Kirby Smart, defensive players discuss 2021 Tennessee football game
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Kirby Smart, defensive players discuss 2021 Tennessee football game

Kirby Smart
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and two defensive players, Dan Jackson and Ameer Speed, spoke with the media on Tuesday about the Bulldogs’ SEC road game at Tennessee.

Georgia and Tennessee will square off at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., on Saturday, Nov. 13. The game is set for 3:30pm ET and it will be televised by CBS (Buy Tickets).

Brad Nessler will call the play-by-play, Gary Danielson will provide analysis, while Jamie Erdahl will report from the sidelines.

Below is a transcript of the comments on the upcoming road game at the Tennessee Volunteers which was provided by UGA.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

On the importance of conditioning going into the Tennessee matchup….

“I think our guys are in great shape, we’ve worked really hard for the past three to four weeks. We’ve taken periods and worked really hard anticipating this coming, kind of like you do when you have a triple option. So, we work periods into practice to work on our substitution patterns so that we can sub our players. That’s something that we constantly do. You know, we did it in the off week, we’ve got a couple periods each and every week to make sure we’re prepared for it. Like I said, on Monday, there’s nothing you can really do to prepare for that kind of pace of play. It’s almost impossible to simulate in terms of your practice. A lot of it is knowledge, understanding it, and we want our guys to be able to do that. We want our guys to be able to play fast and execute.”

On “bloody Tuesdays”…

“We get after it Tuesday’s and the kids kind of embrace that.”

On Jamaree Salyer’s status…

“Jamaree is weight-bearing now, he is able to do that and do his weight-bearing stuff. He’s not getting a lot of reps in practice, but he’s played a lot of football and he had a week that he didn’t practice during the week and kicked back in on Thursday or Friday and was able to play pretty well. After Auburn week he ended up missing some practices and was able to jump in and go. We’re still hopeful that he’ll be able to, but we won’t know that until Thursday or Friday.”

On preparing to play in cold temperatures…

“Those are outside factors; we don’t control outside factors. Football teams hunt, you go hunting and you aren’t worried about the weather.  If you’re worried about the weather, you’re doing the wrong kind of hunting. For us we’re looking at it as we’re going to play a game and the outside factors are nothing but distractions. They’re for people that want to find excuses and find reasons that they can’t play well or won’t play well, so they can look to the weather. I’ve never seen a guy that’s hungry to eat that is worried about the weather.”

On finding ways to run the ball…

“You always find ways to run the ball regardless of how many are in the box. We’re going to take shots and the run game helps set up the shots. The run game is part of our identity, so you have to be able to do that. It’s not always as productive as we might want it to be and some of that is what we did and some of that is what they did. We don’t control what they do. We control what we do. We’ve got to do a better job when they’re doing the things they’re doing, those things that are hurting. We’ve got to compliment the run game we had with other run games so we can take advantage of their aggressiveness and then the pass game obviously.

On running counters…

“We run counters. I don’t know what you mean by, ‘Do we run counter or are we mostly a power (running) team?’ That confuses me because the gap scheme is the way I would look at it and counter and power are both gap schemes. So yeah, we run counters. I think almost everybody in the SEC runs a form of counter. Some teams are more inside zone, more outside zone, but yes, we run counters. We ran a lot of counters last week, we ran counters against Florida, we run counters each week.”

On players choosing to stay for their senior year this year versus his first year…

