Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2022 Tennessee football game
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Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2022 Tennessee football game

Kirby Smart
Photo: Kari Hodges/UGA

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and two players, Zion Logue and Warren McClendon, spoke with the media on Monday about their upcoming game against the Tennessee Volunteers.

Top-ranked Georgia and second-ranked Tennessee will square off on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. The game will be televised by CBS at 3:30pm ET (Buy Tickets).

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

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

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Statement

“I would open with congratulating my former teammate, Champ Bailey, to the College Football Hall of Fame, which he’s already kind of gotten the nomination and gotten in. I guess at halftime or sometime during the game I know he’s going to get recognized. And he was also — the Georgia/Florida Hall of Fame was there Saturday, but congrats to Champ and what he’s meant to our program and the way he represents our program and what he means to the University of Georgia is pretty awesome. I’m happy for him.

Then moving to Tennessee, who’s done a tremendous job. I got a lot of respect for Josh. Always have. I knew him as a player and now as a coach. He was at Missouri for a few years early on and had a lot of success. Now he’s moved to Tennessee and done a tremendous job. His entire staff, they’ve done an incredible job with all the work they’ve done. And our guys are excited and looking forward to a top matchup in Sanford Stadium. I know our fan base will be loud and proud. I want to challenge our fan base to be — I mean, everybody talks about the Notre Dame game, but we want to be louder than that. We want to be there earlier than that. We had some great matchups last year here at home, and I thought they really affected the game each time we had a big matchup. So we’ll need them again and we’ll be ready to go.”

On Nolan Smith’s shoulder … 

“His availability has not been determined. It does not look good for availability this week. It’s a pec muscle. It’s one of those deals we’re doing an MRI on. We’re still getting some opinions on it. But he’s probably doubtful for this week.”

On what allows Tennessee to start fast … 

“They go really fast. They get a lot of at-bats in terms of possessions, and they do start fast. I think our team has done a really good job of growing and getting better throughout this year. And each week, including the off-week, it’s, like, I see marked improvement. I really want to continue to do that. We’re trending in the right direction in terms of getting better both offensively and defensively.”

On injury updates … 

“Not sure because I have not seen them practice. Kendall’s still got the quad strain that’s bothering him. AD has the ankle and we took him on the trip and allowed him some more recovery time. So I’ll find out some more with him today. And Mims has a slight MCL, that we hope he’s going to be able to go. But we haven’t practice, so it’s going to be hard to say.”

On if you have to prepare for Tennessee’s offense during the summer and offseason … 

“Yeah, we worked on them in the offseason, but we work on a lot of opponents in the offseason. We worked on them in the bye week, but we worked on two or three opponents in the bye week. It is a challenge to get ready for because — they’ll be the first to tell you, they don’t watch all of your tape because they — some of it they use, some of it they don’t. They have some traditional formations and traditional plays. But a lot of theirs is very different. It’s very unique and they have a plan of attack based on how you’re going to play them. It’s not like they haven’t seen — you’re not going to trick them. You’re not going to show them something they haven’t seen. You got to do what you do better than they do. And they’re really good at what they do.”

On comparing this year’s Tennessee team to last year’s Alabama offense … 

“No. No comparison in terms of the offenses. They’re just completely different.”

On Jalen Carter … 

“He played probably better than I expected. You know, when y’all asked me after the game, I didn’t really know how much effect he really had. He was in on run, he was in on pass. He executed well. He held the point. He didn’t feel like it bothered him. So, you know, it’s really about stamina and him being able to hold up in conditioning. And one thing he’s been doing a lot of lately is conditioning. He hadn’t been practicing. So we hope to have him in great shape and hopefully he’s able to go and be full speed.”

On how Chaz Chambliss played and how other guys filled in for Nolan Smith … 

“Well, Robert played. He played a little more number of snaps once Nolan was injured. Chaz did a nice job coming in. It was great to get him back. Didn’t know that he would have to play that much in that role. His hamstring has still been bothering him. It bothered him a little bit the other night after the game. So it’s one of those that we’re going to see how he does today and moves around. Looking to get Marvin, MJ, all those guys going. So nobody really played more because it was just Chaz and Robert, really.”

