Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2022 SEC Championship Game vs. LSU
UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and three players, Christopher Smith, Warren McClendon, and Ladd McConkey, spoke with the media on Monday about the 2022 SEC Championship Game against the LSU Tigers.
Top-ranked Georgia and LSU will square off on Saturday, Dec. 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga. The game will be televised by CBS at 4:00pm 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 LSU press conference which was provided by UGA.
Head Coach Kirby Smart
“I want to congratulate Tom Black who was named SEC Coach of the Year. They are in the NCAA Tournament, and we wish them luck going ahead. Again, congratulations to him and the tremendous job he’s done.
We’re on to LSU. We’re able to get a start on these guys, some yesterday. The NCAA rules afford us the opportunity on championship weeks to work a little bit on Sundays, so we were able to get at least a good jump start on them. Really more about putting the last game to bed for us.
Then as coaches preparing to get game plan ready to play a really talented team. I’ve always had respect for Brian Kelly’s teams, going way back to when we played him at Notre Dame. They had very high quality preparation, coaching staff. They do a great job in all areas. He’s very organized. He has a process. He knows how to run a program.
Back to the Grand Valley State days, he’s been tremendous. I was at Valdosta State when Valdosta State ended up playing, I think, Grand Valley State for some D-II national championships. I had left at the time they played him, but I’ve always had respect for the job that he does and leader of men. He does a great job. I’ve seen that in the SEC head coaches meetings.
But their team’s very talented, and it should be a great matchup. I’ve always said this is an incredible atmosphere, as good an atmosphere as you’ll ever find in any sporting event, outside of just football, I’m talking about all sports. It’s a great venue, and the SEC office does a great job putting on a tremendous event.
So our guys are looking forward to playing in it.”
On if there is a scoring goal on offense…
“Our goal is either 35 or 38, but that’s just based on the course of time. I want to say we want to score right at 38 points a game is our goal. We base that on college football history.
If you want to be number one in scoring offense. If you can do that, you’re going to be near it. In most recent years, you wouldn’t be first there because the numbers have kind of gone up, up, up and away. I think Coach Monken and the offensive staff agreed this year it was either 35 or 38.”
On the outside linebackers since Nolan Smith’s injury…
“They both (Chaz Chambliss and Robert Beal Jr.) bring size, speed, toughness, and awareness of our system, understanding how our system works. They were both playing already, so really it’s just increased the load a little bit, went from dividing among the three guys snaps to really two guys playing snaps, and I’ve been very pleased with what those guys have done.”
On the team playing well in pressured situations…
“I do think the resilience has shown through, meaning when they’ve had an opportunity to play in adverse situations, they’ve done a good job of that.
I don’t have an explanation for why we might not play with the consistency. I think every coach would say the number one trait they want to have is consistency in performance, and we really haven’t had consistency in performance, maybe not as much as the team the year before has had. But what they have had is resiliency, competitiveness, pridefulness, and response mechanism has been pretty positive.
I think that comes through training. You don’t just get good at that by happenstance. You have to really work at it.”
We said at the beginning of the year this team was going to be different, and the difference was going to be they had to have a lot of grit and toughness. They’ve had that so far.”
On if the offense is “streaky” …
“I think all offenses are that way. I think it’s called momentum, and it’s real. Momentum’s a real thing, like it’s not — it’s not to say that — shooters are that way in basketball, right? Hitters are that way in baseball. Kickers are that way in football. Defenses are that way.
We’ve had some really bad drives in like bad quarters, and I’m like where did that come from? Well, it’s really no different with offense. You’re trying to find the thing that makes you more consistent, but sometimes it’s momentum in the flow of things, and when you get things flowing, you play better.”
On the team’s red zone offense…
“I would say the opponent you play has a lot to do with your red zone, the execution of your offense in terms of ability to execute and do things right at critical times, millions of things. You can’t even go into the factors that factor into red zone. It’s not one thing.
Ultimately, you’d better be able to move people. You’d better be able to block people, and you’ve got to be able to make some plays at critical times. You can’t beat yourself down there.
We have been up and down at times, and we’ve been really, really good, and we’ve been pretty average at times.”
On Stetson Bennett’s performances…
“No, I think he’s played well. I think he’s done what we’ve asked him to do. I think, if he continues to do that, then we’ll be successful because what we’ve asked him to do, he’s done.
He has played some formidable, good opponents, and he’s played really well against those teams. He’s made a couple of decisions I think he would like to have back, but he’s also made some really, really spectacular plays.
Sometimes when you put a lot on a player, you may get some of that. You may get a mistake. You may get something he wishes he had back. But he also had some really incredible plays.”
On LSU’s running backs…
“They’re physical. Their backs run with a purpose. When you watch their backs, they’re explosive through the hole. They have elite toughness. They seek contact. Each one of those guys runs with a really strong purpose. I mean, I’ve seen some really elite effort plays out of those guys, running to cover down.
