Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview Vanderbilt game
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Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview Vanderbilt game

Kirby Smart
Photo: Kristin M. Bradshaw/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. — University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, met with media members on Monday to preview Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt.

Smart and the Bulldogs offered the following comments.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening comments …

“We’re excited to move on to Vandy, to a homecoming opportunity in Athens. It’s always a big deal to have your fanbase, your alumni base, former players, alumni coming back to homecoming. I know it’s special to a lot of people, and we need our fanbase to turn out. Looks like we’re finally going to get an opportunity at a night game. So we certainly expect the atmosphere in our stadium to be really good. We should get some cooler weather, I hope, by that time as well.

As far as the injury front goes, the only guy of note I would think would be Tyler Simmons. We’re hopeful to get him back. He ran all last week. He’s going to practice today. Probably going to have to have a harness for his shoulder, which may limit him some, but we hope to get him back for this week.

With that I’ll open it up if there’s anything else anybody wants to ask about.”

On how they have handled the quarterback situation differently in each SEC game…
“I think the most important thing is that each quarterback is developing and getting better, because people forget that Jake Fromm is a sophomore, and he’s played in a lot of football games. He has a lot of experience with the extra games he was able to play last year, but both of these guys are developing and need work, and we get them tons of reps in practice. I think that’s the most important thing- that we grow. And you have to understand that the plan is there is no plan means that we don’t have a plan going into the game. You can’t have a plan, because we don’t know how the game is going to go. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a plan in practice and it doesn’t mean we don’t get certain reps for certain guys. If you sit here and think that we know exactly when Justin (Fields) is going to go in or when Jake (Fromm) is going to go in going into the game or the third series of the fourth snap in the second quarter, the game doesn’t work like that. It just doesn’t work like that. We don’t know how they’re going to play us, what front they’re going to play us in, what pressures they’re going to run. So a lot of that is determined in game, and that’s why we practice.”

On goals of having Jake Fromm become more mobile in the pocket
“Yeah, the goal is to protect the ball. Jake (Fromm) is one of the best I’ve seen at management in the pocket, movement in the pocket. There have been a couple of times this year where he’s had nowhere to go, and one of those caused fumbles the other day. There was a free guy coming right up the middle; he couldn’t step up real well. But we work really hard on that. We actually do more than any place I’ve ever been where we have pass rush in practice so that the quarterback has to move in the pocket. Both quarterbacks are working hard on that.

The number one thing Jake has to do is protect the ball. What we can’t have is the ball on the ground. But the number one thing we have to do is protect the quarterback, and that comes from a lot of people. What Jake’s good at is keeping his eyes down field and making sure that he’s looking at the coverage and knowing where to go with the ball. It’s hard to look at two things sometimes. But we do think he has to protect it well, and he’ll be the first to recognize that if he gets an opportunity to run.  Jake is a viable runner. He ran for a lot of things last year. He hasn’t had that opportunity and instinctively hasn’t taken off yet.”

On the team being where he thought they would be heading into October….
“I get that question a lot. Each week I answer it the same. It’s extremely hypothetical because I don’t think you can say where I thought they would be. We’re a work in progress. We’re a child trying to learn to walk and then run, then sprint. And we’re not sprinting. I don’t know if we’re jogging yet. I don’t know where we are on the continuum. But we have to improve. And I don’t think any coach in the country could tell you right now that they don’t need to improve. We certainly have some areas to work on and get better at. We had those same concerns and same areas for me last year. It’s just a different team, different spots, and we have to continue to work and get better.”

On what Justin Fields brings to the offense with his ability to make plays with his feet
“He brings the dynamic of being able to run and pass that is very valuable. He’s a big physical runner, good passer. He’s a good football player.”

