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Georgia Football

Georgia Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart: "The Goal is to be No. 1 at the End of the Season"

October 11, 2021
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ATHENS - Georgia Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart talked with the media as the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs get ready to take on the No. 11 Kentucky Wildcats.

"I would like to say a quick hello to Coach (Vince) Dooley. I appreciate him coming over. It's always great to see him in the audience and also at practice from time to time. Good to have you Coach. I got a text from Derek (Dooley) the other day. It's good to hear from him as well. I appreciate you being here."
 
"We are on to Kentucky. I think when you look at what Coach Stoops has been able to do, it's pretty remarkable. First off, he's a really good football coach. I've known him a long time. Recruited against him. We went head-to-head on a lot of recruits back when he was Florida State's defensive coordinator and I was at Alabama. He is a tremendous coach. A tremendous builder of men. To see what he's done with the consistency which they perform at such a high level. I say it all the time, to be a good football coach you have to have all of the phases. The recruiting phase, the organizational phase, the development phase, the three phases – offense, defense, and special teams, and they are really incredible at all three. They have a great system set up that they recruit to. They develop guys. It seems like every year you are talking about their defense, and they are doing a tremendous job offensively this year, as well. The quarterback and transfers they have gotten have really added juice to their offense, and they have a great special teams unit as well."
 
"The challenge ahead is for us. I think our kids embrace that. It seems like each week, the last three, four, five weeks, we've had big games and we have another opportunity. That's why you come to the SEC. To play in big games."
 
On being ranked No. 1…
"It's just a number, right? I don't see a plateau. The goal is to be number one at the end of the season. You always know that. Everybody's goal is there, but to have an opportunity to do that you have to be in the top four. That's the most critical part. We won't get caught up in that and let you guys write about it. That's not a burden we carry. The burden we carry is how we play."
 
On the QB situation…
"You know how I feel about hypotheticals. It's just hypothetical. We are trying to get JT (Daniels) back. He is much improved this last week, at the end of the week. He had a really productive throwing session Thursday. For the game, he was able to throw more than the previous week. We are going to let him try and throw more today, although today will be a lighter practice. Our guys have gone really six consecutive heavy, heavy weeks. Heavy even on Mondays we've gotten after it on games that didn't go into the fourth quarter. We practice pretty hard on Mondays. Today that won't be the case. We've had a really physical two games in a row with the Arkansas game and the Auburn game. There will only be so much we're able to get done today, but we'll look and see how he is and where he is. See what he can do. That's always the case. I'm not getting into that. Right now I'm making sure that we have a healthy quarterback and keeping our quarterbacks healthy, by keeping them upright and protected." 
 
On the Kentucky offense…
"The biggest difference is they have a really great supporting cast. They have a quarterback that is really wise, really bright. A great system in the play-action boots they do. The quarterback is a really good athlete, and he throws the ball really well. He has weapons. They have always been one of the most physical games, if not the most physical game we've played in. I don't think the rest of the world understands the physicality that their offensive line has played with. Their run game. Their defensive line has been enormous in terms of size. Just a different type than maybe when you play against Arkansas or even Auburn. They strike blockers. They are very similar to us defensively in the front mechanics they play and how they play blockers. They have always been really great at stopping the run and running the ball. The added dimension now is the quarterback with the vertical pass game. The weapons they have outside are obviously different, and the back run so physical and downhill." 
 
On areas of improvement…
"There's so many things we can do better. People look at the game and think of it as a blowout. The game wasn't vindicative of the score; it was a physical, tough, hard-fought game that if a couple plays in the red zone go different, it's a different ball game. We've got a lot of places we can improve on."
 
On team injuries…
"I don't know because all we've done since then is rehab. Today is a lighter practice, so the hope is we're going to get those guys back. Chris (Christopher Smith) had a shoulder that came out of place, put it back in, he didn't feel like he had gained 100% strength back. Ron (Courson) has said he's seen guys back in a week from that, we'll find out where he is. He is one of the toughest people I've been around so if Chris can play, he'll play. Jamaree (Salyer) had a slight ankle, but it didn't swell. He thought he could have gone back, but he didn't feel like he was at 100%. I'm hopeful to get him back and he'll be ready to go. Some of the other ones are soft tissue. We're hoping to get Arian (Smith) and Jermaine (Burton) back. Marcus (Rosemy-Jacksaint) looked good in warm-ups on Saturday to me and probably could have played in an emergency, so we're thinking we'll get him back. Not sure on Dom (Dominick Blaylock), nothing on George (Pickens). I'll know a lot more on Tuesday based on how they practice."
 
