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Late Rally Sinks Georgia in SEC Championship

ATLANTA – Three unanswered touchdowns from No. 1 Alabama lifted the Crimson Tide past No. 4 Georgia Bulldogs in a 35-28 finish Saturday in the 2018 SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

 

The SEC East Champion Bulldogs (11-2, 7-2) scored the first points in the second half with a touchdown to go up 28-14, but the SEC West Champion Crimson Tide (13-0, 9-0) strung together the rest of the scoring to win their 27th SEC Title in school history. For the second straight season, the result came down to the last play, but this time Georgia’s pass went incomplete out of the end zone.

 

“It was a tremendous atmosphere, the SEC Championship Game once again is one of the best games of the year,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “A lot of credit goes to Alabama, they outperformed us in the second half. The game had a lot of momentum swings – up and down, back and forth, which we knew it would. We have a lot of champions on this team and a lot of kids that have a heart of a lion like these two [Jonathan Ledbetter and Jake Fromm at the podium] right here, especially. They lead this team and care about this university and play really hard.”

 

Statistically, the numbers matched up across the board with Georgia compiling 454 total yards and Alabama right there with 403 total yards. Through the air, sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm went 25-of-39 for 301 yards and three touchdowns. The running back tandem of D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield teamed up for 75 and 60 yards, respectively, on the ground. Swift had two total touchdowns, one running and one receiving.

 

On the receiving end, Swift had a team-high six catches for 63 yards, however junior tight end Isaac Nauta led in yards with 81 on four catches including a career-long 55-yard catch. Nauta notched the game’s first score, while Riley Ridley was the other Bulldog to find the end zone in the game. Ridley finished with four catches for 48 yards and the lone second half score on a 23-yard catch.

 

Defensively, Georgia forced four three-and-outs on the day, which was led by juniors, safety J.R. Reed and inside linebacker Tae Crowder, with eight tackles apiece. Senior outside linebacker D’Andre Walker played disruptively with five tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a batted ball and two tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Georgia’s two takeaways came from interceptions from Reed and fellow safety Richard LeCounte.

 

“These kids battled tooth-and-nail with what is one of the best teams in the country,” Smart added. “We didn’t do enough to win the game, we didn’t finish it, but give Alabama the credit. They made the plays when they had to, but this is a special group.”

 

At the half, Georgia led 21-14, scoring on three of its six possessions, while also outpacing Alabama in total yards (227-146) and time of possession (20:52-9:08). Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm went 14-of-18 including 10 straight completions that tied a SECCG record for 139 passing yards for two touchdowns. Meanwhile sophomore D’Andre Swift directed the ground attack, totaling 66 yards on 13 attempts with a touchdown. Six Bulldogs recorded two catches in the first half.

 

The Crimson Tide threatened in their first drive of the game, reaching the Georgia six-yard line, but an 11-yard sack by Walker followed by LeCounte’s first-career interception kept the scoreboard clean.

 

Three possessions later, Fromm connected with Nauta in-between the seams for a 20-yard score. On the seven-play, 60-yard drive, Fromm went 4-for-5 to all different receivers.

 

After Alabama knotted the score at 7-all, Georgia orchestrated a 13-play, 74-yard scoring drive that elapsed 7:19 off the clock. This time Fromm went a perfect 6-for-6 including two third-down completions.  Swift capped the drive with a 9-yard run off the right guard to make it a 14-7 Georgia lead.

 

Next, Georgia’s defense forced a three-and-out, giving the ball back to the offense and to Swift who proceeded to rack up 44 yards in a 51-yards touchdown drive. The Philadelphia native ended the drive with an 11-yard touchdown catch. On the drive, Swift became the 14th Bulldog all-time to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark.

 

Coming out of the break, the Bulldogs’ defense forced Alabama’s third three-and-out and Fromm made it count by dropping a 23-yard touchdown pass into Riley Ridley’s hands for the 28-14 lead.

 

Later in the third quarter, Crimson Tide narrowed the gap to 28-21 on a 51-yard touchdown catch from receiver Jaylen Waddle. And then with 5:19 left in regulation, Alabama constructed a 16-play game-tying drive with a 10-yard pass from Jalen Hurts to Jerry Jeudy as the equalizer.

 

The last and game-winning scoring drive occurred in the waning minutes when Hurts scrambled for 15-yards to give the Crimson Tide the 35-28 edge. Hurts went 7-of-9 passing for 82 yards after Tua Tagovailova left the game due to an injury. The SECCG MVP went to Crimson Tide running back Josh Jacobs who had 83 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

 

The College Football Playoff Selection Show Presented by AT&T airs Sunday at noon ET and will reveal the College Football Playoff selection committee’s four playoff teams at 12:30 p.m. The four-hour special will then reveal the CFP selection committee’s complete top 25 at 2 p.m., followed by the remaining New Year’s Six matchups at 3 p.m.

Georgia’s Jake Fromm Named Manning Award Finalist

ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm has been named one of 11 finalists for the 2018 Manning Award, which is given to the nation’s top quarterback and the only award that takes candidates’ bowl performances into consideration.

 

Fromm, a native of Warner Robins, Ga., joins two other signal callers from the Southeastern Conference as finalists and is one of three sophomores on the list.  The winner will be announced after the bowls in January and will be honored at a ceremony in New Orleans.

 

Fromm was named one of the Manning Award’s Stars of the Week following the Bulldogs’ 36-17 rout of No. 9 Florida on Oct. 27 in Jacksonville, Fla.  He was 17-of-24 for 240 yards and three touchdowns as Georgia was on its way to sweeping the SEC East for the second year in a row.

 

Overall, Fromm has started all 12 games for the No. 4 Bulldogs and is 161-for-233 for 2,236 yards with 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions.  He is ranked third nationally on the active list for Passing Efficiency at 165.94 and is second in the SEC and eighth nationally in Completion Percentage at 69.1, which is on pace to pass Hutson Mason’s school record mark of 67.9 in 2014.

 

Fromm is coming off a career-high four touchdowns on 13-for-16 passing for 175 yards during Georgia’s 45-21 dismantling of Georgia Tech on Nov. 24.

