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ATHENS, Ga. — University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, previewed Saturday’s game against UMass. They offered the following comments during Monday’s media session.

 

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening comments … 

“Onto UMass. Our guys came in yesterday and were able to get some treatment and do some things, and looking forward to moving on to UMass and getting another chance to come play at home. It’s another home game for our seniors, one of the last two they’ll have at home. I know we have a really good senior class that has a chance to do some special things in terms of the number of wins in their career, and that’s been exciting for them, as well as the win last Saturday night. So with that we’ll open it up for questions.”

On the success of two-minute offense at the end of a half…
“I think the tempo of play sometimes speeds up. I also think defenses, a couple of the games you’re referencing, they played us differently. Sometimes defenses change during that time because they know the pass is imminent. When you have the threat of run and pass, especially against us, it makes it a lot tougher to defend, and Jake (Fromm) has done a good job managing the clock.

Our offense does that every week. They do it against us. We practice it really hard, but I mean so does everybody else. So it’s one of those things that I think we’ve been efficient at because of how much we work on it, but also because that’s Jake’s strength is being able to operate quickly and make good decisions with the ball, and he’s not afraid to hit check-downs.”

On playing non-Power 5 conference teams, especially after playing several games with a lot riding on them the past few weeks…
“I’ve spoken on this before as far as playing non-Power 5 teams. I think there’s two ways to look at it, you know. If attendance becomes a problem or continues to be a problem, which we haven’t had a problem here at the University of Georgia, but across the nation, sometimes people are saying attendance is on the decline. I think it’s important that you play quality opponents, but I also think, having coached at lower division levels, it’s important to their programs to be able to finance their programs.

I’m a big believer in the sport of football, and that’s at all levels. I think football teaches you lifelong lessons. I think football is very good for young people to be involved in, to feel like they are part of a team, to feel the failure, to feel the success. And you don’t get that at some of the levels without these games. Some of these programs financially can’t sustain without it. So there’s good and bad with that.”

On Ben Cleveland playing in punt shield and if he will return to the offensive line if other injuries arise…

“Yeah. Ben played in the game the other night when Kendall (Baker) came out, so Ben was able to get in the game and play. He feels better each and every day. We feel like he’s a really good shield protector, and with our coverage unit he hasn’t had to cover a lot, so that’s one of the safer things he’s been able to do for us. I’m not sure yet on Kendall when he’ll be back, same thing on Cade Mays. He’s going to be day to day as well. So we may be looking at both those guys having work to do to get back.”

On the announcement of future home-and-home games with Texas and Clemson…  “We’re excited. I mean I think when you come to the University of Georgia you want to play against the best. I’ve always believed in playing Power 5 opponents. Our fanbase will follow us anywhere. They want to go. We proved that last year. We’ve proven that over the history of time that the Georgia people will travel. They want great games. They want home-and-homes. And as a coach, I know going out recruiting, it helps.

The College Football Playoff has proven that they want strength of schedule. They want you to play good opponents. Who knows what the system will be 10 years from now. It certainly could all change, but I would argue that the better schedule you play and the better teams you play against, the more rewarding it’ll be 10 years from now.

I know 10 years ago from today nobody thought we’d be where we were. And there are some teams that probably could have benefited themselves by playing a tougher schedule. To go out and get these two teams in the same year, you know, you want to come to Georgia, you want to play against the best, and that’s what we want to build. We want kids that want to play against the best. So I’m excited for it and been looking at a lot of other opportunities as well.”

On why Brenton Cox did not play against Auburn…

“He has a little minor ankle sprain, should be back this week. He probably could have played the other day. It’s more a situation I didn’t think he was 100 percent.”

On the opportunity to evaluate players who haven’t had as much playing time this year if Georgia gets an early lead against UMass…
“Well, I think that’s a large assumption, first off, because I got respect for Coach Whipple, and I have seen him coach for a long time. There is probably an assumption in that they have a really good wideout. They have good personnel. We have to get better, and that’s what our focus is this week, on us getting better, our ability to grow young players. I put just as much emphasis in practice as I do in the game. So we’ll see how the game goes. If guys get to play, they get to play. I’m really focused on our practice today and how we can get better and get the younger players better so they can help us down the road.”

