Daily Dawg Thread: January 03, 2023

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Daily Dawg Thread: January 03, 2023

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Transcript: Kirby Smart, Stetson Bennett and Javon Bullard Press Conference – January 03, 2023

COACH SMART: First of all, I’d like to thank the CFP for taking the time to put this together and having a great original semifinal game there at the Peach Bowl and now headed to the National Championship.

Our kids are really excited ready to head out to Cali we’ll be doing later this week. Looking forward to the opportunity. I’ve got a lot of respect for TCU and their program and Coach Dykes, what a tremendous job he’s done there.





Had the great fortune of seeing him and Max out at the Heisman Trophy ceremony and have so much respect for their program, them as people. And what a great opportunity it is to play in a large setting, in a great setting for a CFP National Championship.

Kirby, you probably know there’s a record number of points scored in those semifinals. With the playoff bracket being expanded, do you see any evidence of guys even at this point just being tired, what’s your reaction to that?

COACH SMART: I don’t know how to pinpoint it. I don’t know. Traditionally the teams that are in these games, they’re pretty good offensively. But you’d like to say they’re also pretty good defensively, but I think the studies and numbers indicate that as the season goes on and especially the semifinal and final games, scoring has to be going up. What that is, I can’t really pinpoint it. I don’t know that I would say it was just being tired because you could say that’s relative to offense as well that you can get tired on offense. You can get tired on defense.





But I certainly think it’s hard to play quality defense any more because I know we try really hard here and I know they do at TCU as well. Joe Gillespie does an unbelievable job, their defensive coordinator. And it seems that tackling becomes worse as the season goes on. And there’s more scoring. But I don’t know why that is.

I’ve been a part of some unique national championships with the LSU/Alabama ones and the rematch that was lower scoring but outside of that I’ve been part of a lot of shootouts.

You’ve been through a 15-game season. In the back of your mind have you thought what it’s going to look like with 12 or they could play 16 or 17?

COACH SMART: I haven’t really thought about it because I know that’s coming down the road. But at the end of the day, the gap, the space between the last game being the conference championships and the semifinals probably bothers me more than anything else because I think you lose rhythm there. So I don’t know that it’s the total number of games as much as it is the layoff in between. If it was continuous, I’m not saying you wouldn’t tend to see higher scoring, you probably would see higher scoring, but I don’t think it would be as bad of some of the performances.

I know you’ve taken a look at TCU. Can you kind of give us a crib notes version of what makes TCU unique offensively and defensively? And I know it always comes back to players, but they do play a 3-3-5 we don’t always see. And obviously Coach Dykes is revered for some of his offensive strategies.

COACH SMART: Yeah, tremendous team. Tremendous program. He’s won wherever he’s been. He’s done a great job. Their kids believe. They have, I feel like just reading and listening about them, a lot of similarities to our kids in terms of the culture created there, the way they play, the way they believe.

I think I saw a stat, they have the most comebacks in college football in the fourth quarter. And that shows what your mental makeup is. Their conference has been in a lot of tight ball games and they’ve won those tight ball games. And done an incredible job with what they do. And they create really tough situations defensively, do an incredible job on special teams. Have one of the best returners I’ve ever faced in the return game and score a lot of points on offense with the Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback. So it’s a recipe to be playing for the national championship.

One element of TCU’s offense is they throw a lot of passes at or behind the line of scrimmage and use those to move the chains and also get some explosive – what challenges does that present with your defense with that element of the offense?

COACH SMART: I think all of college football is that way more of the game played on the perimeter not just unique to TCU they throw the ball vertical down the field. They have a lot of size outside so they can cover you up on the perimeter game and they can launch shots and they had a ton of good plays throughout the year.

With Duggan, he completed a lot of passes when they’re behind schedule. He gets a lot of notoriety with his running ability. What have you seen from him that allows him to make those plays when the down and distance isn’t favorable?

COACH SMART: He’s got great players to do it with. He understands defenses. I think he’s very smart. There’s no defense he’s going to see that he hasn’t seen before. You’re not tricking an experienced quarterback, very similar with Stetson.

