Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2021 football game against Clemson
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Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2021 football game against Clemson

Kirby Smart
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and three players, John FitzPatrick, JT Daniels, and Nakobe Dean, spoke with the media on Monday ahead of the upcoming 2021 season-opener against the Clemson Tigers.

Georgia and Clemson will square off in the Duke’s Mayo Classic at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C., on Saturday, Sept. 4 (Buy Tickets). The game will be televised by ABC at 7:30pm ET.

Chris Fowler will call the play-by-play, Kirk Herbstreit will provide analysis, while Holly Rowe will report from the sidelines.

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

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Statement…

“Thoughts and prayers going out to those in the Gulf Coast and New Orleans areas. We obviously have a few players from those areas and it is something that we are thinking of those folks and all that they are going through. As this hurricane makes it way northward, we are hoping for safety for all during this time…We are obviously excited about this game it seems like it has been a long time coming. We have had a good camp in terms of working on ourselves. We moved onto Clemson last week, Wednesday or Thursday we started working on these guys. We got a chance to watch them in the summer and we got a chance to watch them in the spring. They are really talented, probably one of the best defenses I have ever seen returning in terms of number of starts and number of games played, the volume of experience is unmatched anywhere and anytime and I have been in college football a long time, just in terms of how much football those guys have played. Then you know their quarterback got some experience last year when Trevor (Lawrence) was down, he has one of the biggest arms I have ever seen, he is very talented, very hard to defend. I’s like every play it’s tough to defend when you play these guys, it’s like there is no time to rest. Special teams wise they have always had good specialists and they continue to, that is a rich history tradition in that both teams have always had great specialists. I think special teams will play a big outcome in this game.”

On the confidence of going into this season knowing who is starting quarterback is…

“There is a lot more confidence this year compared to last year not knowing for sure and a lot of it had to do with no spring. Our spring was our fall camp last year, you don’t get enough body of work to see the guys play and see the guys start out and go do things. In terms of wishing JT (Daniels) started earlier last year the big thing was the confidence in his knee and getting him through rehab. We have talked about that before, it was something that was beyond our control in terms of him being stable enough and able to go. But I will say this, a lot of the confidence you have in your offense comes from what’s earned right? You earn that by how you play and who you play. These guys we are about to play are extremely talented on defense and extremely well coached, and have everybody back. So when you talk about opening tests these guys are really good defensively.”

On JT Daniels’ preparation….

“I am extremely confident in his preparation and his focus, that is not a concern for me. The concern is who we have to block, the players around JT, everybody puts everything on the shoulders of the quarterback but so much of the outcome of the quarterback is how the guys who play around him. Who those guys are, the experience level, do those guys play well, do they play with physical toughness, do they strain, do they do all those things. I am very confident in JT’s preparation up to this point and his preparation over the summer. The distractions of the outside world has they really aren’t distractions for JT. He has a single-minded focus all the time on being his best and being the best leader he can.

On Jamaree Salyer, Sedrick Van Pran, and the offensive line…

“Both of those guys have repped at center. Jamaree (Salyer) has kind of worked across the board of the offensive line. Warren Erickson has practiced the last two weeks, he has been practicing, he is practicing again this week, so we feel good about him. We feel like those guys are healthy, available, and are excited to go see them play. At this point for the offensive line to get better they have to go play and they will certainly get to play against a very talented, twitchy, athletic group of defensive pass rushers and defensive linebackers.”

On having to reload the secondary in the offseason and getting them ready for Clemson’s offense…

“We’ve never had that many holes to fill.  I know not in the years I’ve been here. I can’t think of a year ever coaching in my experience that we’ve had that many departures in the same unit.  So, it’ll look very different. A lot of those guys are as talented as the guys we’ve had in the past but very rarely have we had lack of experience. We just don’t have a lot of guys with a lot of playing experience back there and the only way to grow up is to go play. They’ve had some good competition getting to go against our wideouts in the spring and our wideouts all of fall camp, but it’s time to go find out what they can do in the heat of the moment- what decisions they can make, what plays they can make. They’re plenty talented enough.  We just have to go execute and we have to communicate well. Clemson makes it hard on you because they do a good job of moving people around and shifting in motion. That’s something we always see when we’re preparing and we work really hard to get these kids ready for that.”

On an update on Arik Gilbert…

“No update other than Arik is not currently with us still. We are praying for him each and every day that he will come back healthy.”

On how Clemson’s front four compares to a group he previously coached at Alabama…

“That’s probably not fair for me because years don’t work well for me. I don’t know who ’11 and ’12 was at Alabama, unfortunately. So it’s a hard comparison. I can talk about their front four because a couple of them are from our state- we recruited each and every one of them.  They’re really talented. Every kid across that front we had on our campus at some time. We lost probably on all of them in terms of trying to get them. They’re talented, they’re quick. But what makes them so good is the defensive package and the way they us them. It’s not just their talent level, they fit the scheme. You have plugging linebackers, extremely smart linebackers, very good tacklers, great blitzing linebackers that are very aggressive in terms of what they do. It fits. They fit their scheme. Those kids really fit the way they play.”