On Kenny McIntosh and Ameer Speed…
"Kenny (McIntosh) had a hamstring, it never pulled but it was tight and bothering him, so we've been treading lightly. He warmed up and thought he was going to be able to go but didn't think he was at 100%. He covered a couple punts and he'll be out there today repping, but I won't be able to tell you until we're full throttle. Ameer (Speed) still has an ankle. He had an ankle last week in practice. It's unfortunate because he's been playing well for us, especially on special teams units and don't know if he'll be back."
 
On the Kentucky offensive line…
"They've got four draftable prospects, guys that will go high. Their tackles are really good players and they've always had a good offensive line, but they had a good offensive line last year. Four, or three, of the five are back and the transfer from LSU is really good. (Darian) Kinnard is one of the most physical players we've played against. He's huge, long arms, they're committed to the run game and what they do. Very physical and a good team, people don't understand that because they look at them last year because they didn't have a lot of the same weapons in the pass game, the quarterback wasn't a thrower like this guy is and they're a really good team. I have a lot of respect for how they play."
 
On addressing the team…
"The focus is on us like it always is, it's about what we do. It has nothing to do without the outside world or the noise about the rankings. They're going to hear it regardless, so it's really what you control your thoughts on and what your priorities are. I'm very honest with our team and they way they've handled things to this point. They've handled practice and leadership well. They bought into the DNA traits of our team and they've got to continue to do that because there's two ways you can lose that. You can lose it through failure and people not buying in, or you can lose it to success through people seeing themselves through a different lens and seeing themselves in a different way or being comfortable, or not comfortable, with what their role is. We've been able to avoid both of those things, we've got to continue to."
 
On the quick passes vs Auburn… 
"Auburn attacked us in a lot of ways. I thought they had a really good game plan in terms of keeping us off balance. Looking at the first drive, the drives they would've had without for a couple of red area stops. I don't think there is anything in particular about quick passes to the outside. The games not that simple – there's a lot more to it than that involved with coverages, scrambling quarterbacks. We have to play better on defense. We were not lined up. We don't have our hands in the dirt, and we are not in great shape. Teams are going to try and tempo us, and sometimes that is going to hurt them as much as it hurts us. We have to do a much better job of executing our assignments. Fatigue makes you make mistakes, and we had mistakes on offense and defense on Saturday that were not reflective of us. Things you guys might not notice that we notice. It was warm Saturday; I didn't think either team was in great shape in terms of being able to play in those conditions." 
 
On the freshmen success at wideout… 
"Spring practice, number one, was a big help because the guys who have contributed were here in the spring, and they got a lot of experience in the spring. Year two in the system for a lot of the other guys. Guys that are playing, obviously, Kearis is a vet now. He's been in Monken's system. Ladd's been in the system, it's his second year. AD's been in the system for Spring and Fall, which allows him to be successful. And the run game allows them to be successful because some of the plays that we are hitting are play actions plays. As long as they are able to honor that and be successful in the run game, that – our goal is 5.5 at rush. That doesn't mean we are going to rush the ball for 5 and a half yards every time, but if we can be effective and stay ahead of the chains, it allows us to be effective in the play actions pass game. I think the play action pass game has helped our lack of depth at receiver succeed, along with our depth at running-back and tight-end. There were 20%, 30%, 40% of snaps that we had 13 in the game the other day, and that's three tight ends. We are fortunate to be able to get guys back there and be a little more healthy to be able to take some of the burden off of wide receiver." 
 
On Dan Jackson… 
"Dan practices very well. He's a guy you can count on because you are going to get from Dan in practice what you are going to get in the game because he puts everything into every practice. That is what allows him to be successful because Dan is a really tough, hard nose player. He understands our defense, and he can play multiple positions. I was really proud of the way he went in and played on Saturday. He plays better than the people in front of him play. It puts a lot more burden on our front seven to play at a high level to make sure that Dan plays well." 
 
On Zamir White and James Cook… 
"He (Zamir) is extremely physical runner. He is 100% for probably the first time where he feels really good. He had an incredible off-season after the interruption of COVID, coming off a knee. You feel like he is hitting stride where his acceleration, his burst, his pass protection, his breaking of tackles, his yard after contact have been rally good. I feel the same way about James. Those two guys are the heart and soul of at least our offense. How they go is sometimes how we go, and there's not always a bunch of big holes. They manufacture runs and keep us on schedule. Their leadership, more than their play, has been a key component to this team." 
 
