Daily Dawg Thread: December 02, 2022

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Daily Dawg Thread: December 02, 2022

VB: UGA Defeats Towson, Advances to NCAA Second Round

Tom Black >>> 📸: Tony Walsh/UGA

The University of Georgia women’s volleyball team defeated eighth-seeded Towson in four sets Thursday evening at Gregory Gymnasium in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament (25-10, 25-23, 21-25, 25-20).





The Bulldogs will advance to the second round and will face the winner between (1) Texas and Fairleigh Dickinson Friday at 9 p.m., ET.

Georgia climbs to 23-7 on the 2022 season. This is Georgia’s first NCAA Tournament victory since 1995.

The Bulldogs’ offense was led by 26 kills from senior Kacie Evans on a .380 hitting clip. The kill count was her second highest of the season. She put up eight digs, an ace, and two blocks in the match.





Junior Sophie Fischer contributed 12 kills on a .455 percentage with eight blocks. Libero Bailey Cox led the defense with 15 digs.

At the service line, Georgia put down six aces in the match, three coming from setter Alexa Fortin.

Georgia jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead then used an 11-1 run to propel forward to a 14-3 advantage in the opening stanza. The run included three blocks and two service aces. Georgia kept its foot on the gas, going ahead 18-6 and forcing Towson’s (29-2) final timeout. The Dogs never looked back and rolled to a 25-10 opening set win. Fischer laid down five kills with three blocks while Evans had four kills in the opening set. Towson was held to a -.088 hitting clip in the set.

The Bulldogs’ momentum carried into set two, taking a 9-2 lead on the Tigers. Towson turned the tables and used a 7-1 run to narrow the lead to 11-10. Towson found its first lead of the match going into the second set media break, 15-14. Towson led by as much as 21-17 until Georgia recaptured the lead with a six-point run, 22-21. Knotted at 23-all, Georgia held on to win the next two rallies and take the set 25-23 and the 2-0 lead in the match.

A back-and-forth battle in set three opened the stanza. Towson won three-of-four points to go ahead 13-11 and Georgia took a timeout in the third. Towson stayed out in front, leading 22-16. A 3-1 Georgia run closed the gap to 23-19. After Towson drew set point at 24-19, an Evans kill and a block prolonged the set until Towson secured the frame 25-21, keeping the match alive.

Georgia rattled off six straight points early in set four to take a 7-2 lead. Georgia held on to the lead, going up six on Evans’ 25th kill, 17-11. Three-straight from the Tigers narrowed the lead to 19-16, prompting a Georgia timeout. After a UGA timeout, a service error gave tipped the 20-point mark for the Dogs. Narrowly ahead 20-18, Georgia held on to wrap up the set 25-20, taking the match in four sets.

WBB: Lady Dawgs Roll Past Furman

Brittney Smith

Four Lady Bulldogs scoring double digit figures powered Georgia past Furman, 78-58, in front of 1,936 fans at Stegeman Coliseum on Thursday night. 

Fifth-year forward Brittney Smith paced Georgia (8-1) in scoring and tied her season high with 20 points, including a team-high eight rebounds and two blocks. Diamond Battles followed with 15 points and a season-high eight assists. Zoesha Smith had 13 points, while Audrey Warren added 12 of her own. Alisha Lewis contributed six assists and four rebounds.  

“I think we could have had a lot more assists,” Coach ABE said. “I just felt like we didn’t hit a lot of shots. We missed a lot of shots, we missed a lot of wide-open shots, but I also think that’s because we’ve been gone and hanging out in the Virgin Islands, too. We’ve been in their gym shooting, so we have to get back here and settle down in here. We’ll have Friday, Saturday, Sunday to get shots up in our gym. We only shot yesterday for a little bit in the gym and barely at all today, so I feel like it wasn’t a homecourt advantage offensively because we were wide open, and we were missing shots. So, I think that it’s just a tribute to the fact that we were we haven’t been here a long time.” 

