Georgia returns to SEC title game in Atlanta
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Georgia returns to SEC title game in Atlanta

Mecole Hardman: UGA-GT
Photo: John Kelley/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. – The William Porter Payne and Porter Otis Payne Indoor Athletic Facility featured the two-hour practice of a University of Georgia football team bound for Saturday’s 2018 Southeastern Conference Championship.

The Bulldogs’ trip to Atlanta marks back-to-back years Georgia has reserved the date at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the SEC title. Last year, Georgia held Auburn to one touchdown in its 28-7 win.

The victorious Bulldog team followed its conference title with a Rose Bowl Game win in Pasadena, California on New Year’s Day, before facing Alabama on January 8 for the CFP National Championship in the same Atlanta stadium.

Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart

On special teams as a potential weakness for Alabama…

“I’ve been around Nick (Saban) long enough to know he does a good job on special teams. I don’t look at it as a weakness because your kickoff returner and your punt returner are two of the best in the whole country. Have they struggled some with some kicks? Yeah, sure. But that hasn’t been something new for them; they’ve dealt with that before. They’ve overcome it with a really strong special teams. They have the best kickoff coverage I think I’ve ever seen. They’re flying down the field, knocking people’s heads off. The kickoff return and punt return are elite. Their starters are all good players on those. I don’t look at it as their special teams is down, I think people mention that because of their punter and possibly because of their kicker.”

On recruiting before the SEC Championship…

“You can go recruit, we may at night send somebody somewhere if it’s local or we’re able to go see somebody, but certainly our sweat’s being put in the bucket towards Alabama. It’s not that we don’t care about recruiting; we’re still communicating with our recruits, but we can’t really focus on that right now. I think those kids respect that. A lot of them are focused on their playoffs or their state championships. In regards to when that ends, it’s ready, set, go. We’re going out to pull for them. We’ll go out as soon as they can.”

On the relevance of the Georgia program…

“I’ll be honest with you, becoming relevant and significant is every game. When you play on national TV, you play in the SEC, you have a chance to be relevant and significant every week. Certainly this is a wall game. It’s for the number that goes up on these walls in here. Put numbers up in here, especially on that side of the room [for the national championships.] It’s special. That’s what you’re playing for; you’re playing for a championship.”

On Smart’s assessment of Alabama…

“They’re good. They’re really good. They’ve got a good team. They’re explosive. I don’t see the weaknesses. Everyone talks about the kicking game, but they’re explosive. They’re really talented. They’re doing a good job, and they’re playing at a  high level. You can say they’ve been tested, but the thing is when they get on top of you, they know how to finish. They attack; they are constantly attacking. The pressure’s never off. I had several coaches after the games they played us this year say ‘Man, y’all put pressure on people in every area. There’s no phase in offense, defense, kicking; it’s like there’s always pressure.’ That’s Alabama. Really, really good putting pressure whether it’s offense, defense or special teams.”

On Alabama sophomore QB Tua Tagovailoa…

“I don’t think it’s only athletic; he resorts to that if things don’t go right, but he can sit in the pocket and make every throw. He’s very confident, and he’s got a presence about him in the pocket. He doesn’t fear rush; if he’s got guys bearing down on him, he sidesteps and gets the ball out, and that’s what makes him very special. He’s a really good dude.

On Smart’s game day approach…

“I can’t remember much about being a player. I was excited, I guess nervous; I don’t know, I’m nervous about everything. I’m competitive, want to do well. Work hard at it. Certainly once you prepare, there’s only so much you can do. I get the most comfortable the closer the game gets, because I realize there’s not a lot you can do, but I’m more intense leading up to, because I want to get all the hay in the barn. When the hay’s in the barn, there’s not a lot I can do. Let the players go play. Show confidence in the players.”

On making adjustments throughout the game…

“The first series may be jitters and guys still trying to get over it. You’ve got to stick with your plan and feel comfortable with your plan. If your plan’s not working, you’ve got to go to Plan B or Plan C…I think you adjust throughout the game. I think you get different answers. We try to always have different looks. The defense, we’ll try to save something till the second half. As an offense, we always try to have a script coming out the second half. I think offensively more than anything we’ve had some really good opening second-half drives. I think a lot of that’s preparation and coaching. We try to do a really good job of that.”

On having two Georgia running backs on the brink of 1,000-yard years in back-to-back seasons…

“Oh yeah. I knew we had a good offensive line coming back. I didn’t know we would use so many of them in different games and shuffle them. I knew we were talented on offensive line and had good backs. So whether I thought we would have two 1,000-rushers, we’re not there yet. We’ll try to get there. We probably could have, but some of those games they were taken out…I don’t know if they see it as a competition, I really don’t. Those two guys are such team players; there’s no ego in either one of them. I think more worried about the team than see each one of them do well.”

Senior ILB #44 Juwan Taylor

On already facing Alabama sophomore QB Tua Tagovailoa in the CFP National Championship Game…

“Of course it does. We already know he’s a good athlete and can move in the pocket and can make plays. We just have to keep him contained.”

On the Alabama offense in January compared to this year’s team…

“There are similarities with the running game they’ve got. The different thing is they’ve got more explosive players in the backfield and at the receiving corps.”

Junior ILB #30 Tae Crowder

On Georgia’s consistent confidence level…

“It’s just all about how we prepare. We’re going into the game and going into the practices just like every other team.”

On what makes the Alabama offense so different…

“I don’t know. They’ve got a pretty good offense, but so do we.”


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