On one of the biggest lessons he learned from Coach Dooley … 

“Probably the way he carries himself. Such a class man. Just the humility is the biggest thing.”

On Rodney Gardner and characteristics of his defensive line … 

“Toughness. You know, he’s old school when it comes to striking people and playing with physical toughness. You know when you’re playing against one of his defensive lines, they’re not going to run from contact. They’re not going to shy from contact. They’re not going to back down from a challenge. And it’s not because of what they’re going to do this week, it’s because of the way he’s molded them and the way he’s coached them. You know, he coaches tough, he coaches hard. And he hadn’t changed that with the change in generations of players. He’s always done that. Even when I was a GA here, he was coaching them hard.”

On LSU’s offense in 2019 … 

“Well, going back to that game, it was tough because they had five, six, something first rounders. When you throw Jamar Chase and the quarterback, they had all these first rounders in there. And they were really talented and they did a really good job executing. They did use some tempo. Probably it’s not the same tree of coaching, you know. There was some things we learned from that that had helped us in the future and we always kept them in our package of the three-down different looks they had. You know, we used 7 DBs in that game. Used different looks and you try to give them some confusion. But there’s not a lot of similarities between the two offenses, if that’s what you’re asking.”

On any extra emphasis on conditioning this week ahead of the Tennessee game … 

“If they’re not in shape, then you did something wrong long before. So we’ve been building towards this week in terms of — since week one, the conditioning level of our players has been a concern every week for me. It’s one of the major concerns, Are you in good enough shape? Because if you’re not, you can’t make it up in one week. So it’s one of those things we work really hard on. I don’t know how much other teams condition in the country, but we do a lot because I think it’s really important. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a lot of games where we’ve played a lot of snaps. So that goes back to, If you’re not playing them in the game, you better get it done during the week. And, you know, we’ve worked hard at it. We’re going to find out on Saturday if we’re in shape or not. I can promise you that because they’re going to try and get a lot of snaps in.”

On what makes Tennessee’s receivers so explosive … 

“Speed, space, scheme, talented arm. You know, you can have the best receivers in the world, and they get open all the time, if you don’t have somebody that can get it to them — they have somebody that can protect them and get it to him. They do a good job of that. Again, that’s the challenge for us this week.”

On how he sees a defense embracing the opportunity to play Tennessee … 

“Yes. I see them embrace the challenge every week.”

On what stands out about Hendon Hooker … 

“Just another year experienced in the offense. You know, he’s one step ahead of where he was. To think of the reps and the games he’s played since the games last year, he’s just as elusive, he’s got probably the same arm talent. Those two don’t improve. It’s his decision-making and his processing. And the guys around him are playing better, too. I mean, they’re playing much better across the offensive line, they’re running the ball, they got explosive playmakers that are playing better. So they’ve improved around him and he’s improved.”

On how Stetson Bennett performed on Saturday … 

“He’ll get ready this week. And he did some really good things in the game. Some elite, elite things he did in the game. He had some decisions that he wish he’d take back. And I don’t know many quarterbacks that play a game that you can’t say that about. You’re just trying to wipe those away. Because in the game of college football, including Tennessee and every team in the country, they put a ton on the quarterback to make decisions. And we do the same with Stetson. So, you know, he’s not always going to make the right decision. We just got to make the right one more times.”

On what factors into making calls on fourth down … 

“Just, you know, study. Tape study. How have they played those situations, how we play those situations, what is our plan for those situations, what are our plays, what’s the time of the half, what’s the score, what’s the momentum, what’s our red zone defense, what’s their red zone offense like? I mean, there’s a lot that goes into it. And ultimately you got to make a decision and affect whatever happens afterwards and roll on. You know, we’re next play mentality. If we hadn’t gotten it, then we got to go out there and stop them.”

