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ATHENS, Ga. — University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, previewed the upcoming game against Kentucky with media on Monday. The Bulldogs take on the Wildcats at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Sanford Stadium.

Smart and the Bulldogs offered the following comments on Monday.

Head Coach Kirby Smart 

Opening comments … 

“We are excited about honoring the military and all they do for us. Serving our country certainly makes it a great place to live, so we are happy to honor them. Obviously our seniors, being Senior Day, it is the last home game for a group of guys that have been really special to me and they have been really special for this Dawg Nation and the legacy they leave behind. A lot of them had opportunities to come out, and it will be their last chance. I really want to challenge our fanbase to come out and support these guys to end it right at home. We have an opportunity to do some things that teams have not done around here before, and they can do that by finishing it right Saturday.

“We are playing a really good Kentucky team. I think Mark Stoops is a really good head coach. He has done a tremendous job up there. The energy and enthusiasm of that game last year when we played up there was incredible to me. It’s not really how I remembered when I was here before as a player. Their offensive staff does a great job. They have a senior quarterback (Stephen Johnson) who is playing really well and one of the best backs in the SEC (Benny Snell, Jr.), a veteran offensive line group and some big receivers. Defensively, they play a similar style to us — big guys, 3-4 defense — and they do a really good job as well. So, the challenge is in front of us with a great Kentucky team rolling in here that I know they want nothing more than to come in here and try to prove they are the best team in the East. We get an opportunity to play them at home, it will be a Senior Day, so we are excited about it.”

On Kentucky running back Benny Snell, Jr. and similarities with Auburn’s rushing attack … 

“They have some similar plays. They might present them differently. I think Eddie (Gran) does a really good job of each week having a different presentation of what people label ‘wildcat.’ Then looking at the picture of what Kerryon (Johnson) did in that package — Auburn does it a little different than them, but Kentucky does a really good job. Their percentage of ‘wildcat’ based on this year was actually higher last year versus us, and that is usually predicated on how much success. If it is working, you do it more. They had a couple of drives last year, particularly one at the end, they ran almost the whole series in the ‘wildcat.’ They are good at it. They are physical. Our kids talked last year about that was the most physical game they played in from a defensive standpoint because it was so much grinding and hitting. They pride themselves on that, so it will be a great challenge for us. When we did not stop the run real well last week, we are getting an opportunity this week to play a team that is hell-bent on running the ball.”

On how the team has responded to Saturday’s loss … 

“First thing I have seen is guys came in here with a good attitude yesterday ready to work, good spirits, leaders talking and communicating. I got to be around the players and eat with them yesterday. These players they will respond the right way. They are made of the right stuff and that is all we can ask them to do is to come in with a really good attitude, get to work. I expect them to do that. I am excited about moving on getting a chance to go get to work on Kentucky today. That is what they have to do. The focus for us is totally on the Big Blue because we have to go out here and stop these guys.”

On if Saturday’s game was also a wake-up call for the coaching staff … 

“Anytime you get a chance to look at everything from that standpoint, there’s a lot of good things that happened in the kicking game but there’s a lot of bad things that happened. It was not like they went out there and whipped us in special teams. It’s a situation where we have to continue to get better. We think of special teams as one of our best weapons and we want to be aggressive in our special teams and use it as a weapon. Well, today is a chance for us to go out and get better on special teams, and we are going to try to improve that. It’s the same thing on offense and defense — today is another opportunity for us to go out and improve and get better and develop our team to get better so that we play better in this next game.”

On the concern of his team’s tackling during the Auburn game … 

“I have been really concerned about our tackling all year. I have not been happy with it anytime. You measure tackling by how many one-on-one situations you get in and how many of those you win Typically, our ratio has been the same all year. It has not been real good. People measure things differently. When there’s two guys standing there to tackle a guy and one of them makes it, it’s a whole lot different than a one-on-one situation. We lost a lot of one-on-one situations but we lost a lot of one-on-one situations throughout the year. When you go to tackle a back like Snell and King and these back they have — they have some good backs, so we have to improve in that area. That has been the case all year long. Good thing is we get to practice against some pretty good backs in our practices. We get to thud them, we do not get to tackle them, but we have to do a better job for sure.”

On if fundamental flaws were exposed against Auburn … 

“I will be honest with you — I am worried about Kentucky. I really am. I know you want to ask about that and focus on that. Our concern — we had mistakes. We had really undisciplined penalties. Things I talked about in the postgame presser. But, our players, we have told them we have moved on. We have to go get ready for Kentucky and that is really where our focus is.”

On how a loss benefits a team … 

“I think you refocus, you recenter — like we talked about earlier. You have to really focus on the things you did not do well and the things you do. It is not any different after a loss or a win because after every win we have come in here and said we have to refocus and recenter on the new opponent, new team and not let that carry over. It is no different this time. We have to refocus, recenter on who we are about to play. We have to improve the things we messed up. Every game we have won, we have had areas of concern for me. So, we have to continue to do that and our players have to kind of embrace that and understand that Kentucky is the target. We have to go out and play our best game because they have a really good football team.”

