Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2023 UAB football game
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Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview 2023 UAB football game

Kirby Smart
Photo: SECN+ screenshot

UGA football head coach Kirby Smart and three players, Dominic Lovett, Malaki Starks, and Smael Mondon, Jr., spoke with the media on Monday about their upcoming home game against the UAB Blazers.

Georgia and UAB will square off on Saturday, Sept. 23 at Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. The game will be televised by ESPN2 at 7:30pm ET (Buy Tickets).

Brian Custer will call the play-by-play, Rod Gilmore will provide analysis, while Lauren Sisler will report from the sidelines.

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

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement … 

“”I would start with a congratulations to all the University of Georgia. For the eighth straight year, UGA was ranked in the Top 20 of all public universities in the U.S. News & World Report, which is pretty remarkable to do that for eight straight years. I think when you look and say how many schools have been able to do that, eight straight years being the Top 20 at public institutions, is pretty incredible. That starts with great leadership. I think President Morehead has done an awesome job with that. We sell that in recruiting. Makes me proud, because I am an alumnus. I have my degree from here. So it makes it very worthy to be a University of Georgia grad, and proud of what we’ve been able to do from an academic standpoint.

“Moving on to our team, Ron (Courson) informed me that we have the longest injury list we’ve ever had since being here. So continues to grow, and I think that’s a trend across college football. You very rarely hear me talk about our guys being injured or, you know, woe is me. I don’t think it’s something that you can control. We practice how we practice, and for a couple years we’ve been really fortunate to not have very many injuries, and I always hear about other teams, and this year it seems to be the theme across. I know Shane had a lot at South Carolina. There was a lot of them in the SEC opponents, but we certainly have more than we’ve ever had. So that becomes a hurdle. We gotta do a good job overcoming that, and we gotta be very resourceful as coaches in how we use the players we do have.

“Obviously UAB. We’re moving on to UAB and I’m excited to play these guys. I’ve known Coach Dilfer for a while. I don’t have a personal relationship with him, but I do think a lot of him as a coach, their staff, I know a lot of guys on their staff. Eddie, who was here with us for a long time, does an incredible job, and looking forward to playing those guys this week.”

On what he has seen from UAB on film … 

“They have some good football players and really good athletes. I don’t think the record indicates that, but they play and you watch them, and I’m like, man, defensively they do some four-down and some three-down. They’ve got really good backs, got good skill players, athletic quarterback who extends plays. They play really hard. They had a weird situation the other night with ULL, they had rain delay and different things in there, but they got a very talented football team, especially in their conference.”

On determining the impact of weather before a game … 

“You consider which way to kick the ball, whether to take the ball, which way you’re going to go, is it going to rain more later than earlier, because it impacts the game. It’s not really an advantage for anybody because both teams gotta play in it, but you would rather have possessions not in the rain versus in the rain. And that’s just to see the turf, how much of an effect the rain that had fallen had affected the field, but that’s it.”

On what more he wants to see out of quarterback Carson Beck … 

“It’s different every game. I think we challenge him with different things. What I’ve been most proud of is his composure, number one, which I never doubted. He has a great demeanor about him that he handles positive and negative almost the same. As a matter of fact, there was a touchdown Saturday, I saw him celebrate for the first time, and that’s really good. Like when you see that emotion, it was one of the touchdowns in the second half that he got a little emotional, excited. I think our guys kind of rally around him when he does that. You know, stepping up in the pocket, there was a couple times that he started losing a little confidence and he started stepping back. He’s gotta be willing to step up, like they talk about race car drivers, when the smoke’s there, you gotta go right through it. There’s a lot of smoke in there sometimes, especially when people pressure you. You gotta be willing to step up and go through it and not always out and around it, because you can’t always outrun it that way. So but I’m really pleased with the way he’s playing, but there’s certainly things he can continue to work on.”

On improvements in the red zone … 

“It really is both ways. It’s red zone defense where we’ve been remarkable and elite. I think we were one in the country last year, and we had two red zone opportunities that we did not capitalize on defensively, which was really the difference in the first half. I mean at the end of the day, the difference in the first half was red area play both ways. Things we can improve on, you have to be able to run the ball in the red area, and you have to be able to stop the run. We did not — we let somebody run the ball in on us on defense, which is a no-no at Georgia. And we didn’t — we didn’t have positive 1st and 10 plays in the red area on offense, which that gets you in trouble, too, because you usually have four downs down there to go for it, but you can’t do that if you’re 4th and 10. If you’re 4th and 1 or 2 or 3, you can. So we gotta have positive plays both ways to get better. We certainly have to improve in that area.”

