Daily Dawg Thread: January 01, 2023

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Daily Dawg Thread: January 01, 2023

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Video/Transcript: Kirby Smart, Stetson Bennett and Javon Bullard Postgame Peach Bowl Interviews

THE MODERATOR: Coach, start with an opening statement, and we’ll go right into questions.

KIRBY SMART: I’ll open with a lot of respect for Ohio State, Coach Day and his program. I saw C.J. Stroud out there, and my heart goes out to those guys because they played well enough to win the game, and they got a really good football team, so do we.

Our guys are extremely resilient. We talked at halftime about some games that we have been in this year that we’ve been behind in, including the Missouri game. I had no doubt that our team would come out fighting. We didn’t play our best football game. A lot of that had to do with Ohio State. I have a lot of respect for them and a lot of these players that are on this podium with me and the guys in the locker room. If we want any chance at winning a national championship, we have to play a lot better football than we played tonight. We’ve got to keep the resiliency and composure along with us.





Q. Coach, there was a lot of rotation especially defensively with guys like Trezmen Marshall, Rian Davis, Marvin Jones all stepping into play roles. A, was that a thing to adjust to Ohio State’s tempo and how would you rate those players that came in and played roles that maybe didn’t play a lot this season?

KIRBY SMART: We wanted to play a lot of players. When you get this late in the season, guys get winded. It is an up tempo game. We say, if you’re good enough and you practice hard enough, you should play.

We felt like against LSU, we got some guys that got winded in the game. We wanted to play Trezmen and Rian and Marvin had to play. We had Chaz go down with an injury, had Darnell go down with an injury. At one point, we had our third and fourth string guys on special teams that hadn’t played all year. We’re at the point in a long season where it’s accumulating, and you’re having to play a lot of guys who maybe haven’t played.





Q. Kirby, can you kind of walk us through what you saw to call that timeout on that fake punt, kind of walk us through that moment?

KIRBY SMART: They just were not in their traditional formation. A lot of teams carry that speed break. They come up the line quick. Everybody’s lined up tight. And we’ve seen it in the SEC. A lot of teams carry it, and you try to practice it, but it’s another thing when they actually do it and execute it.

So it was one of those gut reactions that I didn’t think that we had it lined up properly to stop it, so we called timeout.

Q. Kirby, can you say what you said to Stetson coming off the field there at the end of the first half?

Stetson, on that last drive, some of your teammates talked about how everybody said stuff in the huddle before the last touchdown drive, if you can recall what was said and what was said also?

KIRBY SMART: Coming off the field in the second half, it was really simple. We had to make a decision whether we wanted to go after it and go try to score. We didn’t have much time left, but we did have timeouts.

At the time, I felt like every possession was valuable, and I wanted to be aggressive. We called a play. They batted a ball. We called another play. He was in the pocket for awhile and threw the ball a little high over the middle and put us at risk.

I told him, if we’re going to trust you to do this in two minute, you’ve got to make good decisions. If it’s not there, take off and run. They almost got an interception, which could have been really costly. We just talked about the two-minute drive. That’s really it.

STETSON BENNETT: As far as the huddle, I don’t really remember, recall words, but just looking at everybody and saying, all right, hey, we haven’t played our best, and we haven’t done our jobs to the best of our ability, but we’re here now. It’s in our hands now. Defense stood up whenever we needed them to. Where else would you rather be? Having the ball with two minutes left, and if you score a touchdown, you win the game.

I looked around, and there was just a whole bunch of just determined, strong stares from all the dudes. It gave me confidence, and everybody else had confidence when we went down the field.

Q. Kirby and Javon, against that Ohio State offense, they were clicking. Javon, I guess I’ll start with you. The resiliency you guys have shown all year, when a team’s clicking like that, connecting like that, how do you stay in that, stay that resilient? Where’s the mindset at?

I guess I would ask Kirby, what are you trying to do on defense when you’re trying to get a guy like Stroud out of rhythm when he’s hitting like that?

