ATHENS —— The Georgia Bulldogs continued their preparations for their Saturday contest against Florida in Jacksonville with a two-hour practice on Tuesday afternoon.
Head Coach Kirby Smart, along with a pair of Georgia defenders, redshirt sophomore Eric Stokes and junior Monty Rice, fielded questions from the media after practice. Excerpts from their sessions follow:
Head Coach Kirby Smart:
‘’It was good to get back out there yesterday and get some guys back. Guys were able to practice and pushed and did a good job. Had a light practice yesterday and then got after it pretty good today. Got a little bit of weather, so we were able to practice in the rain for awhile, which was good. It was not a heavy downpour, more of a light deal. Got to do some good-on-good, got to work on some third downs, some red-area stuff. Got some guys back, so that was helpful, and I thought the guys had really good energy, which you would expect this week. So there was some good competitive periods out there. We’re a little ahead of schedule for a normal week, which helps us get more time to fix some things.’’
Who exactly did you get back at practice?
‘’Yeah, (Lawrence) Cager has been out there practicing, Tyson (Campbell) has been out there practicing, Travon (Walker) has been out there practicing.’’
What does it add to a rivalry like this when there are also implications in the SEC East race?
‘’That’s what makes it a rivalry, you know. You’ve got so much at stake. I really don’t think that it would matter if it was about the SEC East or not. It’s Georgia-Florida, so that in itself carries a lot of weight. The game, the history, the tradition, the fact that you have a Hall of Fame for the game alone, and players can be remembered for their performances in that game alone is pretty big. The SEC East weighs heavily in this game, but I wouldn’t say that it determines it all the time.’’
Is there anything about this game that stands out to you, having played and coached in it?
‘’Probably the most unique thing is that it (crowd) is split 50-50. It’s weird. You have a weird feeling in there sometimes. It’s so different. I call it a pro mentality because there’s no, like, student section chanting for you or against you when you come out for warmups. It’s not like that. The atmosphere in pre-game is very different. It’s a very different feel because when you go out for pre-game at a road game, it’s like enemy territory. When you go out at your place, you’re in friendly confines, but there’s a lot of more energy and buzz. It seems like at this game — the times I played in it and coached in it — it’s more flat in warmups and then, all of a sudden, boom, you come out for the game and everybody’s in their seats. They come in at the same time, as opposed to being in there early.’’
Does the fact that coach (Charlton) Warren coached at Florida last year mean anything at all to this game?
‘’I don’t think it means a lot. I think the history that our staff has from years in the West, going against Dan (Mullen). I mean, he probably watches countless films of times we’ve gone against each other, and we do the same, as far as schemes and things like that. Personnel, I think obviously there’s personnel there that he knows or he’s gone against. Sometimes that can be beneficial, sometimes it’s not because you don’t know how matchups are gonna work. How the left guard, right guard, center, the left receiver, right receiver, tight end are gonna match up on certain guys. He’s seen more of them because he’s seen them every day in practice. It’s very similar to (former OC Jim) Chaney. I don’t know how much that helps or hurts.’’
The NCAA announced today that it will allow college athletes to be paid. How do you think that’s going to affect college football?
‘’To be honest with you, I don’t know. I’m not smart enough to know and understand how it’s going to affect the future. I do trust the hands that it’s in, and the committee that’s been formed to look into it, and I think they’ll do a tremendous job. It looks like to me that they would come up with a proposal somewhere around January 2021, maybe, and that still seems like a long way off in my mind. But we’ll have to prepare, and whatever they decide to go with, we’ll deal with it. I don’t have enough information to form a complete opinion on it, to understand it completely. Our biggest concern, as coaches across the country, is it going to be an even playing field. The biggest concern, from state to state, is not being balanced. If it comes out balanced state to state, then we’re all playing on the same playing field.’’
From a recruiting standpoint, what does it say about the matchup of these two teams that there are a lot of guys on each roster considering both teams?
‘’It says we recruit against them a lot. It seems like every player that’s on their roster, we were at least in contact with. They’ve still got guys playing that were recruited under the other staff. Most of ours were under ours. But I think both places recruit probably 80 percent of these kids overlapped, and they were probably in the final four teams. It makes a player probably want to win more, if you almost went there, and there’s also the overlap in that they recruit our state and we recruit their state. They’ve got quite a few Georgia kids and we’ve got quite a few Florida kids. Those kids want to win, obviously, because they’ve gotta go home and live and be seen in their communities. Anytime there’s a border rivalry, it makes it that much more. We just have a lot of those.’’
