ATHENS, GA — The Georgia Bulldogs practiced for just over two hours this afternoon in preparation for their SEC matchup this Saturday at Auburn.
Following are comments from head coach Kirby Smart after today’s practice:
How fragile is team chemistry from year to year and is there any way to anticipate it from a coaching perspective?
‘’I don’t know if ‘fragile’ is the right word. I would say that it’s very different from year to year. Each year a team kind of forms its personality in the offseason and in the summer. And then in fall camp there’s a little personality there and then the season produces the leaders. Then you find out more about ‘em. But I wouldn’t say ‘fragile’ is the right word. I’d just say that it’s different from year to year, and it’s certainly been a much different chemistry this year than last year. I think a lot of that has to do with the senior leadership we’ve got, and even the juniors. There are just a lot more guys playing.’’
(Auburn RB) Kerryon Johnson is a guy that leads the SEC in touchdowns. He’s scored in every game he’s played in. Why do you think he has such a knack for the end zone?
‘’Well, he’s a very explosive runner. He’s very patient. He’s got a vicious stiffarm. His stiffarm reminds me of the kid at Tennessee, John Kelley. He’s really hard to tackle, and they do a tremendous job of giving him the rock. I mean, he runs hard. Our guys didn’t tackle the way they need to today. I hate it, but we’ve got another day to clean it up. But he’s a special back. He’s very good, very talented.’’
Von Lassiter, Jake Fromm’s high school coach, claims that Jake has something along the lines of a photographic memory, or at least an ability to process a lot of information and remember it. Have you noticed that?
‘’I don’t think I’m cleared to determine that. I don’t have the license or the ability to say that he has a photographic memory. I think he’s a bright kid, but I’ll leave that to Von to say he’s got a photographic memory. That’s probably a little bit much. I don’t know if that’s the case or not. I mean, he didn’t remember to motion a guy in last week a couple of times. Maybe he doesn’t have a perfect photographic memory.’’
Can you point to one or two areas where Roquan Smith has taken a jump this season?
‘’I would say his understanding of the defense is much more, but his leadership is even greater than that. He has not been afraid to speak when he felt strongly about something, and I think that’s a rare trait in a junior. So he’s not worried about what other people think about him, and that’s what leaders have to be. He’s been that.’’
Has there ever been a time when you realized that Roquan could be the centerpiece of the defense?
‘’I don’t know if there was one ‘Wow’ moment as much as there was just the cumulative effect of him picking things up. I thought it was going to happen in the spring. I told y’all he was out there behind the huddle, taking the steps, watching the plays. He had a script in his hand. It bothered him that he wasn’t able to practice, where he didn’t lay back, relax and have a good time. He was very businesslike, very professional about his approach when he was not in. I think that’s helped him have a better junior year.’’
The big moments in Jordan-Hare Stadium — the ’96 4OT game and the ‘Kick Six’ — how well do you remember those games and was there anything unique about them, other than what we all saw?
‘’Not that I really remember. Every stadium that I’ve coached in, I feel like I have unique memories. I don’t know that Jordan-Hare has any more memories for me than anywhere else that I played. It just seems that I’ve played in there a lot because it’s the overlap between playing here and coaching where I used to coach. So, it has a lot to do with it, but there’s nothing that really sticks out. I don’t really remember playing that well. I remember Bobo’s throw to get us into overtime. And then Kick Six. All I remember is the Kick Six. That haunts you forever, but that’s really it.’’
How has (Asst. Coach) Dell McGhee helped the running backs get better and what’s he meant for your program?
‘’He’s a tremendous leader. He sets a great example for them. He’s a good teacher. He understands the defensive side of the football as well as the offensive side of the football. So that’s a rare trait, where he can tell you what the defense is thinking because he’s played that position before, and he’s coached that position before. He knows a lot about picking up blitzes, where they’re coming from, eye control. And he demands a lot, so he does a really good job developing the young backs.’’
Can you see Dell becoming a head coach in his future?
‘’Certainly. I think that every coach on our staff wants to become a head coach. I think that your role as the head coach is to make sure that you’re developing all the coaches, and you’re giving them an opportunity to grow professionally. You’re teaching them, the same thing you’ve done as an assistant coach. And then you’re learning from them things they’ve done. So I think that every coach on our staff is deserving of that and they’ll continue to grow.’’
How impressed have you been by Sony Michel’s play this year?
‘’Very impressed. I think Sony’s leadership, No. 1, has impressed me more than his play. His toughness and quickness have been a little better this year than in years past. And I think he’s much more driven. I think when you have a purpose, you tend to be more driven and he seems more driven.’’
You guys have been in reasonably good health this season. Do you think there’s been anything from a preventive standpoint that’s helped in that regard?
‘’I think you certainly have to give credit to Ron Courson, and Scott (Sinclair) does a tremendous job getting those guys physically ready in the offseason. You’ve got to practice smart, but you’ve got to practice physical. And some of it has been luck. You’ve got to have some luck on your side in preventing injuries, and we have been very fortunate.
‘’I think everybody believes their culture in practice is hard and tough. I think when you hear it from the players, that may just be they’re not used to it. It may be just like this everywhere else. It’s hard to really say that. We all like to think that our practices are harder and tougher than everybody else’s, but who really knows? I don’t know. I’m not at those other places, but we have been very fortunate.’’
At this late point in the season, how do you balance toughness in practice with injury prevention and trying not to wear guys out?
‘’I don’t think you do balance it. I think you follow science. You look at the GPS numbers. We’re comparing the numbers this year to last year. We’re seeing how many guys are hitting top speeds in the games. If they continue to hit their top speeds, then we continue to do what we do. But if they slow down, then we have to slow down. I think for the first time, we had a game that we had to play all four quarters, so we had guys play more snaps. We have to be smarter this week than in past weeks. But we’ve also got to get ready for a tough, physical football game.’’
What’s the challenge for Georgia’s offensive line this Saturday?
‘’They’ve got the best defensive line we have faced. They are extremely talented. We’ve watched them several games this year ourselves, as we were watching other teams play. They’re big, they’re physical, they’re fast, they push the pocket, they rush the passer, they stop the run. They’re good on defense.’’
When you’re facing an offense like Auburn, is there an advantage to having a veteran defense?
‘’I think it helps to have familiarity, but they’re not exactly the same. They’ve changed some things up. They’re mixing it up a little bit. They’ve got a quarterback that can throw it. They’ve got a really good group of wideouts that he can throw it to. And they’ve got a really powerful back. So, it helps having guys that have played against Auburn, but ultimately you have to go out and perform in the heat of the moment and know how to execute because they go up-tempo. They go fast. They’ve got some good ‘window dressing’ things. They do a great job of confusing you with eye control.
‘’They have a lot of things they can throw at you, but we have to have a lot of things we can throw at them. Because for every thing they do, they’ve got to block what we do. But they do a good job. It’s been that way for years. It’s always a tough week of preparation. There are a lot of things to prepare for. And we probably make it that way because we have such a history on ‘em. So you feel like you’ve got to do everything they’ve ever done because they might do it. In actuality, they can’t do all that stuff in one game, but you’ve got to prepare for it.’’
Kickoff between Georgia and Auburn on Saturday will be at 3:30 p.m. (EST), and the game will be televised nationally by CBS Sports.