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Georgia head coach Kirby Smart before the Bulldogs' game with Tennessee in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020.. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker)

University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart and several Bulldog student-athletes offered the following comments on Monday. 

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement … 

“We are moving forward and have been getting prepared for this game since really yesterday morning. We will have our first practice today. I’ve got a lot of respect for these guys, having worked there for a long time. They’ve got a really good program. They’ve got really good football players, physical at both the offensive and defensive lines, extremely physical and extremely big. They do a really good job in special teams. They are always well coached, play the best players on special teams, similar to the way we do. This is what college football is all about, so we are looking forward to the matchup.”

On the prolific offenses in college football and how Alabama has succeeded so well on offense … 

“What’s made them succeed well is players. They’ve got really good players. Sark [Steve Sarkisian] does a great job of implementing the system that the kids can execute. It’s based on really hard guys to cover outside. They’ve got one of, probably the best backs in the country if not one of the best backs in the country. Najee [Harris] runs the ball really hard, and they are massive upfront. So, offensively, they are not built like some of these teams that go tempo the whole time and go hurry-up the whole time. They can go up-tempo and they do tempo well, but they are really big, they can take shots down the field with explosive wideouts they have. They make you defend the entire field. 

“I think college football as a whole is more offensive because the rules lend it to be that way in terms of allowing — you can have linemen a little further down field in college, so the RPO game gets to be big. You can do tempo in college football at a lot higher rate. Tempo hasn’t been successful in the NFL because you get your quarterback hit and, to be honest with you, a lot of those NFL teams their linemen aren’t built to go tempo. They are not built to go 70, I mean 100 plays a game, and go really fast. A lot of the teams that have the most success statistically are tempo teams in college football. I think that has a lot to do with the success and the numbers you are seeing. Alabama capitalizes on a great system with a really good scheme and really good players.” 

On the 2007 overtime game in Tuscaloosa… 

“I thought we played a pretty good game defensively. I don’t remember a lot of it. It was not really high scoring for you to have some of the weapons they had at the time. Knowshon [Moreno] was a first-round pick. Matt [Stafford] was a first-round pick. I am sure they probably had another one, maybe a wideout somewhere in there what was a really good player, too. So, it was a good game. Went into overtime, and then they won the game on a really good throw and catch first play.”

On going to Tuscaloosa for the first time as a head coach and memories at Alabama … 

“The challenges to going back are playing a really good football team in a tough atmosphere. They will have as many as they can have and it will be as loud as they can possibly make it. In terms of going back, I don’t think I’ve been back since I’ve been the head coach at Georgia. I don’t think I’ve been back any. I don’t really remember.” 

On how Tommy Bush is doing and other injury updates … 

“Yeah, I think Warren [Ericson] and Ben [Cleveland] are going to be fine. A lot of their’s was fatigue. It was humid, and they wore down a little bit. We tried to sub in for them, but no injuries. 

“Tommy was in a minor accident. Thankfully, his health, he is safe. He’s got a little bit of a concussion. He’s got some injuries, but we are thankful that Tommy is ok because it was a dangerous situation.”

On what he’s learned about the Georgia offense through three games and the priorities for this week…

“The biggest thing is that when we execute, we are hard to stop. When we don’t execute, we go backwards. It’s that simple.  Everyone wants to make it about this or that. But if the guy has the right split and if the guy does the motion right, and we block it right and not cut one free, Stetson’s accurate and he finds people, we block it the correct way up front, we move people- we have success.  If we don’t move people, then we don’t. It’s not really complicated. It’s more a matter of can we execute at a high level and are our players good enough to move their players.”

 

On if the magnitude of this game is lessened because it’s a regular season game, compared to the last two times his teams have faced Alabama and the roster turnover since those games…

“The magnitude of every game, as you well know, is huge. It’s the next game. And probably in a season where you’re not playing out of conference games, every game is really important because we are playing all SEC opponents. Obviously, the magnitude of those last two, we all know what they were and what they were for, so I can’t weigh the magnitude.  It’s hard for me to compare those things because there’s not a game that I’ve played in where the magnitude wasn’t great.”