Both teams traded points early in the first quarter, but the Lady Bulldogs used a strong defensive effort to force three turnovers from Furman (4-4) and build a 9-2 lead off a Battles 3-pointer. An 11-0 run boosted Georgia’s lead as B. Smith chipped in four points to put the Lady Bulldogs ahead by a 13-2 score. A layup from Z. Smith followed by a B. Smith jumper closed the first quarter with Georgia leading by 13, 19-6.  

Back-to-back fastbreak layups from B. Smith kickstarted the second quarter, while pair of Warren jumpers help to carve a 15-point lead for Georgia at the midpoint of the frame. A 3-pointer from Lewis gave the Lady Bulldogs a 45-29 lead heading into the locker room at halftime, the most points scored by Georgia in the first half this season.  

The Paladins used a 7-0 run at the start of the third to cut the Lady Bulldogs’ lead to nine, 47-38. Furman outscored Georgia 13-4 in the first half of the quarter thanks to a pair of 3-pointers. The Lady Bulldogs used an 14-0 run to remain ahead, 63-44, highlighted by six points from B. Smith and Lewis’ second long ball of the night. 

A pair of baskets from B. Smith and Battles started the fourth quarter. Georgia used a 6-0 run with three minutes left in the game to finish ahead, 78-58. 

Video/Transcript: Kirby Smart’s SEC Championship Game Pregame Press Conference

CHUCK DUNLAP: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the 2022 SEC Championship Game pregame press conference.

We’ll begin our press conference with the Eastern Division champion Georgia Bulldogs and head coach Kirby Smart.

Coach, welcome back to the SEC Championship Game. Would you mind making some opening statements before we take questions.

KIRBY SMART: I’ll just start with the tremendous job that our conference does. They are really incredible at preparing for this event. It’s the best game to play in since I’ve been a coach, a great environment. I think they do a tremendous job.

Proud of our team, what we’ve done to this point. Getting an opportunity to play in this game means you’ve won your division, one of the toughest things to do in the SEC.

I have respect for Brian Kelly and the LSU program. What a tremendous job he’s done in his first year there. We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play in Atlanta.

CHUCK DUNLAP: Questions, please.

Q. I wanted your thoughts, thinking back when you were a young assistant at LSU (indiscernible), did you have any thoughts of being a coach in this position, coaching a national championship program? What did you aspire to back then?

KIRBY SMART: Survive the day back then. That was quite some time ago. Was my first full-time SEC job. I’d come off being a graduate assistant (indiscernible). It was my first time coaching in the SEC. Really competitive environment. It was the year following their national championship there, so a lot of tough times, getting acclimated. A lot of expectations after winning the national championship.

We had a lot of good players coming back on that team. I think most of the defensive players were back from the national championship team. It was an exciting year. I learned a lot.

But as far as aspiring to where I am now, not really thinking about that then.

Q. Last time we talked to you, you were starting your preparation, taking a look at LSU. Anything kind of stand out now that you’ve had additional days to break down their film?

KIRBY SMART: Yeah, they got a lot of talent, a lot of really fast, athletic players. You look across, the skill level on both sides of the ball for them, great size, great speed. They got one of the most physical offensive lines we’ve played. They’re really, really talented in the red area defensive area and red area offense, which we went hard yesterday. Third down, they do a great job defensively on third down because they don’t get in very third-and-long situations.

Q. You’ve talked a lot over the years about the importance of having player-led teams. I was wondering how that aspect has proven to be this year? What is the biggest impact a player-led team can have on a program?

KIRBY SMART: Well, any team is going to be player led. I don’t know a good team that’s not player led. There’s probably some bad teams that wish they had better leaders as players.

But the good teams that I’ve been able to be a part of, they’re all player led. That’s the way you should want it. If you do your job, the players follow the directive to lead the other guys. This team has done that.

They’ve tried to emulate and kind of mimic the group that did it last. They saw those guys do it. They set a standard for them that they’ve tried to emulate. I think this team has done a good job of being player led, and they continue to do so.

