Smart, players speak after Tuesday practice

Noon kick Saturday in Lexington

The Georgia Bulldogs were back on the practice field Tuesday, gearing up for Saturday’s showdown against the Kentucky Wildcats. The 5th ranked Dogs will kick against the Cats at noon in a game that will be televised on the SEC Network.

From Matthew Jesus, UGA Sports Communications…

Head coach Kirby Smart (Full transcript)

On the progress of his offensive line this season and whether he plans to shuffle any players around…

“In spurts, we have played better. Certainly, the production has been better. I think they are a little more comfortable. I can’t really explain the Arkansas game other than we didn’t move guys and didn’t execute really well. It turned into a passing game it seemed like—we threw it a lot. There wasn’t a lot of run-game there in the second half. I thought they did some good things in each game. We have some guys that have played, between Trey [Hill], Ben [Cleveland] and Jamaree [Salyer]. They’ve played a lot of football, even [Justin] Shaffer has played a lot of football for us around here. They are playing at a better level, probably not what we need in terms of being elite, but they work hard each day. We shuffle guys in practice. We have to be prepared for an injury. The second five have all worked, and each one of those guys in the first five have doubled up at a second position as an emergency situation. Right now, it’s really about developing the younger guys and continuing to get them better and trying to get our first guys to execute at a higher level.”

On Stetson Bennett’s goal going into the bye week in regards to practice…

“The first goal was to do a better job of protecting the ball in terms of two hands while in the pocket, while also when running. If you have noticed he had the one against Alabama, and he scooped it up. He runs with the ball in one hand. We have made an assertive effort to improve that. Second was decision making on down-field throws and check-downs. The third thing was putting us in the right play and making good decisions. He has worked really hard on those things. Some of it is movement in the pocket—which is awareness. I thought that he could learn a lot from Jake [Fromm] in terms of pocket awareness. Where are the holes in the pockets? Where is the rush? Where can [he] step up? I think he has done well with that. It is hard to simulate that because we don’t have games. We try to do it with competitive third down and pass periods.”

On injury updates on Kenny McIntosh and Monty Rice...

“We are hopeful on Kenny [McIntosh] that he will be able to play—kind of the same way with Monty [Rice]. He was able to practice at a limited amount with his foot sprain. He was able to go in the Alabama game. We were certainly thankful for that. We gave him some time off in the off week to recover. His biggest thing is maintaining his cardio right now.”

On explosives Alabama was able to hit on UGA’s secondary and whether he attributes that to scheme/execution on Alabama’s end or errors on UGA’s…

“First of all, it’s in the past. We did corrections the Monday after the game. We have been past it since then. The most important thing is we don’t continue to give them up. When you play the style of defense we play, you play how you have to play to stop Alabama. Is it easier to hand the ball off to Najee [Harris] or is it harder to throw and catch it? You have to be able to stop the run, and to do that you have to be able to play some man-to-man, and it’s tough because they have some good guys out there. Some of those plays were explosives because of miscommunication. Some of them were guys got beat. You are going to get beat. There is nothing shameful about getting beat in a one-on-one situation against a great athlete. But, you can’t give out things. You can’t give up a will-route when you’ve got a guy manned. He didn’t beat us, we just didn’t have discipline. You can slip down, fall down. He didn’t beat us, we just fell down. Some of them were scheme, and some of them were some really good plays they ran getting their guys in one-on-one situations. It was a combination of both. We can’t suffer from either and be a good team.”

On how challenging travel to road games is for the team and whether changes have been made in lieu of COVID-19 protocol…

“The distance traveled—I mean it’s a plane, most of them are planes. It’s just minutes in terms of how much further and longer you have to be on the plane, and the return home is kind of the same thing. You are spending a little more time on the plane. In terms of COVID-19 protocol, we have a seating chart. We don’t let certain guys of like positions sit near each other in hopes of spreading guys out. We try to keep roommates at home and close to each other because they have already been exposed. We’re trying to crisscross and not have an exposure knock somebody out if somebody was to test positive. That is the biggest difference. [In the hotel], they don’t ride the elevators, don’t ride with anyone you don’t know, don’t hang around in the lobby. We have less people sitting at a table, therefore spreading out more. We have had some precautions there that we have learned from other teams that have had issues on the road. It doesn’t mean we are perfect, by any means. We try to learn.”