When Jayden pulls it, you see backs going out there and blocking for him down the field.”
On Arik Gilbert…
“Again, we’re trying to help him be the best person he can on and off the field, and that’s decisions we make each and every week.”
On where his drive and focus as a head coach comes from…
“Just I think consistency in performance, wanting to do things the right way and having a process you go through to do it and do it for these kids, these kids that sacrifice so much time and effort in our program. I really just want to serve them and serve the University of Georgia the right way.
There’s a right way to do things, and I think that we try to do it the right way here, which is calculated, a plan, and consistent.”
On LSU’s improvement during the season…
“They’ve gotten better throughout from the start of the season until now. I know their quarterback has gotten better. They do a tremendous job growing young players. I think everybody across the SEC, there’s youth everywhere.
By this time of year, they’re no longer young. They have two tackles that are no longer freshmen. They’ve played in really big games. They’ve blocked the best of the best in our league. They’re not really freshmen anymore.
So LSU has gotten better consistently, and that’s what you’re always trying to do to win an SEC Championship is ascend and get better as you go along. Sometimes that’s easier said than done. I feel like LSU’s done that.”
On the offensive line’s performance…
“They’ve been really physical. They’ve been physical when we need them to be physical. They’ve done a good job of making holes, and the backs have done a good job of hitting them, and it helps us as a play action team as a whole.
So I think they’ve kind of done it by committee, and there’s a commitment to doing it with that group and doing it really physical that takes on the personality of your team.”
On LSU linebacker Harold Perkins…
“You know where he’s at when he’s out there, right? They’re going to use him in different ways. They’ve changed up the way they use him throughout the year. That’s what good defensive coordinators do. They try to find different ways to put him in maybe a mismatch and utilize him.
You have to know where he is, and you need to know where he is at all times because he’s really athletic. He is very disruptive, and you make your team aware of it.”
On De’Nylon Morrissette…
“He’s got a groin issue, but he’s back this week and going to be able to practice.”
On LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels…
“Everybody you talk to, he’s way faster than you envisioned. He is athletic. He can go into super quick, hyper speed mode, run away from you, run around you. He stiff-arms guys. He’s really athletic.
But it’s not like he’s one of these guys that can’t throw. He’s a pocket passer, and he’s very polished. He throws the ball really, really well, and he’s extremely athletic.
So the combination when you start saying, all right, what do I got to have to beat people in this league? It’s an athletic quarterback that can beat you with his arm, and he’s that.”
On motivation to win the SEC Championship…
“It’s more about checking a box. It’s not about last year’s team or a comparison. It’s about that next step and having an opportunity to put a number on the wall that stays there forever. It’s an SEC Championship. You don’t belittle those. Those are hard to come by. They’re what you do what you do for.
There’s such a respect, especially in this part of the country, for the Southeastern Conference, that winning a Southeastern Conference championship is extremely impressive for the quality of football and the number of NFL players that come out of our conference. I think our players take a lot of pride in that.”
On the advantage of playing postseason in Atlanta…
“I don’t really know. It’s not something that I’ve really even thought about. To me, the focus has to be on LSU and the preparation for LSU to win this game. You’re talking about hypotheticals of what a committee’s going to think and where they’re going to put people. I really don’t even think about it until it comes time. Wherever the dust settles, whatever happens happens, and you make the most of it.
The only thing you can say is the travel and the time spent, but that only really matters to me on a short week, which is a seven-day turnaround. When you have the extension of nine to ten days, it’s probably overrated because you’re going to get more travel times.”
On Stetson Bennett’s decision-making process…
“Not really. I don’t have time to educate you on that much football because there’s so much detail that goes into it, but every play it’s something different, and some plays it’s nothing. Some plays it’s just about speed and you’ve got to read.
But there’s a lot of plays that a lot goes into it. To go through all that might take a lot of time, and everybody might not understand still. So I’m not going to take my time to go through that with everybody here.
There’s a lot of pressure on him and a lot of decision-making on him. There is on every quarterback. It’s not privy to just Stetson. Jayden Daniels has a lot on him. They ask him to make decisions and do that, and that’s part of being a quarterback. Stetson’s done a really good job of handling that for us.”
On Tate Ratledge’s impact on the offensive line…
“He has a quality of toughness about him. He plays really physical. I think Devin Willock does too. I think the guys that play at guard have all played really physical.
I thought Truss and Tate brought a demeanor, both of them being dinged up and injured, and they played through that and practiced through that all last week, and they went out and really competed.”
On Marvin Jones, Jr.’s injury…
“He’s got an ankle injury. I don’t know severity until we practice, you know what I mean? I don’t know. I know that’s all you everybody in here wants to talk about is injuries, but for some reason you guys are more obsessed with that than the players that are playing.
