Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2021 Arkansas football game
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Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2021 Arkansas football game

Kirby Smart
Photo: Mackenzie Miles/UGA

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and three players, Nakobe Dean, Ladd McConkey, and Warren McClendon, spoke with the media on Monday about their upcoming home game against the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Georgia and Arkansas will square off on Saturday, Oct. 2 at Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. (Buy Tickets). The game will be televised by ESPN at Noon 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 Arkansas press conference which was provided by UGA.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Statement

“We want to continue to encourage our fans and fan base. I know they’ll turn out and be loud and proud, but really, with “Gameday” there, we want them to get to the stadium as early as we can, especially in the last hour with those guys in there. I would also like to congratulate Nakobe (Dean) for his national community service award—tremendous job by him. He’s a model player and person and student. For him to get that award is pretty incredible, the job he’s done since getting here. He comes from a great family and it’s a great award for the University of Georgia to get recognized, to have a player of that caliber be put on that team.”

On the play of freshman Broderick Jones at left tackle…

“Broderick’s been playing a good bit. He’s played left and right. He’s not playing in situations where we have leads, he’s playing in normal rotation, and he’s done a good job. He continues to improve, work hard. He can’t make focus errors or focus mistakes; he has a couple of those per game. He’s got to get those out of his repertoire, but he continues to get better. He’s a really good athlete, bends well, and has got a great upside. We want to see him keep practicing well, getting better, adding depth to our team, trying to create options for us on the offensive line. The better he plays, the more options we have.”

On current injuries on the team…

“Darnell (Washington) and Tykee (Smith) are back. We did not take them on the 70 for the main purpose of having them work out, so they got they a good workout in Friday. They got a good workout Saturday here without being here and they both ran well. They’re back in drills, they’re practicing this week, everything full go, so that hopefully, we have them available. We haven’t seen them physically practice yet, so we still have to see that, but our expectation is they’ll be able to go and play and be able to help us. I think that time off can hurt you, especially if you haven’t played in quite a while, but we’ve got to bring those guys back and be smart about their reps today and work them back in. Dom (Blaylock) is still nursing a hamstring, hopeful to get him back. (Marcus) Rosemy is just an ankle–we don’t know how fast it’s going to turn around, but we’re certainly hopeful to get him back. Arian (Smith) didn’t make the trip. He’s been bothered by a shin contusion that he had prior to the South Carolina game—it happened in the UAB game. He’s been working his way back and we got good recovery by not taking him last week, and we’re hopeful he’s able to go this week.”

On future SEC scheduling with the upcoming expansion…

“I think the conference expanding is going to allow us more opportunities to play more teams. It’s going to depend on what format the presidents and Commissioner Sankey decide to go with, but that’s the least of my concerns right now, I promise you that. I don’t know what they plan to do. I’m certainly in favor of being able to play more SEC games because it’s good for the league.”

On scout team…

“It’s our standard. It’s the expectation. We sell it here really hard. Development is important. How can I develop? I can develop by going on the scout team and getting quality reps. There are a lot of our kids that get better faster on the scout team than they do on the first or second unit because the first and second unit doesn’t go against the quality that the scout team gets to go against. You get better by playing against better competition. I’m a firm believer in that. I’ve seen it in recreational football with my kids growing up. I’ve seen it in high school football with who you play in the regular season. I’ve seen it in college football. When you play better teams you get better, so when you play against a better opponent on the scout team you get better. Our guys have bought into that. We rarely have guys complain because they’re not getting reps, they’re actually wanting to go get reps. That’s about recruiting the right kind of person into your organization so that they get value out of practice. We take a lot of quality reps on those units.”

On differences between Matt Luke and Sam Pittman…

“I don’t really get into comparisons. I think both of those guys are so good in their individual rights that it is unfair to try and compare them. They both, number one, are incredible people. They are incredible men. They have a strong belief in family. They are everything that epitomizes what you want in an assistant coach/offensive line coach because they care about the team more than themselves. They sell that to their players, and they are both great recruiters.”

On Arkansas’ defense…

“First off, Barry (Odom) does a very good job. Barry is one of the few people you could say takes what he has and gets what he has to work really well. He’s been different at different places. He has not been the same guy everywhere he’s been. He’s morphed. He’s changed. He’s changed with college football. He’s innovative. He goes and looks and studies what other people are doing. He forces your hand to maybe play left-handed. You can’t do some of the things you want to do. He’s really good at it. Not only that, he has some really good players doing it. Make no mistake about it, this is not the Arkansas that we played last year. Those guys up front, he’s got three transfers. Two from Missouri, one from Illinois State, and they play extremely hard. They are extremely physical and they create an immense amount of problems for the people they play. They will not be taken lightly by this group because they are doing an incredible job of creating problems for offenses. Just look at what they’ve done with the two big games that everyone knows about (Texas and Texas A&M), but really they’ve done it in every game.”