 

The Bulldogs (11-1, 7-1 SEC) face No. 1 Alabama (12-0, 8-0 SEC) at the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta on Saturday at 4 p.m.  CBS will televise the matchup between the defending league champions and the defending national champions.

Bulldogs Getting Set for Alabama

ATHENS, Ga. – Fourth-ranked Georgia held a two-hour workout Wednesday in preparation for its upcoming battle with top-ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

 

The Bulldogs (11-1) and Crimson Tide (12-0) will meet Saturday for the 69th time overall but just the second time in an SEC Championship Game in Atlanta. In 2012, then No. 2 Alabama edged No. 3 Georgia 32-28 as the game ended with the Bulldogs at the Alabama five-yard line. The teams last met to decide the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship in Atlanta, and that game went to overtime as the Crimson Tide won 26-23.

 

The Bulldogs are seeking to become back-to-back SEC Champions for the first time since a three-year stretch from 1980-82. Last year, the Bulldogs defeated No. 2 Auburn 28-7 for the SEC title. Georgia enters Saturday’s game averaging 40.1 points a game while Alabama checks in at 49.0 points a game, which ranks second nationally. The Bulldogs scoring defense ranks 10th nationally, allowing just 17.2 points a game while Alabama is third nationally, surrendering only 13.8 points a game.

 

Also, on Wednesday, it was announced that Georgia junior place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship has been named to the 2018 Southeastern Conference Community Service Team for football. The SEC names a Community Service Team for each of its 21-league sponsored sports, looking to highlight an athlete from each school who gives back to his community through superior service efforts. Blankenship, a native of Marietta, Ga., was the only player from the conference named to this year’s Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for his dedication to the community and performances on the field and in the classroom.

 

After practice, junior tight ends Isaac Nauta and Charlie Woerner met with the media to discuss the week’s preparations.

 

#18 junior tight end Isaac Nauta

On having another crack at Alabama…

“Even bigger than the opponent, having another crack at an SEC Championship is no small feat. It’s such a good conference and it’s so tough to get to this point, it feels good to have another chance to defend the championship. It means a lot and to have Charlie be a part of it, playing against this opponent, I know he’s excited about that. … This is a big moment for him, for the team, the university as a whole, so we’re excited to go out there and play in this game.”

 

On familiarity with Alabama through being recruited…

“I know a ton of people over there, usually as I do at every program we play. It’s a part of recruiting; you get to know people. I’ve got friends that go there. … I have a lot of respect for them and what they’ve done. They’re a great team and I’m excited for the challenge. We’re going to go out there to do our thing.”

 

On the dynamic of being a two-touchdown underdog after a season of being the favorite…

“To be honest, I didn’t even know that. I don’t look at it like that at all. Every week they put up numbers and you see them either not come to fruition or be right on the dot. I haven’t looked at [the odds] at all, I didn’t even know that. I’m just trying to prepare the best to be able to come out and beat these guys. That’s how we’re approaching it.”

 

#89 junior tight end Charlie Woerner

On the hype going away during the game…

“[The hype] goes away at the first kickoff. That’s how we’ve practiced all week, was to be sound and execute during the game. We practice with crowd noise to get used to it. Really, right when the game starts, it’s like, ‘alright, let’s lock in, let’s go execute the plays we worked on all week.’”

 

On having a helpless feeling being sidelined during the 2018 National Championship game…

“Oh yea, I hated seeing everything happen out there and knowing I couldn’t help, especially watching us lose on the very last play. The helpless feeling was horrible. I was like, gosh I can’t do anything to help the team out except for cheer along the sideline. It’s not the same when you’re a competitor and want to be out there.”

 

On Jake Fromm’s progression into his sophomore season…

“I think he’s gotten a lot more mature. He came in very mature, but still is a lot more mature. He knows everything in the playbook, he handles himself better in situations. He’s just become a better quarterback overall to be honest.”

 

Kickoff at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday is slated for 4:10 p.m. and be televised by CBS Sports and available on the Georgia Bulldog Sports Network. Additionally, Westwood One Sports and the SEC Radio Network will be broadcasting the game.

Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship Named To SEC Community Service Team  

Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship (98) during the Bulldogs' session on the Woodruff Practice Fields in Athens, Ga., on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. (Photo by Steven Colquitt)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Georgia junior place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship has been included on the 2018 Southeastern Conference Community Service Team for football as he and his teammates ready for the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta on Saturday.

 

The SEC names a Community Service Team for each of its 21-league sponsored sports, looking to highlight an athlete from each school who gives back to his community through superior service efforts.

 

Blankenship, a native of Marietta, Ga., was the only player from the conference named to this year’s Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for his dedication to the community and performances on the field and in the classroom.  He is a member of the UGA Athletic Association’s Leadership Academy (L.E.A.D.) and has been a visitor at Camp Sunshine, which is a camp that provides support programs for children with cancer and their families.

 

Blankenship has also volunteered for the “Empty Bowl” luncheon, which is a luncheon sponsored by the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia, and with the Extra Special People (ESP) group, which is an organization assisting individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.  In addition to a number of other community service projects, Blankenship has been a spokesperson for “No More,” which is a public service announcement by UGA’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) against domestic violence and sexual assault.

 

The No. 4 Bulldogs (11-1, 7-1 SEC) take on No. 1 Alabama (12-0, 8-0 SEC) in the league’s title game on Saturday at 4 p.m.  CBS will televise the matchup of the defending SEC champions and the defending national champions in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Georgia Returns to SEC Title Game in Atlanta

ATHENS, Ga. – The William Porter Payne and Porter Otis Payne Indoor Athletic Facility featured the two-hour practice of a University of Georgia football team bound for Saturday’s 2018 Southeastern Conference Championship.

 

The Bulldogs’ trip to Atlanta marks back-to-back years Georgia has reserved the date at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the SEC title. Last year, Georgia held Auburn to one touchdown in its 28-7 win.

 

The victorious Bulldog team followed its conference title with a Rose Bowl Game win in Pasadena, California on New Year’s Day, before facing Alabama on January 8 for the CFP National Championship in the same Atlanta stadium.