Q. How big would it be to essentially have home-field advantage if you end up making the Playoffs in Atlanta for that first round? Does that add any to the motivation of winning on Saturday?

KIRBY SMART: Not really. There’s no thought of the next step. There’s such a long break between this step and next step. This is the culmination of a season. The next opportunity, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

Q. What science is there to keeping your defensive linemen fresh? Obviously they can’t play every down. They’re so impactful. What goes into keeping those guys fresh, not wearing out?

KIRBY SMART: Well, conditioning is the number one thing. It helps to have depth where you can play multiple players and not have players drop off. I don’t think anyone in the country will tell you they have enough defensive linemen. It’s a rotational position. It requires effort and strain.

We do conditioning all year. We condition multiple times a week. If you want to be a really good football team, you got to be best conditioned. Best conditioned is not a word, it’s a requirement and a strain that you have to put in.

We’ve conditioned enough to be at our best in moments like this Saturday.

Q. What has A.D. Mitchell been able to do this week, and what will his status be this Saturday?

KIRBY SMART: Same as recent weeks. He’s been in some practice weeks. He’s going to be out there and rep. The hopes are he’s going to be able to contribute.

Q. What is your thought on looking at freshman linebacker Harold Perkins after you watched him on film?

KIRBY SMART: Extremely athletic. Very twitchy. We’ve had a crossover with them on several teams we’ve played this year, whether that be Tennessee, Mississippi State, Florida, a couple others, Auburn I think. He’s just extremely athletic.

I think they do a tremendous job utilizing his skill set, edge rusher, zone coverage guy, man-to-man guy. He’s a force to be reckoned with. He’s very talented.

Q. I wanted to ask you, we’re starting to see all sorts of names pop up announcing who’s going in the portal, who is not. Is there a protocol that your program has established as far as when guys will announce? Have you already heard from players? I wonder about the new housekeeping item that coaches now have to manage, part of this new roster management.

KIRBY SMART: Yeah, we’re really focused on LSU, to be honest with you. That’s where our concentration is. We’ll deal with that when the time comes.

Q. Obviously this is a tough game. What makes this such a tough game to win?

KIRBY SMART: You’re playing the best team in one of the best conferences. The team that won the most games or won their division on the other side. It’s a matchup of the two, what usually is the two best teams in the SEC, which is a very competitive conference.

It’s a championship game. It’s an opportunity to win the conference that has represented (indiscernible) college football in recent years.

Q. If the SEC one day goes to one division like a lot of conferences are doing to match their two test teams, will that make much of a difference in the SEC?

KIRBY SMART: I don’t understand the question. Would it make a difference how?

Q. Competitively. The fact that an 8-4 team to upset an undefeated team, take away from post-season opportunity. If you have the two best, that enhances a conference’s ability to get two in.

KIRBY SMART: Sounds like you answered it.

I’m not following what you’re asking. In my opinion, the two best end up in this game, take the divisions out, you’re going to get the two best, maybe the best. I mean, one team could have had a harder schedule than the other.

Some of these conferences, everybody plays everybody. I don’t think you’re looking at that ever happening in the SEC. It’s a hypothetical to assume you’re going to get the two best. You’re going to get closest to the two best records based on that with tiebreakers.

With the expansion looming, I don’t think this game is going to be a make or break, get you in or out in most cases. It’s probably going to be a situation to maybe move up or something.

Q. Obviously news today about the expanded Playoffs in 2024. The seasons have continued to be expanded recently. How does that play into how many snaps you play guys? Is there any saving players, any conscious effort to try to keep guys fresh going into late November, early December, or is the league just too competitive?

KIRBY SMART: I think you’re way overthinking it. The objective is to win your football games. I don’t know many teams — in our conference, you don’t go in and say, Can I play this guy 20 snaps and not 60 snaps?

I mean, you practice every day out at practice, and you’re practicing 30, 40 snaps. A lot of our guys may play more snaps in a practice than they do in a game. They’re going against pretty good competition like this.