On assistants transitioning to head coaches…

“I think you have a President/AD role that may think one thing and you have coaches that may think another, and none of us are necessarily always right. You have agents who think they know. I think everybody has their own opinion of what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. What’s a fit for this place and what’s a fit for that place could be different. They are geographically here and they are geographically here. I think everybody has their own opinion. I love the opinion that a good football coach is willing to sacrifice his own ego and say that if I can go out and hire people smarter than me, and people that are really good coaches, I’m going to have a hell of a staff. Not make it about myself. You have a chance to be successful. You have to recruit and you have to do it well because nobody does really well without good football players. I think that is a big part of that role. Sam (Pittman) fits all of that. He’s a tremendous leader of men, and that’s the number one discipline we are charged with. How do you lead your men and how much do they believe in you? That, he’s got the ultimate going on right now. 100 percent, those men in that locker room believe in Sam Pittman and what he tells them. They believe it and go out and play like it.”

On handling distractions …

“We haven’t really even thought about that, because I look at it they’ve had two massive games as well. There’s no kid that is going to say, ‘Oh man, this game is bigger than that game.’ They’re all big. I mean they are all tremendously big game and they only get bigger from here. So, I don’t think anybody has an advantage when it comes to that. The advantage we can have is can our crowd impact the game at 12:01 p.m. like they could at 8:01 p.m. That’s the challenge that’s issued to our fans to prep for that and to be able to help us because you know we got this game at home. So, that’s supposed to be an advantage and we got to try and make it an advantage because the teams that play at home have across the board this year more than last year, with packed stadiums have some kind of advantage, at least crowd noise wise.”

On the second-year jump …

Sam had a big jump year one. He had a tremendous jump, right? From every game he won there was one more. So, he did a tremendous job there and continues to grow. I think what’s really helped Sam is the buy in and beliefs that the kids have in him, and that he’s got either eight or nine super seniors. You know eight or nine super seniors makes a big difference. You’re talking about those are (Justin) Shaffer’s and Devonte Wyatt’s. Two of our better, more experienced players, you multiply that times four, and they got that. And they have 16 something seniors. They’ve got seven or eight returners on both sides of the ball. You don’t see that in the SEC. I told people before the season started, write it down. Teams with senior leadership, teams with experience, teams with the most seniors always does well in our conference, and no doubt they’re doing the same here.”

On Arkansas’ Treylon Burks …

“He was that way last year. He’s a competitor, loves the game. I love the way the guy plays. He’s multipurpose. He can do so many different things. They do a really good job of using his skillset, and Coach (Kendal) Briles does a great job of making sure that the ball can get to him different ways. He’s a football player.”

On stopping explosive plays …

“I would say last year wasn’t a whole lot different. We weren’t really explosive the last two years in the run game. Some of that has to do with the way people are playing us, some of it has to do with RPO’s being called and we didn’t have a block on more of the perimeter. Some of it has to do with the size of our offensive line. You go back, we were a bigger, more physical team when we had the two first round tackles. Explosive runs are about holds and displacement. If you displace people, you get explosive runs. If you don’t displace people, you don’t get explosive runs. You got to be run efficient. And we’ve been run efficient. And efficiency to me is as important as explosivity. They’re both important. But for our rushing average, and our run efficiency, the way we evaluate it, we’ve been on par on where we should be. We just haven’t been explosive. And I would love to be explosive but it’s not more important than being efficient.”

On having less size on the offensive line…

“I think that we had a run there where we had two really massive, talented tackles, and I think our tackles are good now, but they’re probably not first round picks.  Those two guys were and we were really big — Ben was really big, Tate, gave us more size and we lost him.  So, it was one of those deals where, I think we continue to improve.  The guys we’ve got are buying in.  Every team is different.  So, where we might not be as strong, we might be stronger in other areas.  We certainly have good depth.  We’ve got tight ends with different skill sets than we’ve had in the past, so we’ve got to try to highlight those.

