there’s always a lot of room for improvement. In terms of protections and understanding where Trey has things going and where he is pointing things, getting that correct comes through experience. And that comes through film evaluation, making sure we have the right guys on the right guys in terms of where pressure is coming from. In terms of his eyes in certain routes, there were a couple of things that he had his eyes on the wrong side, but he threw the ball well and was very accurate. He protected the ball, he made good decisions with the ball. He had the one probably errant throw that went off the hands of the defender early in the game. That may have just come from the rust of not playing. A lot of times you have to get out there and play, but certainly he can grow and get better. He understands that as well as our other guys. You have to grow and get better in order to move forward, and that’s what we all need to do.”

On the ceiling and how good he thinks JT Daniels can be … 

“I don’t know that you know that right now. You see him make good throws. I think his mobility is not going to do anything but hopefully improve. His decision-making – the people around him have to play well. He’s got to get a run game around him to help him in order to reach his full potential and things like that.”

On evolving into a zone defensive team … 

“I would totally disagree with you, first and foremost, because I don’t think we are a man team. It depends on how you define man to be honest. But in terms of coaching, we don’t define it maybe like you guys do. We play very little just straight man. That’s not what we play a lot of. We play match-up zones a lot and we have a lot of different coverage multiples, but in that game it was completely different than anything we have played all together. We rep zone every week, regardless of whether we play it or not, because I think you have to have the ability to have eyes on the quarterback with all the athletic quarterbacks now, so over 50 percent of our reps in practice are invested in zone so you can break on the ball. To be honest with you, our guys are completely comfortable breaking on the ball, you are just not going to stop those routes playing zone all the time. They are going to throw them and catch them. The idea is to stop them before they get more than five, and then hopefully bring up some third downs and some batted balls. So, we are comfortable playing zone, completely comfortable playing zone, but it’s hard when you drop eight and they throw it underneath. They did a good job. They are very efficient in what they did. They did not have a lot of the mistakes they had against other teams.”

On how JT Daniels is doing physically after the Mississippi State game … 

“He came out feeling fine. He didn’t take many hits. You think about it — playing quarterback in a game is not a lot different than playing it in practice other than when you get tackled or hit. I think he took one really good shot on one of the deep balls, but it did not affect his knee. He did a good job. Oone time protection broke down and he got down and took the sack. He didn’t avoid it, he didn’t get rid of the ball, but he didn’t turn the ball over. Like I said before, we have good pass protectors. We have to do a good job protecting him. He’s got to use his mobility in the pocket, which he did one time. He spun out of trouble and made a throw down field to George [Pickens]. He did some nice things there, but in terms of soreness — no, he was fine.”

On if he expects to see South Carolina play a similar offense as Mississippi State against Georgia’s defense…

“You probably have to ask Mike Bobo what he’s going to do, not me.  I don’t know.  Most Offensive Coordinators—Mississippi State is not a big game to watch.  If you see defenses the way they play Mississippi State, it doesn’t carry over.  Like most offensive coordinators we talk to, they don’t even put that game in their breakdown because it’s irrelevant since the defenses they’re watching are not the defenses they’re getting.  That’d be a question for him.  In terms of what Mississippi State did, they were very efficient in their ability to throw those underneath patterns. There were a lot of things we could have done, but the teams that have done those haven’t been successful doing them.  You have to have change up, you have to have pitches. We felt like we were going to be able to stop them.  And sometimes we did.  In the second half we played the same defenses and stopped them. So we didn’t change anything, it’s no magic potion.  It’s the way we chose to play them, which is exactly how several other teams have chose to play them. It doesn’t make it right, wrong, or indifferent. I’m really worried about South Carolina, not Mississippi State.”

On the potential of quarterback JT Daniels as he gets more experience…

“We had the same game plan that we really had with the other quarterbacks. I think everybody likes to make a big deal, especially in the media, of how much is quarterback control, how much is offensive coordinator.  The game plan is set up to where you have run checks, you have pass checks, you have flexibility on protections to redirect things. Nobody really is different in college football in terms of that.  Some quarterbacks can handle more than others. We are not going to be limited by what JT can do.  We will be limited by what we can do with our offensive line, our tight ends, our receivers, and backs because everything you do with JT, they have to be able to do as well.  You can’t rep 100 different checks every week. JT understands our system.  He has flexibility to do some things in certain calls and in other calls, he doesn’t.  It just depends on how the game’s going.  If you’re running the ball for eight yards a clip, you don’t need to attach an RPO.  If you aren’t running the ball for a lot, then you put the decision in the quarterback’s hands and sometimes give him more flexibility.  But that’s all based off how the game is going and how the game plan is set. JT is certainly fine with that.

On matching up with Mike Bobo now as head coaches and going against a good friend in this setting…

“It doesn’t change a lot for me.  It’s a game that we’re trying to win based on the players on the field. It’s not between Mike and I.  I have a lot of respect for him. He’s one of the best football coaches I know in terms of motivation, passion and energy for the game, recruiting.  All of those things. I have a lot of respect for him and the job he does and has done throughout his career.  His record speaks for itself in our conference for what he’s been able to do and I know he will have those guys ready to play.  As far as our history, I don’t think that it really matters in this game.”