On injury updates on Amarius Mims and Austin Blaske … 

“I think we’re going to get Blaske back today. I don’t know if he’s 100 percent, but he’s going to be able to practice. Mims’ ankle sprain was bad. He’s going to have to have tight rope surgery, so he’ll have surgery on that, similar to what Cash had done, similar to what Lawson Luckie had done. So we don’t how long that’ll, be, but he’ll be back. It’s just a matter of how long.”

On injuries on grass and turf …

“No. Most of the indicators we have outside of our practices suggest a little more on turf. I think that’s what the NFL would probably argue, that more on turf and less on natural grass. We’re on natural grass a lot more here than we are on turf. We keep independent studies of where ours happen. Ron and his staff report that, submit it so that you can follow it. We don’t have any indication that ours is more or less on turf than grass. It’s actually almost exactly the same. And, ironically, most of ours this year have been in games. So that’s where you’d rather your injuries happen in games, if they’re going to happen at all. We don’t want injuries to happen, but when they’ve happened in games this year, they’ve obviously been on grass.”

On what he learned from Carson Beck when it comes to handling adversity … 

“He didn’t rally the offense to come back. I mean we had a 13- and-11-play drive in the first half that he came out to be three points. You know what I mean? So that’s hard to do. If you look at it, like that’s really hard. You can’t have a 14-play drive and 11-play drive and get three points usually. You usually have turnovers. Right? And we didn’t have that in those situations. So it wasn’t a matter of — that could happen, and you’re going to get stopped at times. You’re going to struggle at times, but we struggled less in the first half than we did against other opponents. So I thought he did a good job keeping his composure, though, and showed his resiliency.”

On game planning for complementary football …

“I would say the first game when I made that comment, it was more about Carson’s first start and trying to protect him some. But the offense that we’ve played this year is the exact same offense as we’ve played for the last three years. Look at the plays. Anybody that knows football would tell you that the plays are the same. Our execution in the red area hadn’t been great, and hadn’t scored as many points. We haven’t been as explosive and as dynamic, and some of that has to do with players being out, some of that has to do with executing, but very comfortable with where we are offensively.”

On the decision to pressure on third and long … 

“Well, pressure is a good thing, and we think that pressuring quarterbacks affect them. It, number one, doesn’t give them all day to throw the ball. Number two, it’s success against how the offense you’re playing handles that. So what is their success rate when you pressure. And that’s something you look at each game. You don’t do anything 100 percent of the time. Right? You do something and you pitch. You throw fastball, curveball, changeup. Boom, you better have three pitches. That just came in the process of pitching, and last time I checked the pressure didn’t cause a touchdown. You know what I mean? The three missed tackles and the poor angles probably resulted in the touchdown. So usually when somebody does something well, you probably didn’t do something well. They did. They executed well. They hit a good play. But they didn’t score because of the pressure. They scored because we missed two tackles.”

On first half improvements … 

“Well, I thought really our first half issues revolved around our defense first possession would be the biggest thing. I think you gotta start fast. I think historically, defensively, somebody can do the study, but we usually start pretty fast on defense. The Georgia Tech game I know that was the first possession of a game that we gave up a touchdown, last year. And that happened third game this year on a team that had — did a good job, came in, got on rhythm. And there’s still things we did, like are we talking about this if we tackle him on 3rd and 15? I don’t know.

“I’m really thinking about UAB, so I’m trying to keep you guys happy and appease you, but I’m very pleased with where things are. I’m not panicking in any kind of way, because South Carolina has a good team, and we’re figuring out who we are. We’re figuring out who we are with our identity, and I think our coaching staff and players and complete organization are doing a great job. You guys just aren’t happy with the results. But I’m very happy with the way our guys fought back and came back and overcame.”

On playing Xavier Truss and the offensive line health…

“I don’t know that. I mean it’s going to depend on the health of some of the other O linemen, where is Blaske’s health, where do we get the best five from. So a lot of that will play itself out over the next three or four days. But I do think Truss gives us that flexibility, and he did a nice job on the run the other day to be able to go do that.”

