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

Kirby Smart
Photo: Mackenzie Miles/UGA

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and three players, Payne Walker, Sedrick Van Pran, and Christopher Smith, spoke with the media on Monday about their upcoming road game at the Auburn Tigers.

Georgia and Auburn will square off on Saturday, Oct. 9 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. The game will be televised by CBS at 3:30pm ET.

Noah Eagle will call the play-by-play, Aaron Murray and Rick Neuheisel will provide analysis, while Jenny Dell will report from the sidelines.

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

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Statement…
“First, want to thank the fans again for an incredible job—I noticed a lot of stuff on social media—they did an awesome job last weekend. I can’t thank them enough (and I) wouldn’t expect anything less from our fan base. We moved on. Yesterday morning we had some recruits in town and pushed on to the focus on Auburn—they did a tremendous job to go on the road, which is very difficult in our conference to do, and go to Baton Rouge and get a win. So, decided to move on with these guys, I think, Coach (Bryan) Harsin does a really great job. He’s got a really good staff. Those kids have bought into their staff and done a tremendous job—they’ve got one loss from a Top 10 team on the road. And other than that, they played really good football. That game was tough and physical, and that was a tough environment to go into. We know our guys are getting ready to go into a very tough environment—which playing at Auburn is probably one of the toughest places to play in the SEC—their crowd fan base does a tremendous job with those elements. We keep our guys to keep calm the storm, keep your composure, and play our best football against what I think is a very talented Auburn football team.”

On Auburn’s offense…
“A lot of similarities to the things that I’ve seen, obviously Mike (Bobo) has done a tremendous job in our conference and in his career of taking his best players and finding ways to highlight their positives. I think he’s done that with this unit—he’s got a couple really good backs and he’s got a quarterback who has a lot of experience. And I think them playing at Findley Lake and Georgia State game gave them a lot of confidence where both quarterbacks can play. I thought Bo (Nix) played a tremendous game against LSU. He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s got great feet, both quarterbacks are elusive and athletic in their own rights. I think Mike’s done a really good job. Again, I don’t know how much of it is him, how much of it’s (Bryan) Harsin, that’s not really what’s important to me. To me, it’s like you see traits of physicality—they can run the ball, they’ve got good backs, and they do a good job of getting the ball to their playmakers.”

On the depth at running back…
“Nope, I feel good about our backs. I think we’ve got good depth there, I got a lot of trust in all those guys, including Daijun (Edwards), he does a tremendous job, he gets to work. Sometimes against our defense, and sometimes with our offense, but I got a lot of trust and faith in all five of those guys. I think Dell (McGee)’s done a tremendous job keeping those guys balanced, keeping them fresh. We’ve been able to avoid most significant injuries, outside of Kendall (Milton)’s and Zamir (White)’s been banged up some of the time, but those guys have done a good job of staying healthy.”
On preparing for the next opponent…
“No formula, I mean it’s our workweek, no different than you guys. You guys have a ritual and routine you go through, we have a ritual routine we go through where we come in Sunday and do our work. Coaches are moved on as early as Sunday (morning), Saturday night even, playing an early game because you get to watch the opponent on TV when you play the early game, and you grade your tape, so that game was put to bed by about Saturday at 7:00 or 8:00 and on to the next. As far as the players, for them psychologically moving on probably happens today, and they come over and we do corrections and clean things up, but a big part of today is introducing Auburn, so it’s never been a secret recipe or formula—it’s what we do on Mondays to move on.”

On playing to a standard…
“It is what you have to do to be successful, right? It doesn’t matter what line of work you are in, what career field you are in. To be successful you can’t do it to the level of your opponent or your opportunity. You have to do it to the standard of excellence. That is true in every business facet in the world, every competition facet in the world. A standard of excellence you should go to and compete for, and we strive for that. We don’t always reach it, and we certainly have had some practices that weren’t to the standard that I would like for it to be. These kids have responded to the challenges they have had and the ones we ask them to.”

On the defensive culture…
“They are definitely going to read them (press clippings). There is no stopping what they see on their phones, so they are going to read that. Is it going to affect them? Is it going to poison them? I hope not. I certainly hope not. I think that the standard of being elite is what keeps them from becoming poisoned. When you compare yourself against greatness, there is a certain standard you have to reach and it supersedes the opponent. When you say, I want to be great. What does great look like, and want to see pictures of that and stats that reflect that. That is what you are trying to emulate and you are not trying to make it about who you are playing. Now it’s always about who you are playing because you have to talk about their personnel and what they do, but the buy in by this group has been good. The cohesion… Who is the superstar? I don’t think you could name one superstar really on this whole team. When you have that, you have a lot of guys that buy in. I think personalities outside of our world and our family want there to be a superstar. Want there to be one guy, but there’s not. Not on this team. It’s done by committee across the board. Special team, defense, and offense. It’s done by a group of guys that are connected and care about each other.”

On Stetson Bennett
“I know he was frustrated. He was more frustrated with his reps and volume of reps. For him it was more about competition, getting an opportunity. It wasn’t necessarily about one’s reps, it was about him getting two’s reps because he wasn’t getting a lot of those. The way we practice, he was able to get work in. probably not as much as he likes.”