On his growing confidence in the run defense…
“I feel better. I think we have really worked on it. I think when you try to emphasize something, you get what you demand a lot of times, so we’ve certainly worked really hard to sure up those areas through technique, fundamentals, going against a pretty good run team in our offense.

We have gotten a couple guys back from injury. But at the end of the day I don’t think you’ve ever arrived when it comes to any statistic. I don’t know where we are now in the country in run defense, but we certainly know that coming down the road with UMass, Georgia Tech, and SEC Championship game, we have physical teams to play. So we have to continue to get better at our run defense, and that comes by how we practice.”

On if D’Andre Swift is now completely healthy after his groin injury and able to make big plays for Georgia…

“I mean, he may tell you that. I don’t know. He had the surgery over the spring, and that was something that he recovered from over the summer. He really came to fall camp and was moving around well. He had a setback in fall camp a couple times that it bothered him, and I think it bothered him early in the season some, but D’Andre has always been a competitor and works hard. He plays for the big moment, does a really good job. But I think the surgery was during the spring.”

 

On Massachusetts’ senior WR Sadiq Palmer…
“He’s talented. He’s got really good quickness. He separates. He double moves a lot. They get the ball to him a lot. I think he’s got a really good rapport with their quarterback. He’s a good football player. He’s one of those guys that is quick in and out of breaks, but he runs by people vertically. So I think it’s pretty easy to see when you turn the tape on why they’ve scored the points they’ve scored. Scored a lot of points in a lot of situations, and he’s a big reason why.”

On which positions have new competition within the team and potential new personnel emerging on Saturday…
“All of them. Every position on our team – every week, inside backer, every week, outside backer, probably more the second and third at the outside backer than the first. But defensive line. We’ve had changes in defensive line, and you all don’t write about who starts there, but we’ve had a lot of changes there. Secondary – we’ve had a lot of battles at safety, and rotating the dime, nickel and star.

Look at the offensive line. I think it’s changed every week, not necessarily out of competition, but out of health reasons. Wide receiver, it’s been that way. It’s changed throughout the year at wide receiver probably three times as to who started, based on who practiced well during the week. That’s been pretty consistent. I mean (Elijah) Holyfield started some games at running back. So that comes about through the work ethic you have during the week and putting a priority on how your practice matters, and that’s every position.”

On the rotation at safety between sophomore DB Richard LeCounte and freshman DB Otis Reese…
“It’s really not a rotation as much as it is personnel based. So depending on what the other team’s in, we play one or the other of the safeties. Otis is getting better. Richard is actually getting better. The best thing for Richard has been Otis’s growth. So I think that the motivation and the competition has made Richard better.”

On what redshirt sophomore DB Eric Stokes offers and his comparison to freshman DB Tyson Campbell…
“Very similar. They’re both young guys. They’re both really fast guys. They’re both track guys. They’re both pretty good tacklers. Eric’s played well in the moments he’s gotten to play in the game. And a lot of getting to play in our games is based on how you practice, so we see 2,000 snaps and you guys see 20 snaps. He’s done a really good job in the snaps he’s been in the game, and he continues to improve, and we’re really fired up about the way he’s been able to play. He’s one of the brightest kids. You teach him something, he knows it and he applies it to the game. And the moment he’s been in the games, the two big games have not been too big for him.”

On Smart’s assessment of freshman QB Justin Fields’ performance against Auburn…

“I see him growing. I see him getting opportunities to manage the game a little more. You got to see him do it probably a little more this time than he has before. And he had some freshman deals. He had the shot clock run out on him, and he had the scramble play that he’ll be the first to tell you he should have thrown it away. Those are the things that we see him do right in practice. We put time constraints on him, and he manages it well. And he’s made a lot of really good decisions in practice to throw the ball away; he didn’t in the game. So I mean, those are things he has to grow from, and he will and he continues to get better.”

