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ATHENS, Ga. —  University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, previewed Saturday’s game against Notre Dame. The Bulldogs and Fighting Irish kick off at 8 p.m. ET on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium. 

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

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement … 

We’re on to Notre Dame. I’m excited for this opportunity. I think it’s a great game to have, non-conference game. You play at home and a school with such a tradition as Notre Dame. Looking forward to the opportunity. I know a lot of Georgia fans have had this one marked on the schedule for a long time. So have a lot of Notre Dame fans. We’re excited to get the opportunity. They’ve got a really good football team. Got a lot of respect for Coach (Brian) Kelly and the job he’s done and what he’s built there, and their staff actually is one of the best staffs in the country. So good football players, and it should be a great opportunity for both teams.”

On the 2017 game being a launching point to current status…

“Yeah. I think that helps the trajectory of things. I mean it was a big win for us. It was a big win for Jake (Fromm), you know, to go on the road and play in a place like that and play well enough to win certainly helped things. There have been a lot of games since then, too.”

On Rodrigo Blankenship…

“Really not doing anything different with Rod. I think Coach (Scott) Fountain and his staff do a tremendous job of keeping Rod fresh. He kicks certain days of the week. He’s got a really good routine that he feels comfortable with. And he’s been pretty consistent kicking them out of the end zone. And he’s been consistent making the field goals and I think that’s a big part of what Rod’s game is, it’s just consistency and performance. He gives you a great effort day in and day out, and he’s kind of the leader of that specialist group.”

On non-conference games…

“It’s exciting for the fans. The fans enjoy these games. They want you to play high-caliber opponents. They want to see these kind of games and this kind of atmosphere. So it’s a Catch 22 between playing the lower division teams and giving an opportunity to fund their program versus giving fans what they want and playing a big-time non-conference matchup. I like the idea of both. I like having a mixture there, and I’m excited about this game because it’s the next game.”

On reflection of improvement after the 2017 Notre Dame game…

“I think it’s a little bit of both. I mean it was giving our kids an opportunity to perform at a high level, and that was a really good football team. We didn’t play perfect. They didn’t play perfect. It was a hard-fought game. Both teams got better by playing that game, and that was two good football teams. We were a good football team last year. They were a good football team last year. And we both have good football programs. We recruit at a high level. We both have really good academics, and I think both programs are here to stay.”

On Isaiah Wilson’s availability…

“Jamaree and Cade have done a good job. Cade repped there all camp. Jamaree repped there all camp. As far as Isaiah’s availability, I won’t know much until today. I’ll be able to watch him a little bit today. I think he’s come along well and we’ll find out more today.”

On playing in other big games…

“Well, the same way it helped them. They played in big games. They play a lot of big games annually. They had a playoff game last year against Clemson. They’ve got a lot of players who have played a lot of big games. So have ours.

The guys who haven’t for them and us that’ll be the biggest new experience for each one of them. And most of these kids nowadays are coming out of high school programs where they get to play in a lot of big games. But we have, especially at some positions, some guys who have played in a lot of big-time football games. You hope that helps them. But you look across their roster, there’s guys that have played there for quite a while as well.”

On running into Notre Dame players from Atlanta…

“Yeah. We cross paths with Notre Dame probably on two or three kids a year. But they do a great job recruiting. They’ve got a great opportunity and product to sell just like we do. And both those two kids we recruited really hard, and got a lot of respect for both of them. They come from great academic backgrounds, great families. Tremble’s dad played here right before I got here, was a great player; and he’s a really good player. So both those guys I have a lot of respect for them.”

On Notre Dame’s speed…

“They are getting a lot of turnovers and they’re not turning it over much. That’s one of the key critical factors of winning football games. And they’re beating everybody in the country at that. That probably tops out very low — not very penalized team. They’ve got a lot of discipline. They get turnovers, and they got good players and they execute at a high level. Their system on offense is very tough to defend because they’re very multiple in what they do, and they’re aggressive on defense, and their special teams is one of the best we’ve faced.”

On Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes working well as a pair on stopping Ian Book…

“I’m excited about what Eric and Tyson are both doing, but I’m also excited about Tyrique Stevenson and D.J. (Daniel), who continue to get better each day with their execution.

