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ATHENS, Ga. —  University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, previewed Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets kick off at noon ET. 

On Monday, Coach Smart and student-athletes offered the following comments. 

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement … 

“Looking forward to those two visits, those are always great events. I can remember doing those events as a player here before we played in Atlanta. So I know our players will be looking forward to it as well.

Our guys are good to go and ready to move on to Georgia Tech. I know they’re excited for this week of practice. It’s kind of a different schedule for us with Thanksgiving being involved. And a lot of the guys get to go home, that live within a close enough radius, to share time with their family and return here and travel over to Atlanta as a team, as we prepare for Georgia Tech.”

On Jake Fromm’s ability to throw the ball and if there is a common thread over the last few games … 

“You know, it’s hard to put a finger on it. Auburn they play really tight coverage. There’s no really easy throws. I thought these guys — guys had just played Texas A&M. Their pass efficiency defense is really stellar. They do some good things defensively. Their coordinator was at Notre Dame; he’s done some really good things. Makes it tough at times but at times you’ve got to hit the open guy.

I think Jake would be the first to tell you that. We missed a couple, made a couple. There’s no easy throws. When you start looking at it there’s not like a “gimmee” here or three. You try to get high-percentage throws and we had a couple of those to the back in the flat and to Charlie and to the swing passes. But we’ve got to do a better job helping him out and he’s got to do a better job hitting the ones when they’re open.”

On if he has seen Georgia Tech progress this season … 

“Yeah, I think their offense has grown and they got better and better from the beginning of the year towards the end of the year it’s like two different teams. I think they were learning a new system. And any time you’re learning a new system and you have growing pains and you push through those. Their quarterback’s done a tremendous job. We know him well, recruited him out of high school. James has been extremely athletic and he’s gotten better throwing the ball. He threw the ball with a lot of confidence Thursday night and their team is growing.”

On if Fromm’s arm health is ok … 

“Yeah, his arm’s fine.”

On what is different now not having to prepare for Georgia Tech’s triple option … 

“Yeah, they still have a lot of elements of the options. So obviously when I say a lot, I don’t mean as much as what they had previously, because they were — they were all in when they were triple options. They have elements of the triple. They still — you can’t just flip it over and just go completely to a non- — when that’s what your roster is made. They have dive pitch keys, they have reads. They have perimeter runs, inside runs. They’ve got elements of the option. So it is different from a perspective of not having to do everything we used to do, which was completely different. So where it was a 100 percent different defense, it might be 50 percent difference now with some of the things they’re doing.”

On injury updates on Eric Stokes, Cade Mays, Tyrique McGhee and Lawrence Cager … 

“Tyrique cleared out last week. Was able to practice — Tyrique McGee was able to practice a couple days and thought we could use him. He made a good play on special teams and got real involved with the special teams units. And he helped provide depth in the secondary. So, it was great to get him back great to get him back for his last game because he’s a kid who has had a lot of injuries and been in and out of the roster.

Cade was, just like we said last week, was cleared to go. He was going to be able to go if we needed him to. We wanted to try to avoid it if we could. And we were able to get through the game without having to use him.

We talked about Cager after the game. He didn’t feel like that he was able to go and was going to be 100 percent. But there’s nothing new on those two as far as we’re moving forward. They should be cleared to practice this week and we’re hopeful they’ll play.

Stokes got dinged in the game. I think it was on the offensive pass interference play where he and the receiver kind of ran together. He took a jolt. But we think he’s going to be fine. Think he’ll be fine to go today.”

On how he now uses the time he used to have to spend preparing for Tech’s triple option … 

“I didn’t know if it was an unknown. Geoff hires an offensive coordinator, an offensive staff; you know what they do. So you try to plan based on that. We get to watch — we have a person that scouts ahead. It’s advanced scouting. They watched teams that we’re going to play. And we try to look down the road and say what’s going to be really difficult. What’s different? Not necessarily, though they’ve got really good players, you look at teams and say, what is it based on that’s so different they do that we can’t handle.

So we said, hey, Georgia Tech’s got a very different offensive system than what we faced week-to-week. Even now they’re different. So during the off week, we took some periods and worked on some different things they were doing.