JAVON BULLARD: We give a lot of credit to Ohio State. Those guys made plays when they needed to make plays. We knew coming into the game, it wouldn’t be perfect. You come into a game like this, college playoff, we know you are going to give up some plays, they are going to make some plays, we’re going to make some plays. You can’t get too high up and can’t get too low.

Like I said, we had to rely on the connection we built through the off-season and the resiliency. I couldn’t be more proud of the team.

KIRBY SMART: A lot of credit goes to them. We tried man. We tried zone. We mixed it up. The most disappointing was the series before the half. They earned it most of the time, and we had some big stops. We had some big momentum stops in the first half and then had some big momentum stops in the second half.

But the one before the half is probably the one where we had seized a little momentum there, and they went to the half with the momentum after that. That was probably the most disappointing thing we had. They’ve got a really good play makers and they got a guy that could throw the ball to them and got a really offensive line, and they can score points.

At halftime, I told our guys, we have way more rushing yards than they do. When you look at college football playoff games, the team that rushes the ball better almost wins 95 percent of the time. That wasn’t the case. We had four missed sacks, and they had one sack. If you miss four sacks and they get one sack, and you have a turnover, there’s going to be some tough times there.

Q. Stetson, you said you wanted the ball in your hands obviously to win the game, but there was still time left. So you couldn’t control that last play. What was it like watching, and did it seem like forever by the time the ball was snapped and eventually kicked?

STETSON BENNETT: Yeah, trust them. We talked about — we had a little powwow on the sideline in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t going good. They were beating us. We had sucked on offense, and it was just, hey, play by play, do your job. It doesn’t matter what happens on the other side of the ball or another position, do your job.

So we had done our job, and then we trusted the defense. Then at that point, it was up to, I guess, the kicker.

Q. Question for Kirby and a question for Javon. For Javon, if you could go through the play where you broke up the pass for Harrison in the end zone.

For Kirby, did you get word on the headset about the formation in the punt, or did you see that yourself on the sideline?

JAVON BULLARD: It was really just C.J. scrambled. He made a play with his feet and threw the ball up in the air. I seen Marvin’s hands going for the ball and just tried to make a play when I could.

KIRBY SMART: For me, I saw them lined up, and there’s a line that’s a special teams line, but I was on the defensive line because we had just come off of a defensive stop. So saw the formation, and apparently they were saying something on special teams line, but I wasn’t on that line. I was on the defensive line and was prepared to call a timeout, which I don’t like doing because it costs you possessions when you do that. You’ve got to be prepared and not burn them.

Q. Stetson, two sequences, that fourth down pass to Bowers, I think you came off the field thinking you guys were short and you were able to come back and get the field goal. I’m curious what all that was like. The second, what was the design of the pass play to Arian that allowed him to get so up and down field?

STETSON BENNETT: I thought the whole stadium thought we didn’t get it, and then they reviewed it. Brock was pretty dumbfounded because he was like I think I got it. I was like I thought you did too because the route you were catching at five yards, and it was fourth and six, and people don’t stop him for a yard, but I didn’t know. We came out, and freaking, I threw a lateral anyways. (Laughter)

Stupid. Then Arian, that one was just run fast, and he did, and he made the dude fall. Dude can do things that people can’t do. He can run like people can’t run, and he can go get the ball, and I was just — once I saw him, I think the whole sideline was standing up and saying he’s open. So I just tried to put it on him and let him do the rest.

Q. Stetson, have you ever played in a game like that at any level?

STETSON BENNETT: No, probably not. That game was — that was a good game. I’m looking at these stats right here, and they’re pretty much dead even across the board. No, that was special.

Q. Two questions. Kirby, first, speaking on Arian, the track speed that he has, I know he’s 10.1 in the 100, and just the importance of having that speed there.

Then Stetson, talking about the other day you sitting with your mom at Christmas break, talking about can you imagine being here? What’s the next conversation going to be after a game like this?

STETSON BENNETT: I think I was saying that — I mean, I don’t know. I think we’ll probably hug. We’re here now. It’s not — you know, we’ve been here for awhile.

