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Georgia Football

Georgia Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart: "We Embrace Expectations. We Hunt."

September 3, 2022

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ATHENS - It was a hell of a season-opener for Kirby Smart and the Georgia Bulldogs to start the 2022 season.

In nearby Atlanta during the Chick-Fil-A kickoff game, the Bulldogs dominated from the opening whistle and left with a massive 49-3 win over the No. 11 Oregon Ducks.

Bulldog head coach Kirby Smart had a lot to say after the big victory...

KIRBY SMART: I'd open by saying that Gary Stokan and the people in this event, the organization is first class. They do an unbelievable job. I love playing in this game. I love playing in this venue. Our kids embrace it. I thought our fans embraced it.

They do a tremendous job, and it's really a credit to the people with the Chick-Fil-a Kickoff game and what they do. I've never played here that it wasn't a great atmosphere, and it certainly was today, for college football.

Q. I know you guys try to prepare for everything. Could you have imagined a better execution and just performance by your offense in particular? But your defense didn't give up a touchdown today, either.

KIRBY SMART: I was really proud of the way our kids played. We tried to talk about coming out and playing as if we were hunting, and we wanted to play connected football. That was all we talked about all week; we're going to play connected, we're going to play aggressive, we're going to be a hunter. Kids kind of bought into that theme, and they like playing here. Offensively we did execute at a high level, which when you have an experienced quarterback and you have experienced players, you can do that. I thought Coach Monken and his offensive staff had a good plan. They played well. Defensively we were a little more bend-but-don't-break. At the half we both had 14 1st downs and really had not stopped them like either team had wanted. Some opportunistic turnovers really helped the defense.

Q. Coach, you talked defensively. One of the players that stood out was freshman Malaki Starks. What did you see from him in this game that you liked and want
to improve, and what went through your mind when he got that interception?

KIRBY SMART: Well, he's been probably our most productive defensive back all camp, which means he get lots of hands on balls. Batted balls; he knocked down balls; he had picks. He's a good football player. We wanted to get him in the game early, and fortunately it was a play where he was one-on-one, and he made a really good play on the ball. He's an incredible athlete, has good speed.
He's got a lot to learn and I thought he played with great composure today, and he could be a really talented player.

Q. You had 10 different players catch a pass today, and five different players score touchdowns. What does that say about the depth of your skill positions?

KIRBY SMART: Well, I don't know that we have great depth. I know that we can spread the ball around. We don't have the depth we need, especially at the skill positions. We're talking running back, wide receiver. We've got good depth at tight end, but we don't have the kind of depth we need at those other positions.

That's a product of Stetson being able to get to first, second, third read and then also scrambling and making plays with his feet. I can only imagine how you feel calling a game against a guy that when you win, get somebody back there, they don't tackle him. Then on top of the fact he knows where the ball should go. When you have an accurate passer with good protection, it's really hard. It's hard to defend.

Q. I know especially after one game you're going to want to keep the expectations in check, but things are –

KIRBY SMART: Expectations are definitely already in check. You don't have to worry about that.

Q. Externally they're going to be astronomical. Is there anything you can say after that one game in terms of how good this team could be or what the ceiling can be?

KIRBY SMART: Externally we don't listen to. That's the keyword you just said. Externally there's expectations every year. We embrace expectations. We hunt. We go do the best job we can, and if it falls short, it falls short. I don't look at it from the expectations standpoint. I look at it like what can we do better; how do we improve; how do we get more players playing winning football because everybody in this room knows we're going to lose somebody. Somebody is going to be injured throughout the year, and how do we get them better. But the expectations I have is for our guys to play at their best and our coaches to prepare at their best, and I think that our guys really did that this game.

Celebrate Georgia's 2021 NATIONAL TITLE


Q. I was wondering if you could comment on the D-line and their ability to get pressure today.

KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I don't know. I didn't think we had -- we didn't have any sacks, did we? It's hard to sack Bo Nix. It's hard. He's smart. He knows where to go with the ball. They're playing on 3rd down, wants to throw the ball before you got there. We had some pressures called, and it doesn't matter if you throw the ball in 2.1 seconds, and they screened us a lot, so you're not going to get many sacks in that. We've got good rushers. We've got guys that will be productive, but we knew going into the game he's hard to get on the ground. He probably got out of three or four sacks, and our guy got out of three or four sacks. That's the difference in college football right now is not having those negative-loss yardage plays and you just throw it away and you go win the next play.

Q. Christopher Smith had a horse collar tackle penalty. What kind of message does that give to the rest of the defense about next play, forget about the last one?

KIRBY SMART: Yeah, he embodies that. He's next-play mentality. That's what we talk about is next play. We had a guy jump offsides; next play. We had a guy hold; next play. That's the way you've got to play the game. If you have too many next-play mistakes, you won't win football games, but you have to play the next play as if nothing happened. I thought we had several guys make
some mistakes today that overcame those.

Q. Before the game got out of hand, right there before the half, you guys had 21 pass attempts to just nine runs. Is that just something that was available today or is that something we should look into for a bigger narrative that's probably not there?