 

On the resiliency of the Bulldogs after taking decisive wins in two games when trailing at halftime…

“It shows me what we can be if we do that the whole time. My focus is on why are we not doing that from the start. Why are we not executing better from the start and dominating the opponent instead of keeping people in the game. We have to do a better job of dominating from start to finish. That’s the focus, is how we can do that better. I am proud of how they have responded.  They responded by coming out and playing physical. And we still didn’t execute with certainty in the second half of those games. Not the way that we’re capable of.”

 

On mistakes and penalties in the first half and how the players deal with that and make corrections …

“You have to try to prepare and get guys to execute at a higher level. You can’t say do less with them. You have to do what you have to do to give yourself a chance to win.  As a coach, you can’t be afraid to challenge your players in terms of execution and asking them to understand what it is the scheme is you want to do. You can’t sit there and say I’m not going to move anybody, I’m not going to shift anybody. I have to be able to go play. We have to get better at that. We have to grow up on offense, defense, and special teams. And grow up faster. There’s no time to be patient in a schedule like we’ve got.”

 

On if he can motivate his players in the same way for this game against Alabama, compared to the championship games…

“I don’t think players need motivating. I really don’t. Not for this game in any scenario. They don’t need motivating. It’s No. 2 versus No. 3.  It’s Alabama versus Georgia. They realize what’s at stake. I don’t think it’s about the motivation. I don’t get into comparing the matchup, this one to the other games, those teams have almost completely turned over. When you look at their team and our team- there’s not many guys who played in those games.”

On how Stetson Bennett has taken command of the team…

“I honestly think he’s just himself. He doesn’t try to be someone else. He doesn’t try to artificially lead or fake it. He never did that while he was trying to compete for the job and he hasn’t done it since he got the job. Stetson is who he is, and I think the skill players on offense, the offensive line, they all trust him and rally around him because they know he understands what we’re trying to do offensively and he can put them in good situations. The defensive players have all seen him play and see what Stetson’s about, so he does it his own way, which is doing very little in terms of trying to vocally lead. He leads by example and he encourages guys and helps guys a lot.”

 

On lessons learned from Nick Saban that have carried into his career…

“Focus on the task at hand. I thought he was always a master of that, of not really having the highs and lows, the emotional spells of a coach, and was focused on what’s important now.”

 

On the defensive performances in the second half…

“I’ve seen some energy. I thought in all three games they became more energized in the most important moments of the game in the second half. They’ve increased the intensity and played really hard. I think some of that is we play a lot of players. So, when you boil down to it, hopefully, we’re fresher than the opponent. I know in the first couple of games, it was very warm in two of them where you wear somebody down and you can take advantage of your depth in the second half and see yourself playing faster than the opponent. It’s something we’ve got to continue to work on and get better at because we always haven’t been that way in the first half. We certainly had a second half against Auburn that was a lackluster couple drives where they converted a lot of third downs. You can’t be a good team consistently and do that, and we’ve got to help our offense by getting the ball back.”

 

On the running back situation…

“I’ve been really pleased with the backs. I think protecting the ball is really key for us and having great ball security, which it always is. They run hard after contact and break tackles. Each one is a little different than the other, and James [Cook] certainly brings an exciting quality to our offense and brings a different flair than some of the other guys. We expect to have him back. To be honest, we thought he could’ve gone emergency Saturday. We felt good about him being able to go should we have needed him Saturday. We have good depth there right now, so we’re hoping he’ll be 100 percent healthy and ready to go.”

 

On the Alabama offensive line against Georgia’s defensive line…

“They’re just massive. Even as good of offensive lines as we’ve had, and you throw Andrew [Thomas], Isaiah [Wilson], and Solomon [Kindley] for us, those guys were big people, but these guys. They have a guard bigger than Soli. They’ve got tackles that are bigger than Andrew and Isaiah in a lot of ways. It’s just a big group. They can swallow you up. They can move you; they can mash you. [Alex] Leatherwood played against us in the National Championship Game. He came in and played, and I thought he played really well in that game for a freshman. They’ve got experience. It’s certainly a really good group of veteran offensive line guys that help them be successful offensively.”