As far as Ian Book, he’s very talented. The guy is fast, explosive. He’s a dual-threat guy that doesn’t have to be a dual-threat guy. He is exactly what is hard to prepare for because when a play breaks down, a lot of times you think as a coach or defensive coach you got it right, you finally got it right, and then all of a sudden he gets a ten-yard gain on a play that you got it right on. You had him for a sack or you had him for a no gain, he turns it into a ten-yard game. He has a lot of explosive plays where he scrambles to throw and scrambles to run. He’s not a guy that just does one. He does both. And it’s frustrating. You have to be really patient because you want to get him as a rusher and then when you don’t get him, you get frustrated, and it goes from being a lost yardage play to being second and five. He’s really talented. Very impressed with him as a kind of commander and also as a scramble.”

On receivers’ injuries and Tyson Campbell’s injury…

“I don’t know much on any of those guys because, again, I haven’t been able to see them. So we’ll see how they go today. I think Tyler Simmons is going to be fine, like I talked about. I think D. Rob (Demetris Robertson) is going to be fine. We’ll find out today. Kearis (Jackson) is still injured and don’t know if we’ll be able to use him or not. And then Tyson Campbell we hope will be okay as well, but we’ll know a lot after today.”

On Tyson Campbell being more confident at cornerback position…

“Yeah. I’d say he’s more confident. You can’t help but be more confident when you go through a rookie season, you’re playing in the SEC and you’re playing opposite of D. Baker (Deandre Baker). So he got a lot of throws last year. He and Stokes both did. He’s a year older, a year stronger and a year more mature. He understands the system better and it allows him to play with a little more confidence.”

Thoughts on Notre Dame’s defensive line…

“Well, I don’t know anybody we’ve played recently that is like them on the defensive line. They have superior size and speed combination. They’ve got really good edge players. Their guys can get off the edge and rush really well. They do a tremendous job. Their guys can move around, just athletic. They’re very multiple in what they do and they’re disruptive. So I can’t really compare them to anybody that we’ve played thus far up front. Maybe some individuals that we’ve played up front, but not as a whole as a group. They do a great job, and they create a lot of issues for you with their movement and their pressure package. They’re really aggressive. We know they’re going to score points offensively.”

On J. R. Reed’s development…

“Since he’s been here since day one he’s been high character, working. You get the best of J. R. every day at practice. J. R. doesn’t take a day off. And that was when he was not even eligible to play. I mean he was a really hard worker, and that jumped out at you. He performed well, played well, I don’t even know what year he was at the time, I guess a sophomore when he had to play in this game and some other games that year. So he’s grown into a very confident, good leader. He helps the other guys on secondary and the other guys on defense know how to prepare for a game. I think in games like this he gives them some comfort in a guy that’s played in a lot of football games for us.”

On recruiting based on the Notre Dame game and having a strong schedule…

“I think having a strong schedule is a huge selling point, but in the SEC I think we all got that, because I really believe that the SEC schedule gives you the opportunity to play in the greatest venues in all of college football. You play in front of the largest fan bases, the largest attendance records. You’re going to get that in the SEC. This is just in addition to. This is a way to differentiate yourself from maybe the other SEC schools you’re recruiting against, because you’ve got the opportunity to play at Notre Dame and Notre Dame at home, so those things help.”

On his memory of big-game atmospheres…

“I don’t know. There’s been a lot of them. Since I’ve been here as a coach. When I was an assistant here as a coach and as a player, I mean there’s been a lot of big games and I think that’s what is great for the kids. You don’t have a ton of Top 10 matchups maybe the caliber of this one, but there’s a lot of Top 25 matches we’ve played in this stadium. So a great opportunity for our program to be on the national stage. It’s a great opportunity.”

On the Rodrigo scholarship and his popularity…

“I think they love him because he’s a Dawg through and through. He’s got a great personality. He loves Georgia. He sells Georgia. He’s a tremendous asset for us, but I love the kid as a person because of everything he’s persevered and been through. But the scholarship, we told him he was getting a scholarship, or I told him he was getting a scholarship before the game ever happened. Because he had earned it, and I thought it would be a tight ballgame and thought it might help his confidence knowing that he wasn’t having the pressure of a scholarship out there kicking. He already had it, and he had won the job and ended up coming out and making big field goals in the game. And we let everybody know afterwards, but he knew before.

On the impact of the magnitude of the Notre Dame game…

“We don’t really get into the exterior forces. I mean what’s going on outside, I mean you can think it’s going to affect our guys, but it’s really not supposed to. I mean we’re really playing the opponent that lines up across from us, and we even talk about playing ourselves more than anything. So I know our guys will be excited to play. I know it will be an awesome atmosphere. Our fans never fail when it comes to support and being there. It’ll be a record crowd with the additional seats. But after that it’s going to come down to football, and that’s what it always boils down to, who can block and tackle, and we’re going to go out there today and practice blocking and tackling.”

