Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2022 Georgia Tech football game
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Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2022 Georgia Tech football game

Kirby Smart
Photo: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and two players, Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Jack Podlesny, spoke with the media on Monday about their upcoming home game against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

Top-ranked Georgia and Georgia Tech will square off on Saturday, Nov. 26 at Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. The game will be televised by ESPN at noon ET (Buy Tickets).

Bob Wischusen will call the play-by-play, Dan Orlovsky will provide analysis, while Kris Budden will report from the sidelines.

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

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Statement

“Yeah, I want to take a minute to acknowledge the Vince Dooley celebration of life they’re having Friday night at the Coliseum. You know, it’s open to the public. And I encourage fans and supporters to attend to celebrate a man that meant so much to our community. I know I’ll be over there for a brief stopover.

But he meant so much to us. This is an opportunity to celebrate his life and do it over at the Coliseum, I guess. Correct? Yeah, and that will be 7:30 on Friday night.

So with that, we’re on to Georgia Tech, a program I know a lot about. And a coach that I have a lot of respect for. Known Brent for a long time. He played at Tech while I played at Georgia. We played against each other. And we spent some summers together. And I have a lot of respect for him as a coach.

You know, he was the O-line coach at Alabama one of the years we played them. And they did a really good job. His offensive lines are always physical, get after it. There’s a lot of familiarity with their staff, with ours, Chip Long, Cheney, and all the guys that have been over there.

And so, they’re playing really well now. They’re playing really hard now. And I think he’s done a tremendous job at getting these guys to compete.”

On Georgia Tech’s win against North Carolina…

“Yeah, you know, they started a little slow. And then once they got in their groove, they were really aggressive, extremely physical. You know, I think held UNC to their lowest output in terms of yardage and maybe points in the season.

You know, they played really hard. And they did a great job defensively. They always have — you know, Tech has good personnel. And the guys there know football and you can see that the kids are playing with a lot more passion and energy. They’re one game from bowl eligibility and you saw it come out in the play against UNC.”

On the team changing with an interim coach…

“Yeah. They take on his personality of toughness, not beating themselves, being physical. You can tell they’ve probably honed down some things. He made some changes to special teams.

You know, he played there. And when you’ve got someone that played at that university and that’s their alma mater, there’s a certain level of want to desire to represent the University the right way.

And, you know, when they won the first game, they beat two top 25 teams with him as the head coach. And you can see the emotion that he had after the Pitt win in the locker room because of how much it means to him.”

On Jalen Carter’s snap count…

“Yeah, I don’t know. The assumption you make is the generational wealth is on the line. I mean, I look at it as he’s earned it. Generational wealth, it’s not given, right? He hasn’t had an opportunity to play the all year and show his skill set and really show his stamina.

In all his years playing here, he never got to play that many snaps, so he’s creating value for himself with the way he’s playing.

And, you know, if you look at the top-end of the draft, it’s one of those things where it’s a huge difference between pick 3, and pick 10, and pick 14. It’s a lot more different than it is down there towards the end.

So it’s not about that for him. It’s about, you know, being with his teammates, wanting to do something special. He was really close in a brotherhood with those guys last year. And they’re gone now, and he’s trying to do something that they didn’t do. You know, and he’s given us all he’s got.”

On the senior class…

“Yeah, it’s really not a class. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. Like you mentioned, I mean, you’ve got seven or eight guys — I think we got seven or eight that will be repeat walkers. Meaning, they walked last year and they’re walking this year. And then we’ll probably have the same because the timetable for decisions and things like that. It’s off in college football.

So, when you look at it, you got a kid that’s going to out there and walk for his last home game, but he hasn’t decided if that’s his last home game. But that is what we deal with.

And these guys, just like the group last year, have been really special. I mean, we can have anywhere from 20 to 25 guys walking out there and to look and see what they’ve done, to be the winningest class and go through a COVID year where every game was an SEC game.

I just — you know, I find that respectful and amazing. Because you don’t get the games outside the conference in that season. And they were still able to do it. And a lot of credit goes to the character of that group.

There’s not a huge star-studded cast. There won’t be 15 draft picks out there. But there’s some guys that really care about UGA and have sacrificed a lot to this program.”

On his initial conversations with Stetson Bennett…

“Well, I knew his high school coach, I knew who he played for. I knew the area he was from. I roomed with a kid — guy that was from down there and college here as a walk-on. And he always talked about Stetson.

We kept in touch.

Stetson was getting recruited by other people. Chris Hatcher and several guys recruited him. We got him up on the official visit. I think the first time I really got to talk to him and visit with him was around the OV.

And, he’s got, you know, a lot of siblings. A great family. And I remember the siblings being around during our camp days and working out and his OV in the stadium. You could tell there was something different about him in terms of a chip on his shoulder. And that’s helped drive him to where he is now.”

