ATHENS, GA–The Georgia Bulldogs continued preparations for their upcoming Southeastern Conference Championship Game against Auburn by conducting a two-hour workout in full pads Tuesday.
Following are some excerpts from head coach Kirby Smart’s post-practice interview session:
‘’We just finished up our Tuesday practice and had a good, physical practice. Gotta have a better one tomorrow. Still putting the parts of the game plan together and were sloppy on some things we’ve got to clean up. But that’s usually the case on Tuesday. Good news is you’ve got Wednesday and Thursday to clean ‘em up, put the parts together and try to piece together the plan. The guys seem really excited and energetic about the opportunity to play in this game. It’s a great venue and it’s a special game, so they’re fired up and ready to go.’’
Did you work inside any today?
‘’Yeah, we did about half and half. We some of the kicking game outside and some of it inside, and tried to use the indoor facility towards the end of practice.’’
In your experience of playing in a dome in this game, does it matter much that guys definitely go faster? Does it change much of the dynamics of the game?
‘’Yeah, it seems faster. I think guys sometimes get a little overheated because there’s a little more temperature in there, with the crowd and atmosphere. Anxiety plays a factor in that. A lot of guys aren’t used to that at this time of year. We’ve got guys that cramp and things like that, so we’ve been really emphasizing hydration. They’ve been good about it. It’s just a little bit warmer in a dome.’’
Does having the indoor facility help simulate that at all?
‘’It probably does, but it’s not the same intensity in there that there will be, simulating the same number of reps and those kinds of things.’’
Michael Barnett and Tae Crowder were a couple of guys that got a lot of reps in the last game. What have they done to put themselves in that position?
‘’Well, the first thing is that they play the option real well. It’s a unique offense that fits both of their skill sets. But they’ve both improved immensely. Michael Barnett gives us a tremendous picture on scout team defensive line each day, and he does it without concern for his playing time. He just works to get the team better and in doing that, I think he’s made himself a lot better.
‘’Tae has improved throughout the year. He actually fits better against the option stuff.’’
As someone who came from Alabama to Georgia, you had a sort of front-row seat to Jake Fromm’s recruitment. When you first got the call from Jake that he was coming to Georgia, how did that conversation go and what was going through your mind?
‘’I tried not to get too emotional because these kids can change their minds at any time. When they tell you they’re coming, sometimes you have to keep recruiting them the whole time. Things change, circumstances change. Kids change their minds from time to time. I was very pleased that he decided to come. I think that’s where he wanted to go his whole life. I’m glad he made the decision he made. He’s helped make our team better. He continues to improve and he’s got a lot of areas he can improve on.’’
What do you remember about David Marshall’s recruitment, and how is he figuring into things now?
‘’David’s a kid from Thomaston, that’s close to Auburn. He’s one of those guys that’s kind of in the middle of the two schools. I had a really good relationship with, and still do, with David’s high school coach, Tommy Parks. David had come to Alabama for camp for four years, so I always thought a lot of him as a competitor and a person, and I just thought he was a really good player. When I got the job at Georgia, we just started recruiting him. We thought he was a good player. He decided to come and we’re glad he did. He’s improved each year. He played a good bit for us last year. He’s playing this year. It’s hard to find big guys with some athleticism and he’s one of those guys.’’
You were hired two years ago and you’re playing for a championship Saturday. What have been the most important things to get to this position, in terms of pulling the strings from your position as head coach?
‘’I think patience and just having a plan and executing the plan. Being consistent in your approach, week in and week out, regardless of who the opponent is. Trying to convince the team that playing to a standard is the way to go, and practicing to a standard is the way to go. When they buy into that and realize it, I think they can have success. We haven’t always bought into that. We struggled with that some last year. There have been moments this year, but for the most part they’ve understood that how they practice and how they improve gives them an opportunity in every game.’’
What kind of challenge does Andrew Thomas have in going against Auburn’s pass rushers?
‘’He’s got a great challenge. So does Isaiah Wynn. Ben Cleveland, Solomon (Kindley) and Kendall Baker have got some tremendous challenges, too, because their inside guys are really good. They’ve got physical guys up front. They’ve got good players. And when you’ve got good pass rushers that stop the run, it’s always a challenge. You’ve got to know where your help is. We’ve got to make sure to help ‘em out, and don’t put ‘em on an island all the time. To be honest with you, you’ve just got to compete and fight because they’re good players. They know they’re going to be in one-on-one situations and you can’t help ‘em every down. So I think the last situation Andrew was in will help him in this one because he had to fight his way through it and play his way through it.’’
What did the first Auburn game do for the character of your team?
‘’I think that’s still to be determined. They’ve improved. We’ve seen them be resilient and respond to adversity because they had some adversity in that game. They had to come back out and play hard. But they haven’t played Auburn again. They haven’t played a team of that caliber just yet. It’s a great opportunity, to go out and play a really good football team with an opportunity to prove that we’ve got a good football team.’’
For things to go differently for your team this time, is there one thing you’re stressing more than any other?
Throughout history, the losing team generally fares better in the second matchup in the same season. Why do you think that is?
‘’I can’t answer that question because I don’t think that’s always true. Games that I’ve been in and played two times in the same year don’t always work out that way. I think that each situation you’re referring to is independent of the previous. Certainly, the team that lost has that extra motivation. But if you use it right, and you won the game, you can convince your team that you’ve got the better team. It’s all about perspective that you take it with. And our guys are taking the perspective that we’ve got an opportunity to go out and prove that we have a good football team.’’
How, if at all, does Auburn’s offense change when they go from Kerryon Johnson to Cam Martin?
‘’They run a lot of the same plays. They’ve run the quarterback more the last couple of games. They’ve got other backs, they’ve got another quarterback that can run. Malik Willis is a great athlete. They have other ways to share the carries if the burden is not on Kerryon.’’
What are you guys emphasizing to help ‘set the edge’ better on defense in this game?
‘’There are a lot of runs that bounce out. He (Johnson) is a really good outside runner. They’ve got a lot of guys that can bounce out. When you talk about the edge, you’re talking about reverses, you’re talking about perimeter run game. They do a tremendous job stretching the field, but they also have the power run game to run it right at you with the O-line. That’s a lethal combination, thrown in with some really fast wideouts and a quarterback that can throw it vertically. It’s a really good combination of things, which is why they’ve had success against some pretty good defenses.’’
There are six teams in the SEC that are working on new head coaches. How does that land on you and what does that say about the league?
‘’I’m worried about Auburn. That’s my focus. That’s our concentration. We’ve got an opportunity to play in a big game and that’s really all I can think about right now. We’re still focused on recruiting and that’ll continue after the game and really become the focus point. But up until then, it’s really about Auburn.’’
On the defensive side of the ball, Auburn was the first team this season to get the better of your team at the line of scrimmage. Is that a technique issue or was an attitude or mentality issue?
‘’A little bit of both. Physicality is an attitude. Physicality is a size. It’s a physics matter, too. It’s an attitude with which you approach the game and how you approach contact. We didn’t do as good a job as they did at that.’’