ATHENS —— The Georgia Bulldogs continued their preparations for their Saturday contest at home against South Carolina with a two-hour practice on Tuesday afternoon.
Head Coach Kirby Smart, along with a pair of Georgia defenders, senior Justin Young and junior Walter Grant, fielded questions from the media after practice. Excerpts from their sessions follow:
Head Coach Kirby Smart:
‘’I thought the guys had really good juice today. It was cooler outside. I thought we were going to get some rain, but it didn’t end up happening and the guys had extra pep in their step. They were really good yesterday, too. Cooler weather, I think, helps things go faster and they’re excited about this game, so we had a pretty good practice. Got a lot of things done. Still got a lot of things to work on this week, got a lot of game plan stuff to put in tomorrow. But the guys are in good spirits and working hard, so that’s good.’’
In terms of penalties, what are some of the things you can work on this week?
‘’Not get as many penalties. I mean, penalties are an interesting stat because when you look at the history of football, the teams that win the most are not the least penalized. A lot of times they’re aggressive teams. You don’t want to be last, either. So we made a big jump from middle of the pack to the back in our penalties last week. Some of them were caused by the crowd noise and you’ve got to overcome those, and we overcame a lot of them. Some of them were undisciplined and you can’t do them. They probably cost us a drive and it cost us a touchdown. I don’t know if we would’ve stopped them on third down, but we’d have had a chance. Those are critical, critical errors. That hasn’t been a trait that we’ve had, is undisciplined penalties, and we’ve got to prevent those.’’
When it comes to those penalties, how much discussion takes place about taking things to the limit of what’s allowed?
‘’It’s always a fine line. There’s probably holding on some kind of play everywhere somewhere that they either don’t see or don’t call. You’ve got to be aggressive. You’ve got to go out there and block people the right way. Our kids do that. We have officials come in. They came in and spent some time with us in fall camp, and they actually tell us what they’re looking for, and they coach guys. You want to be as efficient as you can, from a penalty standpoint.’’
Update on Jordan Davis and Tyson Campbell:
‘’Tyson’s running really well. He had some really good numbers on GPS today. As the practice went on, he got better and better. I don’t know. But he still has not had contact and the pressure you need from getting some contact. We think Jordan’s going to be fine. He was able to run and move around and do some things, and he continues to improve. If he continues at the rate he’s at, he’ll be fine. He’s ahead of where Solly (Solomon Kindley) and Isaiah (Wilson) were in each of their weeks when they were cleared to play.’’
What percentage are you looking to convert on short-yardage situations and where is your team’s execution there?
‘’You’re never there. You never arrive. I mean, we say that third-and-one, fourth-and-one, you want to be 100 percent. We’re certainly not there. We have some pretty lofty goals here. It the same way when we want to give up zero explosive plays every game. We want to give up zero turnovers. I don’t know how realistic zero explosive plays is in today’s day and age. I don’t know how realistic being 100 percent on third-and-one and fourth-and-one is, either. We obviously have not attained that goal. But we look at things from the standpoint of efficiency. So whatever you need to gain on third down, you’ve gotta gain it. Doesn’t matter if it’s third-and-six, third-and-10, we want to convert all third downs. But our goal is always to be around 60 to 70 percent, which would put you in tops in the country from that standpoint, as an offense. But we always look at things from inside out, trying to improve in areas. We’ve done a lot of off-season work on it, and we look in the season at every team in the country that’s converting those. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what other people are doing. What you’re doing is what you’re able to execute and what your players can handle. Our guys have done a good job in a lot of situations, and then the ones that stick out are the ones last week that we didn’t convert.
What’s the thinking on shotgun formation in short-yardage situations? Does the ball reach the running back quicker?
‘’Not necessarily. A lot of it has to do with tempo. If you remember, we were under center at Vandy and y’all asked me why we were under center. Then, when we go shotgun, ‘Why are y’all in shotgun?’ You can get stuffed under center and you can get stuffed in shotgun. So it works both ways, and there are a lot of trains of thoughts to that. I know defensively, it eliminates a lot of plays once you’re under center. It allows the defense to be a little more aggressive. They don’t have to defend as much area. There are a lot of teams that teach submarine, but techniques where they go down low and try to submarine you. It doesn’t allow you to use your advantage, which is your size. At the end of the day, we have to execute better, we’ve gotta do a better job as coaches. We’re not getting it done. In those areas, we’ve gotta improve, but it’s not something that we’re not working on.’’