Now we’ve got to take care of business. We’ve got to prepare. We’ve got nine days or whatever to play a really good TCU team. So we’ve got to prepare our butts off.

We didn’t play our best game, starting with me. Coach Smart said in the locker room, we had two three and outs to start the second half. Like that doesn’t happen, and that falls on me, and that falls on our offense. We’ve got to fix that. So we’re going to go to work.

Q. Kirby, what’s it like to win like this at the end compared to like winning the Rose Bowl at the end?

Stetson, do you remember the Rose Bowl? You didn’t play obviously, but you had a lot to do with the scout team. What, you got a lot of props for that?

KIRBY SMART: It is amazing anytime you win. I think emotionally it takes a lot more out of you as compared to maybe the Michigan game was last year in terms of the game being over in the fourth quarter. This was an emotional roller coaster. It was a back-and-forth game. It was a who’s going to blink. Two really good teams fighting.

Sounds like they had a similar game back and forth. So it will be two good teams playing for it next week.

Q. Stetson, can you contrast how you felt in the two-minute drill to end the first half and then the two-minute drill to end the game?

STETSON BENNETT: Yeah, we practice that in the — which I couldn’t say I executed, but we practiced it a lot, where it’s two minute in the half, two minute in the game. We need it, we don’t need it, or we need it and we would like to have it. I can’t put the ball in jeopardy like that before the half because we don’t have to have it.

Then at the end of the game, I don’t know, it kind of frees you up. You’ve got to. Otherwise, we’re going to lose. So I don’t know.

Q. So much of the story surrounding this wide receiver room has just been injuries this year. Tonight you see A.D. make a play, Arian, Dom early in the game, Kearis late there. How big is it for that room, for them to have the ability to showcase they can actually go out there and make those plays now that they’re on the field?

KIRBY SMART: I thought B-Mac did a good job selling to our team. We had several coaches stand up and speak on Friday, and he talked about the personal respect level that he has for the attention their receivers are getting, and they certainly deserve that. They’re really good, really talented.

But we’ve got some good wideouts too, and they have a chip on their shoulder, and they want to make plays. They have a quarterback that can get them the ball. A lot of those guys have been able to come back. It’s really been my committee when you look at it. You see Arian, A.D., Ladd, all those guys making plays for us in the passing game. Marcus has made big plays.

Q. Coach, I want to congratulate you on an excellent game, even though you guys probably didn’t play as well. The question I have, but how is Washington doing? I know he’s a big part of the offense and helps Brock out in the passing game and even in the running game also. Can we expect him to be in the next one?

KIRBY SMART: Hard to tell right now. It’s an ankle sprain. I don’t know if it’s high or low. He tried to go back and couldn’t go back on it. We’ll have to evaluate and see.

The good news is he’s got more than a normal week. I know he’ll do everything he can to get back. He’s headed out west towards where he’s from. It will be important to him to try to get back.

Q. Stetson, you talked a second ago about how you worked on those last second, last minute drives a lot. How much does that help you kind of slow your heart rate down because you’ve done it before? You might not be successful in practice all the time, but how much does it help you relax and know what to do?

STETSON BENNETT: It’s the same thing with everything. The more you do it, the more comfortable you get. We rep a lot of two minutes. We know what calls we’re going to do. We’ve got players who study the game plan.

So it’s less so confidence in what I can do. I know that they’re going to be where they’re going to be and they’re going to win their matchups. So all I’ve got to do is give them the ball. So I’d say that slows my heart rate down. Yeah, definitely the reps.

Q. Kirby, football is crazy, but sometimes you win games you shouldn’t, and you lose games you shouldn’t as well. Where did this one fall for you, just in terms of you look up there at the end, your expression was priceless?

KIRBY SMART: Really, I know you don’t believe it, my heart goes out to those guys because they played well enough to win. That’s not my concern. My concern is the men in our locker room. We played well enough to win too, just well enough to win. We played really hard in the fourth quarter.