On Alabama’s Najee Harris' performance against UGA and whether Smart has a hot-hand theory…

“No, I coached running backs here and I didn’t think a lot of that. I think a hot-hand has a lot to do with it, healthy-hand has a lot to do with it, wear and tear has a lot to do with it. We are in a long season, and the ability to sustain that. I don’t know what Najee [Harris] weighs, but he is a big back. Big backs can handle that more. Most of our backs are 210, 212, 215 [pounds]. Some of them are 195 [pounds]. You have to be careful on the wear and tear and the amount of carries they get simultaneous. Also, a lot of it is our guys play a lot on special teams. Our guys factor in in a lot of different ways. We think if you are good enough, you should get an opportunity to play. If we thought one guy stood out a lot better than the others I can assure you he would be in there.”

On how long it will take the defenses to catch up with the offenses across the SEC conference and collegiate football as a whole…

“There is no magic potion to me for catching up. There is no—if there is a scheme that hasn’t been invited, I’ll be shocked. The coverages that people play and the defenses that people play have stood the test of time. So, as the offensive innovate the defenses try to catch up. The game is built to entertain and score points. Nobody wants a 9-6 game. They don’t enjoy that. I think it’s a great thing. It’s a physical toughness. I think it’s a rock 'em, sock 'em game. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. It can be a great game and be 9-6, but nobody is entertained by that. The world we live in today is entertained by points. The rules are not set up to score points—I’m not saying that, but there’s definitely an advantage in terms of the number of snaps offenses take. When you look at a game where somebody takes 90 snaps—that never used to happen. As snaps go up, as the passing-game increases, as the skill level increases in high school—there’s less people to defend it. There’s less players 20 years ago in high school, some were defensive backs and now their skill guys are wide outs and you are trying to play catch up to cover guys. I don’t know when they will catch up. I don’t know if they will catch up. I really don’t care if they catch up. Our job is to do the best job defending those kind of offenses that we can. We want to defend them better than others. I think we can do that. If you recruit well and have good enough athletes and good enough players, you can defend great offenses better than anybody else. It doesn’t mean you’re going to stop them, but it does mean you can defend them better than everybody else. It means you better be able to score yourself.”

On how the team interprets the off day next Tuesday (Election Day) in terms of what the team can do together…

“I would be remiss if I answered that right now because I don’t fully know. It’s one of those things we’ve communicated and talked to people around the SEC about. I’m not really focused on it, to be honest with you, right now. I’ve got a lot to focus on with Kentucky. We have had people come on and speak recently during the off week. We had a guy come visit with us—Steve Jones—from Atlanta. He did a tremendous job and explained a ballot, how to go vote, what you’re voting on more than just who the President is going to be. There are a lot of intricacies to the ballot that our kids might not understand, so we’ve done a bunch of voter education things. We’ve encouraged our guys to vote, and most of our kids are going out and voting early before next Tuesday, but as far as exactly how [next] Tuesday is going to go, I’m not sure.”

On whether he feels he can be extra aggressive with his front seven against Kentucky…

“I definitely think that you have to stop the run when you play Kentucky, first and foremost. I’m sure they’re over there searching for ways to increase the passing game and do a good job, because they can’t be one-dimensional. They know that. They’ve got good football coaches. They’re looking for things that complement what they do, and they’ve been successful doing it. They weren’t successful in their last game doing it, but they’ve been successful before. They had great success two years ago against us throwing the ball, especially late in the game, and it was with [Kentucky quarterback] Terry Wilson. So, with us, we’ve got to worry about us. We’ve got to go out and play a good football game. We’ve got to out-execute them. We’ve got to have our guys mentally and physically ready to play, because I know the coaches on Kentucky’s staff. They do a really good job, and they’ll have their team ready to play.”

On the team’s feelings about election day and whether his players are excited…

“Yeah, our guys have been very adamant. We’ve had an athletic department push to try and get 100 percent of our student-athletes to vote, and we’ve encouraged our players to be a part about that. That was one of the things early on in the process that was very important to them. That’s why we took them down and got them all registered, and a lot of our players have voted. The hope is that all of them will, and we’re certainly going to give them the opportunity to do so if they want.”

