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ATHENS, Ga. — University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, previewed the upcoming game against Florida with media on Monday.  The No. 7 Bulldogs take on the No. 9 Gators at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Jacksonville.

 

Smart and the Bulldogs offered the following comments.

 

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Comments…

We start back to work on Florida again.  We finished up last week getting to work on them primarily on Thursday and start back with it today.  We are excited to get the players back out there and get going.  It was good for them to get some time away and a little rest and relaxation Friday and Saturday and Sunday they came back.  Our guys needed that break and I know they’re eager to get back to work.

 

I think Coach Mullen has done a tremendous job with his team.  Obviously they have talent all over the field.  They have a lot of fast, athletic players, probably the best overall receiving core we’ve gone against top to bottom.  They have a very active defensive front, Ty is doing a good job of causing some negative plays and sacks.  They are very athletic up front.  They are playing really good football right now.  They have gotten better and you can see how much better they have gotten with each game.  They play with more confidence and they’re playing really good right now.  We are prepared for a big battle down in Jacksonville.

 

On the challenge of Florida’s defensive front and mixing it up as far as protections…

“I think they do a really good job.  They’re extremely athletic, they’re quick.  They have caused problems for everybody that they have played with their athleticism.  They are hard to block.  They stay active.  Even when you block them, they get in on plays.  They’re super active, along with CC Jefferson who seems like he’s been there forever, they’re active football players.  They are very disruptive.  I think the key to stopping those guys is being able to block them.  You can’t put two people on all of them, you have to try to block those guys and get hands on them.  They do a good job of changing stunts, moving fronts, stemming things, and are really effective, especially on third down.

 

On the injury updates of D’Andre Swift, David Marshall, and Ben Cleveland…

“D’Andre Swift is fine, he should be practicing today.  He got a lot of rehab over the weekend and should be good to go. Ben (Cleveland) will still be out.  I don’t know when we’ll get him back.  He’s doing more running, he’s been more active.  We’ll find out more during the week, but we don’t think he’s going to play this game.  David (Marshall) is still out.”

 

On the assessment of the offensive line play with injuries…

“I think it has effected continuity, but I think the guys we have plugged in, for true freshmen, Cade Mays has played well.  I think any time you are playing with young guys on the offensive line it’s nice to get a core group, but when you look across the board there you have a red-shirt freshman, true freshman, other freshmen have played, and then Andrew (Thomas) is not like a sophomore as much as he’s played.  He’s played a lot of snaps and then Lamont (Gaillard).  It would be nice to have some continuity but in this league I don’t think there’s one offensive line that we’ve played that had five consecutive starters.  It’s just the way of the league.  The same way the offensive line and defensive line you have to have the next man up mentality and that’s the way we’ve approached it.  Solomon (Kindley) has been dinged up, Andrew (Thomas) is been dinged up but for the most part those guys are back healthy.”

 

On his feelings of Georgia’s inside/outside linebackers and nickels defending Florida’s short passes…

“I think they do a good job of vertical passes as well.  Their wideouts are extremely explosive- Van Jefferson, Tyrie Cleveland- those guys are really good wideouts.  They have guys that are explosive down the field.  Feleipe (Franks) can throw the ball as far as he wants to.  He has great arm strength.  If they want to throw short passes we have to tackle them and knock the ball off of them.  Explosive plays are when we’re trying to avoid.  They are good at making them.  They have vertical threats down the field, but we have to do a good job in both.  As far as our linebackers play, we have kind of been by committee this year.  There’s nobody that’s really stood out. Nobody’s played exceptional. We have a group of guys that rotate and play between the four of them. They continue to do that and work hard at it. I think Monty (Rice) is still trying to get back to Monty from his knee. He plays hard, plays physical. He’s probably lost a little bit of his step with the injury, and hopefully this recovery time has given him a chance to get back to himself.”