On how he prepares for this game based on rankings … 

“No, I don’t — we don’t prepare for it any differently based on rankings, if that’s what you’re asking. The rankings — I mean, I don’t even know the rankings or what they were. It’s a big game, right? There’s nothing about a number being in front of it. It would be a big game regardless. Because both teams are in the East.”

On Georgia being in this situation many times in the past … 

“I think the home helps. I think playing on the road’s always a little different. But I don’t know that — I mean, they played in some big games this year. They played at Pitt, they played Alabama at home. They played some really big teams and they played really well against them. So I don’t think that the playing in the big games — every game is a big game, to be honest with you, in the SEC. So it’s not like some guys go into it thinking of it differently. But I do think playing at home is important and certainly an advantage in our conference.”

On what allows Christopher Smith to excel in big games … 

“Experience. He’s one of the few guys back there that’s got a lot of experience. I mean, we don’t — when you look across our secondary, there’s not guys that have a ton of experience outside of this season. You know, Ke’s got a little bit. But outside of that, Chris has played a lot of football games. So that’s allowed him to make some of the plays he’s made.”

On adjusting on the fly defensively … 

“Yeah, it’s tremendously important every week. But it’s even more important at the decision-making and the process with which they go with pace. They got multiple paces they use and they can go as fast as anybody in the country. They practice it, they preach it, they do a really good job researching themselves and figuring out how they can faster. And our job is to be able to match that tempo and match that conditioning level.”

On losing the turnover battles and if there is an extra emphasis on that this week … 

“Yeah, it’s incredibly important. I don’t know if there’s an extra emphasis because I would never say that we emphasize one week more than another. You know, you can’t not emphasize turnovers, right? Like, that’s the emphasis — that’s what we start every practice with. That’s what we hang our hat on. That’s what we protect our program with, is the ball. So I can’t say it’s extra, but it’s certainly important.”

On Dominick Blaylock … 

“Yeah, he — his back had a lower back spasm. But I think he’s going to be fine. I think he should be able to go today. He didn’t play any more after that when he landed on that fade ball, the interception.”

On how he feels about his secondary going against this challenge … 

“We’re excited to see them go compete. I think they’ve gotten better each and every week. Grown some depth in the secondary playing some other guys. I’m looking forward to the opportunity.

I mean, they’re going to — one thing is for sure, they’re going to get to cover. They’re going to find out. Because there’s no hiding anybody when you play these guys.”

On Kelee Ringo … 

“Well, when you play the position he plays, that’s the only thing you do notice. You don’t notice the 70, 80 other plays that he’s in phase and he covers somebody and he does a nice job. He’s done a good job this year. He’s big, he’s fast, he can press people. He didn’t make a great play on that ball. But he made a really good play the next time they went over there and did it. And, you know, you got to bat better than 50 percent. And he’s done that most of the year. So it’s one of those that — again, I don’t think Kelee’s lacking in confidence. What he has ability-wise is the tool set that most guys wish they had.”

#96 Zion Logue | Jr. | DL

On the atmosphere of the Tennessee game…

“We know it is going to be a big game, but we can’t treat it like it is the last game of the season. We have to treat it like it is another game. Prepare like any other week and not stress anything and not override anything. We are just going out there to play football.”

On how the defense is going to prepare to face the Tennessee offense…

“It is a great challenge for us. The tempo, we are not going to let that affect us. We are going to play our game and stick to the things we have been taught all season and just play football.”

#70 Warren McClendon | Junior | OL

On the offensive line’s performance against Florida…

“I think we played very physical. I think we ended up with 200-something yards rushing. I can’t remember exactly. I think we played very physical. They were a little bigger up front so we had to. It was a tougher game for us, so we had to move them off of the line.”

On Kenny McIntosh coming back after the fumble…

“It always fires us up upfront when our running backs are running through people like that, especially for Kenny. I remember last week y’all asked me about Kendall (Milton) and Daijun (Edwards) running through people and I was like you have to remember Kenny too. He’ll run through someone too. For him to come out and do that over and over again. It really fired us up.”

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