On being ranked No.1 against USC …
"I don't remember really anything about that week. You telling me is the first reminder I've had of it. I didn't know when or if that happened, it's not relevant. You guys need a story, write it all you want. But it doesn't have any relevance whatsoever for us because it's all about how we practice and how we do. If you worry about the psyche of guys reading and looking at it like it's discussed, yes you have to do a good job of talking to your guys and keeping them grounded. That's part of what we've been working on for 10 months around here."
 
On recruiting wideouts …
"I don't think it's changed much. You want to be explosive, so you need fast, size and speed guys. Unfortunately, there's not but a handful of 6-4 really fast, physical, explosive players so you have to have sometimes exceptions. Is his exception his character? Is his exception his work ethic? Is his exception that he's bulk? I mean there's all these criteria and we have them listed for every position but size is important. You know, (Todd) Monken really believes in the ability to go vertical and stretch people vertical. And that might not be just speed, that might be your ability to win 50/50 balls. Your intelligence and ability to play multiple positions. There's a lot that goes into playing receiver at Georgia. We don't want all cookie cutter guys. We don't want every guy to fit the same mold. We have a definition of an 'x', definition of an 'z' and a definition of an 'f', and we want to be able to be three deep in each one of those. That requires nine guys being capable to play, and right now we don't have that. We're below those numbers without any injuries. Just sheer numbers, we're down. We've got some guys that are going to compete to play which is what we challenge people to do. That 'next man up' mentality is there but it's also our resiliency. We have this word in our core trait and that's resiliency. Well, that's what we show when the next guys got to go out and play, because we're resilient."
 
On the importance of Georgia fans at the game …
"This game speaks for itself. What it means, who we are playing, what the rankings are, what's at stake. I think our fans are educated enough to know the importance of this one. Their impact could be the difference in the game. I don't think sometimes they acknowledge that because they think that everything's going to be easy and it's going to be home. You can't think that way. You can't be apathetic as a fan and think 'well, we're Georgia.' That's not the case because this is a high-quality football team. We need the extra advantage of playing at home just like we had to go up against it last going to Auburn. We need that same advantage this week."
 
On getting Tykee Smith back…
"Well he's a starter that we rep at safety when we go regular and there's no nickel on the field, so he knows some of the safety stuff, but it wouldn't be fair to say coming off injury 'you'll learn this new position.' (Latavious) Brini is cross-trained and Brini works at safety, so both Brini and (Javon) Bullard give us flexibility because we think Javon Bullard is a really good football player, and he's growing up day by day. He was playing a good bit, and we're going to be able to work Brini and Bullard both at safety with Tykee (Smith) repping and starting as well. But that doesn't mean that Tykee's going to be the only star, because right now Dan (Jackson) is playing safety. So we have to cross-train. We got four safeties who we feel like can go in the game and play, and we feel like we got two or three stars."
 
On Stetson's confidence…
"I don't think the team has ever lacked confidence in Stetson (Bennett IV) and there's no question mark there. I think, to each his own, everybody has their own opinion of what Stetson is or isn't. Within this team, there's a belief that Stetson is a really good football player and he's a winner. He's done nothing to show us otherwise in terms of his toughness, his competitive nature, the embracing of the offense, the embracing of the role to stay here and compete, when for a while there, he was a three and not getting as many reps, so very pleased with the way he's handled things. I think him playing well at Auburn really has more to do with the outside circumstance because he went on the road last year and played in some tough places, but he didn't play in that kind of crowd noise. He should be given kudos in managing and effectively managing the offense to no penalties. To go in that environment, play, and not have penalties—number one—you give Matt Luke, Todd Monken, Dell McGee, Cortez Hankton and Todd Hartley a lot of credit because that's hard, you go watch all these other teams play on the road, it's tough. That, to me, is incredible, but Stetson had something to do with that because he's got to function, he's got to manage. It's not to say we didn't have mistakes, we did, but it should give him confidence, because he already had confidence in his ability to play. He played in a tough environment and handled it really well."
 
On Jalen Carter…
"Yeah, he's a tremendous athlete, he's one of the best athletes of that size that I've seen. And obviously, we talk about Jordan's (Davis) size, his extreme exception. Jordan's huge, and Jalen (Carter) is not. He's big, he's just not overly freakish big—he's a really good athlete. He has extreme quickness, suddenness, change of direction. He can finish, make plays like an athlete—just a really good combination of Devonte (Wyatt) and Jordan is Jalen, and he has played well, and he's got to continue to work to get better. Those guys are at another level when it comes to getting him to execute and understanding how to play the game. Jalen's still learning, and he's making plays because he's talented. We've got to continue to grow him because he can make us a better football team."

 
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