 

On the response from the team after the loss to LSU…

I think kids are a lot more resilient than you give them credit for. It’s the leaders of the program and the organization and the coaches that have to get over it. We’re the ones that deal with a loss sometimes harder than the players. I think the players are resilient; they’re back out to work. We had really good-spirited work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday  working on ourselves, just trying to get better for us. And Thursday led into some Florida stuff, and I think that was a good change of pace for them to start working on a new opponent and get ready for that. So our players have responded really well. They go out and compete each day. I would expect no less from them today. Sometimes it’s hard to get them going after three days off and you have to get the cobwebs out, but with a game like this, our guys are excited and I’m sure their guys are, too. So I’m expecting our guys to have really good practice.”

On similarities between the defenses of Florida and Mississippi State under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham…
“Some similarities, some differences. I think [Mississippi State] was a little bigger last year in some spots. Extremely athletic. They did a good job at Mississippi State last year, and he’s doing a good job this year at Florida. They’re aggressive, doing a good job of causing turnovers, got all kinds of fumble recoveries and all kinds of stipulates. So there’s some similarities between the two, and they’re not completely the same. I think anytime as a defensive coordinator you have things you believe in, and when you’ve been good at defensive coordinator in this conference, you do what you believe in, and he’s done some of the same things he’s done at Mississippi State.”

On Smart’s evaluation of effort against LSU…
“I think conditioning is a major part. I don’t know that I would call it effort, lack of effort. I think being conditioned, being able to play 60, 70 snaps in a row, being able to play sustained drives, being able to play back-to-back plays. You can never be good enough at that. You’re always trying to improve. It’s something that we worked hard on last week – how many plays can you play in a row and be at your best? I don’t think it’s a lack of effort. I think it’s more of maybe a lack of conditioning, being able to play a number of snaps in a row and playing a lot of players. We’ve played a lot of players this year, and sometimes you can’t do that in games. Sometimes when people go fast, go hurry-up, they keep the same guys in, and you have to be able to sustain and play longer as a player, and that’s important for our defensive players.”

On the Florida run game and its distribution between Lamical Perine and Jordan Scarlett…
“I think that’s one of the big differences with Dan (Mullen’s) offense. He had backs at times at Mississippi State, but he never consistently had backs. He’s got a really good stable of backs, very similar to ours. Kind of a three-headed monster, and they use those guys. They’re all thick lowers, powerful guys, run through arm tackles, good running backs. And you look at Perine and Scarlett, they do a great job. First of all, they do a good job catching the ball out of the back field, and they use them as wideouts. But they’re physical downhill runners, and their offensive line is really big. They’ve got an offensive line, guys, that have played a lot of football games in the SEC. When you look across the offensive front, those are the same guys that have been there – a lot of them played as freshmen. So they’ve got a very experienced offensive line and a group of backs that are physical.”

On the motivation Smart will use this year, after asking all the players who had beat Florida to stand up before last year’s game…
“You can use that because a lot of our guys don’t have a winning record against them. But I think more important than that, they know what’s at stake for this game, and they know that this is going to be a physical, tough battle. Two teams that are well coached and two talented teams. Most of our kids know their kids. It won’t be about what we say or how we say it. It’ll be about who plays well on the field and who controls the line of scrimmage that will be the key to this game.”

On if any new leaders have stepped up after the loss..
“I don’t think so. I don’t think you hit a panic button when you do that. A lot of times you get front runners and things like that. Our guys understand, they know technically what we didn’t do well, and they said, okay, when you don’t do something well, how do you get better at it? You go to work on it. It’s not waving a magic wand or some guy giving a speech in the locker room. It’s really just work, and we tried to get that done last week being really physical, doing a lot of thud and a lot of tackle where our guys could get better. And that’s what we have to do. We have to work on us, and we were able to work on a lot of that. Now it goes to working on Florida specifically, who has a really good football team.”

On plans to use freshman quarterback Justin Fields…
“I think it’s the same message we’ve had all along. We want to play the guy that gives us the best opportunity to be successful, and that comes from  a lot of reps in practice, a lot of work in practice. They both (Justin Fields and Jake Fromm) had a tremendous amount of work last week, and we’ll continue to make that decision based on what gives us the best opportunity to be successful.”