On the camaraderie between the quarterbacks… 
“I think it’s a bigger deal made by you guys than by them. I think when you talk about Jake Fromm and Justin Fields, you’re talking about two huge Georgia fans that love Georgia and love the University of Georgia. They love their teammates. They want what’s best for the team, and they’re both competitors. The one quality that they both have is, number one, they’re both good leaders, but they’re really good competitors, and I don’t think they would be where they are in their careers if they were not great competitors. What do great competitors want? Number one, they want to win. Number two, they want to do well. But when you’re in a team format, sometimes doing well may mean the combination of those two guys, and Jake continues to improve and do good things, and so does Justin. That’s our goal. That’s our goal for our right tackle and our left tackle. That’s our goal for whoever our “Mike” linebacker is going to be on third down. We have to get better. Both of those guys are working at that, and they’re doing it with a team goal in mind.”

On his thoughts of Cade Mays ability to play two types of positions on both the left and right side
“I think Cade is a very intelligent football player. He’s very instinctive. He’s able to go from the left to the right side without being left-hand dominant or right-hand dominant. He picks things up. I thought after watching the tape he played probably more physical in the game than I thought he was playing in the game. When you watch the tape, he had some movement, did some good things. We have to continue to sure up our pass protection. Those kids played hard up front, and they had more movement early in the game than I thought they did and did some good things early in the game.”

On the progress of Brian Herrien this season and using him in 3rd-and-1, 4th-and-1- short yardage situations…
“I don’t know that it would be a progression for Brian Herrien, because Brian’s been really consistent since being here, in my opinion. You guys only get to see the finished product on the field, and you go off of results and stats, where I’m going off the body of work for two springs where I’ve seen this guy. The run he made where he spun off a tackler, that’s a common occurrence in spring practice. He makes guys miss in the hole. He’s quick. Brian’s a good runner.  I don’t think it’s been a progression. I think it’s been since he’s got here, he’s a good football player. He’s really been an asset for our team on special teams. He made the plays that counted the other day. He provided a spark and juice that sometimes he doesn’t get an opportunity to because he’s on the sideline. And when he’s out there, he did a good job, and I thought he took advantage of his opportunities. I wish he had got to cash that touchdown in, but he had run the ball several times in a row and we wanted to change it up, and it probably paid off to get a fresh runner in there.”

On the impact of transfers Jay Hayes and Demetris Robertson
“ They are both good players, both growing, getting better. Both competing. I think both of them are good football players. I think they continue to get better and continue to work hard. They’re part of a team that’s bigger than their individual goals and they’re both improving. “D Rob” (Demetris Robertson) is a little different where he came in kind of late, didn’t get the summer practices, didn’t get to work out with the team, and he’s still learning a lot of things.

You don’t see them as contributors. I do. I see them as, in my opinion, major contributors, because what they do in special teams and what they do in practice helps develop our team. I don’t know what the expectation would be. For me it is to get the best we can out of those guys and for them to help us and also achieve their goals. I think both of those guys are working really hard, doing good things for us.”

On the defensive front and the physicality against Tennessee…
“I thought they played hard, didn’t get moved around as much. It probably wasn’t as big of offensive line as they faced the previous week, didn’t run the same type plays. It was a very different style of game than the previous week. But they answered the call as far as physicality and played hard, had some more tackles for loss and played with more toughness and effort. Those are the things that we want to do.”

On the opponents ability to test Georgia deep
“Yeah, I think anybody can do it. It’s a choice that their offensive coordinator has to make, shots that they want to take down the field. I don’t think it’s a matter that Tennessee couldn’t do it or South Carolina couldn’t. All of them can do it. They can match protect and throw the ball deep; they can free release and throw the ball deep. Kyle (Shurmur) does a great job of doing that. He has a tremendous receiving corps. He’s very intelligent. He understands the system he plays in. He’s able to know what coverage you’re in. He knows where to go with the ball. He knows what matchups are right. He’s a really good quarterback that understands the game and one of the many in the SEC now that are grown up. Two years ago all these guys we were playing against were freshmen. Now they’re all older and better players, but certainly he’ll be able to test us deep because they have the capability of doing that.”