KIRBY SMART: I don't know, you take what the defense gives you, right? If they're willing to give you a chance to make those plays and throw the ball around, we think Stetson does it well. We think we've got good skill players. It's scoring points is the name of the game. We want people that want to come play in this offense, and I think when you watch what they did today, if you're watching from home, you're saying, man, I'd love to play in that offense. They throw the ball around, they toss it around, 30 for 37 for how many yards? I don't know, but he threw the ball really well. Passes, he threw a lot of passes for a lot of yards. I think that's a credit to the offensive staff or the planning they had.


Q. A lot has been made about the tight end talent you have, but what's the value of having a third-year coordinator with guys at the skill positions like McConkey, Adi Mitchell, McIntosh that have experience in this offense?

KIRBY SMART: Yeah, it makes games like this much easier, right? It's kind of like the reverse of last year. We had guys on defense in those same spots and they were really comfortable and confident, and it was the reverse of that this year in terms of offense, having -- you've got to realize we went against that for two scrimmages with our defense, and it's frustrating because you've got a guy that you can't get on the ground; he makes a play; you've got good skill players. If people execute at a high level and do their job, then you become hard to stop and you become efficient, and I think we could be more explosive because some of our explosives came off broken tackles, but we want to be able to throw the ball down the field, and we want to be able to spread the ball around.

Q. It seemed like y'all made a conscious effort to get both Kenny and Kendall the ball, throwing it to them out of the backfield. What did you see from those two, like you mentioned throughout the fall, you'd like to replace the production from James Cook as a receiver?

KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I think you want to get the ball to players that can make plays and make people miss, and when you start ranking the chart you say, okay, who do you have that are going to make people miss and extend plays. Kenny is one of those guys, but we've got several other guys at tight end that can make people miss, receivers that can make people miss. You become hard to defend the more people you have that can touch the ball, but none of that happens without the quarterback and the offensive line to make that happen. They were very efficient today.

Q. Stetson, career high passing yards today. Obviously told he was the starter off-season. Is there anything to that or did he just go out there and play within himself?

KIRBY SMART: I mean, yeah, there's something to him being the starting quarterback the whole time, right? If we had rotated ones and twos and you guys had debated who the starter was, would he have played this well today? I don't know. I don't think Stetson really gets affected by anything I do, you do or anybody does. Stetson lives in his own world, and he does a really good job of blocking out all the noise. The guy had a flip phone, okay, in 2021. He doesn't really get into all that. I think that's what his kind of edge is, and he made some plays that he didn't make the right decisions on today, and he knows those. He knows his mistakes. He's got to be smart. He does things that maybe we don't ask him to do. But he did make some plays with his feet, and I think you take the good, and I'm not going to call it bad, but you take the good with his poor decisions.

Q. What was the question you wanted answered today, and did you get what you were looking for?

KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I wanted to come out and play aggressive, and I told our team, I don't care about the results of the game, I don't care about anything; all I care about is did you come out and play aggressive, and we tried to make it really simple. I thought they came out and played aggressive. I thought we called the game aggressive. I thought Coach Monken, I thought Coach Schumann did a tremendous job with both their staffs. Our staff is the best it's ever been. We've got a great staff right now, and it's awesome because we've got a great -- we've always had a good staff, but we've got a really great staff right now in terms of guys enjoying to work together and putting plans together, and I thought they did a great job of doing that.

Q. Talk to me a little bit, how was it to go up against an old friend in Dan Lanning?

KIRBY SMART: Well, it wasn't about Dan Lanning, it really wasn't. I saw him before the game. I've got a lot of respect for him. We talked about talking after the game and telling each other tendencies or ideas we had to try to get better. We agreed not to share with other people because it only hurts both of us. I've got a lot of respect for Dan. Some of those players out on that field Dan Lanning recruited, and Dan Lanning did a tremendous job for the University of Georgia while he worked for the University of Georgia. Now he's working for Oregon. He's going to do a really good job at Oregon. He's relentless, and they'll bounce back from this, and he knows that we've got better players. He'll never say it, but he knows we've got better players, and I respect how he works.

Q. Are you suggesting that Stetson no longer has a flip phone?

KIRBY SMART: I don't think he does. I think somebody said he didn't. I haven't checked.

Q. Georgia is one of the only teams that didn't really go out and get a lot of transfers in the SEC. Was that a strategy by you coming into this season for one reason or another?

KIRBY SMART: No, people always ask that question. I'm not anti -- I think it's awesome to get a transfer that can help your team somewhere, and we lost out on some guys that we wanted to get. Once we lost out on the players that we thought improved our team, we weren't going to take a transfer so that I wouldn't have to answer a question about not taking a transfer. So we didn't want to just do it. We wanted to upgrade our roster. If you don't feel like somebody upgrades your roster, then don't do it. You're always exchanging a transfer for a high school kid that you could bring in here and develop, and that's a lot of college coaches' fear right now. They don't want to bring a high school kid in because they're worried they're going to leave, so you'd better do a good job of farming your own place and make sure they understand that it's not easy here. It's hard, but if you buy into hard, you'll be like those 10 other football players in there that are playing in the National Football League right now that are shaking their hands. They love it. That's what we're trying to sell is come hang out with Travon, Jordan, Nakobe, George Pickens, all those guys, and you'll be like them one day if you work. The kids that we attract are usually the ones that want to stick around and do that.

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