So it’s never based on who you play in the future, what their record is. It’s what they’re doing offensively or defensively that’s different than what you see.”

On how this year’s Georgia team compares to his last team at Alabama … 

“Like I said, it’s hard for me to compare that because I didn’t look at that team through the glasses of a head coach. I looked at that team through the glasses of a defensive coordinator where I was really focused on that. Obviously this team has some really good traits. I don’t know how they compare to that team. I can’t even remember that team. I do know to be successful we’ve got to play better in every facet of our team — special teams, defense and offense. But certainly we have to improve offensively the most in order to get where we want to go.”

On his relationships with coaches on Georgia Tech’s staff, specifically Geoff Collins and Brent Key…

“Geoff and I have worked on the same staff at Alabama, have a lot of respect for Geoff. He has a ton of energy. Does a tremendous job. He leaves no stone unturned. He’s looking for every competitive advantage he can get, whether it’s through recruiting, whether it’s through innovation, whether it’s through scheme, whether it’s through motivation. He’s a high-energy guy.

And Brent’s the same way. Brent’s a Georgia Tech guy. He played there. He played there while I was playing here. And he and I have never been on a staff together but we’ve always crossed paths and been friends in recruiting. We go to the same schools as assistant coaches. And I see Brent in the offseason a lot. I have a lot of respect for those guys and the job they do.”

On how he sees the matchup of Georgia’s offensive line with Georgia Tech’s defensive front…
“When you look across the board they’ve got guys that play quite a bit of snaps. They rotate a lot of guys in there. They play a ton of players. Geoff’s always done that. He had that philosophy when he was at Mississippi State, when he was at Florida.

I think that helps build morale and self-worth within your team. You have more kids bought into the organization when they know they’re going to get an opportunity to contribute. So they play a lot of guys and they move and they’ve got athletic guys up there.

We’ve got to worry about ourselves more than we have to worry about Tech. And that’s the case every week. You have to get better at you, and it’s not really about the other team. And that’s what we focus on regardless of who we are playing.”

On how adding more marquee non-conference games going forward will affect the significance of this game…
“I don’t worry about — no, I think this is one of the most traditional rivalries in all of college football. And I don’t know that our scheduling is going to change the fact that — it’s not going to move the proximity of their university and ours.

We’re always going to have interstate rivals, whether it’s through recruiting, whether it’s through recruiting students, whether it’s through anything. So I think the history and tradition is there that this game is always going to be a big factor.”

On his memories of the Georgia Tech rivalry and if Georgia coaches cross paths with Georgia Tech coaches on the recruiting trail…
“The second one, we do run into them a lot. We ran into them before because nobody’s not going to recruit in our state. Let’s be honest. There’s good football players in our state.

They probably recruited different type players in a lot of situations. Like tight end, obviously they weren’t recruiting a lot of tight ends during their last staff. And you can tell that Geoff and his staff have made it a priority through their transfers and through who they’re recruiting.

So you come across those guys much more. As far as the rivalry, I mean, it’s always — when I came to school here as a player, it was one of the biggest rivalries there was. It was what you talked about as a freshman. It’s what was engrained in you to have the hate and build that up.

I think because of the conferences and because of the importance of winning your conference, that may have diminished some in regards to over the time. But the game, the rivalry is usually based on wins and losses and who is winning those games.

Georgia has so many rivalries that you can’t say one’s more important than the other. You don’t think it’s important, then lose it and then it will be really important. And I know the importance of this game and I know the significance it has to so many of our fans, especially the crowd that may be older that traditionally Georgia Tech was a national powerhouse year in, year out. It means so much to them.”

On the challenge and focus this week knowing there is a big game the week after…
“The challenge is about the rivalry. So when you think about this game, records are thrown out. None of that matters. They finished Thursday. This is a huge opportunity and stage for them. We acknowledge that.

A lot of our kids will be playing in front of their home crowd where they’re from, their community because of so many kids being from the Atlanta area. That’s the focus and that’s the concentration, and our guys understand that.

We have a mature team and we said the other day that most important step is the next step. Georgia Tech is the next step. And they’ve got a football team that’s peaking at the right time. Played a really good game Thursday night. So we’ve got to go out and play a good football game.”