So I don’t look at the games as I’m trying to not play my guys. I think they earned the right to play the game. You’re trying to win each and every opportunity. That means putting the best players out there.

Q. With the transfer portal heating up next week, have you identified as a staff (indiscernible) cycle in terms of position (indiscernible)?

KIRBY SMART: That’s not really a conversation piece for us right now. We have a process in our organization, we have different divisions. Everybody has a timeline for what they’re working on. We have player development staff, recruiting. We have all these facets within our organization that work their parts year-round.

The most important right now is staffing our team, preparing for LSU. That’s really where our focus is.

Q. Third time you’ve matched up with Brian Kelly. How important were the two previous wins for your program building into what has become today?

KIRBY SMART: Well, I think they were great matchups. They were national exposure game. Any time you’re playing Notre Dame, it’s not just about Brian Kelly, it’s about Notre Dame’s name across the country. Certainly helps you maybe recruit across the country, become a national brand, play on a national stage.

That’s what it gave us an opportunity to do. Both hard-fought, physical football games in both cases. Got a lot of respect for Notre Dame’s program. I thought it was great college ball to have Notre Dame and Georgia matched in those two games.

Q. Several years ago I think under Mark Richt they talked about knocking the lid off the program, how that’s an important function to be able to achieve higher. Do you feel like you’ve been able to knock the lid off this program?

KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t really understand. Lids on programs? I’m doing the best job we can for our young men each and every year. I think that would be a subjective question that each person, each fan that has an opinion might see a different way.

I’m doing the best we can for our guys every year.

Q. What mindset do you want your players to have going into this game? What are some of the things you’ve said to them this week to prepare them for this weekend?

KIRBY SMART: That preparation is the key to any game. This is no different. Our other SEC games we’ve had in terms of the difference, we’re playing at a neutral site. It’s an opportunity to go out there and play. Nobody else is playing in our conference but us.

Our peers get to watch this game. One of the most watched games of any football season. We talked long and hard about being at our best as needed. Those critical situations in games that decide games, they’ll decide this game no different, whether that’s turnovers, explosive (indiscernible).

Q. When you’re looking at this LSU team, there’s a lot of transfers on this team. When you’re scouting them over this week, how much are those transfers standing out?

KIRBY SMART: Yeah, a lot. When their staff got put in place, it’s hard to compare that against other programs across the board in the SEC. I would argue they did the best job of filling holes and creating roster opportunities for guys coming in.

You start with the quarterback. I mean, quarterback has played phenomenal for them. He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s been a tremendous asset for them.

But also filled some really big (indiscernible) on defense (indiscernible). Probably, if they don’t do as good a job, it’s hard to say where they would be right now. They put together some really good defensive players as well as the quarterback.

Q. Georgia and LSU have matched up five times in the SEC Championship, second most of anybody. What is it about these two programs that they’ve been able to sustain success over the course of several different coaches?

KIRBY SMART: Yeah, it’s the geographic areas. They both have great high school football in and around their universities, the proximity to good players. Got New Orleans, got Atlanta. Per capita, when you look across the NFL, the state of Georgia and Louisiana are always near the top. It has a lot to do with the success of the programs.

Q. You were asked earlier about the Playoff expansion. What are your general thoughts on that coming up? What it will mean for the sport?

KIRBY SMART: I’m not real sure. I think only time will tell. I read and see a lot of opinions out there. Length of games, number of games. I don’t think we’ll truly know. Like when we went to the four-game model, there were a lot of questions involved there, too.

It’s not something I’ve got a huge opinion on right now, especially right now because of what we’re focused on. In the off-season I’ll think about it a lot more.

Q. How does the turf compare? How have you divided up outside and indoor practice this week?

KIRBY SMART: Very similar. Theirs is a little bit newer model of it there at the Mercedes. Very similar to ours. We’ve practiced. We’ve had some weather, so we’ve been inside and out each day, but mostly inside.

