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

Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and two players, Tramel Walthour and Kearis Jackson, spoke with the media on Monday about their upcoming road game against the Kentucky Wildcats.

Top-ranked Georgia and 24th-ranked Kentucky will square off on Saturday, Nov. 19 at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. The game will be televised by CBS at 3:30pm ET.

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 Kentucky press conference which was provided by UGA.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Statement
“Hitting the road again, going to a tough place to play in the SEC, which they all are. This is one of the challenging ones. They got a great environment. Mark Stoops has done an incredible job there with the program. Coming off a tough loss against Vandy.

I know we’ll get the response from them that you would expect out of a team that’s the quality of Kentucky. They have done a tremendous job the last two or three years with what he’s done with their program. He’s built it through keeping players there, developing players, extremely physical and tough. When you ask our kids over the last two years what the most physical game they played in, to a man, almost everyone of them talks about how physical the Kentucky game was two years ago up there and then at our place last year where they went on a 20-something play drive against our defense to end the game.

And their defense is one of the tops in the conference year-in and year-out, but that way this year as well. So a great challenge for us to go on the road, tough environment, day game, and looking forward to the opportunity.”

On the logistics of a late travel night…
“I think we got back around 1:30, back into Athens. And then yesterday was business as usual. Preparing for Kentucky.”

On Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez and what makes him so good…
“His willingness and love for contact. He seeks and cherishes contact. And it’s that time of year where you watch defenses across the country and people turn down contact. They turn down hits. We make a point to try to show it to our guys that as the year goes, tackling gets worse and worse and worse. Are we going to be bit by that contagious bug of lack of a willingness to thud and tackle people, especially a guy that loves it. I mean, he seeks it. He wants to hit you.

One of the most physical runners I’ve seen, and it just seems like Kentucky always has that guy. Snell. Benny was that way. They’re just, it almost feeds to their personality. And you watch and you’re like, well, how did he get through that tackle? And you don’t really know because he just keeps going when people hit him. Great challenge. Great challenge to be physical with this guy and match his love for contact.”

On the status of AD Mitchell…
“I can’t say that for certain. The MRI and the X-rays don’t show that anything was done. He felt like he might have tweaked it some. That slowed his progress some. But it’s a pain-in-the-butt injury. And like I’ve talked about repeatedly, it didn’t have an option to go do the tight rope and do the surgery that Tillman got, Tua got, Arian got. That wasn’t an option.

So it’s been frustrating for him. He wants to get back. He works really hard at it. He was better last week than he’s been every week previous. He actually got to do individual drills last week and did some things. But he’s still not, or at least last week, I don’t know where he is this week because I haven’t seen him yet, but he was not where he could come out of breaks and do the things required to play receiver, and that’s tough. So he stayed here. He got extra rehab here, felt like he got a little better rehab here not having to be on it all weekend and during the game. So we’re, again, hopeful to get him back this week, but it will be day by day.”

On sustaining team success and winning the SEC through roster turnover…
“Well, it takes consistency in performance. It takes a commitment to excellence from your entire administration. It takes physicality in this league. It takes a really mature team to manage every game like it as a history and life of its own. That’s what it takes. But it’s not the be all and end all to just win the East. There’s a lot of things left out there for this team to do.”

On the recognition of the wide receivers…
“Yeah. Some routes that affects the routes, some routes it doesn’t. It depends on what kind of passing game we’re calling. So, yeah, that’s really just an experience quality. The more you experience it, the better you are at it. It’s kind of like a defensive back recognizing a route. The more you see the routes, the more you recognize them. Same way for receivers. The more you see the coverages, the more you see the things you got to do to attack ’em. But some coverages it doesn’t matter. Man’s man. So you don’t have to recognize man. You got to be able to go beat it. I think B-Mac and Coach Monken have a lot of experience developing guys in that area.”

