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Georgia head coach Kirby Smart during a press conference in the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall in Athens, Ga., on Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Georgia head coach Kirby Smart during a press conference in the Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall in Athens, Ga., on Monday, Sept. 2, 2019. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

ATHENS, Ga. —  University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, previewed Saturday’s game against Murray State. The Bulldogs and Racers kick off at 4 p.m. ET at Sanford Stadium. 

On Monday, Coach Smart, redshirt-freshman linebacker Azeez Ojulari, junior wide receiver Demetris Robertson, sophomore defensive lineman Jordan Davis and junior tailback D’Andre Swift offered the following comments. 

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement … 

“We will open up with Murray State practice today. Head coach Mitch Stewart, who I know well, and was at Valdosta State when I was there before. He has been a part of Chris Hatcher’s staff — he played for Chris. I have a lot of respect for the job he has been able to do there at Murray. I am also excited about this weekend with the naming of Dooley Field. That is a tremendous honor for him, one that he deserves and one that so many Bulldog fans can associate with the history that he has done. His family — his wife Barbara — has been such a great part of the Athens community and the University of Georgia. It’s such a great honor for him, so we are excited to do that as well this weekend. With that, I will open it up for questions.” 

On his first interactions with Coach Vince Dooley … 

“As a player, he would come in and talk to the team annually. He would come speak to the team at the team meeting room when I played for Coach (Ray) Goff, and I remember I had some interactions with him on Student-Athlete counsel and things like that. He’s always been tremendous to me. My first real meaningful interactions were probably at LSU when Derek (Dooley) was coaching and he would come over and be around the staff and come up to the lake where my parents live. They had a home up there, so Coach Dooley has been unbelievable to my family, my parents and also to me. So, I am just honored that we could do this and we could get the field named for him.” 

On using external factors and losses by other programs  as motivation … 

“Nothing that those programs have going on has anything to do with us. We are 100 percent concerned with the improvements we have to make. We’ve got so much work to do from a discipline standpoint, timing in the passing game — a lot of things to work on —  that our focus is us and our opponent, Murray State.” 

 On if any of the issues Saturday night were due to it being the first game … 

“Some decision-making, some aggressive, some just poor decisions. Each one different because sometimes being aggressive is a good thing and can help you, and sometimes making poor decisions kills you in big moments. We can’t have them, so you make sure you expose them to it. You try to put them in the same situation again, and you try to encourage them to make better decisions.” 

On short-yardage plays against Vanderbilt … 

“We ran the same play earlier in the game and got a first (down). So, if you look at it and analyze it, the exact same play was run in the exact same situation and it worked once and didn’t work once. It really boils down to execution, making sure that each guy does his job — that you control the line of scrimmage, that you give yourself a chance to be successful. We are always trying to improve in that.” 

On his team’s ability to affect the quarterback on Saturday against Vanderbilt … 

“Good in some cases and poor in some, which is usually the case every game. You wish you could do more. We had some good four-man rushes where we got him out of the pocket and did not contain him. We had some that we did better than others. It’s usually the case when you play teams from the SEC. They have a plan to get the ball out quickly. You have to have a plan to counteract that. You have to mix and mingle how much you rush more than four. You have to be able to rush three and drop eight. You’ve got to be able to be multiple and be able to do it, especially this week with a Murray State team that is able to get the ball out quickly.” 

On the status of redshirt-freshman wide receiver Kearis Jackson … 

“He’s got a couple of different breaks. He’s going to be out a little while. Should be back in the club shortly, but we don’t know how long he is going to be out. It could be three to four weeks. It will be week to week once we get him back, so he’s going to get it repaired. It was a tough hit he took right on the hand, and we will get him back as soon as we can.” 

On what he has seen from redshirt-freshman linebacker Azeez Ojulari … 

“Effort. Toughness. He brings a great attitude every day to work. That guy practices his tail off every day. I thought our defensive staff did a tremendous job of showing clips today where guys had the same practice rep they had in a game, and they used a tool from the practice to help them in the game. It is just a great indicator of how practice carries over to games.” 

On when he will see the potential of how far this team can go and some areas where the team has to improve … 

“We have to improve in every area. There is not an area where we are like comfortable. I don’t think we are comfortable anywhere. You can say ‘well, we scored the opening drive, are we comfortable there?’ No. We are not comfortable there. There are things we did not execute well. Blocking on the perimeter — we had some good blocks on the perimeter, we had some missed blocks on the perimeter. Tackling — we had some really good tackles and then we had some really terrible tackling. So, there’s not really anywhere. I think that you have to be careful how much you delve into one game when we’ve got an opportunity to go out to practice today and get better at everything we did not do well, including the things we did do well.”