Video/Transcript: Brian Kelly’s Thursday Presser

CHUCK DUNLAP: Coach Kelly, could you make an opening statement.

BRIAN KELLY: Certainly excited to be playing in the SEC Championship Game. It has been quite a journey. I think this is a year since my press conference here. Really proud of our staff, certainly our players and everybody associated with LSU football and the accomplishments that we’ve made here in a very short period of time.

You got to win it on the field. Our guys did a great job of playing their very best when their best was needed. Now we get an opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country.

Certainly have a great deal of respect for Kirby and what he’s accomplished. To do this back-to-back years is a great accomplishment. Obviously we have a great deal of respect for this football team that we’re playing in Georgia.

We’re excited about the challenge. Look forward to coming to Atlanta, being part of this championship, playing our very best football when it’s needed.

CHUCK DUNLAP: Questions, please.

Q. I wanted to check on Jayden Daniels. Will he play on Saturday?

BRIAN KELLY: The bigger question is, Will you be able to make it? I heard you’re a little bit under the weather. You going to be okay (smiling)?

Q. Yes. It looks like I’ll be all right. Thank you for asking.

BRIAN KELLY: Okay, good.

He’s going to be good, too (smiling). He’s had a good week of practice. He’ll play for us on Saturday.

Q. Can you give us an update on Josh as well as Jarrick? How have they practiced, and their expectations for play?

BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I was really pleased with Josh yesterday. I think he looked like himself finally. This is an injury that takes some time because of the way he runs. He’s such a physical runner. He plays so hard. His physical exertion and effort is one where he’s not a guy that’s going to go at less than 100%.

I think yesterday was really the first time where I felt like, Okay, we’ve got Josh back to where he needs to be, to be confident and effective.

And Jarrick was cleared through our concussions protocol. He is obviously going to play an important role for us, as well.

Q. What has BJ Ojulari meant to this team on the field and off the field?

BRIAN KELLY: I would say off the field he embraced the change. He embraced really the mission. That is graduating champions, the excellence that we wanted as a standard here from day one. You need that, right? You need your best players to embrace that. Elected as a captain for us. Led both on and off the field.

He’s been an edge play-maker for us. I think when you’re talking about excellence both on and off the field, BJ Ojulari would be that guy that we would bring up.

Q. I know it’s only been one year in the SEC, but what do you think is going to be the impact when divisions go away and how that fits in with the Playoff picture and the meaning of the SEC championship?

BRIAN KELLY: I’m so young to this league, I’ve kind of had blinders onto try to get through day after day, to have a bigger picture perspective of it is kind of hard for me right now.

I can tell you this. Our commissioner has a great sense of what’s best for the SEC. Look, I usually speak my mind, and haven’t had a problem doing that most of my career. It’s helped me and gotten me in a lot of trouble (smiling).

In this instance, I would say Greg Sankey would be the best one that would put us on the right path in terms of what’s best for the SEC as a conference and what’s best for us as a national conference relative to the Playoff implications.

I would defer to him. Whatever he tells me to do, I’m good to go on that.

Q. You mentioned this story a few weeks ago about Will Campbell coming to the sideline, noting what he needed to fix, how he was going to fix it as an example of freshmen having this special mentality. What are some other examples of these starting freshmen showing that mental maturity throughout the season?

BRIAN KELLY: Well, I mean, I could give you a number of different examples of Mason Taylor, who is just playing a tight end position, but involved in so many aspects. He’s got to have the ability to pick up the running schemes as well as all the passing schemes. The tight end position is not an easy position to play.

To put the physical with the mental at that position as a true freshman, we saw with Brock Bowers did it at Georgia, it’s quite unique. So just his ability to bring that every single day in his first year here I think is extraordinary for a young player.

Emery Jones coming in after camp and being inserted into the starting lineup. You’ve got to have a short memory at that position in this league. There’s such great pass-rushers that you’re going to give up a sack or two.