On AD Mitchell and Nolan Smith’s status…

“No, Nolan’s surgery was a repair. And he’ll be out — hopefully make it back to his workouts and his combine stuff. AD was similar last week as he’s been to the previous weeks. I mean, he did run. He had a little few higher speeds. And he did some individual drills.

But he didn’t do teamwork, like, 11-on-11 teamwork. And that’s the goal. You know, that’s the goal each week, to get him out there to do 11-on-11 and take some reps.”

On the nature of the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry…

“No, it’s still a big rivalry. I mean, I think maybe it shifted in the dynamic of what their offense was. Because it went from one extreme to the other in terms of that.

And this is Stetson’s first opportunity to play Georgia Tech here, unless one of those years he was here as a freshman that we played here against them. I’m not sure.”

On Tate Ratledge’s injury…

“But Tate had a shoulder subluxation. And, again, he probably could have gone in the game. It’s one of those things he checked out before the game last week and we weren’t comfortable putting him in and wanted to give Devin a chance to play.”

On Jamon Dumas-Johnson’s impact on the team…

“Yeah, he’s the go-between between from the back-end to the front-end. So he and Smael are like messengers. You know, they have to deliver the message frontways and deliver the message backways and make sure we’re on the same page.

Which is critical in today’s day and age of offense, where people are constantly moving, nobody’s sitting still, things change. You got to have great eye control.

He’s also the signal caller, the one that gets the signal and tells people what to do. And he holds people accountable, you know, including himself.

He hasn’t had some of his best games and best weeks of practices here recently. But yet he still holds himself to a high standard. And he acknowledges that he can do better. And when you have a guy at that position that thinks that way, it’s good hardwiring for your defense.”

On the challenge of facing two different quarterbacks…

“Yeah, they definitely got different skill sets and they’re both good players. I mean, I was — I caught some of a Thursday night game earlier this year and got to see the Gibson quarterback.

And, then, you know, watching Tyson go against the UNC team, it was a different flavor. You know, they really complement each other. Big, physical guy. Both of them can actually run.

And the improvement that Gibson’s made over the recent games to me is astounding. He’s throwing the ball much better, much more efficiently.”

On Stetson Bennett’s rise as a player…

“Yeah, it takes a competitor. I mean, it takes somebody to overcome the odds because you’re not given the benefit of the doubt. You know, you have to earn it. You have to beat guys out.

And, you know, we as coaches did everything we could to not give him the opportunity and he just kept banging away at the door. And he was very persistent.

Thank goodness we decided to bring him back when we were sitting in a tough quarterback situation. And probably the best decision we made when you look back of bringing him back here in what it looked like as a backup role, but not to him. I mean, he saw it as an opportunity to come in and play and he took advantage of it.”

On concerns with red zone offense…

“You know, we worked really hard on it. It was one of our big things coming in. We actually had moved — we started off really slow in that area, offensively. And we moved into the twenties and we were creeping up. And it was getting really good and then we took a step back, you know, last week.

And the level of concern is about execution. It’s not like you can say it’s one thing or, Oh, you have a problem here. No, you didn’t do this right.

And every play we can point to and say we have a failure here. And when you have a failure here, we don’t execute. You play good defenses, they capitalize on you.

And, you know, our defensive red zone team percentages has been really, really special. We’ve stopped a lot of people. And we go against each other all offseason. They get to see our guys go. We do it every week on every Wednesday we go out and do it.

So it’s been a point of emphasis for us. But it’s one of those things we got to keep working on and getting better at.”

On replacing Nolan Smith…

“Okay. Up and down. I mean, we’ve had some good performances, poor performances, some good plays, some bad plays. Some guys playing more snaps than they’ve ever played, so fatigue sets in.

And you’ve got to have more stamina. Because as you play more snaps, you find guys make more mistakes. And they — the mentality of cardio and exercise can — fatigue makes cowards of us all. So when you make mistakes because you’re fatigued, you got to get in better shape. And the snaps have gone up, really, on that whole group.”

On Georgia Tech playing for bowl eligibility…

“Yeah, I mean, we’ll mention it. But it’s not about them. It’s about what we do.”

On Jack Podlesny’s importance…

“Yeah, it’s awesome. But I’d rather have seven than three. So, I mean, it’s — but the flip side of that is you have to go for seven if you don’t have that. And it is a luxury to have him.

And he’s been Mr. Consistency since he’s been here. And he’s mentally wired the right way and does a tremendous job for our program. But, you know, the more we use him, the more we realize that those are points left on the board.”

On increasing third and fourth down conversions…

“You’ve got that — I mean, you be creative. You have to sit and think, Are we in the best personnel grouping to do it? Are we giving it to the right side? Are we attacking the weakness of their defense?