On staying sharp against both inclement weather and a non conference opponent…
“I think that’s leadership. I think we’ll find out a lot about our team this week because it’s never about who we’re playing. I mean for you guys it’s about who we’re playing. But I’ve told you all every week that it’s not about Florida, it’s not about Kentucky. It’s not really about them. It’s just about how we work, because we worry about us. And that way when you get to this week, it’s not different. And we focus on us. As far as being inside, it’s not harder to have intensity inside. As a matter of fact, sometimes I think we’re faster when we’re inside, and the collisions may be greater. Space is probably the toughest thing, having everybody in a limited space. We have to do a good job of rotating where we do things.”

On how Smart evaluates special teams…
“We work really hard on it. And I think (special teams coordinator) Coach (Scott) Fountain and his staff of guys that help him with special teams have done a tremendous job. Our kids are committed to special teams. I try to make it the most important thing of the game, because I really think it’s a selfless part of the game where guys don’t get a lot of credit. I mean (punt/kick returner) Mecole (Hardman) gets credit, but the guys that are doing all the work up there don’t get a lot of credit. So we say it’s not for yourself but for others when it comes to special teams. And they’ve bought into that.

Now, statistically – we’re not really where we need to be, like on kickoff coverage, but it’s very misleading because of Rod’s (PK Rodrigo Blankenship’s) leg strength and his ability to get touchbacks, and the same way with punt coverage. We haven’t hit a lot of great punts, but we haven’t had a lot of return yards against us because our gunners are good. We’re good in both return units, and that’s thankful to Mecole as well as some guys that are committed to it. We do a composite at the end of the year that tells us where we rank across the board. We don’t do it throughout the season, but we do expose our players to where they are in the SEC and where they are in the country in terms of special teams.

And the other thing we do is we talk about momentum plays, and I thought the other night we had some huge momentum plays. A momentum play is a big play on special teams. Scott has a criteria for what that is, a tackle inside the 20 on kickoff, a downing the ball inside the 10, which Mecole did a great job and Jake (Camarda) hit a great punt. And then the thing that goes unnoticed is what Terry Godwin does to make a decision to get the ball in the end zone and be a decoy or fair catch the ball and get a 15-yard penalty. He did a really good job, and that’s something that changes field position, which I thought in this game was really big.”

On improving the run defense…

“Like I said earlier when she asked, I think it’s just work. I think going against our offense creates a more competitive run environment. I mean our guys are physical up front and can run the ball. So when we go against them in good-on-good, we really try to crank it up and challenge our defensive line and don’t shy away from practicing hard. The other thing is we’ve tackled better. We try to play with better technique. We’ve been healthier. I mean there was some time in there where we didn’t have as many 300-pound guys healthy, and we’ve got a couple more guys now that helped build a wall for us. Jordan (Davis) has been a big part of that. Although he was present at LSU and we didn’t tackle well, he’s been present since and we’ve tackled better.”

On an update for David Marshall and DaQuan Hawkins-Muckle…
“They both will not be available this week.”

On Smart’s assessment of the defense affecting the quarterback…
“I thought that was a big difference in the game this past week. I thought we were able to disrupt him. We didn’t always sack him, but we moved him out of the pocket, made him think a little bit, did some things that we hadn’t been doing, changed him up from the SEC Championship game. I think anytime you can give the quarterback a different picture or picture he’s not clear on, you have a chance to rattle him a little bit. We just have to do a better job of finishing on him when we can get to him to get the sacks and not hurries in pressures. Thanks.”

 

 

#11 Jake Fromm | So. | QB

On what’s been working well since the bye week…

“Execution. Everyone’s been playing off each other, everyone’s been in that groove right now. Hopefully we can keep it and keep rolling with it. It’s working out really well for us right now.”

 

On the offensive line working really well and keeping that confidence high…

“Those guys are doing an incredible job. Just keep doing what they’re doing, keep being physical, keep grinding on these guys. Auburn had a Sunday-caliber defensive line and our guys did a really good job with those guys and moving them. D’Andre [Swift] and Elijah [Holyfield] had really good performances so those guys are doing a really good job of playing at a high level and I hope they can continue to do that.”