I think what I love about Emery is he forgets it and moves on to the next play. Each one of them has their unique traits.

I think we know about Perkins and his ability to impact defensively. Look, we’ve played him in two or three different positions already. All of them, if you put them all together, we know about their physical ability, but it’s been certainly their mental capabilities and their maturity beyond their years to come in and play at this level.

Q. I know that you obviously have many more years behind you as Notre Dame’s winningest coach. What gives LSU a higher ceiling to win championships than Notre Dame? Quite a storied program. Now it appears there’s more room for success at LSU than Notre Dame.

BRIAN KELLY: Well, I mean, look, there’s so many different elements. I think Notre Dame has a great opportunity, as well. That’s why I was there for 12 years. We had opportunities certainly in the College Football Playoff, playing for a national championship. We were right on the doorstep of playing for championships and winning national championships.

What is unique about LSU is the in-state recruiting. We didn’t have that certainly at Notre Dame. It was much more national. So you’ve got to go into each state and pull out the best players in those states at Notre Dame, whereas you have it right here in the state of Louisiana.

This is the flagship university. Kids want to go to LSU. They grow up wanting to be a Tiger. There’s a bit of an advantage from that perspective right out of the gates when it comes to recruiting.

Q. You obviously did a fantastic job, you and your staff, filling holes with the transfer portal. It benefited you greatly at the quarterback spot and defensive backs, et cetera. What are you expecting this to be like in this coming transfer portal season? Is it going to be beyond anybody’s imagination? Doomsday scenario in what you might see?

BRIAN KELLY: Well, I think obviously we’re all in a situation where it’s uncharted territories in so many ways. Guys are saying they’re in the portal, but the portal hasn’t opened yet. I think everybody’s very conscious that we’re worried about tampering, things of that nature.

You have to re-recruit your own roster, making sure retention is as important as recruiting now. There are many more factors. Obviously the NIL is part of this, as well.

I think we’re thinking about so many different things. When you get down to it, it’s protecting your roster, retention, player development, then use the tools that are available to you. The portal is going to be a tool that everybody is going to look at. You also have to understand that with that comes a chance to upset the chemistry of your football team, too.

You got to be very intentional. I think you have to be moving into this next week or so very carefully because you’ve got to balance recruiting freshmen with the transfer portal and retaining the players on your own roster. It’s going to be a very interesting next couple of weeks.

Q. You have obviously been in playoffs and bowl games in your career. You have this one experience in the ACC Championship Game a couple years ago. Unusual situation being a COVID year. What, if anything, do you take from that experience that you can apply to this game?

BRIAN KELLY: Not really that much. I mean, I think in terms of just balancing your schedule because you’re losing opportunity relative to staying ahead of it in recruiting.

I think it’s just balancing your schedule more than anything else. The preparation is the same. There’s no difference. We’re preparing just as if this is a 13th game. Obviously the best team in the country, but preparing it the same way. No change there.

You have to adjust your schedule accordingly based upon not being able to do recruiting.

Q. Your third time matching up against Kirby Smart. Georgia came away with the win those games. Sorry to bring that up. What were your takeaways after playing the Georgia program those two times?

BRIAN KELLY: They’re really good and well-coached. Good players. Very competitive games. One of them was home, one of them was away. They were great atmospheres.

It’s just really good college football. Look, it’s going to be a similar situation. We’re going to play a physical football team that has the style of its head coach. They’re going to play great defense. They’re going to be physical on both sides of the ball.

That’s the nature of a well-coached football team that’s won a national championship and is competing for another. You know what you’re going to get here.

I mean, everything’s going to come very difficult. Nothing’s going to be easy. You’re going to have to earn everything.

Quite frankly, that’s the exciting part about it. You know what you’re going to get. You’re going to get a really well-coached football team, fundamentally sound, and they’re going to play hard for four quarters and it’s going to challenge your football team to play its very best as well.

It doesn’t get any better than this.