On Beck throwing deep…

“I don’t really understand what you’re asking, to be honest. You want more shots down field? There’s shots on a lot of plays that the look is not there. If it’s middle field closed, you don’t just take a shot. The quarterback has a read. If they’re in quarters and the safety is deep, you don’t just take a shot. Right. But what he’s really good at is one of the best I’ve been around at seeing the coverage, knowing what it is and then knowing where to go with the ball. We did have a little more pressure the other day than we’re used to, and he did a nice job adjusting to that. They got hurt pressuring the play to Rara later in the game was pressure, and he hit the right guy on the right look. I don’t know if that answers your question or not, because I don’t know perception, and I really don’t know your reality or anybody’s reality, because I don’t judge other people’s perception. I only look at what happens in a game and what happens in practice, and I feel very good that Carson is doing a good job.”

On preparing for late-season games…

“I haven’t even thought about Tennessee and Ole Miss, and I haven’t thought about traveling. It hasn’t even crossed my mind. So I’ll respect the question as best I can, that I’m worried about UAB and figuring out how we can be more resourceful with the players we got that are healthy.”

On what he learned from the South Carolina game…

“I learned more than I did the other two games, I can assure you of that, because the quality of opponent went up, and we responded to some adverse situations. You learn more about the truth, too. The truth is what you’ve done is who you are, and that’s right now who we are is a 3 and 0 team that has played three imperfect games, and I’m still looking for the first perfect one.”

On dealing with a kicker’s performance and the mental aspect of the game …

“Yeah, you definitely talk to him. You try to find out the whys and how they’re feeling, what’s going on emotionally, especially when it’s a freshmen. And you try to talk to him, and we’ve got guys on our team that he’s close to. We’ve got guys that work with the kickers within our organization that do a good job, and you just try to get information, and you try to help them every way you can. The first thing that’ll help him is scoring touchdowns, because extra points are easier than field goals.”

On Trent Dilfer’s offense…

“Really impressed. I mean his offensive coordinator, Alex Mortensen, was at Alabama forever, Chris Mortensen’s son. He was at Alabama and behind all the offenses, worked with Bill O’Brien, worked with Sark, was there when I was there. I have a lot of respect for Alex. He waited his turn, and he got an opportunity to go be the coordinator there. So I see a lot of flavor in his offense of a lot of the offenses that have been there at Alabama, and I’m sure Trent imparts his knowledge on that as well.”

On injuries to Roderick Robinson and Kendall Milton…

“Yeah. Roderick has a high ankle sprain. We’ll find out how he is today. Kendall had an MCL that he’s had before. He had one last year, but I don’t know how significant it is, and find out where he is today as well.”

On any prior interactions with Trent Dilfer…

“No. I’ve only had conversations with Trent about quarterbacks that he trained during the recruiting process. You know, you might call and say, hey, what do you think of this kid, what do you think of this kid; how was he out there at this camp, that kind of thing. But I’ve never — I’ve talked to him on the phone, but I’ve never had a personal relationship with him.”

On Javon Bullard, Ladd McConkey, and Pearce Spurlin …

“Javon is day to day. Like I said after the game, I thought he might be close. Maybe closer this week. I think with the recovery he would be closer to being able to go, but I don’t know. McConkey is more than likely out this week. We’re resting him, trying to get him back, and we don’t have a timeline on him because it’s a very unique injury. So it’s, you know, like everything else you say, well, what was the last high ankle sprain, what was the last MCL, what was the last shoulder. But it’s different. So we don’t have something to measure that by. And then the other one you asked about was Pearce. Don’t know when we’ll get Pearce back.”

On if increased parity is due to transfer rules…

“No clue. I mean that’s good speculation. I could see that. I try not to theorize those things. I don’t know. I really just try to look at our team and say where are we relative to where we need to be. I can’t even keep up with all the other games out there and how much, you know, parity there may be or may not be. It’s still not what the NFL is. I mean the NFL is built to have parity, and maybe that’s good for the college game that there is more parity, if in fact there is. But I don’t have an explanation for why it is. I really don’t.”

On Rara Thomas’ performance…

“He had his best practices last week. Thought he did a really good job in the practices leading up to the game. He is getting more and more confidence. Again, he was like a true freshman in terms of vocabulary of the offense, and that has gotten better. With every week he’s getting so much more confident with every week, and thank goodness he is, because we need him. We need him to keep coming and need him to keep coming along.”