I can’t tell you any more than he’s got an ankle injury. We’ll find out more. I know your readers want to read about that, but for me, I’m focused on the game.”
On Ladd McConkey’s importance…
“Tough. What he’s been is tough. He gives you work every day. He never wants to miss anything. If anything, we’ve had to overuse Ladd. You’d like to have a rotation of guys at that position, and we haven’t been able to have a large rotation.
He’s taken a lot of reps. He gives you all he’s got. He’s really physical. He’s been durable for a guy his size and his position. And really proud of the toughness he’s shown to push through the injuries and beats
and bangs he’s had. He’s been good for us in the return game. He’s also been one of our best gunners down in punts and making tackles on punt coverage. So he’s been extremely valuable.”
On preparing to play on artificial turf…
“Yeah, the turf wears on your legs a little more. The guys feel like it wears on your legs a little more, so we won’t go in there the whole time. It will probably be more based on what our surface is like out there on the grass because when it’s wet, ours is slick. It’s hard to practice on and have efficient practices.
I would like to be outside more this week than inside just because I like being outside a little more, but we’ll be inside because the grass is wet and it may rain this week. So we’ll be inside some.”
On the impact of the offense’s performance in the first three games of the season…
“I don’t really believe in all that. There’s no like — good offenses are good, and they find ways to attack you. There’s no more like you don’t trick people anymore and go, ooh, we’re going to come up with this new play every week. You do what you do.
The best offenses I’ve ever been up against, the LSU ones and the Alabama ones, you knew what they were going to do. You just had to find a way to stop it. So it’s not about tricking them. It’s really more about efficiency and having a good plan and playing well.
When you play good defenses, you have to understand they’re going to find ways to stop you. They’re going to find and do good things. Some of that’s been created off who we play, and a lot of it is how we play. Again, I’ve been proud of what our guys have done. Sometimes the conditions haven’t dictated, and sometimes we haven’t played real well.
But I’m always looking for our guys to play their best, and our best game is ahead of us is our goal.”
#29 Christopher Smith | Senior | DB
On what this week means to him playing for the SEC title…
“It definitely means a lot to me. It’s definitely one our team goals to be able to win the SEC. I’ve played in this game three times and haven’t been able to win so hopefully fourth times a charm. We are going to put in the work and execute the game plan as best as possible to be out there and go out there and get a win.”
On facing Jayden Daniels…
“Obviously he is a very talented quarterback. He knows how to use his feet very well and makes very good decisions. It’s definitely something that we are going to have to be able to game plan for. When you are dealing with the kind of quarterback he is, he’s got a lot of athleticism and you know whenever a quarterback has that athleticism it brings that extra element to an offense that you have to prepare for.”
On watching LSU play Texas A&M…
“I definitely watched the game. Great game, Texas A&M was able to come out on top but you know LSU had a great game as well. We know they are a very talented team, both of those teams are very talented, and every time after we have an early game I always watch games. I was able to watch my little brother play, I just click through and watch as many games as possible because like you said I am also a college football fan. I’m not one of those guys that only worries about my team, I like to see good football as well. I do that pretty much every Saturday when I have some time, even after a late game, Pac-12 be out there playing after midnight, so you know I tap into those games too.”
#70 Warren McClendon | Junior | OL
On the progress of the offensive line this season…
“We figured out how to work together as one unit. We are communicating better, on and off the field.”
On the importance of winning the SEC title…
“That is very important. We won a national championship. We won the east, but I haven’t won an SEC Championship yet. It is very important to me. It is very important for this team.”
On preparing for the SEC Championship…
“You always want to prepare for the next game. We don’t want to put too much emphasis on it, but it is the SEC Championship. We are going to stay the same and have the same game week routine.”
#84 Ladd McConkey | R-Sophomore | WR
On the SEC Championship…
“Since I’ve been here, we won the national championship, but one of our goals every year is to win the SEC Championship so that’s a big goal for us and it would be a huge accomplishment. SEC Championships are hard to come by. I haven’t won one since I’ve been here. A lot of guys have been in it before but haven’t won it. We know how much of a challenge it is to get to this point and how much of a challenge it is going to be for the rest of the year. We just want to go out and take it one game at a time and put our best foot forward and do what we need to do to get the win.”
On improving redzone play…
“Just execution. I feel like we have a great game plan, and we just have to go out and do it. Whether it’s not running the best route, not blocking the route, not making the route read. There’s just a bunch of little things that go into it and that’s what we work on every single day.”
On becoming a starting wide receiver…
“Just seeing the guys that were on the field my freshman year and watching them and how much fun they were having and how exciting it is to play out there. That’s what drove me to get out there and do it. No one wants to practice all week and not play. It’s hard and that’s just some struggles you have to go through when you’re a younger guy. I feel like a lot of guys now aren’t one to do that but if you put your head down and grind and just listen to what everyone has to say and keep doing the little things right it eventually pays off for you.”