On if there is anything extra they do as a team to help with injury prevention and rehabilitation at this point in the season…
“Yeah, we drive recovery home. Recovery is so critical to your soft tissue muscles, and part of recovery is rest. So we talk about sleep, making sure you’re getting proper sleep, extra treatment. We’ve cut time out of practice, whether it’s five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, that you hate doing as a coach, but you’re trying to get return on investment and say, okay, you’ve got to spend this time in the cold tub. You’ve got to spend this time in the training room.

Instead of walking through on Friday and going straight to dinner, we took 20 more minutes and got everybody some extra recovery because we think that can be the difference at the end of the year if you’re out recovering a team than you’ve got an opportunity to have a competitive advantage and we’re trying that.”

On memories of playing in the rivalry with Georgia Tech as a student-athlete…

“The memory I have is probably the worst. It’s what you always do; you don’t remember the positives sometimes, you remember the bad. It was my last home game at Sanford Stadium and lost on a game-winning field goal with Joe Hamilton’s drive. So that was my last memory of Sanford Stadium. Thank God I got into coaching; I got to fix that. But otherwise that would have been the last time that I was in there. That was a tough loss that if Georgia had won at that time, I think maybe three or four, I’m not sure how many in a row they had won, and our senior class lost to a well-coached, really good football team.”

On if he will be able to enjoy Thanksgiving with family…

“The actual Thanksgiving day, I wouldn’t say — the week is a work week for us, game week. So Thursday we get to finish a little bit earlier, move some things up. It makes for an awkward scheduling. But I say awkward because it’s different than a normal game week but it’s not awkward for Thanksgiving. It’s what everybody does. Your goal in high school football is to be playing on Thanksgiving and your goal in college football is to be relevant and still have an importance to the game. For our kids, I know they’re fired up to get see their family but they like this game, it’s an exciting game.”

On what Sam Pittmann does well on the recruiting trail…
“It’s Sam’s personality. He kind of just oozes with confidence, and the offensive linemen appreciate that. He’s very genuine. You don’t get a sales pitch; you get his natural instinctive self. A lot of you guys have seen his personality through social media. That’s the same way he is with the kids. And the kids — the players gravitate to that. And I think that’s a very natural for him, and he’s done a tremendous job recruiting for us.”

On where the defense needs to continue to improve…
“Turnovers. We’ve got to force turnovers. We’ve got to be better in the red area. We’ve slipped in the red area the last couple of weeks. We don’t sustain at the end of games. Meaning we give up a pace drive or a rhythmic drive where somebody gets on rhythm and we’ve got to be able to stomp on people’s throats when you get them down. And what they’ve done well is a lot of things. But what they can improve on is several specific things that we try to work on each week and we try to demand it of them. The great thing about this defense is they take criticism well. They handle criticism well. They realize we want to be the best. To be the best means you never arrive. So you have to keep driving to get better and they’ve really accepted that.”

On Travon Walker’s role in the Texas A&M game…
“We met as a staff and just felt he was one of our best 20 football players and we weren’t getting the most out of him. I just forced upon them to say he’s got to be on the field. So we’ll figure out a way. Some of that was dictated by what Texas A&M did. He has a unique skill set. He’s 270 pounds. He’s different than some of our other guys. He’s done a really good job. We’re just trying to find ways to use his athleticism. So when they’re in open sets, it allows him to play a little more. And Texas A&M chose to do that some. So it helped us.”

On Jordan Mason as a running back…
“(Jordan) Mason is an unbelievable back. First of all, seen him play several Thursday night games where I’ve got to watch him. He’s physical. Low to the ground. He runs mad. And he’s thick. He’s heavier than the backs that we’ve faced and has great strength in his lower body. I just respect his running passion and his energy. I love watching him run, and he does it the right way.”

On being prepared for this weekend’s rivalry game despite Georgia Tech’s record…  
“I don’t think you have to worry about that because we don’t look at the record. We look at the team on the tape. That’s more important than their record. We’re not scoreboard watching. We’re not record watching. We’re looking at the guy across from us and we’re really, as simple as it sounds, I know you think people don’t do this, but we’re trying to take the next step, which is Georgia Tech.”