 

Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart

On special teams as a potential weakness for Alabama…

“I’ve been around Nick (Saban) long enough to know he does a good job on special teams. I don’t look at it as a weakness because your kickoff returner and your punt returner are two of the best in the whole country. Have they struggled some with some kicks? Yeah, sure. But that hasn’t been something new for them; they’ve dealt with that before. They’ve overcome it with a really strong special teams. They have the best kickoff coverage I think I’ve ever seen. They’re flying down the field, knocking people’s heads off. The kickoff return and punt return are elite. Their starters are all good players on those. I don’t look at it as their special teams is down, I think people mention that because of their punter and possibly because of their kicker.”

 

On recruiting before the SEC Championship…

“You can go recruit, we may at night send somebody somewhere if it’s local or we’re able to go see somebody, but certainly our sweat’s being put in the bucket towards Alabama. It’s not that we don’t care about recruiting; we’re still communicating with our recruits, but we can’t really focus on that right now. I think those kids respect that. A lot of them are focused on their playoffs or their state championships. In regards to when that ends, it’s ready, set, go. We’re going out to pull for them. We’ll go out as soon as they can.”

 

On the relevance of the Georgia program…

“I’ll be honest with you, becoming relevant and significant is every game. When you play on national TV, you play in the SEC, you have a chance to be relevant and significant every week. Certainly this is a wall game. It’s for the number that goes up on these walls in here. Put numbers up in here, especially on that side of the room [for the national championships.] It’s special. That’s what you’re playing for; you’re playing for a championship.”

 

On Smart’s assessment of Alabama…

“They’re good. They’re really good. They’ve got a good team. They’re explosive. I don’t see the weaknesses. Everyone talks about the kicking game, but they’re explosive. They’re really talented. They’re doing a good job, and they’re playing at a  high level. You can say they’ve been tested, but the thing is when they get on top of you, they know how to finish. They attack; they are constantly attacking. The pressure’s never off. I had several coaches after the games they played us this year say ‘Man, y’all put pressure on people in every area. There’s no phase in offense, defense, kicking; it’s like there’s always pressure.’ That’s Alabama. Really, really good putting pressure whether it’s offense, defense or special teams.”

 

On Alabama sophomore QB Tua Tagovailoa…

“I don’t think it’s only athletic; he resorts to that if things don’t go right, but he can sit in the pocket and make every throw. He’s very confident, and he’s got a presence about him in the pocket. He doesn’t fear rush; if he’s got guys bearing down on him, he sidesteps and gets the ball out, and that’s what makes him very special. He’s a really good dude.

 

On Smart’s game day approach…

“I can’t remember much about being a player. I was excited, I guess nervous; I don’t know, I’m nervous about everything. I’m competitive, want to do well. Work hard at it. Certainly once you prepare, there’s only so much you can do. I get the most comfortable the closer the game gets, because I realize there’s not a lot you can do, but I’m more intense leading up to, because I want to get all the hay in the barn. When the hay’s in the barn, there’s not a lot I can do. Let the players go play. Show confidence in the players.”

 

On making adjustments throughout the game…

“The first series may be jitters and guys still trying to get over it. You’ve got to stick with your plan and feel comfortable with your plan. If your plan’s not working, you’ve got to go to Plan B or Plan C…I think you adjust throughout the game. I think you get different answers. We try to always have different looks. The defense, we’ll try to save something till the second half. As an offense, we always try to have a script coming out the second half. I think offensively more than anything we’ve had some really good opening second-half drives. I think a lot of that’s preparation and coaching. We try to do a really good job of that.”

 

On having two Georgia running backs on the brink of 1,000-yard years in back-to-back seasons…

“Oh yeah. I knew we had a good offensive line coming back. I didn’t know we would use so many of them in different games and shuffle them. I knew we were talented on offensive line and had good backs. So whether I thought we would have two 1,000-rushers, we’re not there yet. We’ll try to get there. We probably could have, but some of those games they were taken out…I don’t know if they see it as a competition, I really don’t. Those two guys are such team players; there’s no ego in either one of them. I think more worried about the team than see each one of them do well.”

 

Senior ILB #44 Juwan Taylor

On already facing Alabama sophomore QB Tua Tagovailoa in the CFP National Championship Game…

“Of course it does. We already know he’s a good athlete and can move in the pocket and can make plays. We just have to keep him contained.”

 

On the Alabama offense in January compared to this year’s team…

“There are similarities with the running game they’ve got. The different thing is they’ve got more explosive players in the backfield and at the receiving corps.”

 

Junior ILB #30 Tae Crowder

On Georgia’s consistent confidence level…

“It’s just all about how we prepare. We’re going into the game and going into the practices just like every other team.”

 

On what makes the Alabama offense so different…

“I don’t know. They’ve got a pretty good offense, but so do we.”

How the Bulldogs in the NFL fared in Week 12

Browns 35, Bengals 20:

Nick Chubb: Chubb had 28 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown and he caught three passes for 44 yards and another touchdown for Cleveland, which snapped a 25-game road losing streak dating back to 2015 and a run of seven straight setbacks against Cincinnati. Chubb is tied for second among rookies and tied for eighth in the NFL with six rushing touchdowns, is second among rookies and tied for 13th overall with eight total touchdowns, stands third among rookies and 15th overall with 663 rushing yards, and is tied for third among rookies with 48 points.

Orson Charles: Charles had one tackle and a fair catch on a kickoff for the Browns.

Geno Atkins: Atkins posted one tackle for Cincinnati. Atkins is tied for 20th in the NFL with seven sacks.

Shawn Williams: Williams registered seven tackles, including one for loss, for the Bengals. Williams is tied for fourth in the NFL with four interceptions.

Clint Boling: Boling started at left guard and helped the Bengals gain 372 total yards.

A.J. Green: Green was inactive for the Bengals with a foot injury.

Cordy Glenn: Glenn was inactive for Cincinnati with a back injury.