On what senior OLB D’Andre Walker, who has three forced fumbles this season, brings to the team
“D’Andre has been really consistent during games, playing with effort and toughness. He plays really hard. And I think the sacks turning into fumbles are critical because the most vulnerable position there is, is when you’re getting sacked. Just like we see with our guys, you don’t see them coming all the time. You have to keep your eyes down field. If you’re looking at the rusher to protect the ball, then you’re probably not going to be a very good passer, and D’Andre is taking advantage of quarterbacks’ eyes down field and being very disruptive and causing problems. We have to get more guys to produce like D’Andre has. He’s played really well so far.”

On the 17-16 Vanderbilt win at Sanford in Smart’s first year

“I don’t think it has any effect on this game being two years ago. They’ve got some of the same players. We’ve got some of the same players. The biggest thing looking back was out-gain – I mean, special teams killed us. We had a lot of special teams errors. We stepped out on the one- or two- yard line at the kickoff return to open the game to – I don’t know – inside the five. We just did not play well, especially on special teams. We out-gained them, but didn’t score points, didn’t give up many yards on defense and gave up points. And it was a great indicator of why special teams matter, because when you give up over I think 250 maybe yards special teams, you’ve got a chance of losing the game. Every 100 yards is usually seven points, and we didn’t play really well.”

On senior defensive back Deandre Baker…
“He’s a very experienced player, played a lot of football around here. And he’s a competitor. He rises to the moment, probably plays better in games than he does in practice. And plays really hard. He understands our system. He understands offensive football. And he’s playing really hard right now. He’s tackling better than he has in the past. We gotta continue to get that out of him, and we need him to be a bigger influence on some of the other DBs, a positive influence on them, whether it’s Tyson (Campbell), (Eric) Stokes, Mark Webb or Ameer (Speed). He can help affect those guys.”

On sophomore Monty Rice’s effect at inside linebacker, after a game under his belt following injury
“He seemed great. I thought he practiced well last week, and he got better as the week went along and played hard in the game. He played really physical, like he always does. And he runs hard to the ball. He’s very intelligent. I think more than anything the boost he gave us was, number one, a confidence that I don’t have to play as many snaps if I’m not him, and also, the confidence for the defensive line that I know Monty is going to make the right call and put us in the right defense when he gets an opportunity to. And he’s a knock-back tackler, which Missouri, right, wrong or indifferent, I don’t know if it had anything to do with Monty not being out there, we didn’t have any knock-back tackles. We had more knock-back tackles in this game.”

On sophomore offensive lineman Andrew Thomas returning post-injury…
“I thought Andrew was good. He was physical at the point of attack. He was able to push off that ankle for the first time and felt good about pushing off. I think he’s still getting back comfortable into his pass (protection). I think he had maybe one time that a guy – he tried to jump him and the guy got him inside. But he recovers well. He plays hard. He’s one of our best leaders. I thought he was as close to himself as he could have been, and hopefully he continues to improve this week and getting back to his old self.

On the need for improvement in pass protection…
“I don’t know that it’s an individual problem. I think it’s a total effect. I mean we had a couple good pressures against us against Middle Tennessee. Again, we saw (Isaac) Nauta in a one-on-one situation that he lost, and then Isaiah (Wilson) gave up one on the other side. And we just have to win our one-on-one battles. It’s no different than a corner getting beat by a receiver. So what do you do? You go back to the drawing board and you go get better. You don’t scheme up some thing, because at the end of the day there’s going to be four or five one-on-one opportunities. You gotta win your one-on-ones, and our guys, we’re going to challenge them to do that. And we know that when we protect the passer, we’re really efficient. We’re an efficient team. We can make big plays. We’ve got explosive players; we have to win our one-on-one battles, because if we’re good in the run game, good in play action and we can convert on third down, you’re hard to stop. But at the end of the day a lot of the times we’ve stopped ourselves more than somebody’s stopped us. And we’ll work hard on it and try to get better at it.