On the Notre Dame offense…

“There’s some similarities in what they’ve got. The quarterback’s got more experience and he’s really playing well, at a high level. Their system has some similarities. But they have different players at different spots. They’re a very talented offense and got a lot of weapons they can use. He does the best job of using the best players regardless of what personnel grouping that is.”

On the touchdown drive before the half in the Arkansas State game…

“Well, it’s something we work hard on. We want to take every opportunity that we can to score and be aggressive and try to do that with the quarterback we have and the offense system we have. He functions well when he gets an opportunity to do that. So any opportunity we get, whether it’s a defensive opportunity before the half to stop it and get it back to the offense or offense to go out and execute, it’s big, and I thought they handled that well Saturday.”

On the players playing the standard, not the opponent…

“You know, that team was very mature. I mean that was a new team to me starting the second year, but you look across that tape, offense and defensively, there are a lot of players who had played a lot of football. So I feel like that team understood how to play to the standard, and they kind of created the standard that is the standard. And this team is following in those footsteps from the standpoint of we’ve gotta have a standard of excellence every day at practice, and we gotta do that today, tomorrow and the next day to have the best opportunity Saturday.”

On his impressions of Notre Dame starters…

“A lot of returning starters. You look across the board, they’ve got 27-game starter, 27-game starter, 14-game starter, 19-game starter. I mean that’s very similar to us when it comes to guys that have played in big games. You look at their film last year, they’ve got basically the same offensive line with the exception of maybe one guy playing now. I know I’m comfortable with guys with experience. They’ve got really good experience on the front line. They have a good offensive line, and they’re really big and they’ll be the best group we’ve played because they have size. They got athleticism and they do a good job.”

#20 J.R. Reed | Sr. | DB

On how much impact Georgia’s 2017 win in South Bend had in establishing where Georgia is today…

“It just showed that everyone started buying into the program. We saw what we can do if we buy in and all work together, and all work for a common goal. It showed everybody a new era, and that’s Kirby Smart’s era.”

On what he remembers about Jake Fromm playing at Notre Dame…

“I don’t really remember much leading up to Jake. I was myself for that game. I remember he was very calm and very poised even then, like he always is.”

On what it was like in the locker room after the Notre Dame victory when Rodrigo Blankenship announced his scholarship…

“Man, with the win and then Rod announcing his scholarship— the locker room was nothing but joy. We were all just so excited. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

#77 Cade Mays | So. | OL

On the anticipation for this Saturday’s game…

“Yea this is definitely a huge game on Saturday. There’s going to be a huge crowd, huge venue; it’s going to be awesome. … I came here to play in a huge game in a huge atmosphere, to be put on the big stage and preform.”

 

On his dad playing for Tennessee in 1991 against Notre Dame…

“He did play on that team. I think he was a freshman or sophomore. He told me he played four snaps in that game. … It was definitely something he told me about growing up.”

 

On what stands out about Notre Dame’s defense…

“Speed. They have an older defense, too. They’ve got a bunch of older guys on the defense with a lot of experience and they’re fast. … The defensive line has a really good edge rusher, he’s really fast and uses his hands well and does a really good job of getting off blocks; the interior guys as well.”

#17 Eli Wolf | Sr. | TE

On controlling the emotions around a game like this…

“I just stay laser focused in my preparation. You won’t get nervous if you’re prepared for a game, and I think that’s the biggest point of the week going into it is preparation. If you’re prepared, you won’t be as nervous.” 

 

On the atmosphere in his first night game at Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium…

“It’s going to be a wild one. I think everyone knows that and Coach Smart’s made it very clear that there’s going to be a lot of hype around this game but don’t get caught up in it. We’re here to do one thing.”

 

On the role he can play as an older teammate…

“Have maturity and remain constant. Don’t let [the younger guys] get caught up in the moment. I’ve played in games like this and I know a lot of guys here have played in games like this so remaining constant for those guys and keeping a level head.”

#51 David Marshall | Sr. | DE

On his memory of the 2017 Notre Dame game…

“It was just a great experience. It was my first time ever playing Notre Dame my sophomore year. Seeing all the friends traveling with us was really great to see. It just made the whole experience great.”

On reflecting back on how Georgia has developed from that game and beyond…

“I just see a lot of improvement. We just started to buy in to the type of program Coach Smart wanted, and once we did that we started becoming a great team. We’ve all become pretty close, so now our team is a brotherhood.” 

 

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