On the status of Javon Bullard and playing against Will Levis…
“Bullard has a lower leg contusion. It’s like below the knee. I think he’s going to be fine. I think he was limited a little bit yesterday in some of the workout stuff they did. But we fully expect him to be able to play. I haven’t seen him practice. I haven’t seen him myself. So we’ll see more today.

As far as Will Levis, this guy’s got a bazooka for an arm. He can make all the throws. He’s a really good athlete, and he’s physically and mentally really tough. He’s wired that kind of way to compete against you. It’s not like he’s going to shy away from contact. He doesn’t get flustered by rush. He’s not afraid of standing in there and taking shots.

That’s one of the number one qualities of a quarterback is can they stand in there and be unaffected, and he has been. He’s shown that. He’s actually shown the ability to break tackles and make plays out of the pocket.”

On the defensive line’s play and what Coach Mike Leach said about it…
“I don’t know what means by the pull and yank. I would think he means strike and attack because that’s what we do with our defensive line. We strike, attack, and then get off blocks. It’s block protection more than it is anything else. But transition could mean many things. Do they cover down hard where you can throw a screen, do they transition to go cover down, or do they transition from a run play to a conversion of transition to pass rush. That’s what a lot of defensive guys call transition is can you convert from I’m playing the run to now I’m playing the pass. But I don’t know without asking him exactly what he meant.”

On Kentucky’s pass defense…
“Well, their entire defense has been one of the best throughout the conference and they have been consistently every year, let’s be clear. Because they have really good defensive coaches. Coach Stoops is very involved. Coach White does a tremendous job. They’re very consistent because they’re physical. They don’t allow you to get the run game going. They play a lot of odd front, which makes for really tough sledding in terms of large human beings being inside. You don’t move and displace them very well. They’re very multiple in coverage, so we’ve had ’em on tape multiple times. I know going into Tennessee, Mississippi State, you find yourself watching Kentucky a lot. And I have a lot of respect for what they do defensively and the players they have that do it. They do a great job.”

On effective ways to continuously pursue perfection … 
“I mean, it’s the pitfall of every profession or everything people do in society is being able to repeat habits and can you do that. Can you do what you do better than the people in your profession on a daily basis and not get bored with monotony. It’s hard to sustain anything in life, in your career, whatever it is. And if you want to be the best sports writer, you want to be the best broadcaster, you got to do it better than the other people in your profession. You got to do that by recreating yourself, by consistently outworking someone, and sometimes people get comfortable. When you get comfortable, you don’t always, you’re not always at your best. We’re trying our best to be at our best. That’s our job. The challenge is how do you do that better than the team you’re up against.”

On being better at identifying players who fit the culture … 
“No, I don’t know that we’re better at identifying ’em. I think we certainly delve into that conversation more than we used to. But I don’t know that we’re better at it. There’s no written script or perfect DNA quality that you say. You assume all players you sign are unselfish and care about the program and want to be here no matter what, but let’s be realistic, that’s probably not going to be the case. So you do the best job you can and you try to move that needle while they’re here because I don’t think that people are where you can’t change. I think you develop that and you get buy-in and you sell it through your older players, and the older players sell it to the younger players, and you win some and you lose some.”

On the performance of Jalon Walker…
“Yeah, Nolan’s been a tremendous asset for us. The snaps you’re referring to on Jalon really weren’t anything to do with Nolan’s. Nolan’s was with Robert Beal’s. But Jalon has developed and is getting better and still got a ways to go, and he’ll believe the first to tell you that he’s got to grow and get better. He did get more opportunities the other night because of the passing situations that they were in. But he’s got to do more of those opportunities. He’s got to continue to grow. He has not taken what he does in practice to the field just yet. He practices sometimes better than he plays, and he’s got to get through some of that anxiety and that’s part of being a freshman. But Nolan’s done great job with all those guys. He’s right there with ’em, teaching, cheering, being a leader.”

