ATHENS —— The Georgia Bulldogs continued their preparations for their SEC Championship contest against #2 LSU with a two-hour practice on Tuesday afternoon.
Head Coach Kirby Smart, along with tight ends Charlie Woerner and Eli Wolf, as well as junior OL Solomon Kindley and redshirt sophomore DB Eric Stokes, fielded questions from the media after practice. Excerpts from their sessions follow:
Head Coach Kirby Smart:
‘’Practice has been good. Guys were really focused and energized. You can tell the extra juice flowing out there. It’s nice to see it. It’s nice to be practicing, and I’m excited about the opportunity. Certainly, the more you watch these guys (LSU), the more you realize why they’re so good. But our guys are really excited. We’ve had two really good practices in the books. Gotta be smart about how you practice this time of year, so we’re having to do tempo walks, do some good-on-good, try to take care of their legs. But at the same time, expose them to what’s going to be a really physical, good football team.’’
Are you practicing exclusively indoors all week or have you been outside some?
‘’No, we’ve been outside, I would say, probably 25 to 30 percent of the practice, mainly because of the legs. The turf is probably a little harder on the legs, so we get some out, some in. Plus, we just don’t have enough space in there. So we do most of it inside.’’
How good do you think it is for the game, for the SEC, to have a guy who is as colorful a character as LSU Coach Orgeron?
‘’It’s awesome. I think it’s more important what he does with his team than what he says. Obviously, words only go so far. It’s your actions and your team’s performance, and he certainly spoke loud and clear with that because they played really well in big games. He keeps his team good and loose and they play to his character. I think it’s great for our conference. I think we’ve got a stellar group of coaches in our conference.’’
When you look at what Ed (LSU coach Orgeron) has done at LSU, and what Nick (Alabama coach Saban) did with Tua, how hard is it for a defensive guy to kind of go against the way you’ve been brought up and believed in, to sacrifice some of the physicality?
‘’I don’t think it’s hard. I mean, if you can score points like they’re doing, that’s great. What’s bad about that? I think we all want to do that some. It’s not who we are. We don’t have a team built like that. We’re not built like those two teams. We’re built very differently. And that’s not always by nature. It wasn’t like, all of a sudden, Alabama just decided they were going to throw the ball. They got a stellar group of wideouts in one gathering. It was like they all came in at once, and they became really good players. Same thing at LSU. They’ve had good wideouts over the years, but they’ve got a really stellar group at the same time, along with a transfer quarterback that has been impeccable. So I don’t know that philosophically both of those guys just made huge changes, as much as they inherited two really good quarterbacks that are unique, that can do special things, and they’ve got some special players around them.’’
Is there a sense that, with losing Cager for the season and George Pickens for the first half, that the offensive game plan for the first half will be different than it has been all season?
‘’I don’t know about that. I mean, you can’t change who you are completely in a week. Certainly, we’ve got different groupings, different packages, different use of guys, a lot of big guys. We’ve got tight ends, backs, receivers, but not as many as we’ve normally had. But I don’t think there will be major wholesale changes in a week.
(On possibly increased role for the tight ends) I don’t know if I’d say that. Everybody’s important, so the wideouts that are playing are important, the tight ends that are playing, the backs that are playing. I mean, everybody is important. It’s important to be able to run the ball. You can’t put one thing over another. The things that indicate success is don’t turn the ball over and explosive plays. We’ve been good at one, and we’ve been just OK at the other.’’
How much of LSU’s use of its wideouts may alter your personnel?
‘’They probably do the least personnel groupings of anybody we’ve played because they go tempo. So they go fast. They don’t change who’s in the game. They may change the person, but not the position. So, they’re in ’11’ personnel a lot, which is one back, one tight end and three wides. It may look like four or five wides because they’re all out there and they’re all really good receivers. And they’re really good skill players. That’s what makes them unique, but it’s not necessarily five wides. This team is really good for them because they can do all things with the same people. So when you take this grouping and you say, ‘this is the empty grouping. OK, this is the big, 12, hit-you-in-the-mouth grouping.’ They do it all with the same grouping. So then you’re forced to decide, ‘Hmmm, what do I want to try and take away?’ And that’s tough.’’
With the 20-hour rule, how important is it for your culture to have guys on your defense like Monty Rice and J.R. Reed doing extra stuff?
‘’That’s incredible. I mean, you can’t get by in college football with 20 hours. It’s impossible. You can’t do it. So they’ve got to do extra. They’ve got to do things on their own and the right kind of players do that. I think that’s really important in recruiting, that you recruit a guy that holds himself to a standard that’s bigger than just, ‘I’m gonna give you my work, Coach, and then I’m gonna go check out.’ But it’s not just those two. There are countless guys in here. Everybody keeps telling me about Monty and J.R. There’s more than them. Guys are up here non-stop. Offensive players are the same way. They enjoy it. They love football.’’
Is D’Andre Swift still on course to play Saturday?
‘’Yeah. I mean, he’s been out there, doing what we’ve asked him to do. He’s practicing. He’s just banged up, man. It’s tough, but he’s a warrior. He’s a fighter. We’re expecting him to be able to go. He’s practicing.’’