 

Patriots 27, Jets 13:

Sony Michel: Michel had 21 carries for 133 yards and a touchdown and he caught two passes for 12 yards for the Patriots. Michel is tied for fourth among rookies and 15th overall with five rushing touchdowns, fifth among rookies with 586 rushing yards and five total touchdowns, and tied for eighth among rookies with 30 points.

David Andrews: Andrews started at center for New England, which rolled up 498 total yards.

Jordan Jenkins: Jenkins had three tackles and a quarterback hit for the Jets.

 

Bears 23, Lions 16:

Roquan Smith: Smith led the Bears with 11 tackles, including a sack. Smith is tied for third among rookies with four sacks, and he is fifth among rookies and 19th overall with 81 tackles.

Leonard Floyd: Floyd posted two tackles for Chicago.

Javon Wims: Wims was inactive for the Bears.

Matthew Stafford: Stafford went 28-of-38 for 236 yards for the Lions. Stafford is 12th in the NFL with 2,841 passing yards and is tied for 16th with 17 passing touchdowns.

 

Saints 31, Falcons 17:

Benjamin Watson: Watson hauled in a 20-yard pass for New Orleans.

 

Eagles 25, Giants 22:

Alec Ogletree: Ogletree had four tackles, including a sack, and a pass defended for the Giants.

Lorenzo Carter: Carter notched two tackles for New York. Carter is 14th among rookies with two sacks.

John Jenkins: Jenkins was a healthy scratch for the Giants.

 

Bills 24, Jaguars 21:

Isaiah McKenzie: McKenzie had two rushes for eight yards and his first NFL touchdown, two catches for 11 yards, three punt returns for 13 yards and two kickoff returns for 43 yards for Buffalo.

Abry Jones: Jones had four tackles for Jacksonville.

 

Seahawks 30, Panthers 27:

Thomas Davis: Davis had seven tackles and defended one pass for Carolina.

 

Colts 27, Dolphins 24:

Corey Moore: Moore had one tackle for the Colts.

Reshad Jones: Jones recorded eight tackles and defended one pass for Miami.

 

Texans 34, Titans 17:

Ben Jones: Jones started at center for the Titans, who rolled up 365 total yards.

 

Bye Week:

Chris Conley (Chiefs)

Todd Gurley (Rams): Gurley is first in the NFL with 13 rushing and 17 total touchdowns and is second with 1,043 rushing yards and 108 points.

Justin Houston (Chiefs)

Ramik Wilson (Rams)

 

Practice Squads:

John Atkins (Lions)

Davin Bellamy (Texans)

Reggie Davis (Cowboys)

Garrison Smith (Dolphins)

Maurice Smith (Dolphins)

 

Injured Reserve:

Tyler Catalina (Redskins)

Isaiah Wynn (Patriots)

Kirby Smart, Bulldogs Preview SEC Championship Game

ATHENS, Ga. — University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, previewed Saturday’s game against Alabama. They offered the following comments during Monday’s media session.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening comments … 

“As we open up, we’re excited for the opportunity to play in the SEC Championship game. I think it’s a credit to the seniors on this team to be able to go to this game two years back to back, which sometimes can be difficult to do. And it’s an honor to be in it, playing one of the hottest teams in the country, one of the best teams in the country. And we know a lot about them. They know a lot about us. We had a short week last year to prepare for them, so it was kind of a short window, especially when you compare it to what we had to prepare for the first game, the Oklahoma game.

But they’ve got a great team. I don’t think anybody would argue that. They’ve got very few deficiencies in any area, talented quarterback, explosive offense, and first thing you notice when they turn the tape on is how fast and how much they score. And they play some good teams in our conference and they still score a lot of points.

Defensively they’ve gotten better throughout the year, got a really good football team, and we’ll be focused on our team this week and we’ll be working really hard to be at our best, and our best will be needed. We’ll have to play well on special teams, defense and offense and that’ll be our goal.”

On Alabama’s yards per catch compared to some of the earlier Florida teams he faced when he was a player … 

“I think it’s hard to say. Those teams at Florida were a long time ago and they had really good wideouts, elite wideouts and they had good quarterbacks, but their quarterbacks were mostly stable, sitting-in-the-pocket guys. And if you remember, they were come after by a Florida State team that was really aggressive and came after them. The young man we’re playing now can run, can throw, can make the throws, can make the checks. They’ve got really good backs. You don’t think about backs that played at Florida back then. These guys have the complete package. When you look across the board on the offensive unit, there’s not like a glaring weakness there. People say they can’t run the ball. They can run the ball. They’ve got physical O linemen. They’ve got the ability to. They just choose to score faster other ways.”

On doing a better job of kickoff coverage … 

“We have to do a better job. At the end of the day we’ve got a coverage unit —  that it’s our responsibility as coaches —that’s probably falling asleep because of a guy that kicks at a high rate of touchbacks. I mean Rod’s in the 80s or something in touchbacks, or at least he was for a while. And we tried to even cover some against UMass intentionally to get some coverages, and we haven’t done with our coverages. Our hang times by Rod have been tremendous. He’s done a great job of placement of the ball. Just gotta do a better job covering it, and if we can kick it out, kick it out. That’s the key.”

On how much it helps QB Jake Fromm having played Alabama last year … 

“I don’t think it hurts anything. But this year is a different year. The fact that he’s played 11 games, 12 games; I don’t even know how many games he’s played. That has more to do than who we played. The fact he’s played and gotten experience. He’s gone against our defense all spring. He’s gone against our defense all fall, and he goes in all these games and plays. That’s more valuable than just playing Alabama. But the fact that he played against them last year, sometimes that helps. It also helps he had literally two first-round backs that were out there with him as well. And I know one was taken in the second, but he’s a first-round talent. So when you sit there and look at it, you go he had a lot of help. He’ll have a lot of help this year. We’ll have to play well offensively.”

On comparing last year’s National Championship prep to this year’s SEC Championship … 

“That post-season schedule is so different because there was a long layoff. There was a get all your team better, prepare your team. You’re really preparing for three teams, the ones you play and the two you might play. It’s a playoff scenario. So that preparation is very different than this. This would be more similar to just finished a game, we gotta go play an SEC Championship, which is more similar to when we played Auburn last year as far as the schedule goes. Team’s completely different. But we’ll do it like a normal game week. You can’t say this game is, oh, we gotta do something different this game. We gotta go out and be who we are. We gotta go play better and we’ve gotta go continue to improve. We got a bunch of young guys that gotta go compete and play in a big-stage environment.”