“Yeah, there’s always some similarities. I think it’s a great story, a ‘Cinderella story,’ a feel-good story. But I’ll be honest with you, most guys base that decision on where they’re going to be drafted. It’s a business decision more than it is a ‘Cinderella’ decision. Once they decide that the business is right to come back and play better, then it becomes all about, ‘run it back, let’s do this again, let’s play better.’ But if the business decision is to go, which was what (Eric) Stokes had, right? It’s what Tyson (Campbell) had, then that’s the decision they have to make as football players. Azeez (Ojulari) was the same way. I think it’s more about where they’re drafted. It’s the same case for all those guys you are talking about who came back that year, whatever it was 2016 or 2017, most of them needed to come back. They made a good business decision to be able to come back. I think a lot of times, it’s either you guys or there’s a perception that guys overshoot themselves in terms of what their draft status actually is. Because you guys maybe go off of… I don’t know, PFF or maybe somebody that tells you something, I don’t know. We’ve got what the general managers tell us. And what the general managers tell us most of the time, they’re pretty accurate. I mean, I think there’s nobody that we’ve missed on outside of one round plus or minus. You know, like if we tell Stokes, he was a two, he went one. Never had one that was two rounds off. Even Mecole (Hardman), was a little bit of a surprise to go two. But most of the people had him late two or three, I mean so the information is accurate, to my point. They base their decision on accurate information and they go from there, but the two are similar in that we had a good group come back, like really good kids that wanted to win. A lot of them have Georgia ties, and those guys came back and this group has come back.”

On the success and aggression of special teams…

“Strain. I mean, it’s just a strain. We don’t believe in leaving any stone unturned. I think you and I have talked about it before here that the field goal block is an extension of red zone defense. Coach (Dan) Lanning and Coach (Tray) Scott do a great job of selling that to our defense that was red zone defense, it’s another play on defense, so why take it off. You know, we change up our looks to sound on the fake and we do different things each week and try to get the toughest picture we can give, and then punt is the same way, we want to be aggressive. We faced a lot more punt formations than we’ve ever had and we’ve seen a lot more rugby. For whatever reason, we’re not a great punt return team right now because we don’t get many opportunities. If they don’t, we don’t get chances. Everybody does something different. It’s made it difficult so if you can’t return them, you can try to block them.”

On George Pickens’ return…

“He’d be just like those other guys. Darnell (Washington), Tykee (Smith), JT (Daniels) coming off his injury, Dom (Dominick Blaylock) coming off his injury. There’s a process that has to happen. You don’t just come back from an injury and then just jump in and jump back right where you were. It’s hard because you have to get all the reps, the volume of reps, the work. There are only so many reps to give on the actual execution. Dom has been down on the scout team this week getting a great picture. George has done a little more work this week than he has in the past. We’ve had George at practice catching routes on air, the things that y’all have seen, that’s really been it. He’s done more competitive periods in terms of scalps and looking and getting confidence and able to go up and go against some DB’s and things, but he’s not taking up so often, not with the one-two offense because we don’t know when he’s going to be ready and those reps are too valuable. We can’t give them to him and not have another player that is going to play in the game. But when he’s prepared to play in the game, we’ll be able to start getting some of those reps. I don’t know what timeline, I wish I did.”

On Stetson Bennett…

“Yeah, he’s come a long way. The first time we met him and had him on OV (Official visit) and you know, he’s competitive, he comes from a competitive family. He’s got two great parents and a great group of brothers and sisters that are all athletes and he grew up a competitor down in South Georgia and he’s kind of been overcoming the odds I feel like his whole career. He has played with a chip on his shoulder and when he was here early on, we knew he was a good player. I mean, you got to realize he was in a room with Jake Fromm and Justin Fields. And he went in there, competed, took notes, and I remember sitting in all the meetings, and said, ‘This guy’s done a really good job.’ His journey has been different than probably any other. I mean, people leave school and go to junior college and play in Mississippi then come back to the same school. You just don’t see that very often in the quarterback position. But I still remember the day that we tried to get him back and sign him and it was a decision for us, you know, whether to offer him or not and I’m certainly glad we did and I’m glad he accepted it.”

On Tennessee’s offensive comparison…

“I wouldn’t say it is a Gus Malzahn offense, very different. It is most like Missouri when (Coach Josh) Heupel was there. If you remember, we played Missouri with Heupel there, we had a couple of games against them and we’ve gone back and studied those tapes. He’s evolved and he’s different in some ways and added more wrinkles. His wrinkles have come to his offense and he does a really good job of being aggressive and keeping the pressure on. In terms of how we get the scout team to run it – we’re very fortunate that we have an abundance of scouts. This week, we’ve got a tremendous look between being a little healthier at wide-out. Jackson (Meeks) has gone over there, Dominick (Blaylock) has gone over there, George has taken some reps. All of a sudden, that line-up has looked a little better in terms of competitive reps where before, we didn’t have many guys who could give us a look at receivers because we were so down.  We’ve had the scout team preparing for this for weeks. We’ve done a lot of work to get them ready for this. It’s very similar to when you do a triple option, you better have a plan because it’s so different and outside the norm.”