On if there is anything we have not seen from this team that he is banking on …

“I am banking on habits. I really believe the fundamentals of football is what’s important. Why is it important to do it right day-in and day-out? Explaining that and then having them do it. I am banking on the overall fundamentals and effort at practice to create habits that show up in the game. If good habits show up at practice, they tend to show up at the game. If bad habits show up at practice, they tend to show up at the game. My history as a coach is the guy that shows his colors on the practice field is probably going to do the same thing on the field, and that is going to repeat itself. So, in a good way or a negative way, that will happen. You can’t read too much into it or over-analyze it the point of who is this team. It is what it is. We have to go out and get this team better. We’ve got to get our 70th guy better all the way to our first guy better, and keep improving.”

On which players who didn’t make the Vanderbilt trip could see time this week…

“All of them. We’re going to have an opportunity for every guy to go out there and practice and get better. Those guys will get the opportunity to grow and get better. I’m excited about the guys who will get the chance to play this week that didn’t travel.”

 

On using games like this weekend to form habits…

“You’re assuming we’re going to get to play a lot of those guys, but I don’t assume that. I think Murray State’s got a great program. They’ve got a lot of tempo; they do a great job offensively and defensively. We’re going in thinking we’ve got to beat Murray State. We’ve got to go in and execute and get better during the week on us, and then go out and play Murray State. You hope a lot of guys get to play but we don’t know the outcome of a game. I think you’re assuming we get to play more guys. We get to play more guys in practice, that’s what I do know, and they’re going to get a chance to get better.”

 

On Demetris Robertson learning and benefitting playing behind guys in practice last year…

“Every player benefits from that experience, getting to block and be a part of things. Demetris wasn’t that far off what he was on Saturday last year. He had really good football players in front of him. We’re going to play the best guys who have experience doing it and he’s getting his opportunity now to do it and he’s got to continue to work because there’s good players behind him now. A lot of the plays he had weren’t necessarily designed for him, the defense gave Demetris the opportunity. If they play different coverage on the deep ball, it doesn’t go to him. A lot of things are dictated on what the defense does.”

 

On the adage ‘teams have the most improvement from the first to the second game…’

“It’s probably true. It’s also true of the team you’re playing. The greatest leap is there but it’s relative because if we all leap, then we’re all getting better and most of the time, the anxiety is removed. If you take the anxiety in just the freshmen, there’s a lot of guys out there that are sophomores who haven’t played a lot of snaps for us that have anxiety and you get to see them react and they get more comfortable. Murray State’s the same way.”

 

On Travon Walker on the kicking team in his first college game…

“He’s one of the best 11 guys we put out there. He’s extremely athletic, he’s got spatial awareness, he understands blocking schemes, he’s hard to block and he runs fast. So, we want the best 11 players we can put on our special teams and he’s one of them.”

 

On Malik Herring not playing in the Vanderbilt game…

“We talked about it after the game. If he continues to use practice and get better, he’ll play.”

 

On D’Andre Swift not satisfied with his performance…

“I think you see that from all our players. To say that you’re perfect or you play a perfect game doesn’t exist. We’re in the pursuit of excellence, not perfection. I don’t think he would say he played excellent; I mean go back and watch some of those runs, I don’t think he got touched the first 10-15 yards. Some of that, Charlie Woerner, Solomon Kindley, and Ben Cleveland, when he makes guys miss, I think that’s where he measures his skill set. He made a lot of people miss but I think there were some opportunities in there where he could’ve made a different cut and got more yards. That’s a great competitor to me, is trying figuring out what I can do better to help the team.”

 

On Ben Cleveland and Cade Mays at right guard in Vanderbilt game…

“All those will keep working hard. They’re developing. They compete. I’m proud of the way that group works. Hopeful to get Jamaree (Salyer) soon, get him out there and competing. All those guys have done a great job.”

 

On more guys getting snaps at linebacker…

“Nakobe (Dean’s) hurting still. We thought he was close to being able to go in the game and it’s still bothering Nakobe. He’s not one hundred percent yet. It was tough for him not to go out there but he didn’t feel like he could go a hundred percent so we held him out after that. Quay (Walker) got a few snaps and he’s continuing to grow. Quay keeps getting better.”