With (Tyson) Campbell and (Lawrence) Cager practicing, does that mean they’ve been green lighted to play in the game?
‘’They’ve been cleared to play, but we’ve got to find out if they’re ready to play. If they’re practicing, they’re cleared. Cleared doesn’t say, ‘that guy’s ready to play’ and that’ll be determined by how they practice, and what they’re able to do and not do, what kind of shape they are, how much they can sustain. Those are all important factors that we have to factor in to how much they play, and if they’re able to play.’’
What’s your relationship with Dan Mullen been like since he got to Florida?
‘’I sit by him at every SEC meeting because ‘F’ and ‘G’ are alphabetized, side by side. So we get to sit and talk about things. When a topic comes up about, you know, whatever the conversation is, whether it’s some recruiting thing, some rules thing, we’re always sharing ideas. Everybody looks at it like, ‘how does it affect you?,’ ‘How does it affect me?’ ‘How does it affect him?’ We’re both the only SEC schools in our state, so sometimes we agree on certain things. I don’t get to see Dan a whole lot, even when he’s at the lake and I’m there. We’re both spending time with our families.’’
What’s your lasting memory of the 1997 win over Florida?
‘’To be honest with you, we didn’t win a lot of big games, so that was the highlight of our time here. That was a big game, it was a big upset. Probably the highlight for me, or the biggest memory, was walking out after the game, showered and cleaned up, and my mom was there. She was born and raised in Florida, almost went to the University of Florida. She’s from Plant City, so it meant a lot to her, and getting to see her was probably the best part of it.’’
How has Eric Stokes progressed since he’s been at Georgia?
‘’It’s a hard question to answer. Eric works as hard as anybody on our team. He’s very intelligent. He takes notes in the meetings, he understands things. He has made himself into a good player. I say that because it wasn’t natural for him. He didn’t grow up playing corner. He was a talented athlete. He was fast, he was a running back. He was a raw guy who has developed and gotten better through hard work and habits. With his length and his speed, the sky’s the limit for him. But at the same time, you have to understand that our guys haven’t had the chance to play a lot of guys, when you think about it. The rain, a young quarterback, whatever the reasons, we haven’t had a lot of opportunities. We’re gonna get ‘em in this game because they (Florida) have good wideouts, good quarterback, good scheme. So there’s gonna be opportunities. When you click on that tape, from LSU and Auburn games, there are NFL matchups all over the field. This corner against this wideout. This corner against this wideout. Well, the games in the SEC, they’re not gonna change week to week. They’re going to boil down to who can win in some one-on-one matchup, and he (Stokes) will get his opportunities.’’
Redshirt Sophomore DB Eric Stokes:
On Florida’s group of receivers…
“[Florida] has a great group of seniors. I know each and every one of them can do something different. This could be a real big key for us as [defensive backs]. I know [Florida] can rotate and all of them can move and show something different.”
On ways Georgia’s defense has prepared to face Florida receivers…
“We’ve just got to prepare for each one of [Florida’s] receivers. We have to embrace the challenge and prepare to handle everything. I know, personally, this week I’ve just been trying to run extra at practice, because I know their guys are going to be fresh and will keep rotating. I’m just doing it for myself to get in extra conditioning with the time I’ve got [outside of practice].”
On how much credit he gives former defensive coordinator Mel Tucker for where he is now as a player…
“I give him a lot of credit. He was the one who took a chance on the three-star speeder that a lot of people just looked at as a track guy. He looked at me as a football player.”
Junior ILB Monty Rice:
On what he sees in Florida’s offense…
“I think [Florida] throws the ball a lot more than last year. Their quarterback [Kyle] Trask puts the ball where it needs to be to be able to make plays. Florida has great receivers. They’re all fast, and they’ve got three good running backs— Dameon Pierce, Lamical Perine and Malik Davis.”
On the threat Florida tight end Kyle Pitts poses for Georgia’s linebacker group…
“He’s a great player. He makes a lot of plays. I think he has the most targets probably in the nation for a tight end. In order for Florida to win, they’re going to have to get him the ball for him to make plays. We’ve just got to play our coverage and do what we’re supposed to.”