On JT Daniels
“He’s not going to do anything today. He’ll be out there practicing. He’s doing everything but throwing, and then we will see how it goes day to day. The biggest thing is that he has to rest, recover, and try to heal. We are very hopeful that he will be able to go Tuesday-Wednesday and be able to throw like last week, but he’s not going to do much today in terms of throwing. There is a lot more to quarterback than just throwing the ball. He does a lot of that stuff well and he will do all of those things today.”

On the development of Bo Nix… 
“His ability to extend plays is elite. The play he had last week is basically all you need to show for the scout report. To do what he did against a really good SEC defense with a lot of tremendous athletes on it, to avoid and escape, and keep your eyes downfield – it puts a lot of pressure on a defense to be able to cover people that long. I’ve seen him now; it seems like forever he’s been there. I’ve gone against him now, I guess twice… it seems like he’s been there forever. He’s a really good athlete, and he comes from a coaching family background. I’ve known his dad for a really long time, and I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a competitor and leader. And I think he’s gotten a lot better. He’s doing a much better job of keeping his eyes downfield and making decisions.”

On the offensive line… 
“I think it meant a lot to them because there’s a lot of pride in offensive lineman as a whole, and the pride is not usually do I pass pro, which they’ve done a good job of, but it’s usually how well do I run the ball? And for some reason the measure of an offensive line is off of that. A lot of times, they don’t control that – that’s not within their control how many people are put on the front. If you watch college football today and you really do your homework, and you actually study and count it – I know you guys are really smart defensive coaches, and if you count the number of people that are at the defensive line, it will tell you maybe how you should play them. When you watch teams across our league that play teams with 6 and 7 DBs on the field, it allows you to have an opportunity to do things differently that maybe you would if they have 5 defensive linemen across the front. I think that’s part of being a good coach, and our offensive line took a lot of pride in getting an opportunity to show that identity, to show that they can play bully ball if they have to. But it stills boils down a lot of times to what the defense is giving you.”

On Tykee Smith… 
“Tykee was not in the same boat (as Darnell Washington). He was not able to go as much. You have to practice to play. One thing we don’t do here is if you don’t practice, you can’t play. So, Tykee was at practice, and he tried to go in practice, but it’s tougher on him with the movements he has to have. He’s reacting to movement as opposed to going in a direction, so it’s different for him. And he’ll be the first to tell you that he is not 100%, but he’ll be the first to tell you that he is truing his hardest to get back and push through. So, we will continue to work with him on that, and hopefully he’ll be able to go.”

On other team injuries… 
“As far as the other guys, we are hopeful with Dom; it’s been a hamstring, he’s got a nagging hamstring. He’s going to warm-up, loosen up today early, and then hopefully be able to get some reps. Whether he’s 100% of not, I don’t know. Arian (Smith) is the same way, and the Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint is the same way. Their all three much closer this week than they were last week. But none of them are for definite in.”

On treatment for a Lat injury…
“As there is everything in the medical field, there’s these people that think they can fix it really fast but that’s not necessarily the case and I know that wasn’t the case in Dak’s (Prescott). Dak’s was much more extreme than what JT (Daniels) is going through. We did some more scans on JT just to confirm what we thought it was and what we thought it was all along. We did scans even after Vanderbilt, so it is what it is. I think it’s going to be a time thing. It’s really number one, pain tolerance. Number two, can he get it to heal so it’s not a nagging, reoccurring long-term injury. It’s unfortunate because it’s a tough injury.”

On how the defense can improve…
“One thing is we can force turnovers. We didn’t force any turnovers and that’s what elite defenses do. So, we were not elite in that category. The other thing is play tempo and continue to work on it. We spend more time all week on our weaknesses and less time really on what our opponents do sometimes because we know what’s coming down the road and we also know to be elite you got to have to tackle well, especially in space. We didn’t do that on Saturday. We had some really, really bad tackling situations. Run after contact. So, we basically take the things we do the weakest and we continue to work really hard on those so that we can be better prepared.”

On potentially facing four straight ranked opponents…
“There is no week off in our conference so those teams could be higher ranked by the time we play them, they could be lower ranked but they’re going to be the same team regardless of what they’re ranked. And they’re really good SEC teams. I think it’s more about how do you write the chapters in your book where all the chapters are good chapters. We’re trying to write a really good book and we don’t want a bad chapter in our book. So, we’re trying to write each individual chapter, and it has a history and life of it’s own, and you do that by focusing on what’s present now. And that, for us right now, is Auburn.”

On how the offense can improve…
“It’s different every week. It depends a lot on what they do and what we’re able to do. One of our biggest ‘Achilles Heels’ is perimeter blocking. I think our guys gave much better effort in that so we can be explosive in not only the run game, but also in the perimeter throw game. We’ve had times where we’ve thrown the ball down the field, but you’re never going to be 100%. We haven’t done it consistently; I would argue that stopping us from being that on offense is ourselves. How can we create enough depth? The one thing that worries you and is beyond anyone’s control is depth at wideout. I’ve never had six, maybe seven, healthy receivers when you’re playing three receivers down. That part is not anyone’s job other than getting guys healthy.”