 

On Zamir White being back on the field…

“I think the relief came after the scrimmages because that was the first real opportunity. I think he was anxious to get out there and go run the ball the other night. I thought he did a good job with opportunity. … He continues to get better and get healthier. I think the sky’s the limit because he continues to improve. He improves through protection and reps and getting more opportunities.”

 

On playing best-on-best as a response to good not being good enough…

“We do that every week. It’s not about who we play, it’s about what we do. We always say, ‘to get better, we have to go against the best.’ We like competing against ourselves. That’s what this program is built on is competition. We’ll get an opportunity to go good-on-good all this week.”

On how Jake Fromm allows the running game to flourish…

“He makes a lot of decisions that people don’t understand. I don’t think anyone in the room would understand what he’s doing when he’s doing some of the mechanics. Some of it is pass, some of it’s run, some of it’s nothing. Some of it is window-dressing. He does that so that we can be successful, so that people don’t get a read on what we’re doing. And it’s not easy to do. Some of the rules he has are complicated. I don’t need to get into it right now with you guys, it’d take me another 30 minutes to explain what he’s doing on half of the stuff, but he does a nice job of making sure we’re in successful plays.  As a defensive coordinator, I can tell you, going against him every day is frustrating because it’s hard to be right a lot of times.”

 

On Brian Herrien being one of the few non-five-star running backs on the team and what he’s done to put himself in important position…

“What does that mean? What does a five-star rating mean because when Brian came out, in my mind, he was rated just as high as the guys that are here.  I don’t give relevance to those numbers because I knew Brian as an 11th-grader, I knew him as a senior, I knew him when he came to camp and when we went through the recruiting process. He’s just as talented as those guys.  He wasn’t from some of the same places and he didn’t have his academics as much in order, and Brian plays with a chip on his shoulder because of that, but I never perceived Brian to be any less than other guys.

 

His practice habits have always been very good. Brian loves football. He competes on special teams, he runs the ball hard. He was on the scout team for a while and carried the ball one spring more than anybody because Sony (Michel) and Nick (Chubb) weren’t getting many reps.  We’ve said it before, Brian is a worker. He’s earned the right to get these carries. Last year he didn’t get as many opportunities as he probably wanted and looking back, maybe we should have given him some more opportunities because he earns it by the way he practices. He is taking advantage of those opportunities right now.”

 

On the overall performance of the inside linebackers against Vanderbilt…

“Well, we have to play better. We have to play better at every position- defensive line, secondary, tackling, communication.  We had some busts up front, affecting the quarterback, stopping the run, not getting stretched- and inside backer is no different.  We just have a long way to go, a lot to improve. And we will do that.  Those kids are eager to learn and get better. We’re not where we need to be as a team, but especially as a defensive unit and offensive unit.”

 

On the defensive line … 

“They have to control the run game. When they have an opportunity to rush the passer they have to be successful. They have to affect the quarterback. We have to give them the opportunity to get one-on-ones by bringing more people in forward, so they’re not fighting two people as much as we possibly can and be effective.  I’m not disappointed with the effort.  They didn’t give up a touchdown. In college football today, I don’t care who you’re playing, that’s hard to do. They played hard and they played well in the red area. We have to do a lot of things better.”

 

On if there were pleasant surprises when watching film that he didn’t pick up on in the game…

“I can’t say that anything stuck out. I thought the movement up front was probably what I thought it was going to be. The guys are physical. I see them go against our guys every day.  The blocking on the perimeter, I noticed it more in the game, but I was pleased for the most part.  We have some guys that have to buy into that and know that perimeter blocking can make you really explosive offensively.  Defensively, I thought the corners held up well. They didn’t get a lot of opportunities to make a lot of plays on the ball, but they covered guys well.”

 

On the progress of Matt Landers and the attitude he has to approach everything…

“He has come a long way. Matt and I have had our differences on the practice field many of times and Matt has come a long way.  I think that Matt has finally figured out that ‘if I play special teams and I play well, then I have an opportunity to contribute on offense and maybe even get some balls’. You earn the right to do that by how you compete, what you do, and he’s come a long way. I’m really proud of Matt and how he’s grown up.  He still has ways to go, but Matt has come a long way from a freshman that probably never played special teams.”

