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Georgia Football

UGA coach Kirby Smart: If We Are Going to Expand Playoff Make it 12 - not 8 Teams

December 31, 2020

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ATLANTA - The No. 9 Bulldogs are facing No. 8 Cincinnati in the 2021 Peach Bowl on Friday. It is the Bulldogs’ fourth New Year’s Six bowl appearance in the last four years. UGA coach Kirby Smart talked about  the challenges his program faces in this game, James Cook being out for the game because of the passing of his father and the matchup with the Bearcats at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

KIRBY SMART:  Just want to say thanks again to Gary and his staff.  Known these guys so long.  They've always done such a tremendous job with the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Been part of my entire career, which we've mentioned a lot during the week, having played in it, coached in it, been apart of it.

Still disappointed that both teams don't get to enjoy the City of Atlanta because they do the finest job of anybody in the country of entertaining players during this week.  That's always kind of the culmination of a season, in which you bring all those players together, they get to enjoy the sights, sounds, venues and food all over Atlanta.  I hate that.

Seems like it's been a different bowl week, a lot of bowl practice before Christmas.  But since the break, it's been unique that you're practicing kind of at your own location the entire time.  Makes it more like a road game because your prep is all at home, then you get ready to go to the bowl site.

Got a lot of respect for Luke, the Cincinnati football team. What a tremendous job they've done there.  The more and more you watch these guys, you understand why they win. Sound fundamentally, do good things on offense, defense,special teams.

Like I've said over and over, balanced across the three main phases, are as good as we've played.  They don't have holes or weaknesses.  Any time you have the number of seniors they've got speaks volumes to their ability to retain players but also keep those guys engaged and have them develop and become good football players in their program.

We're excited.  We know we'll have a great turnout, ready to get to Mercedes-Benz.

Q.  How is James Cook doing under these horrible circumstances?  How has the team rallied around him?

KIRBY SMART:  He's not with us, really unfortunate.  He got the news, I forget what day of the week it is now, I'm lost, but two days ago he woke up to the news his father had passed.  He immediately talked to Dell, Coach McGee,reached out.  He actually already had a flight.  He got a flight home.  He wanted to go home and be with his family. We certainly understand that and support him.

Everybody handles these kind of things differently.  James was close to his dad.  Tough, tough environment for him.  I know all the running backs have reached out to him, spoke with him.  I've spoke with him a couple times.  He's dealing with it the best he can.  Appreciates all the support of Dawg Nation, all our fan base. Your heart goes out to him.

You remember last year in the bowl game he got hurt early in the game against Baylor, didn't get to finish out the game.  I know he knows he's got a lot of football ahead of him.  Football is going to be there for a long time.  This is a time for him to be with his family.  We certainly understand that as coaches and appreciate that.

Q.  Kirby, you expressed a lot of concern at the beginning of the week about COVID.  At this point you've about exhausted all those tests.  Are you guys going to lose anybody as a result of it?

KIRBY SMART:  I haven't really addressed that all year. It's not something that I'm going to start addressing now.

The important thing is the health and safety of our players. The protocols we have in place are there not to only protect our players but Cincinnati's players.  I respect both conferences' policies.  They've got their testing policies they follow, we have our testing policies we follow.  We followed those to this point.

The guys who are able to play will be out there to play. The ones who won't unfortunately won't be out there to play.  We have dealt with this all year and haven't disclosed that.

Q.  Kirby, you mentioned the elasticity of 2020 wearing thin.  When we talked with your players and assistants,most of them were saying we wish we could play more games this season.  Can you speak to that resiliency,what's happened for your program?  End of the year you caught some momentum.  And the black jersey decision, was that you or your leadership group?

KIRBY SMART:  You'll have to ask Gary Stoken about that decision.  That came from the higher powers that be.

As far as the elasticity, I think all our players would rather have played a complete season.  We got one game kind of taken from us that we weren't able to play.  

Certainly would have liked to have played that. If you asked the players, they would have liked to have played the non-conference opponents in terms of starting out with UVA.  They're always going to say they want to play.  

We have to play by the standards, rules, safety precautions we have in place.  Rightfully so. I know each and every guy, including myself, would have loved to be able to compete and played every game we possibly could.  I'm sure Coach Fickell would have loved to play some out-of-conference games as well.  

That gives you a chance to go out and represent your conference,play others.  You really find out a lot more about where you are when you get a chance to do that.  Unfortunately we haven't been able to do that.

In regards to the black jerseys, that was probably more soGary's request.  We're obliged.  Those kids like wearing those.  I don't know exactly the whole deal, but I think it has something to do with both teams wearing their home jerseys.