On Kirby’s assessment of the run game this year, specifically at LSU…

“I think anytime you look back it’s hard when you’re behind in a game. Everybody wants to talk about that game, but at the end of the day you have  to be successful with the running game to open up play action, to open up passing game. And that’s been our identity – be able to run the ball, be physical. That’s the strength of our team with our offensive line, certainly running and our backs. I think keeping those guys healthy and using James (Cook) and Brian (Herrien) in as many situations as possible, who are two good players as well, helps us, so we’ll continue to do that and do what gives us the best chance to be successful.”

On controlling the Florida run…
“You have to build a wall, control the line of scrimmage. This game has been decided by the team, for many years, that ran the ball better, the team that controlled the line of scrimmage. And we have to do a good job of building the wall up front. We can’t have second-level players having to make a bunch of tackles, and a lot of that comes by how you hold up in pass defense. How are we able to cover them outside and how are we able to control the line of scrimmage up front with five and six guys at times. So they have a good run team, and they got good running backs. They’re physical, and Dan’s always been committed to the run game.”

On what makes this rivalry special and how Smart handles the pressure on the contest against Florida…
“There’s a lot at stake in every game. I don’t know that this game – you can point to every game, and the next game is the most important game. So our guys understand it’s the next-game mentality, because you have to have that. You can’t make one game more important than the other, because it demeans it for the players, so they understand the important and the significance of this game. For me personally, this is a great rivalry game. The pageantry is different than other games because nobody’s ever at home. They’re always in a joint place, at a neutral site, and it’s a great venue to have a game. It’s great facilities, with the Jaguars facilities. So it’s a little different from that perspective, and I think each team handling that the right way is important, but at the end of the day it’ll be decided by the guys in between the lines.”

On what the team made the most strides in during the bye week…
“I don’t know if we’ll know that. I mean we worked hard at stopping the run up front, controlling the line of scrimmage, tackling, a lot of pass pro offensively. We tried to work really hard on special teams, directional kicking, a lot of things that we have to improve on. Those are all really critical. But I don’t know if you honestly know that until you get out there and play another game, because you can only see so much at practice. I certainly hope the work we put in pays dividends in the areas that we focused on.”

On what advice Smart received as a player going into the Florida game…
“I don’t know that I ever received any. We had some tough games against them. We won one game in this battle, and we didn’t have a great record against these guys during those years, and I don’t know that I really received any advice that would stick out as meaningful to these kids. It’s such a different day and time. I think the most important thing for these guys is to focus on playing well, not the pageantry, not the surroundings, all that. It doesn’t matter. You have to get back to playing well, and what helps me play well is my focus, my concentration, how do I practice, because usually our guys that practice well, play well, and that carries over.”

On freshman cornerback Tyson Campbell’s focus this week…
“I think playing good people, competing, understanding what defense we’re in, knowing the adjustments that have to be made based on split locations, different things they do. He just has to lock in and really focus on that. I think that’s important for him to get some confidence and play, and he’s had some really good competitive work for three days. And he’s growing up. You play in this league, there’s no week off, and you play corner in this league, you better be ready to play each and every week. So it’s a challenge for him and they’ve got good wideouts.”

On diagnosing the pass protection on third-and-long…
“You don’t want to be in third and long, first of all. Last time I checked nobody wins third and long at a high rate. If they do, they’re special. The big deal for us is being able to make good decisions, put the quarterback in a good situation. Sometimes the best play on third and long is an eight-yard gain that allows eight yards for the punter. So those are things that we continue to work on, try to develop at. It’s like 3rd-and-1 and 4th-and-1, if you’re in those on defense, you’re not going to have a real good third-down rate; and if you’re in third and long a lot, it’s not like there’s a scheme that says this is a great third-and-long play. There are not great plays for third-and-long. There are wins and losses on third-and-long. Sometimes a win may not be a conversion, but it could be not a sack or not a fumble or something like that. But we continue to work on that, and we have explosive players on offense that we have to try to find ways to get the ball and let them break some tackles.”