On if coaching alongside Coach Nick Saban has helped him understand what he is thinking more than other coaches … 

“You know, I don’t know. I mean I think that there’s going to be similar thinking, so I mean if you argue that there is a benefit from knowing what he’s thinking or what he’s thinking about in a certain situation, then he could say the same, because I certainly was with him long enough to know that in certain situations I have a lot of the same beliefs and thoughts. So I don’t think anybody strategically gained something because you work together for 10 years or you work together for 12 years at different places. I mean football is football. You have to make a decision, you know, what is your strategy on 3rd and 1, what is your strategy on 4th and 4. I don’t think anybody is so predictable that you know that 100 percent. So I don’t think you gain a whole lot from it.”

On if beating his mentor would be special … 

“I really don’t look at it that way at all. It’s not personal for me. I don’t look at it as that at all. It would be gratifying to our players. It would be the next step towards going to the playoffs. And those are the objectives that we want. It’s not — it’s not about me. It’s not about him. It’s not about the fact that we worked together. It’s never about that to me because I don’t see it that way. I see a really good football team on the other side that our guys have earned the right to go play against. And that’s really all it is for me.”

On lessons learned in pass coverage following last year’s National Championship … 

“That lesson was learned the day we installed that defense. I mean when you play cover two and you play halves, you got a guy over the top of another guy and you got a guy in the flat and the guy in the flat should jam and reroute and the guy in the half should be in the half. There’s nothing about that game that you learned because that game came down to more than just that. I mean that’s just what people remember the most. So when we teach that coverage, we teach it the same way we taught it before. We just hope that we do a better job of executing it.”

On the carryover from facing Tua Tagovailoa in the second half of the National Championship last year and the differences in his play from then to now…
“He’s improved tremendously. I mean he was really good in that half, but you have to remember, they had two really young linemen in the game. They had a lot of receivers that were playing at that point that were really young that have grown up. Their receiving corps is extremely talented, and they all seemed young then. So now they’re all very experienced, very talented, and he has them at his disposal to make good decisions and put the ball in the right people’s hands, and his decision-making and touch and accuracy is really just off the charts.
And I mean it was in our game last year, too, but now it’s a more experienced version of it. I don’t know that playing against him last year helps any this year. I think it doesn’t have anything to do with it. I think it has to do with both teams this year, because our team is certainly extremely different, especially defensively.”

On Elijah Holyfield’s ability to get to the pylon and how he has exceeded expectations…
“I’ve been very pleased with Elijah (Holyfield). Number one, his leadership more so than his ability to get to the pylons has been tremendous. His work ethic day in and day out. His toughness and his attitude is tremendous. I think both those backs would tell you they benefit from a physical offensive line and a group of receivers that are a threat to catch the ball. So those things help open boxes. When people don’t want to play you one on one, which Alabama will, they open up things for the other guys. And that’s important. But Elijah has been tremendous, and he has a good knack for getting the ball in the end zone. He’s a slasher. He’s not afraid of contact.”

On the injury update of Ben Cleveland and Trey Hill…
“Trey (Hill) is good to go. He was out and about yesterday moving around, so I expect Trey to be fine. Really all those guys. Ben’s (Cleveland) in the same boat he’s been in. You ask about Ben every week. Ben’s fighting to get back. We think Ben’s not 100 percent, but he’s closer to 100 percent than he was yesterday. So we keep trying to get him back and doing all we can to get him back. And then really nothing changed on Cade (Mays) and Monty (Rice) from last night. I don’t know anything else. That’s been less than 24 hours ago.”

On how Georgia’s receivers stack up against Alabama’s…

“I think it’s a tough comparison. I don’t like doing comparisons. I have a lot of respect for Alabama’s wide-outs. I think they’re tremendous. I think they’re probably the best unit we’ve faced. They’re talented, man. They get vertical. They run routes. They stick their feet in the ground and they have a good guy throwing it to them. But so do we. We’ve got a good wide receiver corps; we got a deep wide receiver corps across the board. A lot of guys have stepped up, and Jake allows those guys to make plays. So comparing them, I think it’s hard to say because I’m certainly proud of the way our guys play on special teams and play physical. But their guys are very talented, too.

On what Smart likes about sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm and the receiving corps…

“Timing, balance. They’ve done a good job with the RPO game, done a good job with the vertical passing game. They’ve done a good job connecting, whether it’s press man routes, off man routes. They’re getting better. They throw and catch a lot together. I think Jake has a trust with that group, and they trust him that the ball is going to be there on time. And let’s give them some credit. They run good routes and get open and catch the ball. But none of this happens without protection. And that’s one of the keys to this game is, number one, keeping the quarterback upright because of the number of sacks and disruption they have, but our guys protecting the quarterback well and being able to have balance, because you don’t want to live in third -and–longs against this team.”

On if practice will be inside this week…

“We may be outside just to get out there. But it’s going to depend on the weather. It’s not like it is every other week, where you’d say ‘I want to go outside because we’re playing outside’. We’ll do it based on the weather and whether or not we want to get off the turf for a day. But most of the times we play in a game like this, we’re inside.”

On Alabama’s intimidation factor and Georgia’s awareness of taking Alabama to overtime in January…

“I don’t know that it helps at all. I think the biggest thing is preparing your teams the right way to play and not getting overwhelmed by the moment. If anything, I’ve probably seen more teams lose it in the warmups, just trying to get all amped up and all that. You have to go play your best game. You have to be yourself, and you have to be the best version of you, and you can’t worry about the rest. A lot of those teams that I witnessed that, they didn’t have near as good of players as us either.

So I think when you look at it, you say, ‘Okay, what is the talent level? What is the talent gap?’ They’ve got an extremely talented team. We respect that. But we also have a good football team, and our kids have a lot of pride in performance. They’re not basing that on last year’s, because there are a lot of those kids off that team. I know defensively for us there are very few guys that are back as returning starters. We have a few on offense. But teams are different. Their team’s different, too. It’s two different teams, and the good thing is we both get to go on the field and play.”