I would have liked to have seen a little cleaner game, and you’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They disrupted a lot of that. We didn’t have a lot of turnovers. We didn’t have self-inflicted wounds, and they didn’t either. Both teams played really well, and both defenses rose up and made stops. It was a very competitive, balanced game. There weren’t a lot of big plays in the kicking game, like you might expect. But I was just proud for our guys.

Q. Stetson, you make it look easy. Does it feel routine at this point? You’ve done it so many times now. Can you just talk about the mindset and the way you operate in these clutch situations? You’ve done it again and again and again.

STETSON BENNETT: No, I probably can’t comment on that. I don’t know. I just try to do my job. Got to go back and look at the tape and see what we could clean up because it felt like there was a 30-minute period there where I just played bad football.

So we’ve got to fix that. But as to the rest, I don’t know about that.

Q. Coach Smart, congratulations on a hard fought win. How long do you give yourself to enjoy this before turning the page and focusing on the next one?

KIRBY SMART: We’ve got to start tomorrow. We’ve got a short window. Can’t start when we get back home. We’ve got to sleep.

We’ll get started tomorrow and jump back on. Luckily, we caught the late game, but we caught the late game an hour from home. I remember sitting at this point 2018, 2017, I don’t remember what year it was, but we had a long flight. We had a short week, a seven day week with a flight from Pasadena.

We’ve got a little more time. I think it’s important to get healed. Our players have had a long season and a long week of practice this week. I want them to get away, remember what they’re fighting for, and come back rejuvenated and ready to go because this is what you do it for.

Ryan Day, C.J. Stroud and Zach Harrison Peach Bowl Postgame Interview

THE MODERATOR: Coach Day, we’ll take an opening statement from you, and we’ll go right into questions.

RYAN DAY: Not much to start with other than the fact that I thought our team came out and swung and played hard in this game, came up short. It came down to one play. It wasn’t just the last play. There were a lot of plays in the game that you wish you had back as coaches and players. That’s what happens in a game like this.

But I told the guys I’m proud of the way they played. I’m proud of the way they competed. For the older guys, the seniors, proud of what they’ve done for the program. For the younger guys, the guys that are coming back, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow and see what it takes to win in the CFP.

Q. C.J., on that last drive, it was just do whatever it takes, right? You took off running several times there in the fourth quarter. Just what were you thinking there near the end of that drive and stuff obviously to try to set up the field goal?

C.J. STROUD: First of all, I want to give all praise to my Lord and Savior, my Lord Jesus Christ. Just amazing to be out there in that atmosphere and have the opportunity to play my brothers again.

Yeah. I just try to leave it all on the line. I honestly — games like this, it’s a loss for words when it comes down to one play. Honestly, it doesn’t come down to one play, so many things that line up to those plays.

The last drive, man, I seen how much time we had with timeouts, and I knew we could do it. I tried my hardest to get us down here. I got to maybe split somebody else, make another move, just try to get a little more, but I tried my hardest.

I think I left my heart out on that field. Of course, it’s something that’s heavy on the heart. It’s going to be tough, but I’d rather — I don’t want to go out there with anybody else. I love my teammates so much. We put everything on the line, and I would never want to do it with anybody else.

Q. Real quick, Marvin Harrison, Jr., was he ruled out protocol-wise? Concussion protocol, couldn’t go back?

C.J. STROUD: Yeah.

Q. And a lot of people are going to be asking about the first down call after C.J. got down to the 31 yard line, I think it was a run to Hayden. What were you all thinking there?

RYAN DAY: Two timeouts left adding that into the field goal. If we didn’t have two timeouts left, they were going zero. If you split one, you could come out the back end there. Two timeouts left, any couple yards right there could add to the field goal, and that was the idea. Didn’t quite execute it as well as we would like to, but I wouldn’t change that call.

C.J. STROUD: It was a good call, great call.

Q. Ryan, obviously a game of attrition. Both teams lost significant players in this game. And then in the third quarter, when you lose Marvin, he was in such a rhythm, he and C.J. together. Very difficult to guard. When he comes out of the game, did it change things for you? Did it change the way you were calling plays? Just a pretty big adjustment, I would imagine.