On setting the tone in practice this week as it relates to the offensive line and what they need to correct…

“We have to be creative in the run game.  When people play you the way Mississippi State plays you, you have to be patient, creative, and you have to throw. There are things we can improve on, most certainly, there always is. You’re not going to see a lot of teams rushing for a lot of yards against those guys if they’re playing the same way they played against us.”

On the development of Jermaine Burton…

“I think Jermaine’s getting better because he works hard. There’s a lot of potential to grow, in terms of…he doesn’t block the right guy all the time, he doesn’t know all of his assignments, he doesn’t know his split. The things you guys see, the public sees, are awesome, so I want him to be the complete player he can be. I want him to help benefit our team in terms of second-level run game, getting runs started. There were a couple of runs that didn’t get started which you could say was his fault because he didn’t do the right thing. So, it’s not like he doesn’t have room to improve. He does. But the thing about Jermaine is he cares. That’s important to him. He wants to do those things right, and on top of that, he’s got good ability. The want-to is half of it, the ability is the other part, and opportunity also. He got an opportunity to make plays and he made them when he got an opportunity.”

On Mike Bobo’s coaching…

“In terms of Mike, I can’t think of specific examples. The guy comes from a coaching pedigree. His dad is one of the best coaches to coach in our state. He’s grown up in a coach’s family. He’s got thick, tough skin, and players like him. Players enjoy playing for him because he coaches hard with passion and energy.”

On the advantage of settling on one quarterback…

“The advantage, I think, would be continuity. What you’re looking for is above-the-line play, high-level play, and that’s what we’ve been searching for all year. You’re always trying to find it at every position – who can play above the line and who can play winning football? And that’s what we’re trying to find. Any time you get continuity at that position, is it a benefit? Absolutely, it’s a benefit. We’ve got to produce more sample size that way and continue to grow that position.”

On South Carolina’s quarterbacks…

“It’s pretty obvious that the young kid Luke (Doty) is a great athlete. He extends plays. He provided a spark for them in the run game that they didn’t have. Missouri creates a lot of issues in the run game because they’re in a five-man front, they play man free. They’re one of the toughest defenses to run against in the SEC, so they created some problems. When (South Carolina) lost Shi Smith, it made it tough because he’s one of their best weapons, so it was tough sledding to run the ball and Luke brought some energy. Collin (Hill) obviously knows everything Mike wants to do, knows his checks, understands the system, can make the run game checks, make all the throws. He’s got a really good arm, very accurate. So they’re very different quarterbacks and they complement each other.”

On what he is most thankful for during this interesting, unexpected year… 

“Health, family, friends, ability for these young men to play this game that we all love, and all of the people that make it possible to play this season because there are a lot of people hard at work to make sure these kids get this opportunity. I am very thankful for our players and their ability to so far, knock on wood, to stay healthy for the most part COVID-free.”

On George Pickens’ development as a team player in his second season… 

“George [Pickens], for one he hasn’t been healthy the whole year so he probably hasn’t had quite the year that he wanted to have. Him not being in part of the offense, it certainly affects the way the defenses play us. I mean look, the guys a really good player. I would be lying if I didn’t say that we didn’t see some of the same fronts and coverages when he’s not in there, in terms of when he was and how some teams played us—so that affects some things as well. He’s a work in progress when it comes to developing and getting better. He is a great wideout. He’s getting better in the run game. He’s really physical when he blocks. When he blocks, he’s got to block the right guys all the time. He can be an impact on our overall team, in terms of energy-level and enthusiasm when he makes plays—it sparks a lot of guys.”

On how he thought the wide receivers played as a whole on Saturday… 

“They are growing. Part of the thing that we wanted to improve on was the ability to throw the ball and throw the ball vertical downfield and make some plays. To do that, you have to have the people to make those plays. We are improving in that area. Kearis [Jackson] has been a really good surprise for us. He’s been healthy. Last year, he wasn’t healthy the whole year. George [Pickens] has not been healthy, but he’s made plays down the field. Obviously, with Jermaine [Burton] and the tight ends involvement in the offense—it’s helped. We haven’t gotten to showcase that all the time because—we’ve had throws, guys. We’ve had throws down the field. We just haven’t always hit them—made them. I think that is an important element to any offense being explosive. We just have to make sure to bring that run game along with it because as you’re explosive, people will defend explosive plays. You have to be able to run the ball if they are going to be able to defend you from explosive plays.”

On the increase in cases around the state will impact the ability for players to travel for Thanksgiving… 

“Yeah, we are going to visit with our players closer to Thursday and share some information with them. To be honest with you, I don’t really care to share that with everybody else. That is something that is team involved, and we will worry about those guys. Obviously, it’s a concern for the safety for the people in our community, and we want our players to be safe. We want all of the people in our community to be safe. I want my parents to be safe. I want everybody to be safe. We encourage everybody to mask up and keep the numbers as low as possible.”

