Georgia Football

Kirby Smart: Auburn Will Be A Tremendous Challenge For Our Guys

November 5, 2018
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ATHENS — Kirby Smart previewed Saturday’s game against Auburn. They offered the following comments during Monday’s media session. 

Head Coach Kirby Smart
Opening comments … 
“I'd like to also congratulate Matt (Stinchcomb), who is a close friend, played together with Matt here, and what a great honor bestowed to him and certainly deserves it. He's having a bright career with the SEC Network, and what a great honor it is to have him representing the University of Georgia Hall of Fame. So appreciate that, and honor to him.

Open up, we're moving on to Auburn, who we have tremendous respect for. Gus (Malzahn) does a great job with them in practice. Obviously, it's the first time in a long time, probably ever, that we've played them three times, in what really amounts to a calendar year. And these guys have a good football team. When you look at them defensively, they're loaded up front. They've got a lot of big guys. They've got a lot of players who play a lot of snaps. I mean they're experienced across the board.

On their defensive unit, it seems like every guy has been there for three years and played a significant role. And then offensively, I think every time you play one of Gus's offenses, it's time consuming. It's frustrating. He does a lot of misdirections. They come right at you and hit you in the mouth like they did last year. They've got really good skill players to take shots with, and they do a great job on special teams, always have. So it'll be a tremendous challenge for our guys, as they move on from the Kentucky game into this game, and I know our players and our coaches have a lot of respect for the way Auburn plays the game.

I'll open it up with a couple of the injury stuff. Mecole (Hardman), I think, will be fine. He had an ankle. Probably could have come back in the game. He should be fine today to practice. Lamont (Gaillard) had a hyperextension. He's going to be limited today, but we think he'll be fine. We'll see how he progresses the next couple of days. Ben (Cleveland) continues to progress. Thought he could have played if he had to in the last game. So we hope he continues to get better. I think that's all of them. If not, I'm sure you guys will ask.”

On if there is still motivation from last year’s regular season game against Auburn … 
“It's a rivalry game. I mean so many of our kids were recruited by them and so many vice versa. It's always a rivalry game, and I think that a big part of that is being at your best when your best is needed. And that's the challenge for our guys. We're playing at home, at night, in our stadium, which I think is really important to our fans, important to our players to protect our home turf, and we want to put our best effort forward. And certainly going to have to with the challenge they present, because they've got a lot of good football players.”

On the play calling in goal-line situations … 
“I really don't think it's that. I think we worked really hard on it last week and that's probably the most frustrating thing is that we didn't overcome the obstacles we had previously. And it has nothing to really do with play calling. It's not the maddest I've ever been. I was more disappointed in some of the organizational things, not necessarily what we did. Just the way we went about it, and we'll continue to work on it and get better at it.”

On the extent of celebration for winning the SEC East … 
“Yeah, that's not a case for us. I mean obviously the locker room, guys were fired up. Guys were excited. I mean I think anytime you play another top-10 team and you have a big win, it's something to get excited about. These guys worked really hard for a long time. So being able to enjoy that moment and that big game for the trip home, and then Sunday we move on. And it's onto Auburn, who's got a really good football team. They get your attention the minute you turn the tape on because they've got an experienced quarterback. He's got an elite arm. They've got a lot of really good wideouts. They're talented, fast, extremely fast. And they've got a defense that's been there forever. So I mean there's not anybody on our team that's going to be worrying about anything but Auburn because that's the next task at hand. That's what we have to be focused on. Our goal is to play the next team, whoever the next team is, and we don't try to have real big highs and no real lows. We want to stay right neutral in the middle.”

On if experience with winning the East last year helps with motivation this season … 
“I don't know if that helps. What helps is playing well, and your play is reflected by your behaviors, which are your actions in practice. And it all boils back down to that. We can make it psychological all we want, but at the end of the day it's how you work during the week, what are your behaviors in practice, and your behaviors lead to playing better, and that's what we're trying to do right now is play better.”

On what was done during the bye week to improve the Georgia running game … 
“We just worked on things we were not doing well. That was a big part of it. I didn't think we were running the ball well before that either. I mean we had some success before that and we had to improve. We've had a lot of young players that are trying to grow up, and they still need to grow up, and we got some guys out there that have played a lot of football that they have to continue to play better. But there was no magic potion. The off week we just work and we tried to work on points of emphasis for each unit.”

On the rhythm between Justin Fields and Jake Fromm … 
“Justin doesn't have to come in just to run the ball. He's a talented quarterback. He's growing as a player. He's getting better. The more roles we give him to benefit our team, I think it helps us. He's also 230 pounds, too. So he presents a lot of issues for a defensive unit, and I know that from having to coach against guys like Justin. But he's a talented player that doesn't just have to come in the game and run the ball. And I think he and Jake work well together, and if they continue to do that, we'll use both of them where we see it beneficial.”

On Isaiah Wilson and the job he has done on the offensive line … 
“He's grown. He's getting better. I thought last year he got frustrated early and just kept working. Spent some time on the scout team, got better. He still is a work in progress, just like our team is. I mean there's things that he didn't do right Saturday. He plays physical. He's a big man. He's worked hard to get better. He's held up against some tough guys in pass pro. I think he takes pride in that. But he'll be the first to tell you that he didn't do some things right Saturday in the run game that he's gotta improve on and that he's going to play against some really good front guys this week, and when you don't step with the right foot, you don't take the right angle, you don't approach things the right way, these guys can expose you. So he'll keep working, and hopefully he'll keep getting better.”

On what’s allowed Elijah Holyfield to mature as a runner throughout the season…
“Probably carries. He's always been mature. He's a very mature kid that has worked his tail off when nobody knew him because of the feature backs we had, and we all knew what a workhorse he was. He came down to the scout team and got to see him do it against some really good defense last year. So opportunity is probably what's presented itself to him.”