On the similarities between Georgia and Clemson…

“I don’t think we’re real similar. I don’t think our two quarterbacks are exactly the same, maybe in terms of experience, but very different type quarterbacks. I think secondary, they have more starts in their secondary returning than any secondary I’ve probably ever played. I’ve been watching the same guys play in their secondary it seems like forever. They’ve had them back there every single game. We have common opponents that we’ve both played and they’ve had those guys back there forever. Their front is different than our front. We both do have experience in our front seven. Theirs is different than ours. Ours is a lot bigger, built to stop the run, and theirs is pushy, more athletic and built to rush the passer. They’ve done that, statistically, really well. They’ve effected every quarterback they play in terms of sacks and those numbers. We’ve been better in those categories, but not as good as what they’ve done. Offensively, there are some similarities there. We have a lot of our backs back. Obviously their best back got drafted but they have very capable backs, kids they beat us on recruiting. And they have good wideouts. There are similarities there but outside of that I don’t think there are a lot of similarities between the two.”

On how excited he is to see guys like Adone Mitchell, Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, and Ladd McConkey…

“I’m really excited. That’s the area that I think we can grow in the most, because we have the least experience. We went from a really experienced receiver team, to a not very experienced receiver team. With George (Pickens) out, Kearis (Jackson) and Jermaine (Burton) missing some of camp. Those are the guys that have the most experience and the guys that don’t will have the opportunity to go out and make plays. Some of them got to play a lot in the spring because of the injuries. Jermaine, didn’t get a spring practice, AD did and still has a ton of growth. He’s got so far to go to reach his potential. We’re going to find out a lot about those guys as well as the tight ends and the backs. That’s the big thing, we need to perform well in the skill position around JT (Daniels) to help him with this rush group they’ve got.”

On Darnell Washington and Tykee Smith…

“Each one of them are doing great. They’re moving around now and I’m hoping both of those guys will be healthy soon.”

On what went through his mind on playing Clemson and an SEC schedule…

“Opportunity. The bottom line is our kids come to the University of Georgia to play in big games. We had an opportunity to play a really good opponent. For me, it’s what Georgia is about. Our fans crave these kinds of games, we as coaches crave these kinds of games. You find out a lot more of yourself when you play in these kinds of games. For you guys it’s everything, for us it’s an opportunity to make us grow and be better in our SEC schedule regardless of the outcome. We are going to be a better team after playing these guys and they can say the same for playing us. These opportunities are why you come to major colleges to play in. When you have an opportunity to play a paid opponent, you jump at that.”

On Derion Kendrick and how to focus and calm down for such an emotional game…

“We’ve spoken to him about it and we continue to. The good news is he has played in a lot of big games having been at Clemson. The hurdle is more of the emotional side in playing your former teammates and old family. It can be a knee jerker and tough on you at times. I talk to him everyday, we’re watching clips of Clemson, so it can be awkward at times. I’ve been through that, when we played Georgia and I was at Alabama or playing someone the year after you were there. It makes it different, there’s a personal touch to it. He’s got to be able to separate himself from that, lock it out and go perform. He works hard, he loves football, it’s important to him and he’s bought into it. I’m excited to see him go play.”

On Coach Muschamp and if his coaching ability has helped him…

“Yes, he’s been a tremendous asset. I can’t express enough the move to get him on board, and how important it’s been especially considering our situation, him being an on-the-field coach. He’s been a jolt of energy to special teams. He’s been an extra set of eyes in the defensive backfield. We’ve been able to break things down. You know there are a lot of parts to the secondary and when you’ve got new parts in all those parts it helps to have an extra set of eyes. He’s been tremendous at that and he’ll operate on the sideline and make a lot of special teams calls, signals, and decisions. Those kinds of things, and he’ll also help with our defensive backs on the sideline.”

On Jordan Davis’ return to Charlotte and his recruitment…

“I don’t remember specifically, but I do remember watching some video we shot at a practice and just knew right away this guy was a jumbo athlete. He went through bags. He actually was working out as an offensive lineman. We recruited him the entire time as a defensive lineman. It was his athleticism at offensive tackle that stood out to me. He could bend. He could move. He had quickness. He was huge. It just left me wondering why more people weren’t on him. We thought he was one of the best players in the country and we recruited him as such. It was easy to see. It was evident on the tape and Tray (Scott) brought that back from going to watch him up there. We just had a very consistent relationship from talking to him, and Tray did a great job recruiting him. His mother is just a wonderful person and there was a bond for him there and he decided to join us.”