RYAN DAY: We lost Cade early in the game, which really sent us into a little tailspin in a couple of groupings. I thought Xavier and Mitch and even Joe stepping in did a nice job with something we had to work through all season.

To say that losing Marv didn’t have an impact on the game, it absolutely did. What this guy did and the way he competed in the second half with all those things coming at him, I just can’t say enough. I’m so proud of the way he played.

He’s not the only one, but he’s sitting right here, and he’s the quarterback of this team. Just the way he attacked this game, I couldn’t be any prouder of the way he did that. Like you said, we were missing some guys out there, and we were trying to figure it out. On the biggest stage, he played one of his best games, in my opinion.

Q. Did you get an explanation for them picking up the targeting call, and what did you make of that?

RYAN DAY: I was told that it was not targeting, that he didn’t take a shot to the head, which is hard — I didn’t see it, so I don’t know. But to get a concussion and not get hit in the head, I’d have to see the replay.

And they said that it happened after he got hit, but I’d have to take a look at the video. I wasn’t able to see the replay.

Q. C.J., what you were hoping to do offensively in this game, was this what you thought you guys could do? How well do you feel this offense played overall for this game?

C.J. STROUD: I mean, I think, at the end of the day, we had the mindset of we were going to let everything hang. We were going to go out and fight as hard as we can and swing as hard as we can. I felt we did that.

We were very efficient in the pass game. In the run game, started rolling a little bit, got a lot of positive runs. I felt we were very efficient. Just a couple of those drives where I maybe missed a read or protection broke down and I got sacked, whatever the case may be, maybe those were the reasons why we lost. No one really knows, man.

We got to get on the film and see what went on, but I’m proud of my guys. I can’t say too much about how we fought. Like it was time and time and time again that we kept swinging, kept fighting, kept swinging, kept fighting, and it is what it is.

Of course you’re going to have some regrets on certain plays. Wish you did this, wish you did that. At the end of the day, man, it’s a man in the arena. It’s hard to do what we do. It’s hard, but it’s a blessing at the same time. You got to be joyful in these moments.

Of course I’m not sitting here smiling and happy, but God is still amazing to me. Still blesses me, blesses Coach, blesses Zach in so many ways. Of course you want to win things like this, and this means a lot to us. I mean, me and Coach Day, man, like we get up early every morning on the phone constantly, whatever we can do to win and put smiles on people’s faces.

It’s tough. My mom, she goes through a lot. Coach Day’s wife goes through a lot. My family, people from home. But I wouldn’t regret anything. I wouldn’t take anything back. I’m blessed to have a coach like Coach Day. I’m blessed to have my teammates that I have. And I wouldn’t want to go out there and do it with anybody else.

Q. Zach, tonight there were times when it looked like the defense just had a grip on those guys. Basically, it slipped away and stuff. What are your thoughts now as you reflect defensively about the way the defense played tonight?

ZACH HARRISON: Yeah. 42 points, we can’t let up 42 points in a game like that, especially with the offense playing the way it is, but as C.J. said, the plan was to go out there and let it all out, and we definitely did that. You can’t say we didn’t play hard. There’s definitely some plays we definitely could have went back, could have executed better on, could have made tackles and been in a better position.

But we played hard, and I’m proud of my guys, and I love my guys for doing that.

Q. Ryan, we understand there’s no moral victories here. You’re here to win, and that’s what matters. You had talked all these weeks about swinging. These guys are using that phrase, to come out swinging and take your shot.

In that way, how do you feel about this team that you didn’t win, but did you swing? Did you take the shot that you wanted this team to take?

RYAN DAY: Yeah. Like you said, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win though. And I think that’s probably what hurts the most is that, when you put that much work and that much energy and that much time into something and you’re right there and you just — you don’t get the victory.

This is a performance business, and you win or you lose, and we lost the game. That’s just what hurts to our core. And that’s what it is. We’re here to win, and it didn’t happen.