On Jeremiah Holloman exceeding expectations and having a prominent role… 
“He works. I've said it before, he works really hard. He blocks really physical. Everything is important to him, all the details. He's on the punt return unit that's one of the better ones in the country. He takes pride in that. He's a backup on kickoff coverage, backup on punt team. He just works. So the guys that work and play physical and catch the ball when they get the opportunity. He's taken advantage of some opportunities he's been presented, like in the Florida game. He took advantage of the opportunities he got last week. But he's not the only one in that room. There's a group of young men in that room that do a great job for our run game, for our special teams and then when we get an opportunity to throw it they're able to take advantage of it.”

On an injury update for Cade Mays and young players that contributed at Kentucky… 
“Cade had a little bit of a stinger. He's probably going to be limited today. And we don't know how much further it will go. But we expect to get him back. And I know he's a tough kid and he'll push through it. But medically Ron (Courson) and them are going to keep him out of some contact today. But, again, he's tough, competitive, a lot like the rest of our freshman class. He's working really hard, and those guys as a unit are getting better. It's not just the freshmen. I say freshmen. I'm talking about redshirt freshmen. But all those guys.

So don't think of it as last year's signing class. Look at it as a two-year span of guys that haven't had significant roles. I think those guys are growing up, getting better, and I said it after the game last week, some guys got in the game that hadn't been getting in the game, because we have had to use them. They have some attributes that we need, and I'm pleased with those guys' growth. I just hope the maturity allows them to handle, whether it's a little success, in the case of Channing (Tindall) or Adam (Anderson) or Brenton (Cox), or a little frustration in the case of somebody that's not playing as much as they want to. They just have to keep getting better.”

On the legacy of Georgia running backs and their continued success in the NFL, like Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, and Sony Miche,l and how that contributes to recruiting…
“Yeah. I think it helps tremendously to have the guys, even the history of Robert Edwards, Garrison Hearst, Terrell Davis, I mean Herschel (Walker), just back after back after back after back. Now it's probably more prominent than it's ever been because of the stage that Todd is on and what he's been able to do and Nick and Sony's exposure last year through the National Championship game.

I think if you're a premier back in the country and you say I want to go somewhere that I can learn to play in a pro style, catch the ball in the backfield. I also want to be able to protect so that I can increase my value, and I also want to have durability where I'm not going to be beat up when I come out of there, there's nowhere better to go. These guys recognize that, and that's why Dell (McGee) has been able to recruit at a high level.”

On the importance of winning time of possession against Auburn…
"I think it goes back and forth. I think it's a lot about what kind of team you are. If you have depth defensively, and you think you can withstand those drives, the most important thing becomes ‘Can I get off the field on third down?’ And the Auburn teams have been different over the years, too. They've had really fast-scoring ones. They've had some long, methodical teams that go on long drives. It's a lot more important what we do, than what they do, and we have to go execute regardless of what they do. They've got some up-tempo stuff, and they do a really good job of it, and you have to go out execute them. You have to go out and be able to play fast, and your kids have to be able to line up. It's what everybody in college football works on now in the offseason to get ready for."

On how many underclassmen are playing this year compared to others in Smart’s experience…
"I don't know statistically. I can't tell you what the most I've ever had play and what the least I've ever had play. We've got a lot of them in our two-deep, and it's mainly because I think eight or nine of them came early, so that helped them get acclimated. That certainly had an effect with Cade (Mays) and maybe Trey (Hill) and those guys that came early. They got to get to work earlier. But I can't tell you. I just know these guys are working hard, and you want to bring good players in your program, but it's not just getting them here. It's getting them bought into the principles and values and doing what the seniors want and then buying in and also learning and dealing with the frustration of being away from home. This group is starting to overcome a lot of that and get better as they get more and more experience."

On how freshman CB Tyson Campbell can develop…
"He's got a lot to work on. Tyson is a benefactor of a little bit of lack of depth. He's a benefactor of playing a position that's not quite as complicated as some of the other freshmen are at. And he's talented. But he's grown up. He'll continue to grow up. When you play opposite Deandre Baker, you're going to get a lot of attention. And he continues to get a lot of those. And he has to continue to improve and work on a lot of things, whether it's tackling, eye control, doing his job, knowing the assignment of every play. Because out there sometimes you get away with maybe a wrong technique because you've got a guy manned. You can't get away with that when you're the linebacker that has to make the call, when you're the quarterback or the running back that has to protect. You can't do those things. And he can, and he's been able to grow, and he has to continue to improve, though."

On the principles that Auburn has consistently done well under head coach Gus Malzahn…
"Physical. Being able to run the ball. I mean people think it's all sideways, and when they've had elite backs, they've really run it well. When they've had elite quarterbacks, they've really run it well. They've got more wideouts now than I remember them having as far as vertical threats and guys that can run and throw the ball down the field and a quarterback that can get the ball to them. I’ve got a lot of respect for the job he does, and they've always created a lot of problems because of the tempo and because of the window dressing, and they do all that, but they still run the ball at you."

On the difference for junior TE Isaac Nauta the past few weeks…
"I really think it's just opportunities. It's just his number. It's not like we call a play and say this play is going to Nauta. I really think the two-minute drive at Florida opened up for him, and they played some coverages that made it easy for him. It wasn't that he was out there beating somebody in coverage man to man. They didn't cover him on some. And then they played a soft zone where he got the ball. And he did a good job the other day. He beat a guy across the space that was man-to-man. And I know Jake (Fromm) is very comfortable with those tight ends. And I think Isaac at the end of the day knows the offensive system better. He understands where coverages are. He knows what leverage to take, and he's taken advantage of some good opportunities."

 
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