On checking on special teams…

“Well, I don’t need to share all of that information because we have opponents to get that.  I know yall dont think they ever look at this, but sometimes they do. But we have to make decisions during game planning – what we are willing to do and what we are willing to check versus looks. That is one that we sat around on Monday morning, and it was a look they had done several years ago. We said if we get it, we are going to make the check. You don’t get to rep everything they do – they’ve got too much to rep. It just so happened, we walked through it on Saturday morning and reviewed it and Dan (Jackson) made the instant check we coached him to make. Like I said, the special teams staff did a tremendous job putting that game plan together and then Dan executed it. It was something we had told Dan to do on that look.”

On Dominick Blaylock…

“Yeah, he’s probably not going to play this week. I’m not saying that, guys. He’s working against us, that’s a different deal. He is much closer and he’s looked good taking some reps against us. He kinda works his way back. His mental disposition has been great. I can’t say it hasn’t been hard on them from the standpoint of confidence without the brace, frustration from the hamstring re-injury. The kid is a warrior, he goes out and competes, he listens in meetings, he’s a leader and he has done a great job.”

On Tennessee down-field success…

“They’re fast and you don’t always get lined up properly. It’s very unique, guys. It’s like you ask the question, ‘how come you can’t stop the triple option?’ Well it’s different, you don’t face it everyday. They’ve got guys wide open because people have eye violations. They look at the wrong thing, sometimes they don’t even see the wide receiver. I know it’s hard to believe, but their splits are clear out on the sideline. Half college football is playing condensed formations now and everyone is in a teacup where everybody is right next to the ball. And now all the sudden these guys have two guys outside the numbers. I’ve seen guys on tape not lined up, trying to get a call. It happens to everybody. It’s not like it’s not on tape and it worries you that it could happen to you. You want to make them earn what they get. There’s a lot of plays that they have gotten on people off busts. And you’re trying to avoid that. They have done a tremendous job through the tempo of being explosive.”

On Tennessee stretching the field…

“Make no mistake about it – they’re a tremendous run-game team. They run the ball a crazy number of average yards per game. They wear you down, they wear you down, they wear you down. They’ve got a good number of backs, a physical O-line. It’s not an air-raid team, it’s a shot team and a pound you team. They spread you out. They make you declare defenders. They want you to declare is he in or is he out. At the end of the day, they make it hard to defend. It’s tough, you’ve got to have a good plan and you’ve got to execute the plan.”

#47 | Dan Jackson | RSo. |  DB

On the punt block…

“We had that look a couple of times in practice, and so that gave me the confidence to check it. And I have to come up with that ball, and I might need to work a little more on fumble recovery drills.”

On the pride the defense takes in getting blocks…

“We take a lot of pride in that, and every special teams unit here, whether field goal or punt block, and obviously we’ve got some incredible talent for the field block, as well. That’s a big factor in our game.”

On Dominick Blaylock and George Pickens…

“Seeing both Dom and George back on the field reminds me of how incredible they are. They’re great players, and I feel blessed to go up against them every day. They’re getting back into the swing of things, and it’s really exciting to watch, especially for me and all the other DBs who go against that talent. We need it, and we’re glad to have it for sure.”

#9 | Ameer Speed | Sr. | DB

On the defensive game plan…

“Really it’s just a typical game plan. We focused on being the best that we can be, and looking at their plays, things they are going to do, and how we can stop things they do. Just be the best us and prepare the right way.”

On stopping the quarterback run…

“We practice it every week. It’s just about execution. Executing the typical things we do in a better way is the only way we can stop him.”

On Tennessee’s explosive plays…

“We are just going to focus on doing our jobs. A lot of times we are getting messed up it’s from not necessarily doing our jobs right or letting the fast ball get to them and not being ready. We are focusing on being prepared and keeping our eyes up in places where we can react and do everything we need to the right and proper way.”

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