On the SEC having three interim coaches and is this a trend with an early signing period now … 

“It may very well be. It is nothing that I have really thought long and hard about. It could be the norm. I mean obviously they are going to have to make a decision really fast because that signing day is going to be right upon the end of the season. It is not something I have really concerned myself with.”

On how big of a concern fatigue is and how to fix it…

“I don’t know that you can concern yourself.  You think about it everyday. We measure it everyday with science and GPS numbers. We looked at the data from the game the other night to see how many guys hit max velocities and are they still running fast.  We’ve averaged anywhere from 20-25 over 19 miles per hour and that held true the other night.  We continue to measure those things and talk to the players.  Recovery is a big part of what we talk about.  Sleep. Rest. Getting their legs back at the end of the week.  I’m a big believer in work. I’m a big believer in practice.  And we’re going to continue to do that.  This team knows what brought them here and we have to continue to do that.”

On his message to the team this week…

“We do it through the organization, top down.  We talk to the strength staff, the support staff, Jonas’ [Jennings] staff, coaching staff— all the people that get to be around the players day to day.  We talk about how we are going to approach them.  The approach is— it starts from the man in the mirror.  It starts with me, myself. It starts with each one of them and they have to look at themselves internally and say what can I do better to help this team moving forward.  That starts this week. What do I have to do this week as an O-lineman to play my best game? What do I have to do as a secondary player to play my best game.  What do I have to do to be more disciplined and not make mistakes or make really poor decisions and lose focus.  Everybody focuses on that. We preach the message and a lot of that demeanor is created through the body language of the coaching staff and the training staff and the players.  The leaders.  How do they approach it? How does Roquan [Smith] go out and practice? How does Nick Chubb? How does Sony [Michel]? A lot of guys will be looking to them and how they respond is kind of the right way to go about it.

On discipline for penalties…

“There’s not a lot you can do at the time.  Those decisions, I always tell people, are made long before the moment happens.  You’ve made your mind up, if a guy shoves you late or pushes you late, that you’re going to retaliate or you’re not. You’ve made your mind up that when you have an opportunity to hit a guy on the sideline that you’re going to do it or you’re not. The decisions are made long before it actually happens and you have to make sure they make the right decisions. There were a lot of time that we didn’t the other night.”

On what this senior class has meant to Georgia…

“This is a special group.  I think it’s a special group because they have really good leadership. They have an opportunity to win what may be their 38th, possibly 39th, game of their career, which could rank them right in the top-10 senior classes to ever play here.  If they can pull that off.  The big thing for me is that everybody else on the team acknowledges that it’s their last home game and that you prepare and play as if it was yours.  I know what that last home game in Sanford Stadium means. It’s the one you remember the most.  These guys have meant a lot to this program, meant a lot to me personally, meant a lot to the staff, and they’ve meant a lot to this university.  I think we all owe it to them, as a fan base and as a coaching staff and as a team, to make sure that we give them our best effort.

On the improvements of the offensive line compared to against Auburn…

“Some good, some bad, some ugly.  Mostly the latter.  But we’re moving on to Kentucky.”

On Gus Malzahn’s comments post game…

“I’ll be honest with you, when you perform the way they did on the field you earn the right to say really whatever you want, so I don’t get into what Gus says and he probably doesn’t get into what I say.”

On the relationship between Jake Fromm and Javon Wims and their ability to make plays…

“He’s done a good job of that.  I think he’s improved probably immensely at attacking the ball and not letting the ball get into his body.  He’s really become a hands receiver, which is what you want.  He does a good job in the 50-50 ball.  He reacts, responds, snatches. Through a lot of the drills that Coach Coley does with him he’s been able to do that.  Recently he’s been able to make some big catches.  That’s been a big help for us because you take some those 50-50 balls out of these games and there are some tight ball games that he’s been able to win for us.  We need some more of that.”

On his evaluation of Trenton Thompson…

“I really don’t think the injuries are affecting Trenton at this point.  He’s healthy— practicing good, playing good.  I think across the D-line as a whole, I’m not talking about Trenton, I think we can play better.  We have to strike and get off blocks, but every player on our team can do that.  It’s easy to look at a lot of the things that reared their head in the last game, they were in the game before and the game before that.  You may not have noticed them because the results weren’t the same.  We as a coaching staff have been saying for a while that we have to fit runs better.  We have to tackle better, we have to strike and get off blocks better.  It only comes to your sights when the results aren’t the same, but we have to do a better job up front of striking and getting off blocks.”

On the opportunity to go undefeated at home this season…

“I will say that it is important to the senior class that they finish it off the right way. They want to be one of the first teams to win the SEC East and beat every team in the East. That’s a first for them and the chance to go undefeated at home, which hasn’t happened since 2012 or 2011.  They want to do those things and ear mark, especially after last year’s home schedule, that’s important to them.  I wouldn’t say it’s a written down goal of any kind, but it’s important to the senior class to do it the right way.