On if Smart is still close to anyone on the Alabama staff…

“I’ve still got a lot of good friends in their support staff and the rest of their staff. There’s still guys that I see in the off season and things like that. Probably not as many with the changes they’ve had. I mean that’ll always be the case. I think every team you play, there’s somebody on the coaching staff that I’ve worked with or at least am good friends with, and that’s no different at Alabama.”

On if there is fatigue in answering questions about the connection between Smart and Alabama…

“Not really. I’m more worried about how to stop these wideouts and how to stop the quarterback. I’m not fatigued by this. I’m a lot more concerned with how we’re going to play and where we’re going to play guys and how we’re going to go about doing things. That’s you guys. Those are all your questions. I get it. You all have a job to do, and my job is to answer them.”

On making Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa uncomfortable in the pocket…

“It would be great to do that. It would be awesome to do that. I think if you can disrupt the pocket and get him out – to do that you have to take a lot of chances, and there are some good players back there behind those chances you’re taking. They also have the ability to expose you when you’re not balanced up on the run. I mean, there are similarities between their offense and our offense. They do a really good job offensively of running the ball and putting together run packages. They just don’t have to use them all the time because they’re really explosive. So getting pressure, affecting the quarterback – absolutely that’s critical. But not giving up big plays is, too.”

On if the January meeting with Alabama motivates Georgia…

“I really think to each his own. I mean that’s not a motivating factor for me. That’s not what’s driving me. What’s driving me is the young men in this room that will be here in a couple of hours, trying to do my best job for them, and that’s what my coaching staff has to do. We have to put our guys in the best situation to be successful, and that’s all we’re concerned with, because when you let all the outside forces and the outside motivation control you, sometimes you get emotional and you don’t make the best decisions.

We have to put the best plan together we can to play our best game against Alabama. Not the Alabama last year, not the Georgia last year. So that’s motivation for a lot of people. And that’s the media talk. But for us it’s what do I have to do to play my best game. That’s what I want to work on.”

On leading the nation in allowing the fewest plays of 20 or more yards…

“I think that sometimes can be a misleading stat, but this year our guys have done a good job keeping people cut off and not giving up explosive plays. And you do that by leveraging the ball, and you do that by not busting coverages. You do that by not getting beat man to man, and those are things we have to do every game. It’s not like we have to do it this game. We have to do it every game. But along with that we have to do a good job of affecting the quarterback, and sometimes that exposes you to more risk and you have to go play better.”

On the matchup with Alabama junior tight end Irv Smith…

“He’s talented. He’s extremely fast. When you look across the personnel board, they have a plethora of guys that are talented skill players. I think their backs are underrated. They have unbelievable backs. They can catch the ball out of the back field. They can do all kinds of things, but Irv Smith is a matchup problem. He’s talented, a really talented guy. And he’s a good player and good blocker.”

_____

#94 Michael Barnett | Jr. | DT

On how different is Tua Tagovailoa than some of the other quarterbacks you have faced … 

“He has really become a student of the game. After last year, he has really come in and knows his receivers and their tendencies. He really reads defenses well and is truly a student of the game. He really understands what they are trying to execute on offense.”

On how hard is it to keep this week just like any other week recognizing there is a lot at stake … 

“I feel like we just need to have a lot of tunnel vision this week and try not to buy into the media. We just need to focus on what we have, it is just another football game. There is a lot at stake but once we realize it is just another football game and execute what we are supposed to do I think we will be fine.”

#11 Jake Fromm | So. | QB 

On keeping emotions in check during such a big week … 

“It is a big week, but we have had twelve weeks like this before. It comes down to the process and preparing just like we have for every other game. It is what it is. We have our process, we have gotten it down so we just plan to continue to do that and see how it works out.”

On being more comfortable in these situations compared to last year as a freshman … 

“I know what is going on. I know the trip to Atlanta and what the environment is going to be like. Playing in big games is fun and what you dream of. I am ready to go out and go get it.”

On his relationship with Tagovailoa …

“Yeah. Tua and I are really good friends. He is an awesome competitor, a really great football player and a great follower of Jesus. We met during the Elite 11 process when we were seniors in high school and our relationship kind of took off from there.”

On the importance of what Georgia is able to do in the run game … 

“That is big. It is huge. A big, physical run game not only helps open up the pass game, it helps late in the game, it helps control the clock, it helps the defense. A good running game really just helps play football. That is what we want to come out and do on Saturday and really just control the momentum of the game.”

#13 Elijah Holyfield | Jr. | TB

On how the back field has grown in 2018…

“I feel like all of us have done a really good job this year and I feel like we’ve gotten better throughout the year. This is the time to really make yourself a name.”

 

On looking forward to another shot at Alabama…

“The whole year, we’re just trying to get back to the SEC Championship; it wasn’t really who we play, we just wanted to get back there. I think more than anything this year, we’re just trying to focus on this game. Last year has nothing to do with this next game coming up.”

 

#13 Jonathan Ledbetter | Sr. | DE

On the progression of the defense this season…

“From the top of the roster all the way down to the bottom, it doesn’t matter who you’re going to put out there, we wanted to have a physical defense, one that runs around … and that’s really starting to form. As you can see these last couple games, everyone is hungry to get on the field, it doesn’t matter who’s out there getting on the ball.”

 

On keeping this a normal week and tuning out the noise…

“I feel like you have to tune things out, but people don’t realize it’s just football. As you get later on down the road, you play the better teams, and this is what you’ve been waiting on, this is what you’ve been working for all year, so you don’t have to blow it out of proportion, just treat it regularly, keep your nerves where they are. I think once you can do that, it shows your maturity as a team and where you are and where you’re going to go.”

 

On lessons learned and motivation after the National Championship game…

“It helps you grow up. Like I said, those tight games come down to inches. At the least, very, very small inches at the end of the game or even throughout the game. You just have to seize those opportunities and make sure that they’re in your favor and not the other team. You really just have to do whatever you want and whatever you can to make sure they come your way.”