Q.  Are you in favor of moving to an eight-gamePlayoff?  A question you'll probably answer, is there one aspect of who you'll be playing tomorrow that worries you the most?

KIRBY SMART:  I would concur with Luke.  I've always been of the opinion the decisions and the outcomes and the championships and the trophies should be decided on the field.  

It's harder and harder every year to agree it's decided on the field because there's somebody arguably that's left out.Always go back to the year that we were in it, Alabama sits at home, doesn't play in an SEC championship game. They're the four seed.  

You could argue that, in fact, may have helped them with one less game.  

They won a national championship from a four seed. What's to say the fifth seed, sixth seed or seventh seed doesn't get hot, doesn't play well, doesn't have an opportunity to win?The problem I have is where that clear line leads to what number that is.  To say that it's just eight, because that's double four, I think you're going to have major issues at nine and 10.  If you'd done that this year you would argue Luke and I would be sitting here saying we should be in. You're going to have to pick a number.

If we were going to do it, I would be in favor of saying let's go to 12, have eight teams play out, maybe the first four get a bonus or a bye or something like that.  I would just rather go further than eight if we're going to do it.If they did that, somebody within that back five, six, seven,eight is going to win a national championship at some point.  That's giving everybody a realistic shot.At the end of the day how are all college sports decisions made?  They're done on the field, in a championship environment.  We're one of the few that's not done that way.  It makes it different.I'm sure people can argue just the opposite of that, as well.

Q.  In general we're going to see guys playing a little bit more than they did during the season.  Is there as much value in practice reps as there is in what we see on the field in the actual game?

KIRBY SMART:  I don't think so.  Those guys, like last year, you take Lewis and Jamaree, they got a ton of practice reps in bowl practice last year.  We don't just practice the ones, we practice everybody.  

They would have been with the twos, they would have got a lot of reps.  Same amount of work.Sometimes in bowl prep before we get ready for the game,we actually do more reps with the twos because the ones have had the body of work, played the most snaps.  

In a traditional year we would double up on the twos and threes, they would get more work.  In the games, the ones would end up playing more.I also think you can't value that practice experience they get over that game experience they get.  I would argue the game experience is what is so valuable because they get tons of practice experience.  What they don't get is that game experience, the nerves of I've got to go out there and be the guy.

Obviously every team in bowl season because of injuries, COVID, opt-outs, there's probably going to be guys that play more at one position than they have all year.  You find out more about them when they go out there and play.

Q.  Another year where your offensive line is going to feature a different look with Ben not there.  Can you speak how that's going to look Friday afternoon?

KIRBY SMART:  Yeah, we've practiced a lot of combinations there.  Trey was out.  Trey was already out the last game.  That's not something new.  We feel like VanPran has grown up a lot over this time, be able to play some at center, get some work.  

He's also worked at guard. Warren played last year in this game at guard, played last game at center.  Jamari has played a lot at guard last year and also played tackle.  Xavier Truss, Broderick Jones, I'm excited to see all those guys go out and play.I completely answered your question (smiling).

Q.  Just with 2020, how the season has played out,pandemic, having to adjust, what lessons will both of your teams take from this season moving forward,whether you win or lose?  The uniforms are nice, fans really like it.  Can your fan bases expect a little bit more moving forward?

KIRBY SMART:  The thing I would take from 2020 is mental agility.  You just better be able to change.  Walking on the practice field, when you find out so-and-so is out, next guy has to bump up.  He had all the reps.  The other guys have to take it.

You found out at flex because it took them 27 hours to get the test results back.  You better be able to adapt and change rapidly.  Never ever, ever, ever give up.  Don't quit on it.  Keep fighting, pushing through.  We're teaching our kids some valuable lessons.

There's a lot of people in the world today, in America today, I'm not going to say use COVID, use the pandemic maybe to do less.  

These kids have actually done more, okay? They've done more through the pandemic because they had to work twice as hard to stay available.They had to practice twice some weeks, meaning practice for Missouri once, practice for Missouri again, practice for Vandy once, practice for Vandy again, practice longer.

I'm proud of the fact I had to work twice as hard, and I did. I didn't take the easy road.  It would be easy to say let me stay home and avoid some of these things.  I'm proud of that. As far as the uniforms, I don't really get into the uniforms. The players do, the recruits do.  

I like listening to my players when it comes to that.  A lot of our design came from Nike.  They come up with the ideas, then we say whether or not we're going to jump onboard with it.I don't like distractions and things like that.  If it's important for the players, I like for them to know beforehand.  I'm not big into surprises for the locker room.