(On how Swift sustained the injury without contact to his left shoulder on the play) ‘’We had that same question. According to him, it was earlier in the game when he injured it, and he continued to play with it. And then it just began to hurt more and more after that. That play was kind of the culmination of that, on that play, where it was bothering him more. He’s had a banged-up shoulder a lot of the year. I mean, Brian Herrien has had it. We’ve had a couple of players have similar injury that he has. He’s played with it, dealt with it, and I don’t want to say it’s a common injury, but we have a lot of guys that have had that same injury in football. He’s been dealing with it well, and it came to a head Saturday. He had a couple of hits earlier where he did fall on it, and it bothered him.’’
You mentioned the extra juice the players have had in practice. Do you think your players enjoy the prospect of playing in a game of this magnitude?
‘’Yeah. I think they’re excited about the opportunity to play in front of this crowd. I think two years ago, it was the most-watched game in college football. It’s a lot of passion and energy involved. Atlanta’s got a great venue. The Southeastern Conference is second to none when it comes to fan bases and passion. I know our players are excited. I am, too.’’
Coach Orgeron has mentioned Tyler Clark specifically as an outstanding player for the Georgia defense. Can you talk about the kind of season he’s had?
‘’Tyler’s had a good year. He’s been really active. I think the way we’ve played defensively, with the havoc and the movement, has helped Tyler. He’s a good athlete. That’s given him the ability to make some plays. Tyler’s a hard-nosed, tough worker. I mean, the number of snaps he’s played for us for four years is pretty incredible for what he’s been able to do for us, and also to stay relatively healthy. But Tyler’s done a great job. He’s one of the first kids we recruited here, and he’s been a great Georgia Bulldog.’’
This will be the fourth time Georgia and LSU have played in the SEC Championship Game. What are your memories of the 2005 game, when you were on the UGA staff?
‘’Man, I remember stuff after the game. That’s the first SEC Championship that I was ever a part of, number one. Number two, to win it was pretty special. I remember taking pictures afterwards. I remember Shock (UGA QB D.J. Shockley) played a whale of a game. It was, like, the pinnacle of my career at that point because I’d never played in an SEC Championship. I’d never been even close to one. And to win one, it was pretty special because you don’t know if you’re ever going to get that opportunity when you play and you coach. And that was a special time.’’
#17 Eli Wolf | Graduate Student | TE
On whether he thinks the other receivers will step up in the first half against LSU, due to the absences of Lawrence Cager and George Pickens/whether the offense will look different than usual…
“I think everyone has to step up a little bit, because [Lawrence] Cager is a great athlete and player. We definitely have to have the receivers step up. Some guys will have to get some reps who don’t usually. Then, if we need to go more 12 personnel, we’ll certainly do that….I think, game-to-game, [the offense] always looks a little bit different. We’ll definitely have to account for some changes [in the offense] a little bit.”
On how special D’Andre Swift is…
“D’Andre is super special, and everybody sees that. For him to get a little bit banged up, I know we’ve got a whole slew of backs who will go in there and run the ball just as hard. We need him back, and I think he’ll be ready, so it will be awesome to block for him some more.”
#89 Charlie Woerner | Senior | TE
On whether there’s a potential for him to get more looks with the absence of select receivers…
“That kind of stuff works itself out during the week at practice with the plays we install. We talk about plays that work and what is going to happen in the game before the game is even played. A lot of that is worked out throughout the week, and when it comes to game time, we know what the plan is. We’ve just got to go out and do what we’ve been doing all week.”
#27 Eric Stokes | Redshirt Sophomore | DB
On what he thinks the matchups in the secondary look like for Georgia against LSU…
“They match up really good. I know they have some really good wide receivers out there. They’ve got two with over 1,000 yards, and they have some people coming back. They call mismatches any and everywhere, so we’ve just got to do our best with matching up with them. We’ve got the talent and everything, so now we’ve got to go out there and do our assigned man. We’ve got to lock in and keep watching film, like we are right now.”
On whether he believes Georgia can cover LSU better than any other team…
“We believe we’re the best people out there. We believe we’re the best DB core, and always we all have to have the confidence that we can go up against anybody, especially as a DB because you’re out there on your own. Without confidence, it’s pretty hard to play.”
#66 | Solomon Kindley | Junior | OL
On his what he sees from the LSU defensive front…
“Matter of fact—LSU they’re No. 1, No. 2 in the nation so you know they have a very good defense because they are ranked that high. They are very big on the inside and their backers in the past years are the ring leaders of the game—so they are very fast. They like to run the outside plays and stuff the middle—good pass rushing overall.”
On what the offensive line is using from last year’s matchup against LSU for this game…
“Yeah, we look back at every game and every point we have played. We look at the game film from last year and have some tips on that type of stuff. We take that game and see what we can work on and what we did wrong and typically teams that beat you at stuff like last year—they try to do it again. We go back to that game and look at the small stuff that was going on last year and try to fix those types of errors and hopefully it will help us out this game.”
On not holding anything back now that they are playing in the SEC Championship…
“To be honest, that process of being like that for us since we lost to South Carolina. Week in and week out if lose a game we knew it was going to be over because of the type of position that Florida was in. Since that time we knew that it was win or go home. That is how our mindset—that is how it has been for five or six weeks straight, so it isn’t a different mindset.”