 

On encouraging the team …

“Yeah, you know I don’t think the psyche or the disposition of most of these kids is that way. Our kids all got recruited by Alabama. They know Alabama’s players. They played in all-star games with Alabama’s players. All of these kids know each other, now. It is just so different. They don’t necessarily see it by wins and losses and just championships. Our guys have played LSU two years in a row. They played Alabama two years in a row before that. There’s enough of our players that have played Alabama two games that know it’s a physical brand of football. It’s a physical game. We played them twice, and it wasn’t like they didn’t feel like they couldn’t beat them.”

 

On finishing the game better against Alabama…

“I think it’s a confidence level. It’s an execution level. At the end of the day most games come down to the fourth quarter when you have two talented football teams. In both cases, we have to finish better. A lot of that comes through maturity, execution—all of the little things you have to do right at the end of the game to give yourself a chance to win.”

 

On Jaylen Waddle and the challenges he brings as a wide receiver and his contribution to special teams…

“He is as dynamic and electric as I have seen. He touches the ball—you can see it on tape—it pops off and it’s really not just special teams.  They find ways all over the field to get him the ball. They move him around. They motion him. They give him touches, every way you can. Shame on them if they don’t because he is electric when he touches the ball. He is just a really, really good football player. He is tough. He runs the ball tough. He is physical. There are a lot of challenges there for us with him. He creates a lot of issues.”

 

On his mentality of treating all games the same and for a game with this high of expectations does he coach or go into the game any different…

“No. I don’t think so. You coach every game to win, and that is what we will always do here. If you make this one bigger than the rest the one the next week won’t be. I know for you guys it’s not that way, but for us it has to be because every team we play on our schedule is capable of beating us. You have to prepare the same and be very consistent in your message and preparation for your players.”

 

On what contributed to the split safety looks, high looks and Stetson Bennett being able to check the runs in the middle of the field during the Tennessee game…

“I think it’s just how Tennessee plays. Every team is different. Every team has a different philosophy. Some believe in closing the middle field. Some believe in leaving it open. Some believe in [8] man. Some believe in zone. Some believe in pressure. Some believe in drops. That’s Tennessee’s philosophy—they believe in protecting the secondary and not giving up big plays, and that is just the way they played us.”

 

On what he makes of Lane Kiffin discussing the group text between him, Kiffin, Will Muschamp and Jeremy Pruitt/his thoughts on the hype around Nick Saban’s record against former assistants…

“[Lane Kiffin] revealed the text messages, not me. That’s Lane being Lane. I’m not interested in that. He can do whatever he wants to do. He did it all last week—that’s Lane’s personality. As far as the record, I mean what’s everybody’s record against Coach [Nick] Saban. Everybody always makes it about the assistants, and I always laugh because I don’t think anybody in the last 10 years that has a really good record against him in terms of that. It is not something I try to focus on. I focus on what’s going to allow us to play good.”

 

On implementing George Pickens more in different areas of the field similar to what Alabama does with Jaylen Waddle…

“I don’t think [George] Pickens is like [Jaylen] Waddle. They are different type players. Both are really good players, but they are different types of guys. Waddle is a big return guy, George is not really in our return game. George does a really good job, and we certainly have to find ways to get George the ball. I couldn’t agree with you more. Some of it is dictated by what the other team does and some of it is dictated by what we have to do. They certainly do a good job of doing that—getting Waddle the ball.”

— UGA Player Quotes —

#87 Tre’ McKitty | Graduate Student | TE

On whether he remembers watching previous Georgia-Alabama National Championship game and whether he ever imagined he would play for UGA against Alabama one day…

“Yeah, for sure. I sat on my couch and watched it, actually. I never thought about playing for Georgia in the Alabama game but I’m just glad to be here. I know those [UGA-Alabama] games were extremely competitive and exciting to watch, and I can only imagine what it is going to be like playing in it.”