On keeping the players from getting comfortable…
“Keep talking recentering, coming back to the purpose and what we started all this about. We did have the good fortune of not a lot of these guys were major parts of the run that went on last year, so it was new for a lot of them. The energy and enthusiasm towards making a mark themselves and creating their own identity was the lead factor. And sustaining that is now we’re getting in the fourth quarter. We’re at the 15, 20 yard line like trying to go finish off the regular season and that’s got to be sustained. So far, they have had a good attitude and they have approached each week independent of the previous.”

On how this year’s team is “connected” …
“Well, the reactions to good and bad. We say we’re at our best when the worst happens. That’s where we want to be at our best. That’s the spot you can be the most connected. It’s easy to be connected when Ladd McConkey runs 80 yards for a touchdown. It’s hard to be connected when a guy misses you for a touchdown pass and you don’t pout about it. You know, a guy fumbles, a guy throws an interception, a guy gives up a huge pass interference. Where’s your connection now when it’s needed most? And that’s the muscle that we like to say is our strongest muscle on our team. So if you got it, why not use it. No reason not to use it if you got it. I thought our kids did a good job of that the other night.”

On Tramel Walthour and players waiting to increase contributions…
“It’s awesome. The consummate team player that has played his role and is playing his role now. Still doesn’t play a ton of snaps. But he makes the most of the snaps he takes and he has tremendous toughness and he has tremendous buy in to the way we do things.”

On Tramel Walthour’s recruitment…
“I thought he was a really good athlete from down there. We had seen him when we recruited Richard. He needed some development. Needed to go play some to be able to come in here and help us. He was willing to do that. And he got, came in more ready to play than a kid from high school after being there. He’s done a good job since being here.”

#90 Tramel Walthour | Sr. | DL

On winning the SEC East… 
“To win that is the first stepping stone to whatever else is after the season. In November thats the only time they remember you, so we got to come in everyday and just work each week out trying to win that next game.”

On the new defensive calls each week… 
“We just try to focus on last week is gone and it’s a new week. We just have to try and refresh our minds and then focus not the little things that they put in for us and try to execute them with as much detail as possible.”

#10 Kearis Jackson | Sr. | WR

On what he feels about his role in the offense…
“I never was the one to ask for targets. I play my role and just was happy with it. I know I’ve stayed patient, I’m a very unselfish guy, so I just knew whenever that opportunity would come, I was going to capitalize on it because I played in big games before. I’ve been here long enough to know how things go here. I’m just excited that when I do get an opportunity to capitalize on that, not only am I doing this for myself, but also I’m doing it for my team as well. They [NFL teams] aren’t only looking at what you could do with the ball in your hands, you’re looking at what you do outside with the ball not in your hands. I know I’m a great blocker, I can help have guys in the right position, I’ll just be a vocal leader, being a leader on the field, just trying to make sure I be the best version of myself that I could be because, at the same time, it’s not about just getting the football every time. You can get the football 100 times in the game and still lose. So, what would that help you with? So, as long as we keep winning, I’m excited. I’m not tripping over targets being thrown my way, I’m just excited to be a part of something great.”

On if having multiple tight ends on the field affects wide receiver playing time…
“If something is working, why stop it? That’s my mindset, I’m here to win games. I’m not here to have 1,000 yards, 20 touchdowns. I know I wanted to come in for that, I would have went somewhere else, but I’m trying to put championship years on our walls and trying to be a national champion, an SEC champion, so whatever Coach Monken feels like is going to put us in the best position to win, I’m down for it. I’m a team player. When you have guys like that on your team, that’s what makes you successful. You can’t have selfish guys on your team because that just brings the negative energy around the offense. But we have guys like myself, who is unselfish, who is going to go in there when their number is called and make a big play, whether it’s blocking or catching the ball. That’s what makes you more efficient. When you could do that at a high level, it’s kind of hard to stop. If I was a defensive coordinator, I know I’d be stressed out to having to figure out how can I stop almost six offensive linemen in like with Darnell [Washington], with his size and his capabilities of blocking and running routes, and you have Brock [Bowers] at the same time, who is able to block and run routes. I know they’re much bigger than myself, but it’s just a weapon that we can always use. It’s hard to stop that.”


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