You’ve got to do it better than they do it. You’ve got to out-executed them. There’s no tricking them. And he does a tremendous job of that. They have a system to allow him to manage that and to get back to third downs where you’ve got a shot to convert them.

I know you made a “Cool Hand Luke” reference to Stetson over the weekend. In the fourth quarter he’s been on point, a huge rating, no interceptions. What have you seen in his evolution that’s made him so good in crunch time in the fourth quarter?

COACH SMART: I think it’s his mental disposition. I think he doesn’t think of the moment any different than the first quarter from the fourth quarter. He doesn’t feel that. He is a processor. He’s a deep thinker. He just goes through the process of what he’s going to do and doesn’t let it affect him.

He’s never real real high or real real low, which I think is a great trait for a quarterback. And I think that helps him in the fourth quarter to be able to go execute. He has a lot of confidence. I think his coaching staff does a great job preparing him to be in those moments.

As you look at the rosters of the two teams, they’ve been built a lot differently. You’ve got blue chip after blue chip recruiting classes. TCU has some kids who maybe had very limited offers. I guess as you look at their talent and their roster, what stands out to you about that? And are there different ways, I guess, to build a better mousetrap in terms of recruiting?

COACH SMART: I never look at it through the perspective of, a lot of people look at it as it’s all about what your kids were rated when they came in. Coach Dykes inherited a lot of those players and got some through the portal and things.

But you got what you got. And what you do with what you have is what makes you a coach. And he’s done a tremendous job with the players that he has and has inherited. I feel like we’ve done the same with the ones we’ve gone out and recruited.

So I never get too caught up in how it was built. It’s kind of like, okay, you gave me my mold and now I’ve got to go try to make something out of it. And you do the best job you can with what you’ve got. And that’s what you focus on.

At the end of the day, everybody gets into all those ratings and all those things. Over and over again it’s about the chemistry of a team and I would venture to say that these two teams probably have some of the best chemistry across the country.

Educate me if you need to on this but Arian Smith, obviously he had a big game. I know he’s played in the slot a good bit. But it seemed like he was much more involved in all the motions and things that you guys run. Did you guys redevelop a role for him during the break? And specifically obviously Ladd’s still banged up, so I’ll also use this opportunity to ask you to update us on his status and those other guys that were banged up in the game?

COACH SMART: Yeah, I don’t know if I know exactly what you’re asking. Arian has developed through not being injured. His role has increased probably with every week this season. It may not have always shown that way in the stat line or in the number of snaps played. I don’t think you guys can evaluate it that way because you don’t see what goes on in practice for five days.

So he has grown and developed and gotten better and better and better. And he really just got more opportunity to do what he’s been doing. I wouldn’t call it a redefined role. It would be an opportunity because of Ladd’s injury and we didn’t know how long or how hard Ladd would be able to go.

Ladd looked good, looked good in warmups, and was able to go and play. We’re hoping he’s even better this week. But we had to have somebody ready. And you can imagine over 28 days of preparation there’s a lot of days that Arian was repping and doing things because Ladd wasn’t able to. As we got closer and closer to the game, Ladd was doing more and more. It was a balance between the two.

And we’ve had a musical chairs, and most people do because people have injuries at wide receiver positions but between AD, Marcus, there’s been a lot there. And I think B-Mac and Coach Monken have done a tremendous job of slicing and dicing those roles.

How about Darnell and Warren and Chaz, can you update us on their injury status?

COACH SMART: Yeah, we’re hopeful to get all those guys back.

The 3-3-5 of TCU, how instructive does that make the Mississippi State for you all?

COACH SMART: Say again?

TCU’s defense, the 3-3-5, how instructive is the Mississippi State game thus for you all?

COACH SMART: Not really at all. I mean, they’re not, Mississippi State is very different. They’re not really 3-3-5 compared to these guys.

In what sense?

COACH SMART: Just not the same structure. It’s not the same looks that they provide. There’s different coverage structures. There’s different elements to it. There’s different personnel groupings, different techniques with inside, different styles of plays than those guys.

Logistical question, just making sure that everyone you’re expecting to go in the 2-deep, that no one is going to miss the trip for injuries or other reasons?