On his transfer to UGA/how his injury during fall camp has affected him this season…

“I was just in the middle of camp and fell on my knee, and I took a somewhat minor knee injury and had to be sidelined for a few weeks. It was definitely hard to sit on the sidelines and watch my guys out there working, especially for the first two games, but definitely super blessed and exciting to be out there this last week and continue to play the rest of the season with my guys.”

On the reason he chose to transfer to Georgia…

“I always liked Georgia growing up [and] took an official here coming out of high school and just wasn’t the time then, but everything happens for a reason. I came into the portal at the beginning of this year and had some great conversations with Coach Smart and Coach Hartley, and I knew Coach Monken was coming in with the NFL style offense, and it was something I wanted to be a part of.”

#69 Jamaree Salyer | Junior | OL

On what Alabama’s defensive style up front is like…

“Big, athletic guys just like us. They play a physical brand of football. [Georgia and Alabama] are two very similar programs. They get after it, we get after it, so it’ll be fun to see that competition.”

On the environment he expects to encounter Saturday night in Tuscaloosa/what his primary mindset is going to be… 

“I think it’ll be a wild environment, even with the stadium restrictions and fan restrictions. I think it’ll still be a wild environment. At Sanford, it’s been a wild environment, so I can only imagine what it’s going to be like at Bryant-Denny, but it’s going to be a fun game. I’m excited for the challenge, to be able to compete against a program like [Alabama] that’s been notoriously good for so long. It’s going to be fun, and it’s going to be a fun environment. I know our guys are hype, they’re ready to go, and we’re ready to compete.”

On what Stetson Bennett is like…

“Stetson is confident. He’s confident in himself, and he’s a competitor. Stets goes out there and gives it everything he’s got every day. He doesn’t like to lose. You can just see that on the job when he came in at Arkansas. He was out there having fun, completing third downs, getting first downs. He was having fun, and he has fun competing. For me, being able to protect a guy like that and to listen to to a guy like that, and look up to a guy like that — there’s nothing more you could want from a quarterback. He’s a guy who doesn’t like to lose. Jake [Fromm] was very similar in that way. They’re both just guys who don’t like to lose. That’s Stetson all day. Stets is going to go out there and compete, and he’s going to give you everything he’s got on every play, and he’s not going to fold on you when things get tough.”

#27 Eric Stokes | Junior | DB

On if the game against Alabama being a regular season makes it easier…

“We are going to treat this like any other game. If it’s the SEC Championship or a regular season game, we just want to go 1-0 every week.”

On how he gets the talk about Alabama out of his head and how they improve…

“We have coach [Dan] Lanning every Monday show us what we can work on. Like today, there’s still a lot of things that we need to do to get better at and improve. We gave up touchdowns and plays throughout the whole game. There are still a lot of little things to work on to be the best team that we can be.”

On if the team he is on now eclipses teams from the past…

“We have a deep unit this year that I absolutely love. I can say that I’m a leader now because last year I always looked to J.R. [Reed]. To be one of the leaders it’s tremendous. Seeing the younger buy into what I do, it just feels different.”

#99 Jordan Davis | Junior | DL

On if he carries any previous moments or memories from the last few meetings with Alabama…

“Alabama is always a tough, challenging game. I always take into consideration on how well they’re coached, how they push and it’s an amazing challenge. Every game is a business trip, so I want to focus on us this week, going to Alabama and doing our thing.”

On his objective every game…

“It’s definitely a ‘do my job’ type thing. I play for the linebackers, I know they’re going to make more plays than I am, so if I can hold up the offensive line the linebackers can eat off me.”

On the feeling in the huddle when the team starts to dominate…

“The last game at halftime we told ourselves to stay positive, because we’ve been in this position before. We never waivered, we never fault ourselves, we just wanted to come out strong and make sure we stop them. Obviously, their offense made a lot of plays, but at the end of the day we just wanted to have one more point than they did.”

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