Q.  Kirby, how many early enrollees have practiced with you on campus already?  Your impressions getting to see them up close for the first time?

KIRBY SMART:  I wouldn't single anybody out of that group. I called them up yesterday, their last practice, I talked to them.  I don't even know exactly.  I would guess and say nine maybe, eight or nine.  I think we had three DBs, a linebacker, two linemen, a receiver and running back.  Whatever number that is maybe. They all did a tremendous job.  

I mean, you talk about an intimidating environment.  I'm walking in, most of these kids, they usually come where they've been on official visits, know guys, hung out with guys.  Literally it will be the first time I've seen some of them face-to-face other than maybe ninth or 10th grade in camp.  

I'm worried about recognizing them.They were out at practice, did a tremendous job jumping in. They were able to help us with our numbers being down. We were able to help ourselves.  I left out the D-line, had a couple of them there, too.  They were able to help us out in terms of practice and depth and give us a good look.It's always exciting to get those guys out there.

Q.  After Friday's game, you'll be looking towards the 2021 roster. The transfer portal is new to a lot of people. We don't quite understand how you handle it. Can you give us some insight into how each staff monitors the transfer portal, who is watching it, how you reach out to the kids, how many kids have already reached out to you?

KIRBY SMART:  I would just say ditto because, I'll be honest, he said everything that I would want to say.The only thing I would say is we don't have to monitor it because you guys do so hard.  Every time somebody goes in it, you write an article.  We don't have to monitor it, you guys do it for us (laughter).  As soon as somebody is in it,we know.I think people think we have people sitting down there checking on the ticker every three minutes.  Since y'all are checking the ticker every three minutes, I don't have to.  

It will be a story on the front lines that so-and-so jumped in the portal.It's a need base for us.  If I had my preference, I would rather not use the portal because schools like Cincinnati and Georgia shouldn't have to, you should be able to go out and recruit the right kind of guys.

Q.  This will go down as the year of the virtual meeting and Zoom.  Can you talk about both the advantages of what Zoom and virtual has brought you and also the disadvantages.

KIRBY SMART:  I guess the advantages for us is you might save a little time gathering together, staff meetings. We still do most of our meetings by Zoom.  We have one or two staff meetings a week where we're all together. But to cut down risk, people being in closed spaces for a long amount of time, we do a lot of stuff by Zoom that we never would have done before.

As a coach being in an academic meeting, he's working on a script that they're not talking about his players, now he's sitting on Zoom, he's able to do what he's got to do, not sit in a meeting away from his office.  He can be at his desk multi-tasking.  That can be a advantage.  It also could be a disadvantage if it's a distraction for you.In recruiting it's very different.  

I never probably would have gone face-to-face with as many prospects via Zoom if they were coming to our campus.  Now I get to see them face-to-face any time I want by FaceTime or by Zoom. You start to use those things more often, but that's the biggest difference for us.

Q.  This has been such an exhausting year.  Do you know what you're doing after this game?  Are you sending your players home for a while or do you not want to risk that?  Do you have any feel for what the next few months is going to look like in terms of an attempt to get back to normalcy?  Is it too hard to predict?

KIRBY SMART:  I've got plans to go see juniors, seniors. I'm going to visit with guys on our roster.  

It never stops. You know that as well as anybody.  It's just the beginning of the next.There won't be any time off in terms of that for us as a staff because our 2021 team will be shaped from the minute that game ends, this game ends.  It starts taking shape probably the second it ends.  It begins to take shape.We'll be visiting with guys, sharing time with their family,sharing information, making sure they can make good decisions in what they do.As far as for our players, school starts back January 13th,which is very unique because we've always had 3rd or 4th start dates.  They went from the game back to school,which I never think is really fair for guys not to get a true break.  It's been part of the burden of bowl game when you have a guy and he has to practice the whole time, doesn't get to go home.  All of a sudden he comes right back to school.

I'm very happy that our players get to disconnect a little bitand go be with their families, who they haven't been able to be with.  They got a little time for Christmas, two or three days.  Now they'll get up until the 13th to be with their families, visit, do what they need to do and come back.We'll be in protocol when they come back, continue to test,do things like that.

Q.  I hope I'm not breaking protocol to ask a question to Gary.  The jerseys, I am guessing that had to do withTV.  Can you comment on how that worked out?

KIRBY SMART:  I guess I should say it was brought to me in a light that it was encouraged to be colored.  I'm assuming we both couldn't be in red, therefore somebody couldn't be in red.  That was the way it was presented tome.  It wasn't a narrative where we died to wear black.  It was where we had to wear one of or two dark colors, only two colors.










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