On the secondary and ‘coverage sacks’…
“I don’t know if I would call it that. I think we got beat in protection several times (against Tennessee). I don’t know that it was as much coverage as it was the protection. We just have to do a good job blocking them up front. But we’re focused on Vandy and getting better right now. That’s what we’re really worried about.”

On punting…
“I wouldn’t say that there are a lot of issues there. I think that we’re better than we were two years ago, and we’ve got a guy (Jake Camarda) that I think is a talented punter, who’s being broken in, and he’s also been in a lot of intermediate sky positions where he hits a 60-yarder, but the net is not there. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think comparing it to last year is probably unfair from the perspective of Cam (Nizialek), who had situations where he was able to pen them in. And Jake hasn’t had a lot of those. He’s had a lot of these boom — that he wasn’t in sky territory that he boomed into the end zone. But he has to punt more consistently, and he has to hit his spot more consistently. But I’m very pleased, and our coverage unit had three guys that were drafted in the first two rounds on it, and those guys are gone. So as much as anything, you gotta cover the punt as good as you gotta kick it.

On who’s at fault for the first Tennessee touchdown, and if freshman defensive back Campbell was having a ’trial by fire’ year
“I don’t really blame that on anybody. That was not Tyson Campbell’s fault, no. It was more of a breakdown in assignment more than anything. But nobody really got beat because nobody had the guy. That’s why he was wide open. So it was more of a lack of execution of assignment, not one guy getting beat. But I’m not into blaming people. It’s on us as coaches. We gotta do a better job of getting them  lined up and helping them. But as far as him being at the other corner, trial-by-fire, whatever you call it. Some teams throw at Bake (Deandre Baker). I mean Bake’s probably been targeted almost as much as Tyson has. I think coverage dictates where the ball goes more than who is there. I think you guys look at it as Deandre Baker is here, they can’t throw it there. That’s not the case. I think it’s if you’re in this coverage, they’re going to throw the ball here; if you’re in this coverage, they’re going to throw the ball here, so the quarterback gets dictated where he’s going to throw the ball by coverage, not by person more than anything.”

On sharing and limiting carries in the Georgia backfield…
“I’ve got ultimate confidence in all those backs. I mean if they need to carry it 30, they could each do it. I don’t know if they could do it for a whole year, but they could do it for a game. That’s why you have the backs you have. That’s why you have the ability to use different backs. That’s why we hand the ball off to the receivers. We’re sharing the workload when it comes to rushing because we want to be able to spread the ball out. It’s a long season. You want to be able to be hard to defend. And I’m pleased with the backs we’ve got, certainly would like some more bulk at the position in our league, but we’ve got two guys that are 210-plus, two guys that are a little bit smaller than that. But they run bigger than they are. They’ve got a big group of guys blocking for them. And we certainly want to be able to sustain for the long haul. I think that’s the most important thing that those guys continue to do good in protection, protect the ball and get yards after contact, which they’ve been able to do. Thanks, guys.”

#13 Elijah Holyfield | Jr. | TB 

On hitting the midway mark of the regular season and how his body is holding up… 

“I feel pretty good and pretty healthy. I am a little sore today but I will work through it, get some ice on me and I will be ready for Saturday. We are all very capable and very much in shape and our bodies are ready for the games to come.”

On Coach Smart talking about grinding down teams and if he can tell when a team is wearing down… 

“You can kind of see it when we switch and the line of scrimmage starts to move and you can tell they are starting to break down a little bit. SEC teams are tough, everyone is, so it takes a while to wear them down.”

On how much of en emphasis pass protection has been for the offense and running backs in particular… 

“It is a big emphasis. Everyone knew that we could all run the ball but the question was about our pass protection because they had never really seen us do that. This year we have been asked to pass protect a lot and it is something that we are all trying to improve on every week and I feel like we have done a pretty good job so far.”

On if that emphasis has helped him improve in that area… 

“Definitely. We are not allowed to cut in practice, so we take everything head on. Our linebackers have gotten us ready for that so I give a lot of credit to them for how we practice and that translates to how well we do in the game.”