On Mecole Hardman’s play on special teams…

“I’d agree with you there. I hate [the muff] for him because he works really hard.  I’m in my office ready to watch tape and he’s still out there catching kicks and catching punts after practice.  It’s important to him that he does it.  We have to do a good job of simulating some of those kicks and making him catch the hard ones. He’s doing a tremendous job and the units around him are really doing well. I think if you ask the other coaches in the league, they’re saying ‘good grief, they have all these people blocked’, so there’s some space there and he’s had a good opportunity to make some plays.  He has taken advantage of that.  I’m not disappointed in anything he’s done.  I think he’s gaining more confidence and he’s making some plays in the kicking game.  That was no more evident than Saturday.  A lot of that was people getting hats on people.  We work hard on that.  I think that’s one of our best weapons.  It opens us up to, you know, people want to fake kicks.  We have to rep a ton more fakes because they’re like they just assume fake it than kick it to the guy because they’re back there returning it.  That has been a positive for us, even though we did not play well on special teams because of the muff, because of the penalty, but if you take that out there’s a lot of positive in the kicking game.”

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Graduate NT #97 John Atkins

On thoughts going into his last game at Sanford Stadium and whether it has gone fast or slow…

“I was thinking about that yesterday. I was thinking it was going to be my last Dawg Walk. It is just unreal that it is my last game in the stadium.”

On bouncing back from the loss…

“We came in yesterday and got some work in. Everybody has the same attitude. We aren’t walking around with the “poor me” attitude. We are just focused on bouncing back because we are still in it. It is the same thing as a win, we get 12 hours then you have to get ready for the next team.”

On facing Kentucky’s Wildcat Formation with Benny Snell…

“The Wildcat is always challenging, because you never know where the ball is going. You also have to be more patient. Every time a team has success in an area, another team is going to try to do the same.”

Senior WR #6 Javon Wims

On moving on after the loss and if it affects motivation…

“We are moving forward and focusing on Kentucky. They are a very good football team that we are getting ready to face this weekend. Naturally you are motivated by a loss or a win but we are motivated by each other. We are just going to get back to doing what we do best. We are going to go back in the lab, we work, we grind and go back to that physical brand of football that we know.”

On senior night…

“Personally, the seniors mean so much to me. I came in my first year and they embraced me. They treated me like everybody else and as if I’m one of them. It meant so much to me to have them like brothers and be a senior with them.”

On quarterback Jake Fromm’s trust in you winning the 50/50 balls…

“It feels good that he trusts me enough to throw the ball up for me to make a play even when I’m not even looking sometimes. He is one of my good friends on and off the field.”

Senior TE #83 Jeb Blazevich

On the outcome at Auburn…

“It was just, I guess, a reality check. One of those things, where at the end of the day, the coaches have what we need to fix ready and geared up on film, and we just need to get back to work. That’s the only thing we can do. All we can do is fix our attitude and adjust what we need to adjust, and get back after it. All we’re worried about now is Kentucky.”

On the attitude of Georgia going into Kentucky…

“Really, we don’t have enough time. We don’t have the luxury of time to sit around and feel bad for ourselves. It’s something where we can’t mope around, we have work today. I think that’s the main message, it’s get back to work, that’s all we can do.”

On his last game in Sanford Stadium…

“It’s crazy. It’s going to be my last game. A lot of sentimental feelings. I’m feeling very grateful and blessed to be here. Thankful for God for all the experiences I’ve had here. I’m excited to strap it on one more time.”

On the legacy of the senior class…

“Everything we want to accomplish is in front of us. We obviously have a lot of work to do, and that starts today. But, one loss doesn’t define our season, and everything’s still out there for us, and so we’re still trying to write our legacy and determine, ‘What can I do this Monday that will help achieve that?'”

Graduate DB #35 Aaron Davis

On one of his favorite memories…

It has to be my first game. I had never experienced anything like that. Coming out of high school, and then coming to Sanford Stadium to play Clemson in a night game. It was a huge game, the stadium was unbelievable. It felt like an earthquake, the ground was shaking out there. That was one of my favorite moments so far.”

On the legacy of the senior class…

“I just feel like we have so much ahead of us, we’ve just got to go out there and take care of business, in order for those things to be possible for us. As long as we continue to do the things we need to do, and be able to regroup and not let one game define us, we should be able to continue to be better.”

On how to defend a wildcat offense…

“The probability of them passing definitely goes down, but the probability of a big play happening when they pass the ball is probably huge, because a lot of guys get sucked in on the run. Any time a team’s in wildcat, you have to be on your P’s and Q’s and know that you have to play physical, number one, because they’re most likely going to run the ball. But also keep the eyes on your man in case they try to do some trick play or pass off of it.”

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