On the quarterback transition…

“I think retention is important. I want to clarify, I’m very — Carson has done a good job. Again, I don’t know what you guys write, read or hear, because you listen to a lot more of it than I do. I don’t know. Like I go by his week of practice, his preparation, and his execution. And I’m very pleased with that. I mean he makes good decisions with the ball. Well, that happened the last two years when nobody was asking about him. Like nobody was asking about Carson Beck. Nobody asked about Carson Beck for two years, but he was out there doing the same thing he’s doing now. He was getting better, And that allowed for a smooth transition. Like the fact that he was hearing the exact same plays, exact same calls — and everybody thinks it’s some kind of different offense. It’s the exact same. It’s not different. The results have not been the same. That’s a statistical proof. But he’s transitioned well because of the fact he’s in the offense that he’s been in. And his strengths are different than Stetson’s. I mean the one thing he’s really good at, he was a great baseball player. This guy catches the ball and gets it out of his hand and is very accurate. That’s baseball. That’s boom, boom, boom. He can do that. You know, he does that well, and been very pleased with what he’s done, and we gotta get better results, that’s for sure. But I’m certainly pleased with what both of them have done.”

On the injuries’ impact on 12 personnel…

“We did it all last week. We went 12 in the game. And we’ll always carry 12 personnel.”

On Dominic Lovett’s impact…

“Most of his receptions so far have been run game receptions. And then some really critical third downs, he’s made plays in the slot. So I’ve seen his confidence grow. He was probably further along than Rara in terms of learning the offense, understanding the offense, and he came from an offense that was somewhat similar, so he’s had an easier transition as far as picking things up. But he’s been a great kid in practice. He’s full of energy. He competes. We’ve tried to implement, tell him, hey, look, man, you gotta go strike people and block people to be an elite player. And he’s trying his best to get better at that. But he’s done well at the supplementary run plays, the perimeter run plays.”

#6 Dominic Lovett | WR | Jr.

On how the receivers played this weekend…

“I felt that we played together and every ball that came our way, we made it count. We were moving the ball efficiently as an offense and as a unit, we did what we were supposed to do.”

On how much of the offensive focus is on finishing the drives in the end zone…

“For us, points are points, but we would like to finish with touchdowns. We don’t really think of it like that, we try and take it one play at a time. When we get down there, whether we get a touchdown or a field goal, we’re happy and we know our defense is going to stop our opponent. That’s how we really look at it.”

On the mood in the locker room during halftime of the South Carolina game…

“The coaching staff really just told us to take it one play at at time, one drive at a time, one moment at a time. They said not to play to the scoreboard but to go out there, to leave it all out there for your brothers and good things would happen.”

#24 Malaki Starks | DB | So.

On improving the red zone defense…

“The biggest part is just communication form the whole defense, everyone being on the same page. We’re moving as one-unit instead of a bunch of individuals. I think if we can get on the same page and just communicate better that will have a big part in it.

On what changed in the second half of the South Carolina game…

“I’d say it goes back to all being on the same page. When we went to halftime, Coach Smart told us, ‘Take it one moment at a time.’ They have a very good offense, they have very good players, so we knew eventually they were going to hit a play. It’s just how we responded to them hitting the play. At halftime we all came in, settled down, got on the same page, and just realized who we are. We all just stuck together and that’s where connection comes in, being able to lean on each other and have confidence in each other.”

On WR Rara Thomas…

“He’s one of our elite wide receivers. What he does is amazing. He’s very competitive, he can go up and get the ball. Just to see him get better week by week, day by day, and him being able to showcase his talents is just awesome to see. I see him put in the work every day throughout the week.”

#21 Smael Mondon, Jr. | LB | Jr.

On what the defense needs to do to improve in the red zone…

“Really just key in on our jobs. Everybody doing their job and playing their part. Sometimes during the game we would have a hole here and there so we would just try to bring that together and fix those mistakes.”

On the journey back from his injury…

“It was hard. It was really hard from a mental standpoint because it caught me off guard. I came back quicker than I thought I would but I’m feeling better. It feels better and better every week so just trying to keep improving.”

On starting alongside Jamon Dumas-Johnson…

“It’s been really fun. Since our freshman year, we’ve talked about it. It’s kind of crazy to see it come into light, the things we talked about and dreamed about. It’s been fun.”

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