2018 SEC Championship Week Starts With Smart, Saban

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart speaks to members of the press in Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall in Athens, Ga., on Monday, Sep., 24, 2018. (Photo by Kristin M. Bradshaw)

ATHENS, Ga.– To open the 2018 Southeastern Conference Championship Game week, University of Georgia and University of Alabama football head coaches Kirby Smart and Nick Saban addressed the upcoming contest on a teleconference Sunday evening.

 

A championship meeting scheduled since November 3, the fourth-ranked Bulldogs and top-ranked Crimson Tide sealed their fate with respective wins against then-No. 9 Kentucky, 34-17, and then-No. 4 LSU, 29-0, on the road. Three weeks later, Georgia and Alabama check in with the top-two spots in the conference in scoring offense at 40.1 and 49.0 points per game.

 

“(Alabama’s) going to score, and they’re good at it,” Smart said. “(Saban’s) doing what they do best. I think a lot of that credit goes to (offensive coordinator Michael) Locksley and (associate head coach Dan) Enos and their offensive staff. They’ve got a who’s who star-studded cast over there on offense. A lot of their support staff, I’ve known for a long time. There are coaches that have been in pro ball over there, and they get great ideas. They’ve got great players, and they put the package together, and they’re really aggressive with it.”

 

Both teams are directed by the leading contenders in passing efficiency at quarterback with sophomore Tua Tagovailoa (212.5), junior Jalen Hurts (204.5) and sophomore Jake Fromm (179.4) at the top-3 conference spots.

 

Protecting starters Fromm and Tagovailoa are the Georgia and Alabama offensive lines, both named semifinalists for the Joe Moore Award, presented annually to the nation’s top offensive unit. On the defensive side, Georgia ranks fourth in the SEC in scoring defense (17.2 points/game) with Alabama at second (13.8 points/game).

 

“Alabama’s always separated themselves in regards to the offensive and defensive lines, and this team is no different,” Smart said. “They’ve got an extremely talented offensive line, an extremely talented defensive line. That’s who they are. There are no bones about it. There’s no way around it. They’re good on both lines of scrimmage, and that’s where they try to control the game. It will be a great challenge for the offensive line. They get to go against a really talented group.”

 

The SEC Championship Game will also feature the top punt returners in the conference: junior Mecole Hardman (21.8 points/game) and freshman Jaylen Waddle (13.6 points/game).

 

“Georgia is one of the most complete teams in the nation in terms of offense, defense, special teams,” Saban said. “This will be the most challenging game we have all year.”

 

The January CFP National Championship Game marked the first meeting between the two teams with Smart and Saban at the helm. Saban hired Smart as an assistant at LSU before a one-year stint with the Miami Dolphins served as the precursor to eight seasons at Alabama together.

 

“I think Kirby has done a fantastic job, and no surprise to me,” Saban said. “Georgia has always had a pretty good program, and he has taken it to the next level. They’ve done an outstanding job of recruiting good players, and they’ve also done a really good job of developing the players and getting the players on their team to play at a high level on a consistent basis.”

 

On Saturday, both Georgia and Alabama defeated its respective in-state rival by at least 20 points before shifting sole focus to the conference title game in Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The SEC Championship game is slated for a 4 p.m. start time on CBS.

 

“I’ve never been around really good teams that are focused on other teams,” Smart said. “The good teams I’ve been around are focusing on whoever they play that week. And it’s really not been different for us this year.”​

####

Georgia Postgame Quotes Georgia vs. Georgia Tech

Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart
On the win to go to 11-1:
“It’s a rivalry game. They have a good program and a good team, and our guys take a lot of pride in doing things the
right way and competing. I thought we played really hard today. …
This is a credit to our seniors, to our entire team, for buying in. We’re getting better each week.”
On defending Tech’s offense:
“The kids played hard and practiced hard. Our defensive coaching staff put a lot of effort in and it paid off. The look
from the scouts all week was tremendous. They gave us a good picture and a lot of credit goes to those kids. … It’s
an eyes football game. You’ve got to look at your keys the whole time and we did that.”
On Georgia’s offense:
“Our offense is functioning at a high level. We’re efficient and we’re getting positive plays. The offense is getting
better.”
On playing in the SEC Championship Game:
“It’s where this program should be. It feels like a game we should be going to every year. Our guys will lay it on the
line and they’re excited about the opportunity. It will be a great atmosphere, one of the best in college football. It will
be another game week for us. We’ll prepare for our opponent and treat it like every other week.”
Sophomore DL #10 Malik Herring
On the defensive performance…
“I want to give credit to our scout team because they really helped us prepare for this game and practice was actually
harder than the game.”
On the challenge of facing Georgia Tech’s offense:
“It was a challenge. We had to change our minds and get prepared for the game because their offense is so
different. We just had to prep really hard and stay focused throughout the week, even though we’re getting cut
(blocked) in practice and stuff like that, we just had to change our minds.”
Sophomore TB #7 D’Andre Swift
On what the “We Run This State” mantra means to the running backs group…
“It means a lot. The last time they [Georgia Tech] came here, the senior class lost so it’s real big for us just to send
our seniors out with this win today.”
On outgaining Georgia Tech, the No. 1 rushing offense in the nation coming into the game, 285-128 on the
ground…
“Hats off to our scout team. Our scout team did a great job of giving our defense a look because they run a real
complicated offense to stop. Our defense did a great job of stopping them today … On offense, we’re clicking right
now. I think we’re starting to peak at the right time.”
Senior OLB #15 D’Andre Walker
On snapping Georgia Tech’s two-game winning streak in Sanford Stadium…
“I feel like after this year, there will be no more years where Georgia Tech will come into the University of Georgia
and beat us in our own stadium.”
On the defensive performance…
“I feel like our scout team gave us a better look than they [Georgia Tech] could, and we just went out there and
executed.”
Georgia Tech Postgame Quotes
Georgia vs. Georgia Tech
Sanford Stadium
Nov. 24, 2018
Georgia Tech Head Coach Paul Johnson
Opening Statement:
“We played against a really good football team and we played really poorly. We got ourselves dug in a hole and we
never could put together anything consistently on offense. The first drive, we make a couple first downs then got 4th-
and-1 then jump offsides. I think the first half, we got the ball a few times and didn’t do much with it. In the second
half, we got the block below-the-waist call which I talked to them about. … The game was over by then. We just
could never get anything going offensively at all. The offense needs to possess the ball for us to have a chance to
score. We didn’t do that today. Credit to Georgia, they did what they had to do to win.”
On the struggles of the defense in the first half:
“It gets masked sometimes in a game with limited possession as long as you can hold the ball and score, but we
struggled mightily on the backend. We missed a ton of tackles.”
On the offensive struggles in the first half:
“We had a hard time blocking. We never could get anything going. We’d get a first down or two. We missed reads. In
a game like that, when you miss the read and you miss your target, you keep getting buried and there’s not much
margin for error. You can’t go four possessions without scoring and expect to be in the game.”
Freshman Punt Returner Juanyeh Thomas
On catching the ball on the goal line…
“I was just thinking if I can return it I can go. I thought to myself if I can I can run it out and I did, That was it. I
followed the Georgia kick off team crashing and I just read the kick off team, hit it, and scored.”
On the kicks going over his head…
“Every game if they game goes into the end zone I’ll get mad because I want to return the ball. That’s just me
honestly.
On the rivalry…
“Honestly the hype about it was everything that I thought it was but we didn’t get the results we wanted so now we
have to focus on the bowl. We’re throwing this behind us and wanting to finish strong.”
Freshman Quarterback Tre Swilling
On Georgia’s receivers…
“Like you just said they’re really good receivers, very talented across the board. For every play they were out there
they were very physical and they’re good at what they do.”
On being confident with the score…
“Me personally I think you just have to have conference throughout the whole game and in every game the
momentum is going to go the other way at some point. That’s when you have to dig deep, remember where you
started, and not really scratch what you’re doing but focus on that and continue going. Being able to go out there and
get a stop.”
On Jake Fromm…
“He’s a really good passer I think there’s no secret about that. He’s a great quarterback, very smart. He knows where
the routes are going to be and most of the time you see that the receivers haven’t left their cuts yet but the ball has
left his hand. He has great placement and great timing. He’s a really good quarterback.”