That being said, yeah, we came out. Guys were flying around. We were competing. In the end, we came up short. So we’ll have to figure out how to get it fixed in the off-season so that when we’re here again, we’re on top when it comes to it.

This is the way that we need to play football. You can see the energy and passion on the sideline, and you can see the way guys were playing physical. I mean, listen, that’s a good team. Let’s call it for what it is there. They are defending national champs, undefeated. They’re a good team. But I don’t think there’s one guy in that locker room that doesn’t feel like we shouldn’t have won the game.

Again, that’s a part of this thing that is going to sit in our stomachs for a long time.

Q. Ryan, already a lot of people praising your game plan, the efficiency. Can you share some of the keys, some of the things you saw in the Georgia defense that enabled you to be that effective tonight?

RYAN DAY: I mean, I could tell you we had this guy right here. They’re all good plays when you have good players. We worked hard.

I’ll say this — and I’m not just saying this because he’s right here, but the work that was put in over the last month by C.J., just inputting the game plan, get in front of the team, the leadership, all of our guys. I thought the receivers, I thought the O-line was unbelievable this week, just the way that they worked.

Everybody had some input on this game plan. I’ll say it. Keenan Bailey, one of our assistants, went into a study. We had 1,500 reps over the last month. 1,500 reps going into this game. 1,500 reps in bowl practice to get ready for this game plan. I though our guys executed really well at times. Again, there were some calls that I absolutely wish I had back.

In the end, game plans are only so good by the guys who can put it on the field.

C.J. STROUD: I’ll be his guy. It is a great game plan. I mean, without the right plays, you can’t make plays. We all have jobs. Coach Day did a helluva job. Coach Wilson did a helluva job. Coach Keys did a hell of a job. Coach Dennis, Coach Fitch, Coach Alford, Coach Frye. So many moving pieces, even the defensive coaches did a helluva job.

RYAN DAY: Coach Hart too.

C.J. STROUD: Coach Hart. Really everybody. We really were dialed in on what we were going to do, and I felt like we did that. Coach Day called a helluva game. Our game plan was superb.

Like I said, we had 1,500 reps. When we were out there, it was kind of like you knew what was going to happen. When you’re playing like that, you’re playing free. You’re having fun. I think that was one of the most fun games I ever played in my life. That probably was the most fun game I ever played in my life.

It just sucks that it has to come down like that, but God’s plan, it’s something you don’t really understand in the moment. It’s something that you really won’t understand maybe ever, but He thinks greater than us. He knows greater than us, and He does greater than us. That was his plan for that to happen.

Georgia’s defense, offense, they fought too. Helluva team, great team. Coach Smart, Coach Muschamp, D.C., did a helluva job. But I think we should have won the game of course. I definitely think we should have won the game.

Just got to lick our wounds and keep going. Coach Day did a helluva job, man. His leadership — even though people would talk and talk and do this and do that, he just keeps showing up. When you see a man like that, that’s a true man, a man in the arena.

Really everybody on our team, we didn’t splinter. We didn’t turn eye to eye or point fingers when we lost. We owned our mistakes and kept swinging, like our culture. I wouldn’t want to play for anybody else, with anybody else.

Coach Day, helluva coach.

Q. After that, Ryan, I hate to bring this up, but the bottom line is what really bit you all in the end was deep pass, the passing and stuff, just like a few other times this year, but does that bug you to your core a little bit?

RYAN DAY: It’s a team loss, and I thought the defense played gritty at times. They got that huge interception. They fought. They kept grinding. They had the fourth down call come back. They got the negative play. They forced a field goal.

So, again, all we were talking about was just swinging as hard as we can. We did give up some explosive plays again. We did. And it was something that we spent a lot of time talking about is avoiding the big play. I think the difference was, in this game, it didn’t demoralize us in this game. We kept swinging and fighting, and we just kept going at it.

But call it for what it is. If we’re going to win these games, we can’t give up those big explosive plays. They’re hard to come back from, but there was still a lot of positive things out there.

Video: Peach Bowl Trophy Presentation

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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.