ATHENS — The Georgia Bulldogs worked out for a little over two hours on Tuesday afternoon in preparation for their SEC matchup this Saturday at Vanderbilt.
Following are comments from head coach Kirby Smart:
‘’I’d like to open by expressing my sympathies to the victims of the Las Vegas shooting. What a terrible tragedy, a sad event. It keeps things in perspective, especially for us in our busiest time. It makes you realize that there are so many more important things going on in the world than football. I hate that for their families.
‘’We had our Tuesday practice today. I thought it was nice and cool out there, so we had good energy and good enthusiasm. We’ve got a lot of things to clean up and we’ve got some guys dinged up.’’
With your experience at Alabama as a highly-ranked team, is there a different dynamic at play when you face other teams?
‘’Yeah, I’d say the wind blows a lot harder at the top. I think everybody always wants a piece of Georgia because of the history of the program. It’s a signature win for so many, regardless of what you’re ranked. It just makes it even more so, what you’re talking about. We don’t really talk about that with the team. We talk to them about controlling what you can control, which is getting better and playing good and taking out the mistakes we’ve made the past 2-3 games so that we can increase our chance of success. We don’t talk about what we’re ranked, or what somebody else’s effort will be greater based on what we’re ranked. We’re just really focusing on us.’’
Do you find that you coach a team harder in a situation like that?
‘’I don’t know that you coach them harder because, I’ll be honest with you, we coached them hard when we weren’t ranked. I believe that when you coach them, you give it all you’ve got every day and then you do the same thing tomorrow. I certainly think you’ve got to pay attention to detail more, meaning every little thing, you’d better be on top of. Whether it’s a guy’s shoelaces touching the line, stretching the right way, running the right route, giving the right signal because success sometimes breeds complacency. That’s one thing we won’t stand for here is to be complacent. So we’re on top of everything we can be, but I don’t see how that’s any different than anytime.’’
You mentioned last year adopting Coach K’s philosophy of encouraging when a team is struggling. Does that apply here or is that more on an individual basis?
‘’I think both. I think when you talk to the team, you’ve got to enlighten them because when they’re not in this building, there’s no control over what they are being told and what they’re reading about themselves, what they’re hearing about themselves. So you’ve got to be careful. You’ve just got to be honest. I think if you’re consistent with your message, you don’t have to stretch things, you don’t have to lie. You just tell the truth and they tend to listen. And when you’ve got them listening, you’d better say the right things because they’ll believe you. That’s what we’ve tried to do.’’
When you look at how well this defense has played so far, how important was it for the current seniors to return instead of entering the NFL Draft?
‘’I’m glad every one of them stayed. I really wasn’t involved in the decision making of many of the defensive rising seniors. It was more of those backs that I spent more time with. I didn’t have to do a lot of talking to those guys. I think they understood where they were. They got information and they respected it. You really shouldn’t be coming out unless you’re a first-round pick, or maybe early second. We just didn’t have anybody in that category.’’
Some guys on defense have talked about the “Beating the guy in the phone booth” philosophy. Is that the overriding philosophy on defense?
‘’I wouldn’t say it’s the overriding philosophy. Win your box. We talk about that. We talk about winning in a phone booth and that’s important, but that obviously stuck with them. That’s one of Coach Tucker’s sayings, but I wouldn’t say it’s the mantra or anything like that. There’s a lot more that goes into it than just that because some of those guys don’t play in a phone booth. They play on an island and everybody’s different based on their position. I would say the front guys are very much like that, though.’’
How do you manage the quarterback competition and how have they handled it?
‘’They’ve both been great. They understand the situation. We have talked to them and explained the situation. They both completely understand and they see it from our perspective, the team’s perspective. The team goals and team focus. As long as those are put first, then all the right decisions are made based off that. And they realize that. And those decisions are made based off practice, so both of those guys are mature and understand exactly what we’re doing. They’ve responded well in practice.’’
(Vanderbilt coach) Derek Mason said he expects Jake Fromm to start on Saturday. Is he correct?
‘’Derek Mason is entitled to his opinion. Derek Mason is not at our practices. He doesn’t watch our practice tape that I know of. So I’m not really concerned with those comments.’’
From a coach’s perspective, why is it important to keep that kind of information from the opposing team?
‘’I don’t know that it’s important to keep it away from the other team as much as we keep it to our team, and we know what’s going on with our team. We need to make sure our players understand and know how important practice is, knows whether they’re going to be on the trip or not, whether they’re going to be on special teams or not. I don’t get into a bunch of that stuff, to be honest with you. I’m just trying to make our team better and the guys that can practice and the guys that can play, we want to try and get those guys better.’’
Regarding Rodrigo Blankenship’s kicking, do you sense any difference in his confidence?
‘’Yes. I think he’s kicked much more confidently in practice. I don’t know how many field goals we’ve had. It doesn’t seem like we’ve had that many. He certainly has kicked well in practice. I think they confidence of kickoff off successfully has boosted his confidence, meaning the number of touchbacks he has, has increased his confidence, even on field goals. He knows he’s kicking the ball well. I mean, the guy his the upright on one of those kicks in Knoxville, so he’s hitting the ball good and I think that’s helped his confidence.’’
How valuable is it that you’ve been able to play a lot of guys, and rest the starters, in four of your five games so far?
‘’You know, it can help and hurt. If you don’t play in tight ballgames, sometimes guys get tight when you don’t play in them. We certainly had our fair share of those last year. It seemed like every game was that way. So it helps the development of our team, should we have an injury or situation where a guy’s got to go in and play. We got some experience, which we didn’t get last year. So there are positives and negatives to both those. I think it gives your team an opportunity to grow and we believe in playing other players. We’re not as concerned about the statistics part. We want to go out there and let the young guys be successful.’’
You’ve referred to the defense as Coach Tucker’s defense. What kind of qualities does he bring to the defense?
‘’Mel’s a great leader. He commands great respect. Players really follow Mel’s lead. He does a tremendous job of game planning, X and Oing and calling the game. More important than that, he’s a very loyal soldier that helps our guys out. If guys are emotionally struggling or their confidence is struggling, he’s able to go pep ‘em up. And they follow his lead. So I think he’d do a tremendous job (as a head coach). He was an interim head coach before and I know he’s do a tremendous job given the opportunity.’’
Kickoff against the Commodores on Saturday is at 12 Noon, Eastern time and the game will be televised on ESPN. A limited number of tickets remain available through the Vandy ticket office at the following address: