ATHENS — The Georgia Bulldogs worked out for a little over two hours on Tuesday afternoon in preparation for their SEC matchup this Saturday at home against Missouri.
Following are comments from head coach Kirby Smart:
‘’We had a good practice today. It was a little warm out there. We went outside at the halfway point and let both units go outside. It was about 92, 93 degrees, so it was unseasonably warm. But I thought the guys had good spirits. We did three or four periods against each other and had good competition, and I think both groups continue to improve. We’ve got a difficult task this week, with an offense we’ve got to defend and also some things about their defense.’’
How would you characterize Missouri’s defense?
‘’They move up front. They’ve always been a penetrating, gap defense. They get in 4-3 and they’ve started to play a little more odd front, 3-4, and they do a lot of games up front, which allows them to get some tackles for loss. They’re fourth in our conference in tackles for loss. They do a good job of creating negative plays by what they do. They’ve given up some plays in that exchange. I think they played their best game, I thought, against a good Kentucky football team the other night. I know they’ll be ready for us. They played us really well last year.’’
How would you assess the play of Andrew Thomas to this point in the season?
‘’He’s a freshman out there playing in what I think is the toughest conference in the country. He’s holding up, he’s holding his own. We haven’t put him in a lot of really tough positions. We try to avoid that, whether we cover him up, or being able to run the ball helps with that. But he’s mature beyond his years and he’s very understanding of how important practice is, which I think allows him to play well.’’
How beneficial is it for your run defense to have the running backs that you have?
‘’It helps. It helps Nick, Sony, Holyfield, Brian, Swift, even Prather Hudson comes over. Those guys roll down on the scout team and give us a great picture.’’
Do your receivers and tight ends have a good level of buy-in to block on the perimeter, to run the ball as well as you have?
‘’I think they do a great job. They’re doing a much improved job this year, as opposed to last year, in terms of understanding the importance of team, of team goals and team success. I think a lot of that is our off-season program and our mindset training program from the summer, to put the team ahead of yourself and I think that’s just important to winning. It’s not the number of catches. It’s the value you get in team goals.’’
How has Davin Bellamy adjusted to having the heavy wrap on his hand?
‘’I think it frustrates him at times. He can’t rip off and tear off like he wants to. He can’t bull and push sometimes. But he’s done a good job. He’s gotten better with it this week. It was more frustrating for him last week. I think it’s something he’s got to get used to, and he’s starting to get more and more used to it. I think he shows a lot of toughness to go out there and play with it and not really let it concern himself with how he looks. He’s trying to help the team.
(Does he have to continue to wear it?) ‘’We’re not sure yet. He’s got it on right now for practice for safety purposes. As far as the game we’re not sure yet.’’
How important is it for you to continue throwing to Mecole Hardman, despite his recent drops in games?
‘’He’s got to catch the ball. I mean, we’re going to continue to throw it to him. We’re not going to not throw it to him. I think Mecole’s a work in progress. He’s getting better each week. He’s doing a good job in the return game. Nobody said it was going to be easy. It’s not natural for a guy that didn’t play receiver his whole life, to go play receiver. I know some of you guys in this room compare that to Terry Godwin. That’s not true because Terry Godwin played receiver (in high school). I recruited him. Mecole did not and it makes it very different for him.
(Is it purely a case of catching the ball?) ‘’It’s running routes, it’s being comfortable catching the ball. It’s just 10-15 years of that’s not what he did his whole life. So he’s developing. I think he’s working hard at it, and I think the guy is going to make a really good player. And to be honest with you, he’s caught every ball we’ve thrown to him in the past couple of weeks in practice. It’s not like he’s got the drops. He just hasn’t had an opportunity, hasn’t had an opportunity in a game in a while.’’
How do you game plan to defend Missouri quarterback Drew Lock?
‘’Well, of those 30 passes a game, about 10 to 15 of those are runs that are passes. So your preparation is to play the run. And you’ve got to defend the pass on top of it, so it’s really hard because they run the ball and throw the ball the same play, which is tough. And he’s got one of the quickest releases, strongest arms I’ve seen. He knows where to go with the ball. He knows who to stare down to read ‘em. He’s very efficient at doing what he does, and it’s tough to defend because you think they’re a passing offense, but they ultimately want to run the ball first.’’
Do you watch the ‘throwdown videos’ done by your strength staff and what do you think when you see them?
‘’Very entertaining. I’m an observer just like you are. They kinda come out of right field, so I’m always intrigued to look and see what’s going on. I’m not part of production or anything.’’
Describe the strength staff’s job of energizing the team, something you called attention to after Saturday’s game:
‘’They do a good job of doing that. They keep things upbeat and positive, get the players going, their juices flowing. A lot of times, your strength coach is the person that has the greatest relationship with the team because they’re with them year-round, literally. In the winter they’re with them, when we go Spring recruiting they’re with them, they’re with them in summer. They’re always with them and they get to be with them through thick and thin, so a lot of those kids respond well to the strength staff. And I think Scott Sinclair and his staff do a tremendous job.’’
After the game Saturday, you talked about the need to develop your passing game more. How will you manage that this Saturday, especially if your run game is as successful as it’s been?
‘’I don’t think that you do that in games. I think, during a game you do what you’ve got to do to win. You’ve got to take what the defense gives you and take whatever advantages you get. I think you develop that through practices and we’ve tried to do that the last several weeks. When we work on the passing game, we have all the quarterbacks to get comfortable throwing it, the receivers comfortable catching it and we’ve certainly got to improve our pass defense. So our guys get to go against it. That’s a practice issue more than a game issue.’’
Missouri receiver J’Mon Moore had a lot of success against Georgia last year. Has that matchup been stressed this year, that rapport he has with Drew Lock?
‘’Yes, but I’ll be honest with you. The other kid, 84 (Emanuel) Hall on the other side, had an unbelievable night the other night against Kentucky. They dismissed one of their wide receivers a couple of weeks ago and these two guys have been electric. I think they’re two of the best wideouts that we have seen, with the combination of a good passer. Here’s one of the best wideouts we faced all of last year, J’Mon Moore, but the other kid was there and he’s lighting it up this year. So it’s not like you’ve got one guy that’s a good player. You’ve got two, and they’ve got multiple guys that are really good wideouts, and a group of tight ends that are really big.’’
What is it about (OL coach) Sam Pittman that makes him good at handling young players in particular?
‘’I think first of all, Sam Pittman is a teacher. He’s compassionate. Players really love him. They want to play hard for him. He cares about them. And he teaches. He does a good job of explaining things, teaching things, simplifying things down for players, and they enjoy playing for him. So he’s had success with guys playing early in their careers, and a lot of that has to do with his teaching methods.’’
Kickoff against the Tigers on Saturday is at 7:30 p.m., Eastern time and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.