On the question of whether to play the best players on special teams in wake of Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle’s injury/how doing so helps the players develop…

“It’s obvious to me. It helps the team win games. Isn’t that the objective—to win the game? I don’t know when it became that special teams are higher risk to get injured. If special teams is higher risk, then I don’t want my son on it, then let’s take it out of the game. That’s not fair. It’s not fair to go back and try to second-guess who’s on special teams because there’s 11 young men on our team and 11 on their team, and if it’s any more high risk, then that’s what the safety committee does. They come out and put things in [like] you can’t have a wedge, you can’t have a two-man shield. They’ve done all these things to protect from injury. Injuries are going to happen in football, guys. It’s going to happen. It’s very unfortunate, and I’m sick for that young man [Jaylen Waddle], because he’s as electric of any football player I’ve ever seen. He’s a great football player. He’s a great kid, and he’s fun to watch. He created all kinds of problems for us in terms of special teams, so if you’re not going to let him play on it, then what’s the point in it at all? Let’s just put it on the 25-yard line. That doesn’t make sense.”

On how he would assess his defensive line’s performance, particularly the outside guys, this season…

“We’ve been more disruptive. I think Dan [Lanning] and the defensive staff have done a great job of creating ways to make those guys more effective, whether it’s dropping them, rushing them, covering them. They’ve added some wrinkles that have helped us and allowed those guys to make some plays and statistically improve in terms of hits and sacks and stuff like that. We’ve still got a long way to go. Our last performance wasn’t our best, but we won’t be defined by it, either.”

On things that stand out about Kentucky quarterback Joey Gatewood in the case UGA sees him Saturday…

“He’s big, very athletic and, maybe not as fast as Terry [Wilson]—straight-line fast—but [Gatewood’s] change in direction is really good. We recruited him out of high school and know a lot about him. [He] throws the ball well [and] is a good decision-maker. He’s been there for a while now, and I’m sure like everybody, they wish they’d gotten the spring to go through things, but they didn’t know for a while that he was going to be deemed eligible. From the time they have, they’ve worked him in and gotten him some playing time in some games. I certainly respect him and think he’s a great football player. He’s big, physical and hard to tackle and, in that offense, when you combine their ability to throw, you can imagine if Lynn Bowden was a better passer last year, how hard that would have been to defend.”

On health updates on Matt Landers and Owen Condon…

“Matt is good. He practiced today. He still has lingering effects, but we think he’s going to be able to play and has done a good job. Owen is about 95 percent. He’s taken all the reps with the twos at right tackle. He will be back and good to go.”

Select player comments:

#44 Travon Walker | Sophomore | DL

On whether there are any young defensive linemen that are starting to make a name for themselves…

“All the young guys are starting to improve and showing things that they can do. With that question, all of them are stepping up to the plate, but everybody has something that they need to work and improve.”

On what ways he and Malik Herring play off each other on the field…

“Malik, he’s like my older brother. I’ve been looking up to him ever since I was in middle school and high school. He was 15 minutes up the road from me so, he’s always been one of those players that push me and help me be a better player even though we play the same position. Finally getting to compete against each other every day, it just motivates me to go hard and even when he’s hurting, he pushes himself, I push him. He stays on me and I stay on him.”

On whether there are other ways to disrupt plays if you don’t pressure the quarterback…

“When you can’t quite get to the quarterback, Coach [Kirby] Smart and Coach [Dan] Lanning want, I always emphasize if you run back to the ball on maybe like a screen, you can help get in on that play. Just if you don’t get to the quarterback fast enough, you can still be effective by chasing the ball down.”

#10 Malik Herring | Senior | DL

On what ways he and Travon Walker play off each other on the field…

“Just trying to help him out in things he could have done and things I could have done. Just really try and help each other improve and getting better rushes, shed edges and making the plays we’re supposed to make.”

On the success the team has had coming out of bye weeks…

“I feel like why we’re so successful after the bye week is all the preparation during the bye weeks. We just go hard and focus on each other like camp practices. I definitely have seen that this past week.”

On the preparation for Kentucky’s offense…

“Really just try and stop the run. That’s what we preach every game, every day, just stop the run. With the quarterbacks, just have good contain and make sure we keep them in the box.”

Tim Bryant

Tim Bryant hosts Classic City Today, 6-10 weekday mornings on 98.7FM & AM 1340 WGAU in Athens.

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