On the distribution of carries for running backs…

“Not at that point.  I think it’s important to stay healthy, stay fresh, use the hot hand — whoever that hot hand may be.  Those guys are all contributing factors on special teams.  Each one of them is a really good special teams player in his own right, has a role and those snaps are really valuable for us.  Unless there’s a hot hand to the point where a guy is outrushing, making more people miss where there’s a considerable difference, we’re going to use those guys.  That’s part of the recruitment.  You’re not getting 20-25 carries because we’re able to share the load.  I think that helps us from a turnover standpoint, a stamina standpoint, a health standpoint, a morale standpoint.  By all means, if we have a back out there that’s making everybody miss, he’ll be in the game, but at the end of the day, it’s really for us about ‘can you rush the ball efficiently?  What do you do best?  What is your skill set best suited to do to make us successful?'”

On the play of Latavious Brini…

It depends on how many times he plays and practices.  He hasn’t had the luxury of practicing or playing.  He was practicing with us before, he was rotating with Brini, but neither guy had distanced themselves to the point of being elite or being on top of the position to the point where that person has to play more, they were rolling.  We’ll see how that goes for these guys.  Brini’s really smart, very experienced, plays multiple positions.  He’s doing a good job learning his positions.  There’s some things Brini can do better, and he’ll be the first to tell you that.  He’s working on those to improve.”

On avoiding distractions in Top-10 games…

“I don’t know, the main thing — it’s a simple saying, but it’s really that simple — I don’t think we lost some of those games because they were big games and they were distracted.  It has a lot to do with the players on the field.  That’s what this will come down to too.  It won’t be about whether Game Day is here, or how many people are in the stands — that may impact the crowd noise — but at the end of the day, it’s the players on the field that have to play well.  I’m a lot more interested in the prep of that, then I am some secret factor.”

On the play of Brock Bowers

“I think he’s been blessed with other tight-ends being out. John (FitzPatrick) has been hurt, Darnell (Washington) has been hurt. I think he’s been given opportunity because we’ve had some wideouts down. If you put a lot of those other factors back in—maybe he’s not as productive, maybe we’re not as productive—but he certainly works really hard, and those other guys you just mentioned did too. A lot of being successful as a freshmen is opportunity. He’s taking advantage of this opportunity.”

On the effort to get fans to show up early

“I would just say the opportunity to show the world Georgia. For me, it’s about recruiting—I know that this is the best university on the planet and I want everybody else to know it. So to do that, you need to have an incredible fan base and our (fans) have been awesome this year. I just want that to continue. We’re going to have an opportunity to play early, we’re going to have tons of great prospects here, and we want to show them the hospitality that we expect at every home game.”

On the impact of noon games on recruiting

“I think it’s all about how your fans handle that. The fact that Game Day is here, I think that helps with recruiting. I think the way our fans handle it, the atmosphere they create, will help, whether it gives us more time at the end of the game, as opposed to guys being gone and jetting out of here for long drives home. We’ll probably have an opportunity to see them more afterwards. It makes it tougher for guys from faraway distances to get here, obviously, with the 12:00 kick. With each good thing, there’s a negative thing, and with all things that’s the case. So we try to make these things positive for us in recruiting this Saturday with a noon kick the best we can.”

#17| Nakobe Dean | Jr. | ILB

On facing Arkansas…

“They are not the same Arkansas team we faced last year, they are way more physical. This is the kind of game that we here at Georgia look for, a game that we can be physical. We pride ourselves on our toughness and physicality. I am sure everyone on the team is excited for the game as I am.”

On the atmosphere of an early game…

“I feel like as a team we are ready. We just had an early kick-off, it is not like it will be new to us. We are going to prepare, we are going to practice hard throughout the week.  We are going to practice like we are going out there and competing for a national championship no matter who we play. For the fans, just like Coach Smart said, ‘challenge the fans to get out there and be loud, be electric, and be elite.’ That is what we push to be as a team.”

#84| Ladd McConkey | RFr. | WR

On his experience with punt returning…

“In high school I did a little bit of everything, kick-offs punt returns. That is definitely I did in high school…It can be different in practice and in games but our coaches do a good job of making practice harder than games. There are people flying around and stuff like that. It is a little different with the atmosphere, the fans and all the stuff like that. With the respects to the players and a lot of flying around, the way we practice makes it easy.”

On his growth from last season…

“I think really physically going against those other guys every day. I mean just the way they approach the game-their physicality and everything like that. It showed me with the defense and even on offense how I need to approach things and go about it.”

#70 | Warren McClendon | RSo. | OL

On big runs…

“Big runs are hard to get. Just the little things we have to work on to get to them, just linebackers and just finishing blocks and stuff like that.”

On the difficulty of embracing a role on the scout team…

“Being young you are like, ‘hey, I am on the scout team, I am not really doing anything for the team.’ But as the season goes on you see all the good stuff and you go, ‘yeah, I kind of like scout team.’ It helps you get better, it helps the defense get better and the offense get better.”

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