 

#71 Andrew Thomas | So. | OL

On the offensive performance from the LSU game…

“The past game, from an offensive standpoint, I think we all take the credit. It was a bad game. I think about all of us. We didn’t drive the ball like we wanted to, we didn’t score like we wanted to. We all know we have to get better so we’re going to work to get better. … [We’re working on] execution, making sure everybody knows their assignment, everyone blocks the right guys, run the right route, things like that.”

 

On Florida’s edge rushers and the challenges they present…

“It’s the SEC, so every week there’s going to be great rushers, great defensive linemen, especially in the box, everyone is pretty good. It’s going to be a challenge for us on our pass protection but we’re going to work on it and we’ll be good on Saturday.”

 

On Florida’s high sack total and what the offensive line is working on to limit them…

“As offensive line, we’re looking at it as a challenge, we look forward to it. We get to play somebody that’s really good and see how we match up against them.”

 

On the high-stakes rivalry of the Georgia-Florida game…

“I can’t remember a Georgia-Florida game that wasn’t a big, important game. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”

 

#13 Elijah Holyfield | Jr. | TB

On what the team got out of last week’s bye week…

“We got to clean up a lot of stuff and work on different opponents we’re going to face coming up, so I think it was a successful week.”

 

On the excitement of the Georgia-Florida game…

“Jacksonville is one of my favorite games that I’ve been to. The stadium is really cool. The drive over there and the whole atmosphere has us excited to play a good ball team.”

 

On what Georgia hopes to show coming off a loss and bye week…

“We just hope to play better, execute better on some of the stuff we worked on this past bye week and bring some of the stuff we do in practice to the game.”

 

On the run game being a bright spot in the LSU game…

“It gives us a lot of confidence moving forward. If we can do it against LSU, we feel we can do it against a lot of good teams in the SEC.”

 

#44 Juwan Taylor | Sr. | LB

On breaking down LSU film… 

“There wasn’t any loafs of anything. It was more to do with discipline issues and people not filling in the right gaps and stuff like that. We played with toughness…We took the loss into the bye week and just went to work. We worked on just ourselves for two days, really getting after it. We had two really physical two days of practice and then Thursday we started working on Florida.”

 

On difference between Florida this year compared to last year and preparing for Florida… 

“Right now, they are playing really confident. They are buying into what their coach has brought to the program. They are a real good football team right now…This last bye week we were working on ourselves, especially with stopping the run. We really trust Coach (Kirby) Smart’s process of going 100% on those days and trusting that our bodies will recover Friday and Saturday on the off days.”

 

On what the game means to him being from Florida… 

“I’ve never liked Florida, because I was a Miami Hurricanes fan growing up…I grew up in the south so the biggest game to me was Miami and Florida State, so I didn’t realize how big the Georgia/Florida game was until I started watching football more in middle school. The physicality really stuck out for me.

 

On advice to freshman on the Georgia/Florida game… 

“I tell them that it is a fourth quarter, go-hard type of game. It is that type of game that you have to get your mind and body prepared for.”

 

#13 Jonathan Ledbetter | Sr. | DE 

On knowing Todd Grantham… 

“I did. I wasn’t here but my brother was actually about to get recruited for Tight End before I got here, so he was still the coach here and was still on the defensive side. He is a really great coach. He likes to go all for it when he is running a defense and sends a lot of guys and you can see that is what he is doing at Florida.”

 

On how much better this team is compared to a year ago… 

“I feel like you have a different team every year and you really have to come in and start early on making an identity and forming who you are as a unit. Every year is different. We have a lot of young guys who have had to step up and become big players for us and I think they are and will continue to do a good job as the year goes forward.”

 

On how much the message after the last game that all the goals for this team are still achievable resonated… 

“We control our destiny. It is a tough loss to LSU but they have a great football team. Put nothing against them but we didn’t come out and execute like we were supposed to. We weren’t physical enough, they came out and played a little bit harder than us. If we continue to do what we are supposed to do and bounce back from that and handle the rest of the season how we are supposed to then our destiny is in our hands. We can be where we want to be.”

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