#71 Andrew Thomas | So. | OL

On Cade Mays filling in on the offensive line…

“He did pretty well playing at both spots, left tackle and now playing at right guard, he’s been doing pretty well.”

On the rhythm of the offensive line this season…

“I think we have a lot of guys that can play, a lot of guys that can contribute but as far as the game, we have to start a little bit faster. It takes us too long to get started.”

On the energy Justin Fields brings to the offense…

“I wouldn’t say it’s a different energy from Jake [Fromm], but obviously he can run the ball and that’s the thing he brings when he comes on the field.”

On the comparison from last year’s mind set to this season…

“I think right now we’re still trying to find our identity on the offensive side of the ball and that’s the only difference.”

#98 Rodrigo Blankenship | Jr. | PK

On the no-step point after attempt in the Tennessee game… 

“The first thing we (kickers) do in practice after our team flex is that we go up to our top field and we hit some no-steps. That is what that kick was, you don’t get to take any steps and you are already planted next to the ball, and you just have to kick it. Since we start all the practices like that, I felt comfortable with at least kicking it far enough to get it through the goal. The no-steps drill focuses on a couple aspects of your swing. It focuses on discipline draw back, and focuses on your follow through, because you don’t have any momentum from a running start like you would in a normal field goal or kickoff. Also if that situation occurs then you know that you have reps doing it and you have muscle memory so you can execute it.”

On staying composed in the no-step point after… 

“Coach (Kirby) Smart was preaching to us all week to stay disciplined, physicality and composure. If we had those three things then we would have a good chance to win the game, so all week I was thinking about being composed as much as I could and do handle any situation that would arise. In that situation in particular I was just trying to stay composed and trust the process and trust that Jake (Camarda) would get it back on the spot and he did.”

On crowd cheering during starting lineup announcements… 

“I love Dawg Nation and I love that the fans are so supportive of not just myself, but the entire team. I really want there to come a day that every single player in the starting lineup is getting the full cheers of the crowd, because every one of these players on this team – not just the starting line – has a role to play. A lot of players don’t get noticed on game day but there is a lot that goes into the team.”

On different vibe of night game… 

“It brings me back to Friday night lights and Sprayberry High School. I always loved playing at night. You get a sense of calm and peace when it is a night game so I’m really looking forward to it.”

#94 Michael Barnett | Jr. | DT

On how going up against two different style quarterbacks (Jake Fromm and Justin Fields) helps defense during practice… 

“As long as we focus on fundamentals, technique and working on what we need to work on then anybody that we go against, we can face. We expect the worst and pray for the best. If the quarterback knows how to throw the ball well then we’ll go in pass rush situations, whereas if a quarterback knows how to run the ball well then we’ll key on funneling him in to keep him from scrambling around.”

On advantage of Georgia’s offense with the two different style quarterbacks (Jake Fromm and Justin Fields)… 

“It is a good thing. It is sort of like last year when we had Sony (Michel) and Nick (Chubb), you know fire and ice or thunder and lightning. You never know when you have a gun-slinger type or a mobile quarterback back there. Both of them can run the ball very well and both can throw the ball very well. I think having that trait in both of them helps our team and puts ourselves in good situations. For instance, if a team is a run-stop heavy team then we can pass it on them whereas if they are a pass-coverage team then we can run it more.”

On depth and rotation of defensive line… 

“It is good, because there is always somebody ready to go. If one man is banged up, it’s like next man up. Everybody has to be ready. I think everybody on that defensive line can really contribute and help us out a lot. We also won’t be as tired, because if we get a little winded then we just bring somebody else in. We are big so we try not to run so much.”

On game plan and preparation for Vanderbilt… 

“That’s up for the coaches. I know they are a very good team. We are focused on things that we need to work on such as staying focused, and eliminating penalties. We will hone in on fundamentals and technique. Coach (Kirby) Smart and coach (Tray) Scott says it all the time, it is all about the basics. Do what you know how to do. It will get you a long way.”


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