 

On Fromm’s personal motivation during defining moments…

“I keep thinking about the reason I play football. God put me here to play football and glorify Him. So I think I best glorify Him when I’m playing at a high level. I’m working to be the best football player I can be. Just trying to serve my God, serve my teammates, serve my family, and be the best I can be.”

 

 

#44 Juwan Taylor | Sr. | LB

On preparing for the UMass game after coming off wins against teams like Auburn, Florida, and other ranked opponents… 

“It isn’t tough at all. It is the next game for us, the next opponent. We approach every week the same so there is nothing different about preparing for this game. Every week is the same for us, we prepare the same way for every opponent, no matter who we play.”

 

On what has been the key in the improvement of Georgia’s run defense… 

“I think it has a lot to do with the bye week that we had. Coming off the bye week, I think we have continued to improve over the last three weeks on our run defense. We just went to work on the bye week, focusing on what we need to focus on and worked on us. We are going to continue to improve each week and continue to practice hard these last couple of weeks of the season.”

 

On how much hitting goes on in practice and if that helps… 

“Going good on good is what helps the team and what helps everyone with their craft. We try to make everything perfect. Everything isn’t always going to be perfect, but we try to keep everything groomed up. Going one-on-one helps a lot with that.”

 

On the development of Tae Crowder at linebacker… 

“Man, Tae has come a long way. Honestly, I can say he works hard. We came in together and he is like my brother. He came in as a running back, which unfortunately didn’t work out for him at running back, but then he moved to linebacker. We had to toughen him up a little bit but he is a great player. He is very athletic and he has grown so much.”

 

 

#98 Rodrigo Blankenship | Jr. | PK

On playing a non-power five opponent… 

“We are just going into this week with the same mindset that we had last week against Auburn. We don’t want to take anybody on our schedule for granted on any given Saturday. Anything can happen in this country. We are going in with a mindset of being as serious as we can be and we need to have the same level of focus and concentration on details that we had last week. Hopefully, that will allow us to perform our best if not better than we did last week.”

 

On importance of future games schedule like Texas and Clemson… 

“I think it is awesome just to take different teams. You get to play some incredible talents and incredible teams across the country and from different conferences. It brings new challenges that we might not normally be preparing for, so I think it is going to be awesome to have such big historic programs like Georgia, Texas and Clemson to meet and cross paths. It will be an awesome opportunity for all the programs.”

 

On percentage of times he converted the fake field goal pass in practice… 

“I don’t really remember, but I know I completed it a lot more in practice than I did on Saturday. We repped it three out of four days in the week. I just threw it a lot better Monday through Thursday then I did on Saturday. It was a similar situation to LSU that coach did a lot of film work and saw that if they line up a certain way that they are giving us a look that we can make a play on. They lined up for it like we envisioned and decided to run it.”

 

On team’s confidence of special teams… 

“I think we definitely have confidence every week with the amount of talent that we contain on all of our special teams that we have the ability no matter who we play to have the advantage on special teams. That only comes with hard work week-in and week-out we have to grind. We have to focus and pay attention to as much detail as we can to every phase of special teams. As long as we do that Monday through Friday then we are going to have a chance to win that phase of the game on Saturday.”

 

 

#87 Tyler Simmons | Jr. | WR

On acknowledgement of receivers blocking… 

“Last year, we called them KOs. This year, we aren’t really giving out awards for them, but we still track them…I don’t think I’m leading in the category, but I know I’m up there.”

 

On competition in the receiver room… 

“Our room is very competitive. We have a lot of players that can go out there and can play at any given time in the game. If one man goes down, it’s next man up, so it can get a little chippy in the room. The blocking is right up there too with the catches and yards.”

 

On red zone offense struggles… 

“That is something that we have been practicing a lot, because we know we have been struggling on that phase of the game. We are emphasizing it at practice and we hope to get better at it this week.”

 

On timing of facing a non-power five school… 

“We take every game like any other one. Like Auburn, Alabama, we are going to take UMass the same way.”

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