Q. I wanted to ask you about one of your better stories this year. Your leading scorer is a walk-on kicker who didn’t see the field at all last year. And just what you and Coach Polian saw in the off-season, and how he has converted that to the game field and become a weapon for you when you needed him?

BRIAN KELLY: We’re so smart, we didn’t invite him to camp until the very end. That’s how smart we are (smiling).

When he came to camp, he demonstrated I would say his consistency more than anything else. We have some really good young kickers, but I thought that what Damian really exhibited in camp and then leading into the pre-season was the consistency. Nothing seemed to really bother him. He had a really good routine. We just felt comfortable that we knew what we were going to get from him.

Yeah, we’re not perfect there. I think what we know is that we’re going to be in it with him, and he’s not going to be overwhelmed by the moment. He’s going to be able to stick with his routine and he’s going to put a good effort on every single kick that he’s asked to make.

Q. Can you speak to Malik’s impact on the offense, especially on third down?

BRIAN KELLY: Well, certainly he’s developed a relationship with Jayden, one that certainly they trust each other. We match them up in a position where he gets quite a bit of one on one matchups. Teams sometimes have to double cover him, which clearly can influence how we can get the ball to other receivers as well.

He’s been obviously very consistent for us. I think that relationship that Jayden has developed with him relative to the timing, getting the ball out of his hands before he gets out of the break, has really been, I think, more than anything else, why third down has been so effective.

Coverage is so tight on third down. Everybody knows what you’re trying to do. You just have to be so efficient. Your throws, they’re phone booth throws, tight throws into tight windows.

They’ve built a really good repertoire and they’re on the same page. I think that is what has been the difference between Malik and why he’s led our team in receptions up to this point.

Q. (No microphone.)

BRIAN KELLY: Certainly there are times when we were not happy with our passing game against Arkansas. But leading into those games, I thought we were extremely efficient, moved the ball down the field.

I think it’s like anything else, quite frankly: you can’t be predictable. You’ve got to be able to push the ball down the field, different levels. You’ve got to attack the defense in all areas. If you’re predictable in terms of where you’re going to throw the football, defenses are going to take that away.

I think it’s really much more about being more aggressive and attacking all areas of the field which opens up the ability to hit some more of the higher-percentage passes that keep the chains moving and keep you ahead of the chains, quite frankly.

Q. You talked briefly about the two previous meetings against Georgia. They’ve had some coordinator changes since then. What are the biggest schematic differences between those Georgia teams and this Georgia team?

BRIAN KELLY: I’d say there’s probably more similarities on defense than there are on offense. I think there’s a little bit more wrinkles, if you will, on the offensive side of the ball.

Every defense is going to have a little bit of a change in personality. But their three down, four down, they’re going to mix it up on third down, their third down packages are difficult. The personnel is outstanding on the defensive side of the ball, as it is on offense.

I think maybe the offensive structure is one where there are more things to defend and make it difficult, especially with both the tight ends. The two tight ends make it very difficult because of personnel-ing it and they take away some of your calls from a defensive perspective.

Q. How has the preparation been this week in anticipation of this game?

BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, it will help us in our performance. It’s not just what we do on the practice field, it’s the decisions that we make away from the field, it’s all the things that we do relative to nutrition, sleep, the training room, film study.

Our guys are building better habits with that. That’s really what this has been about. It’s how they think about it, it’s the habits that they’ve been building relative to their preparation.

We’ve come a long way, quite frankly. This week they’ve been very intentional, understanding how important it is playing Georgia, the best team in the country, that those habits have to be really good if they want the kind of performance that they’re looking for.

Q. Maybe you’re aware of this, you guys are a pretty significant underdog according to Las Vegas in this game. Do you want your players to be thinking about trying to shock the world? Is it just focus on the kinds of things that have gotten you to this point no matter who you’re playing?

BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, look, social media is so prevalent out there. They don’t live in a cave. They don’t need me to bring things up. They knew that they were a 10-point favorite against Texas A&M, and look what that did for them.