On if he views Clemson as a measuring stick…

“I think every game is a measuring stick, right? You measure yourself every game on how you perform and how you play. It’s no different in this game. I mean it will be a national measuring stick for everybody to say Georgia is either here or Georgia’s gone. I acknowledge that. I understand that, but that’s not going to change how we prepare for this game. It’s not going to change how we prepare for the next game. It’s life. It’s what the world is made out of. You’re judged based on your performance right now. I’ll never forget when they threw away the Patriots and Tome Brady after one game and said the dynasty was over and they were terrible. Then the next couple of weeks they go on and end up having a great season and win the super bowl. I don’t think you ever judge things based on one game. That’s obviously something that is always on a continuum and it’s always going to be done. That doesn’t stress me out because I know regardless of the outcome of this game, were still going to have a good football team one way or the other. The job that I will have to do will be different depending on the outcome of this game, but Sunday morning we will be worrying about our next opponent. ”

On Derion Kendrick and having a player that knows the opposing team well… 

“I don’t know that you can or can’t. His information would probably be more personnel, in terms of what guys are like. I’ve been against these guys. I know their wideouts. I know maybe something about their defensive backs or something specific. Scheme-wise I think it’s tough. There is so much more that goes into it. There’s not like, oh when they do this, this is what’s coming. You can’t say that because no offensive coordinator, no defensive coordinator gives the same look over and over. All that ends up doing is gets you chasing the wrong idea. So from a personnel standpoint, it probably helps because I think he knows those guys, but outside of that there is not a lot to it.”

#86| John FitzPatrick | JR. | TE

On JT Daniels’ confidence …

“I see it every day in practice. He’s prepared in walk thrus and meetings. And then come practice time, he shows it on the field. His confidence, it shows out there. He has a swagger, confidence, and he leads the team in the right direction.”

On preparation for Clemson…

“Obviously spring ball is about focusing on ourself, but you start watching Clemson as soon as possible here and there in the spring. And then a lot of the time it’s on your own and when you can get extra film in. The tight end room will go watch film together on a Sunday here and there, and just get notes down, look at some schemes. We just continue on throughout the summer, so it’s been an ongoing process.

On Clemson’s defensive line …

“Absolutely, we’re ready for the challenge. We’re excited for the challenge, but at the same time we have a bunch of studs up front from left tackle to right tackle and the guys in the middle. They’re all studs and we’re excited for that challenge.”

#18| JT Daniels | JR. | QB

On Daniels’ connections with teammates …

“We have been talking about it a lot. We have a lot of guys, first of all, lot of guys I feel comfortable with and being with just the amount of work that we got in the off season. Guys missing a couple days missing here, or you got guys rolling in and out. However it is, we have the report that we’ve been building over time. So there’s no concerns of that from me.”

On Daniels’ transition to Georgia …

“Football is just another thing on the west coast I would say is kind of how it felt versus football being the thing here. I remember driving in, it’s the first thing I remember from being in Georgia from when my family and I drove from the Atlanta airport to Athens. Just seeing the Georgia flag flying and the Georgia Bulldog flag flying everywhere. I just really came to experience what it’s like, you know having football be such a main focal point and such a communal aspect. But for me I loved it since I’ve gotten here and I still do. And I’ve been vocal about how much I really love being here and the way that it functions. For me it wasn’t much of an adjustment, that’s how I’ve been my whole life.

On John Fitzpatrick’s role in the offense …

“First with (John Fitzpatrick) Fitz, Fitz and I are great friends, have been since I got here. Having a guy that you know where he’s going to be, he knows all his assignments, you know he’ll fix something that you don’t think about but not everything comes in right from the sideline sometimes. You know there’s a lot of variables in running an offense, and a guy like Fitz that always knows what we’re really trying to do is a guy that plays a big role in fixing the small mistakes or miscommunications. And of course, athletically, I think he’s underrated in terms of what he can do as a pass catcher and as a blocker. I’m excited to see what Fitz will do this year.

On preparing for Clemson’s defense …

“In terms of the mental clock, there’s elite pass rush in the SEC and with a team like Clemson, they’re no different. I’ve always tried to be get the ball out, get the ball in the right guys hands. As I’ve matured, I think I’ve gotten it out quicker and quicker.

#17| Nakobe Dean | JR. | LB

On the corner and star position …

“I feel great about it. They have put in the work, everybody on the team and defense has put in work. I trust our coach to put the right people in the right positions to make us a good defense.”

On JT Daniels’ development as a leader…

“Back when we were on the scout team, I was impressed with how he handled coming from where he came from and who he was and how he handled being on scout team and how he attacked it every day. And now he just gives the offense, I feel like, all the confidence in the world. You know, they’re on his back and every body on the team is on his back. He is the one to offensively lead this team.”

On how Nakobe Dean has gotten better despite injury obstacles in the spring…

“For me, being able to stay engaged in the spring just came from me loving ball and knowing that when I came back I wanted to be better. I probably wasn’t able to get better with technique or so but I was able to get better mentally so that was the biggest thing for me.”

On Nakobe Dean’s perspective of Fall Camp…

“We had a lot of guys who had a good camp. Camp is definitely a grind. There’s a lot of people, including myself that got better this camp. It will be able to help the team this fall.”

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