On how much of the troubles in the run game against Mississippi State had to do with missed blocks versus going against MSU’s scheme… 

“I wouldn’t say there were very often times that we missed a block—I would say whipped or beaten a lot of times. It’s not like we didn’t have a hat for a hat in some instances. Most of the time it’s always the case in the run game, you have one receiver that’s going to get one of their hats and that makes you even, but when you bring a receiver that brings another defender. They are always going to have a little bit of an advantage, especially when they play us. That doesn’t matter. Everybody we have played as been that way. The difference has been the movement inside and some of the stunts they ran to murky the picture up—kind of make it unclear and slant and angle guys. We didn’t do a good job handling their movement more than anything else.”

On if he has seen any difference in South Carolina’s defense since Mike Bobo has becoming interim head coach… 

“Oh yeah! They are very different from last year. They are not a hurry up tempo all of the time. They aren’t empty as much. They have gone back to some traditional formations. They use a fullback. They motion you a lot. They formation you. They get advantage in the run game. They are not the same offense they are now, not at all. They have morphed a little bit throughout the year, as they have lost some skill players. He’s lost a lot of skill players that were weapons to get the ball to. He has to find people to use to replace those guys.”

On injury updates for Jordan Davis and Richard LeCounte… 

“We are hopeful on Jordan [Davis.] You know Jordan is closer than Richard [LeCounte]. Richard is not able to get out there and practice yet. I don’t honestly know with Richard. I’ll find out more today. I know he is trying his best to get back and come back as soon as he can. I would say that he is probably doubtful for this game, but Jordan has a chance and that is promising. We are hopeful to get him back and get him back out there going.”

#41 Channing Tindall | Junior | ILB

On how they feel as a defense…

“We felt as a team that we worked hard; it was a good team win. There is always something we need to work on or get better at. That game we did play differently, but now we have to focus on this week and what this team has to offer.”

On the opportunities that are in front of him…

“Coming from linebacker, I wasn’t ready and there was a lot I needed to work on. Just seeing the success, you strive for it more and more. It becomes a hunger or an addiction, it’s something I’m going to get better at every day. Especially playing South Carolina, that’s the one game I mark down every year.”

On what this year has been like for the defense…

“The defense is like my family, we know what the problem is, it’s just a matter of time before we fix it and are all on the same page. Everyone needs to find what they need to do within themselves. Once we’re all on the same page, things will turn around for us.”

#86 John Fitzpatrick | Redshirt Sophomore | TE

On JT Daniels playing…

“I was excited to play with JT, but since everyone gets reps during the week, we were ready for Coach Smart to call upon him. We work so hard in practice with each quarterback, we were excited to have him and he did a great job.”

On seeing JT and the offensive line come to fruition…

“It was exciting to see his big, explosive plays. I wouldn’t say that it was quarterback dependent, I think it was more of putting everything together. The first few games, we hadn’t put everything together. Against Mississippi State we did put it together and hit our deep shots. it opened up more opportunity in the run game, so it was exciting all around.”

On if there is any motivation from their loss against South Carolina last year…

“There’s definitely motivation there, we came into that game and didn’t play like we wanted to. We’re going to come out this year, focus on us, work hard at practice and play more physical.”

#54 Justin Shaffer | Senior | OL

On the offensive line struggles against Mississippi State…

“After watching the tape myself I feel like there’s a lot we left out on the field. We get to watch the tape again and clean up as a team and an offensive line.”

On South Carolina’s defensive front…

“I haven’t looked at them a lot yet but previously looking at games they have a solid front.”

On his comeback from his neck injury last season…

“It was very scary. Going into the locker room and having that pain in my neck. There was a whole lot of thoughts and wondering if I was going to be able to come back because a neck injury is a real serious injury. Most people don’t come back from a neck injury.”

On JT Daniels’ demeanor on and off the field…

“He is a guy who just wants to do everything right. He always is by himself. Every time I see him he’s got his headphones in, listening to music. He’s a person who never has a problem in class, on and off the field. Just does everything right as a person.”

#11 Jermaine Johnson | Senior | OLB

On the team’s motivation going into this weekend and whether last year’s loss against South Carolina affects UGA’s mindset…

“Obviously, you want to win every game you play, but you win some and you lose some. We’re going go out there and attack it like it was any other week and prepare just as hard. We keep the main thing the main thing, and we’re just trying to keep raising our own standard of how we play. We’re going just going to go out there and try to win the game.”

On what he has seen from Channing Tindall…

“Channing is a great player, a great kid and a great teammate, most of all. He never complains about playing time; he doesn’t like that. He goes out there and does what he’s got to do when his name is called. When you have a teammate like that and a player like that, good things will definitely come his way.”

On the reason for coming out of the game at certain points against Mississippi State last Saturday…

“As you guys know, I missed basically the first three games due to injury. I was excited to come back and be with my team and help them in any way that I could. Saturday, there was no injury or anything like that. We’re just pretty serious about keeping fresh legs out there and doing whatever we could do to make sure that we didn’t have tired guys out there. We’re just rotating between most of the guys in our room, like every four or five plays, just to make sure we’re all fresh out there and can make an impact on the field. I think everybody in that room got the job done, and I think we’re all very capable.”

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