On Richard LeCounte and what he has brought to the defense this season…
“(Richard’s) playing with a lot of energy and passion. He’s practicing better. He takes a lot more pride in making his calls and learning the game plan, that he can make good decisions on the field in the heat of the moment. I think he’s taken a nice step forward in regards to that and he plays really hard. He doesn’t always play with great eye control or great discipline, but he plays really hard, gets after the ball, attacks the ball.”

On Georgia’s recent success on kickoff and punt returns…
“Kickoff return is different than punt return. I think kickoff return, Brian (Herrien’s) provided us a major spark. Wish we had done it earlier. He was the off guy for so long, such a good blocker and good decision-maker, that he’s been good as the primary returner. He’s done a good job. It’s not like all of a sudden he’s gotten better. He’s gotten opportunities. We don’t get a lot of opportunities when the ball is kicked into the end zone.

“And then punt return, I thought Dominick Blaylock took what was there and got what was there, but I thought our hold-up unit did a much better job the last two weeks of giving him opportunities to make plays and we’ve still got to make more out of what we’re getting him.”

#30 Tae Crowder | SR. | ILB 

On what Jordan Davis brings to this team both in the locker room and on the field… 

“Off the field he is very funny, someone you love to be around. On the field, he works hard and is a threat. We need Jordan. We try to stay on him because he is young, to get him to keep working.” 

On how it has been preparing for Georgia Tech this year compared to previous years without having to prepare for cut blocking… 

“We haven’t really started practicing for Tech yet, so I am not sure how it is going to be different. But, we will see today. It has been nice to not have deal with the cut blocking in spring practice and the beginning of the season. Everyone who has played in this game knows it was crazy when we had to prepare for that.”

#89 Charlie Woerner | Senior | TE

On the defense affecting the way the offense plays…

“It’s awesome to have our defense as good as they are. It really takes a lot of pressure off us to always have to score every drive …  They can win us games but also during the week, we’ve got to match their intensity every practice and help them out more. We need to put more points on the board as an offense to help them out.”

 

On where the offense needs to improve…

“We need to execute more, a little better in the red zone. When we get down to that red zone area, we’ve got to get touchdowns, not just field goals. (Rodrigo Blankenship) is a tremendous weapon for us but we need six points, not just three all the time.”

 

On if he talks Georgia football with his uncle and former Bulldog Scott Woerner…

“We talk about it, but nothing too much. We really don’t talk a whole lot of football. We kind of just talk about hunting and fishing and stuff.”   

#59 Steven Nixon | Graduate Student | LS

On his thoughts about playing at Georgia Tech this weekend… 

“It’s going to be fun. It’s one of those deep southern rivalries. I think that [Georgia] Tech is going to come out prepared, but I think we’ve got a really great game plan set in place. We’re going to take this week just like we take every other week. Come in, prepare another game plan, and go out there and execute… I grew up a Georgia fan, but I actually played at [Georgia] Tech back in 2016 whenever I played at Mercer. This isn’t my first time playing there, but I know this game is just different. I know we prepare differently here for Tech than we do a lot of other teams because it’s just different. It’s more of a pride thing. It’ll be really interesting to see how Georgia Tech comes out with their new offense and new coaching staff. They’ve had some ups and downs this year, but they just beat NC State. It’s going to be really cool and really fun. We’re excited.” 

On the importance Coach Smart places on special teams…

“He’s in every special teams meeting every single day. I think that says a lot about him as a coach and a lot about the coaching staff. A lot of schools don’t put a lot of emphasis on special teams, but [Coach Smart] is in every meeting. He’s at every walkthrough, and he knows exactly what everyone’s doing, on every position on the field, on all four phases of special teams. They love special teams here. We take a lot of pride in it— I know I do. All the snappers, kickers and punters take a lot of pride in it, and even offensive and defensive players that are on the special teams in the shield in the punt on kickoff return, because everyone wants to score. Everyone wants to have an effect, because we know that’s a third of the game. If everyone kind of does his one part, then the 11 guys on the field are going to be alright.” 

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