COACH SMART: We’ll be taking the whole team out there.

With that last drive on defense, you guys had a lot of freshmen on the field, Marvin, Jalon Walker, Malaki, Mykel, just how big were those freshmen, those contributions especially toward the end of that game?

COACH SMART: Well, they didn’t actually do what they were supposed to do every play. So the contribution can be either positive or negative. I wouldn’t say it was negative. But I wouldn’t say it was positive. I would say it was a lot more neutral.

So they’re out there because they give us the best chance to win but some of them are out there due to unforeseen circumstances and injuries, and we don’t make excuses around here and talk about injuries and these problems, but we’ve had our fair share. And nobody feels sorry for us and don’t want anybody to. But we have to get those guys ready to play at a higher level.

And you can make a case that’s a great thing, there’s four or five freshmen out there. You can make a case that’s not a good thing. It’s all about how they perform and how they execute.

Stetson, what has been the overall message just among the players, among the coaches, with coming off how you guys performed on Saturday? Obviously feel like you and Coach both said that you felt like the team needs to play better. Just how do you guys feel how you performed and what has to happen on January 9th?

STETSON BENNETT: Yeah, I think there were, you know, stretches where we didn’t play well. But then there were also stretches where we played really, really well. And no matter – that all happened within the game. And it’s not like we get less credit because it happened in a certain situation or what.

But we’ve just got to clean up those areas where we didn’t play as cleanly for a little bit. And not have to play basically perfect like we did in the fourth quarter.

Do you feel like you guys can play a lot better than you did on Saturday?

STETSON BENNETT: I mean, I think it’s pretty apparent that we can. We opened up the second half with two three-and-outs. Now, part of that is Ohio State is an unbelievable team and they played really well. But, yeah, I definitely feel like we can clean things up and play better than we did.

Stetson, one of the cool things, I think, about your story as you grew up as a Georgia fan, so you knew all that stuff before you got there. Your name now is starting to overtake some big names on records lists for career total offense, career this, career that. Are you updated on that kind of stuff? And do you have even a second to appreciate it?

STETSON BENNETT: I’d say I’m as updated as I want to be. And no, not yet. We still have a season. And we’ve still got one more game left. And all that stuff will still be there after that if I do want to look at it eventually. But now’s not the time.

Stetson, you got a chance to spend some time with Max in New York City for the Heisman ceremony. I was just wondering, did you have much of a chance to interact and kind of compare notes as quarterbacks of playoff teams? And also do you see any similarities, I guess, between your two stories, as kind of underdog quarterbacks who made it this far?

STETSON BENNETT: Max is an awesome dude. We hung out a little bit in New York, like you said. It was kind of a weird situation because whenever – now he didn’t go to the Manning Academy – but whenever we were there, it was more like we were a bunch of dudes and we were all hanging out.

In New York, it was almost like there was still a sense of competition, even though we weren’t because I guess we were all trying to win, not that we could do anything up there.

But he’s an A-plus dude. He works hard. All those things. But I think he’s the heart and soul of that team. I hadn’t really watched him play, but I’ve watched his interviews, and I’ve watched just how he carried himself up in New York. And he’s a leader. And there’s something to be said for both his story and my story and the fact that we’re here in the end.

Stetson, along those lines, you said you played about 30 minutes of bad football the other night. And Max’s numbers weren’t great during that game, but you guys made plays when you had to. What’s, I guess, the importance for a quarterback to be able to just keep playing even when you’re not playing necessarily well at the moment?

STETSON BENNETT: Yeah, I mean, it’s the same thing that keeps you playing when you’re playing unbelievable in the moment. You know it’s football and there’s always something that you don’t know that’s going to happen. And it’s cliché that it’s not over until that fat lady sings.

And you owe it to your teammates more. And if you give up it’s almost a selfish thing because people out there are relying on you. And you’re not just playing for yourself. And so there really wasn’t an option but to keep going. And things worked out and we played really well at the end.

Stetson, obviously we won’t know Darnell’s status until later in the week, but what kind of impact does his absence have on this offense and the way you guys might do things given how important and unique a player he is?