There’s all kinds of things that go into it in preplanning. Where are their best players? Where are our best players? Are we in our best personal grouping? Do you have to get big to get one yard or can you stay little and can you spread them out?

There’s a lot that goes into it. But philosophically, we’ve been using what we think is the best grouping. And you look at that each and every week, how it matches up against the opponent.”

On the importance of NIL in recruiting and retaining players…

“Yeah, we’ll know a lot more, you know, in the next coming weeks about all of it. Because nobody’s really been through this window. It’s very similar to last year.

But the window — portal window opening and closing and not letting coaches go out on the road during the SEC Championship week so they can get their rosters right, it’s all kind of new and different.

So for us, we’re going to be preparing — you know, we have a game. So we don’t get to go and have those conversations and do those things. So each and every player has to have an ability to put the team first while at the same time realizing that, Hey, their individualism now in college football is bigger than ever in terms of decisions you make.

I’m just always real open and honest about it, that not many guys that don’t start here end up — you know, if you’re not good enough to play here, you’re probably not going to be able to play in the NFL. So what do you want to be a part of? Do you want to be a part of something winning, something special? And that’s what we sell. And it’s not for everybody, but it’s what we sell.”

On Devin Willock’s performance…

“He did a good job. He took a lot of reps during the week over there on the right side. And he shows a lot of toughness, a lot of size, things he can do better, things he could have done better in the game that he’ll continue to work on.”

On the meaning of the rivalry…

“Yeah, certainly it is. I mean, it’s what this program’s biggest rivalry was many, many, many years ago when they were in the SEC.

Our kids don’t know that history. They don’t know the history of this rivalry and what goes into it. It was a really big rivalry, you know, during Paul’s years here because of the triple option and playing something different and the physicality of the game, you know.

And I think educating our players on that so they understand it — because it means a lot to our players in terms of what they want to achieve and they got to win this game to achieve those things.

So making sure they understand that is really important. And teaching the history of that is important because it’ll mean something to the Georgia Tech players and the Georgia players 20/30 years from now.”

On the run game’s performances…

“It’s all relevant to who you’re playing. I mean, I don’t think you can judge a running back based on game by game because the front’s different, the opponent’s different, their run schemes are different, the ability to throw the ball is different. I mean, it varies from game to game. I’m very pleased with what our backs have done.”

On the team’s schedule for Thanksgiving week…

“Yeah, normal Monday, Tuesday — we have school Monday, Tuesday. So normal practice Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday we’ll practice pretty normal. We’ll move it up a little bit in anticipation of Thursday being earlier. And Thursday will be a little earlier practice. And then we’re back getting ready for the game Friday.”

On the 2017 team being motivated by losing to Tech in 2016…

“I don’t know if it was that game or the whole season. I don’t really know. You’d have to ask those guys. I think that may have played a part. I remember, you know, Nick brought that up and it bothered him that his last game going off was that way. And he’s the one that sticks out that it really bothered him the most. But I don’t really recall.”

#10 Jamon Dumas-Johnson | Sophomore | ILB

On Smael Mondon Jr….

“Ever since Smael has been back, he’s just been putting on a show. Doing what he does best. Run, cover, hit, everything. Everything you could want in a linebacker, that’s what Smael is. Relentless, physical, smart, fast, big.”

On being a communication leader on the defense…

“Communication is an important part of this defense. Especially when you have the bigs that we have right now, Jalen Carter, Nas (Nazir Stackhouse), Warren (Brinson), Zlo (Zion Logue), a lot of communication goes on because the team is know, you line straight up it ain’t going to be pretty good for them, so they try and get us to communicate motion out, motion in, just to try and see if we can communicate as good as we communicate. I feel like we’ve been doing a good job with that, just got to keep it up.”

On holding others and himself accountable…

“I don’t just do it. I don’t know why people always say I’m the one just doing it. The defense, we keep each other accountable, and you know I’ve been in a great room last year with the guys that left and they had a great contribution to what I am trying to do in our room and to the team. The doubters trying to doubt this defense, that’s them with a chip on their shoulder. We were there every game, every Tuesday, every Monday, every Wednesday, every Thursday, every Friday, and every Saturday. So its just the doubters doubting us on this defense to show what we can do and we got to keep proving them wrong and keep it up.”

#96 Jack Podlesny | Senior | K

On the Georgia/Georgia Tech rivalry…

“The rivalry is a hard-fought battle between both teams and always will be.”

On the impact of weather conditions at Kentucky…

“At the end of the day, I like to think it’s a 70% mindset thing and 30% Conditions. You have to go out there and do your job.”

On his relationship with Brett Thorson…

“I’d call Brett one of my best friends. This is a lifelong friendship. It’s not one that I’ll forget about. I’ll definitely stay close with him, and he’ll stay close with me.”

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