Look, the distractions of social media do not help in your preparation. So what we’ve tried to do is get them to think the right things about what’s important in their preparation. If you think that you get into the right emotional zone because you’re an underdog, well, that’s fine. But it’s still about your mental, your physical, your technical and tactical preparation.

Whether you’re an underdog or a favorite, that has nothing to do with your total preparation. That’s how we try to get our guys to think.

Q. Obviously you talked a lot about it this week, but the very unique offense you guys are going against with these two tight ends that are so prolific. What has the progress been like in terms of how you’re going to try to defend these guys, without going too deep into the weeds, obviously?

BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I mean, you have to game plan for them or they’re going to wreck your day. I mean, it’s as simple as I can get it.

I don’t think it’s a secret that both of these guys, in particular what Bowers does, he does everything from getting handoff sweeps to screens, to verticals, to seam routes. I think Coach Monken does a great job with them.

Washington splits out as a receiver. They’re difficult to defend. Yeah, you have to have a game plan. If you don’t you’re going to have some problems.

Q. Not sure how much, if any, you went back and looked at the 2021 Georgia preparation for this. If you have, what have been some of the subtle differences in the Bulldogs’ offense compared to last year?

BRIAN KELLY: Yeah, I would say it’s probably a little bit more two tight end. I think they’ve utilized McConkey very well, very strategic in terms of getting him the football. Look, this is the classic case of an offense that uses players over plays. That’s good coaching, right?

You’re not going to carry a scheme just because, well, this is the scheme we run. I think it’s an outstanding quarterback, right, who is extremely confident and gets to the ball that have been making plays.

This offense has been successful because the coordinator is leading them and Kirby is leading them towards get the guy the ball that makes plays for us. That’s in the running game, too. They have an outstanding offensive line.

Just good coaching and getting the ball to the players that should have the ball in their hands.

Q. You said earlier this week how you were in favor of more teams in the Playoff. Obviously now officially today there will be a 12-team Playoff starting in 2024. Why are you in support of this? What do you think it does for LSU as you move forward?

BRIAN KELLY: I just like more access, I guess. I’m a Division II football coach. I grew up with more teams involved in the playoffs. I liked that atmosphere. I don’t know that I have any kind of earth-shattering statement on it.

I just like more access. I think you get some playoff games on campus, you involve the bowl games, you keep them involved in it. I think it keeps more teams in the hunt as the season goes on in terms of vying for playoff spots. I think it’s exciting for college football.

I don’t think in any way it takes away from the championship, the conference championships. We’ll see how that goes. That’s certainly up for discussion.

Excited about the growth. I think it just keeps obviously the interest in the Playoff chase further into the season.

Malaki Starks named finalist for Freshman of the Year award

Bulldog true freshman safety Malaki Starks has been named one of five finalists for the fifth annual Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award, according to an announcement from the Maxwell Football Club.

Starks, a native of Jefferson, Ga., joins LSU’s Harold Perkins Jr., Ole Miss’ Quinshon Judkins, North Carolina’s Drake May and Penn State’s Abdul Carter as finalists.  Current Bulldog tight end Brock Bowers was named the 2021 Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year.  In addition, former Bulldog and current New York Giant Azeez Ojulari was another finalist for the honor in 2019.

The winner of the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year Award will be unveiled Dec. 29.  The formal presentations of this award will be made at the Maxwell Football Club Awards Gala hosted by the Mohegan Sun Resort in Pennsylvania in March 2023.

Starting the last 11 games for top-ranked Georgia, Starks is tied for the team lead with 59 tackles and has a team-high seven pass breakups.  In addition, he is tied for the team lead with two interceptions with 42 return yards, including a pick on No. 11 Oregon’s second drive of this season’s opener en route to the Bulldogs’ 49-3 rout.  Starks is part of a defensive unit that leads the nation in Scoring Defense (11.3 points/game).

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Greg is closing in on 15 years writing about and photographing UGA sports. While often wrong and/or out of focus, it has been a long, strange trip full of fun and new friends.