On Coach Jahmile Addae
“He’s done a great job. He’s got great players, a lot of energy on the field. I think the players respect his point of view and his ability to help them. He’s also morphed into our defense and absorbed a lot of information. We have a lot of history when you walk in a room with Dan Lanning, Glenn Schumann, myself and Tray Scott who have been together for a long time. The conversation can go really fast, he’s very intelligent and has picked up on that.”

On Stetson’s scrambling…
“Every offense has a scramble plan, it’s a lot more calculated than you might think. Every offense, from Coach Bobo to Coach (Todd) Monken to everyone in the country they have a scramble plan. It’s going to happen regardless of your quarterback. You go through those steps, and you explain it. It’s not something you control or manipulate; it just naturally happens. So, it isn’t like we’re telling Stetson (Bennett) to not scramble and take off, it’s an instinctive trait that some people do better than others. Some people are better athletes that can extend plays and pull a lot of stress off people. Those guys are all good athletes.”

On special teams …
“Special teams are critical on the road because usually that’s a momentum play, we call them. If you’re trying to get the crowd out of it, we need a momentum play. If you don’t, then you’re going to bring the crowd right back into it. So, dominating special teams sometimes controls the momentum of the crowd. That’s important on the road anytime. There’s no bigger play than having a kickoff return on the road because they just scored on you. And that’s important that you gain field position back. As far as our guys, I’ve loved the effort and energy of our units. We haven’t always played with the most intelligence in terms of undisciplined penalties. I’m very frustrated with that side of it but I’d much rather have the penalties fighting and trying than not being in position to make those blocks. And we got to do a better job of not shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties.”

On Julian Rochester and Devonte Wyatt
Julian’s (Rochester) back out practicing with us. He’s been down on the scout team getting work, trying to get confidence in his knee and feel good about it. I’m hopeful that he’s able to contribute and help us. It’s really tough at this point as far down the road as we are but he’s a battler and great kid and he didn’t gripe one bit about trying to get confidence. He’s one of those guys that gave us a great look at Arkansas’ defensive line last week. And then Devonte (Wyatt) just, one of his better performances. He’s worked so hard in the off-season to trim weight. He slimmed down. He’s much more athletic, and I’m just excited to see him get that opportunity.”

On Demetris Robertson transferring to Auburn…
“He wanted an opportunity to get more reps and an opportunity to play more and he felt like the opportunity was probably better there than it was here. We didn’t want to see D-Rob go. I’ve always thought a lot of D-Rob. He’d gotten better and the situation we’re in now is because some guys decided to leave. That’s why we’re so thin along with injuries. But, I’ve wished D-Rob nothing but the best. Great young man, respected a lot. He’s been able to make a lot of good plays for them, lot of big plays. Mike (Bobo) does a great job of using the skill set of the player he has and D-Rob’s been able to make a lot of plays for them because of that.”

#47 Payne Walker | Jr. | SN

On Dan Jackson
“Well Dan is one of the hardest working guys I know. He is also one of the best guys I know. Ever since he has gotten here he has gotten his work done. He kind of keeps his head down and down and doesn’t say a lot. I think that speaks volumes for his performance and how he has played so well this year. He is very focused, focused on his athletics and his academics. His overall aurora of just being an everyday guy that is going to show up and show out.”

On the development of the team…
“This offseason we focused a lot on connection, physicality, toughness and resiliency. I think over the last couple of games that you have seen that all of those have been very present in the way we play. As far as going forward, we are always focused on the next game. Eager to have this opportunity to play Auburn on the road and we are excited for it.

#63 Sedrick Van Pran | RFr. | OL

On playing at Auburn…
“I have heard a lot about the Auburn experience, the atmosphere. That is something I am personally looking forward to because it will be my first time. I look forward to taking on the challenge.”

On having a veteran quarterback like Stetson Bennett
“Well, I think the great thing that our quarterbacks do is that they definitely add a calming effect into the game. They stay calm, they lead in the right way and in a positive manner. I think just having that veteran experience from all of our quarterbacks just helps calm guys down and keep a level head throughout the game.”

#29 Christopher Smith | Sr. | DB 

On next week’s matchup with Auburn… 
“I’m stepping out on the field and giving my all every play. D-Rob (Demetris Robertson) used to be on our team, but once we get in between those lines, it’s time to do what I do best.”

On the Arkansas game… 
“It was a challenge. A lot of new receivers running pretty good routes and things like that. But we prepared a lot for the kind of offense that they have. They have a great offensive coordinator, a very mobile quarterback with a good deep threat going, pretty good receivers – 16 is pretty good. We knew we were going to have to clamp him to win the game. So, it took a lot of preparation. There is definitely a lot more going on in the back end then y’all probably saw just because of the front end doing their job. There are a bunch of pieces back there, and everything has to be perfect for us to be able to execute.”


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