 

On what he saw from George Pickens…

“I don’t think those were targets. One was a max-blitz. So the max-blitz didn’t say we’re targeting him, that’s something the defense did to dictate that.  There were a couple times the look he happened to be in. Matt Landers caught a comeback on their sideline that if that would have been George, George would have been in.  The coverage dictated where the ball went. Sometimes that’s controlled by that. I don’t think there is anything that he could have done different to have a ball-call. Some of it was what people did around him to affect it. What he controls is how he blocks, how he runs his routes and what kind of effort and toughness he plays with.  I thought he did a good job doing that.”

 

On if it’s more rewarding when the kids you have to continue to push finally get it and make the decision to get better…

“Absolutely. The blessing you get as a coach is when you see a kid have success that has worked so hard for it. Sometimes it comes more natural, sometimes kids come into really good situations and they’re forced into playing maybe before they should, but then sometimes a guy goes the hard way and a guy works. You look at Justin Young, who has been nothing but a worker since he’s been here. You look at Michael Barnett, nothing but a worker and then to see him have success. Matt (Landers) is the same way, he’s not as old as those guys, but Matt has worked tremendously hard to get where he is and he started to buy into the culture of the program. It’s the reason why when kids stay, they’re usually successful and will be more successful in life because they’ve gone through hard times.”

#7 D’Andre Swift | Jr. | RB

On Georgia’s mindset and how it allows for great leaders and success..

“We’ve got some great leaders on this team like Jake (Fromm) and Andrew Thomas, who do a great job for this team. Everyone just tries to reach excellence. We try to be perfect knowing we’re never going to be perfect. We always want to play to the Georgia standard and understand that everyone on the team wants to see each other win. We have the mentality that there’s always something to get better at— we play and go against Georgia each day in practice. We’re going against the best defense every day in practice; we’re going against the best offense every day in practice. So, if we take that mentality into every day, we’ll be fine.”

On what it means to play at home in Sanford Stadium … 

“It’s amazing. We’ve got the most loyal fans. It felt like a home game on Saturday (at Vanderbilt). Sanford Stadium, though, it’s like no other. It’s so loud, and our fans are great. My first game I was really nervous, but I was really excited. I was just happy all my hard work had paid off, and I knew it was the start of something bigger.”

On Brian Herrien [RB, Sr.] getting to start/if it was a cool moment for Swift…

“That was a cool moment. Everyone wants to see each other win no matter who is starting. Everyone is going to get the amount of touches needed to win the game. So, we just go into games according to the game plan we have that game knowing we just want to see each other win.”

On what preparation looks like for Murray State as of now…

“We’ve got to start with today. This week is important because it’s the next game. So, we’ve got to start with practice today, looking at and working on everything we messed up on Saturday.”

#16 Demetris Robertson | Jr. | WR

 On his decision to come closer to home … 

“To be closer to my family. My family needed me here, so I chose to come back.”

 

On what he did in the offseason to get ready … 

“I had to get the playbook and learn the offense. Coach (James) Coley is the new coordinator now and I had to learn how he did things.”

#13 Azeez Ojulari | R-Fr. | OLB 

On how you feel the team did with pressuring the quarterback and if you could bring that much continued pressure without dialing up as many guys… 

“I feel like we have guys on our team that can just put pressure on the quarterback and bring that pressure by winning one-on-one battles.” 

On how competitive the OLB position really is… 

“It has been extremely competitive. We are all in there, pushing each other, coming in and getting each other each day and working as hard as we can day-in and day-out.” 

On what you did in the offseason to increase playing time so drastically… 

“I really used that ‘Do More’ mentality and continued on that type of grind. Coming in everyday, working hard and focusing on improving one day at a time.” 

#99 Jordan Davis | So.| DL 

On his stamina and continuing to work on that aspect of his game… 

“It has been something I have been battling for a while. I try and spend extra time after practice conditioning. I also focus on spending the time to make sure I am eating right, doing the right things, drinking a lot of water and making sure I stay hydrated. It is a long road and the farther into the season we get, the more pressure there is going to be, and I am going to be need to be able to be out there more. Right now, I am working to maintain my stamina.” 

On Murray State … 

“Definitely not. Murray State has an extremely respectable game, they are very explosive, scoring 40 or more points in five out of nine games. They have an explosive offense, both running and passing, that we are going to need to stop. They have a very athletic team. I was watching some highlight clips and their running back is extremely explosive. And, not to discredit our offense, but their defense is also explosive so we just need to play all-around a good game. Continue to think about us and what we know how to do and we should be fine.” 

On how you have transformed since you arrived on campus… 

“I can feel myself getting stronger, mentally and physically. It is like a 360 change for me since high school. I have learned so much in terms of better technique.” 

 

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