Governor’s Cup Remains in Athens, Georgia 45 Georgia Tech 21

ATHENS, Ga.– With a 45-21 victory against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium, the fifth-ranked University of Georgia Bulldogs football team retained the Governor’s Cup in Athens for the second consecutive season.

 

With the win, the Bulldogs remain perfect at home with an 11-1 regular-season record in back-to-back years.

 

A balanced attack with 447 total yards of offense – 285 on the ground and 162 through the air – was paired with a Bulldog defense that held the nation’s top rushing offense to 66 total yards (all rushing), four first downs and one touchdown in the first half.

 

Sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm opened the contest with seven-straight completions, matching up with seven different receivers for a 13-for-16 final clip with 175 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. Sophomore tailback D’Andre Swift registered his fourth 100-yard rushing contest of the season with 105, complete with a touchdown.

 

With nine tackles, the Georgia defense was paced by senior defensive end Jonathan Ledbetter, a member of a senior class that improved to 42-11, the third-best mark in school history.

 

“It’s a rivalry game,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “They have a good program and a good team, and our guys take a lot of pride in doing things the right way and competing. I thought we played really hard today…This is a credit to our seniors, to our entire team, for buying in. We’re getting better each week.”

 

After scoring seven-straight touchdowns in the first half against Massachusetts last week, the Bulldogs’ first five drives resulted in a touchdown.

 

The first Georgia possession, a 9-play, 75-yard drive, was finalized by a 5-yard touchdown from Fromm to junior wide receiver Riley Ridley. After the first Georgia defensive stop, the Bulldogs used an 11-play, 88-yard march – featuring a 39-yard rush from junior Elijah Holyfield and receptions from tight ends senior Charlie Woerner and junior Isaac Nauta – to reach the 1-yard line, where Swift fought for the touchdown and the 14-0 margin.

 

After the Yellow Jackets’ Juanyeh Thomas returned the first 100-yard kickoff return against the Bulldogs since 1999, Georgia’s distanced itself yet again with a 6-play, 63-yard drive, highlighted by a 26-yard Jayson Stanley rush. At the 12:56 mark, the 21-7 lead was sealed by a 12-yard touchdown from Fromm to sophomore wide receiver Jeremiah Holloman.

 

Next, Georgia took over on downs as the Bulldog defense held Georgia Tech at its own 44-yard line, highlighted by a tackle from Ledbetter for a 3-yard loss and a sack from freshman defensive lineman Jordan Davis for a 4-yard loss. On the following play, Georgia took control on offense, and Fromm found junior wide receiver Mecole Hardman feet from the end zone for the 44-yard touchdown and the 28-7 lead.

 

After another Bulldog stop, Georgia needed just four plays, split between freshman tailback James Cook and Swift, before Holyfield leaped into the end zone, extending the ball across the plane for the 8-yard touchdown.

 

With 48 seconds remaining in the half, the Bulldogs marched 40 yards between a 13-yard Swift rush and three-straight Nauta receptions to set up a Rodrigo Blankenship 25-yard field goal. Georgia headed into the half with a 38-7 advantage.

 

After the Bulldogs forced a three-and-out to open the second half, six plays and 53 yards later, Georgia produced a 45-7 score. Swift checked in with 39 yards on two carries, setting up a 4-yard Ridley touchdown, his career-topping second of the day, from Fromm between a pair of Georgia Tech defenders.

 

The Yellow Jackets tacked on a pair of touchdowns in the final quarter, but the Bulldogs’ 45 points held till the 45-21 final.

 

Next up, the Bulldogs head to Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the SEC Championship in Atlanta against the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday, December 1.

 

“It’s where this program should be,” Smart said. “It feels like a game we should be going to every year. Our guys will lay it on the line and they’re excited about the opportunity. It will be a great atmosphere, one of the best in college football. It will be another game week for us. We’ll prepare for our opponent and treat it like every other week.”