Has the message to your team changed since 2017, when you wanted to be the aggressor in starting off the USC game with an onside kick?
‘’I’ve always looked at it that we want to be the aggressor and not the one receiving the blow. We want to be the hammer, not the nail. That’s the way we go about things. We’re aggressive. We think that if something’s there, whether it’s starting the game off against South Carolina two years ago, or fourth down and one, it doesn’t matter. If we think it’s there, and we’ve got an advantage, we always try to look. We want to keep pressure on the other team. When you keep pressure on the other team by looking for strengths of yours, or weaknesses of theirs that you think you can take advantage of, we’re always trying to be the hunter and not the hunted.’’
You have a lot of players who could have looked elsewhere earlier in their careers because of the depth chart here. How often do you have that conversation with guys?
‘’Oh, all the time. It’s part of college football now. It’s probably one of the most important things in a program now, especially at the major Power 5 programs, is the support staff that you’re capable of hiring to support you and support your program and support these players. There’s not one guy that comes in here that’s not highly touted, not given a thousand accolades by all the media or, I guess you’d say, the recruiting sites. So they go through trials and tribulations of realizing that they have work to do. And the people that have to support ‘em here are so key to our success. There are probably 20 guys on our staff who sat down with 30 to 40 different players and explained that your best option is here. Your best option is now. We had a (NFL) general manager come in and talk to the players about developing. You’re going to develop better at Georgia, where you’ve got nutrition, weight room, unbelievable coaching staff, support staff, facilities, better than you are by going somewhere else that you might not have those facilities. You’re also going to develop better here than you are in the NFL because they don’t run a developmental league. They only have a 53-man roster, so they can’t develop players. They cut ‘em. There’s no, ‘Hey, I’m going to develop you for later.’ You’re going to be better off staying here, working and getting better, so that you’re a better player when you do go to the NFL. Because the whole key is that you make it. We sell the players on that. You’re going to develop because we practice every kid out there. Our threes took reps today, to get better. So we’re always looking at, ‘OK, what’s the best for every player on our roster and then also, what’s best for our team?’ And we’re trying to manage those two things.’’
How close is (freshman DB) Tyrique Stevenson to getting over the hump, compared to Tyson Campbell’s situation as a freshman last year?
‘’Tyson’s situation was completely different. I mean, we didn’t have DJ Daniel here. We had a young Eric Stokes, and Eric was still getting better. Eric ended up playing more than Tyson in the end, but it was a different situation. Tyrique Stevenson’s growing up. He’s doing a really good job. He’s working hard, he’s starting on a couple of special teams. He’s made some really spectacular plays at times, and at others he’s still learning our defense and understanding what he’s gotta do for leverage. But he’s just as talented when he came out of high school as he is now, but sometimes I don’t think you guys actually believe there’s a curve, a learning curve that you have to go through.’’
Senior DE Justin Young:
On what the coaching staff has been preaching about South Carolina’s offense so far this week…
“So far, we’ve been preaching all about the tempo. [South Carolina] goes fast, so I feel like today at practice our guys got periods where we were going high tempo, right into the play, every 10 seconds— as much as possible. That’s definitely [South Carolina’s] go-to, trying to get defenses off balance and stuff like that. At least that’s what we’ve seen in some team film, just them getting other teams’ defenses off balance. We’re trying to prevent that as much as possible in this week’s practices leading up to Saturday.”
On what changed his mind about transferring out of Georgia…
“Personally, for me, I love this school. When I first put my name in the portal, at first I thought it was a good decision. Then I talked about my situation to my family, close friends, my teammates and coaches— I decided that sticking it out here was what was best for me. Getting the education provided here is an achievement, and I know my grandfather who passed always wanted me to do that. That affected me and my decision to stay, as well. It came down to me wanting to put as much value out onto the field as I can. So, I decided from there I’d go to every practice and give it everything I had.”
Junior OLB Walter Grant:
On what the challenge will be with South Carolina’s offense, and how Georgia views the Gamecocks in regards to competition…
“The big challenge really is the fast pace of [South Carolina’s] offense. They’re really fast, high-tempo. They throw a lot of different looks at you to try and catch you off guard…We treat every game like it’s a rival game. You’re going to get our best every time we step out onto the field.”
On what type of adjustments are made at halftime…
“Obviously, we’ve got to correct our mistakes. We respond to the mistakes the coaches catch us doing, or maybe we something on the sideline we can come back to. You go in at half time, you fix it, and hopefully it works for you.”