STETSON BENNETT: Darnell is getting treatment. He’s resting up. And hopefully he’ll be good to go. But he’s an unbelievable talent. And he’s amazing.

But if he can’t go, then we’ll just have other people step up. That’s the way it works here. And it’s about the team. We want to have him. We’d love to have him. He’s one of the game-changers we have. But if we don’t then we still have to go win a football game.

This is going to be your final collegiate game. I’m sure you’re going to try to block it out and focus on going on out there and winning. But when you look back at all of it, what do you think about yourself that’s allowed you to get to this point in your career where you’ve got a chance to win a second straight national title for Georgia?

STETSON BENNETT: I don’t know. Maybe I just – I don’t know. I try to see things for what they are, and I don’t let people tell me what they are. I try to figure that out on my own. And I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that.

I know that you can tend to be pretty self-deprecating and (indiscernible) your own flaws but what does it feel like when you have a coach doing (indiscernible) on national TV after the game in the way that Coach Smart was at the end of the Peach Bowl?

STETSON BENNETT: We’ve all got our emotions and I felt that way. I didn’t play well. Kind of forced me to play as well as I did in the fourth. But if we don’t play in the second and third quarter, if we don’t have that little stretch, then maybe we don’t have to.

So I agree with him. Who knows what the reason was but it does have to be fixed. We’re trying to be perfect. And we’re trying to do everything that we can to make every play perfect. And when it’s not, then win or lose, we’re not happy with it.

That’s my coach, and he’s been my coach for several years now. And so I trust him. And it doesn’t really matter that other people here call me out because I know that it’s the truth. And so the truth and everybody can hear it and he’s right, I do need to play better.

This is for both Stetson – is Javon on as well?


Stetson, you’ve been here about as long as Kirby has. He sort of has taken this program obviously everybody you followed your whole life that everybody thought was a sleeping giant, had not quite fulfilled his potential and certainly has these last few years. What in your mind has allowed him to take that next step with the program? What has he done, what have you seen from your long time there? And after you’re done, Javon, what has Coach brought to the defense that was obviously kind of his calling card when he arrived at Georgia? What do you see as the things that stand out about what he brings to the defense?

STETSON BENNETT: I’d say first he learned from probably the greatest of all time, Coach Smart. And he learned and he took notes. And he got to practice and he got everything down to a T and then he made it his.

And when he came here, there’s a little bit of if you’ve never been and you’re trying to build a program, and I think the thing that has most changed is – not most changed but the thing that’s gotten us here is that he is a big believer in discipline and schedule and all that stuff. And that’s good and fine, but he’s also brilliant.

And he learns. And everything at the end of the day is about the University of Georgia winning. That goes from our facilities, goes to recruiting, raising money, practice, recovery, nutrition, mental health, everything.

And I think that’s been if not the biggest, one of the biggest reasons for success. And whenever you see the head guy do that, then everybody else in the building kind of feeds off that and knows what’s expected. And then here, a couple years down the road we believe in it. And it’s part of who we are.

JAVON BULLARD: As far as what he brought to the defense, Coach Smart always had that sort of swagger about him that just screamed out “defense.” Along with what Stetson said, he continues to learn his players. He wants to know what we’re thinking, what we see out there.

And just the energy that he brings throughout practice and the preparation through the week allows us to go out there and play free on Saturdays.

Stetson, you played or you watched in ’17 while Georgia played 15 games. You played 15 games last year. For both of you guys, what are your bodies like this time of year? Are you tired? And with an expanded playoff, can you imagine playing one or two more games in this system?

STETSON BENNETT: Well, I mean, I’ll be the first – I’ll sure Bull agrees with me, it doesn’t really matter now. We’ve got, what’s today, the 3rd? However you do your math, five or so days, six or so days for it all.

So if you can, this is the ultimate, are you injured or are you hurt? And if you’re not injured, then you still get up and you play because what are you saving yourself for now? This is it. This is the big game. And this is what we do it for.

JAVON BULLARD: Just follow them up, just me agreeing with Stet; now is not the time to complain about your body hurting our your body being taxed. I know it’s been a long season but we’re the last two teams in college football. So I’m pretty sure everybody’s hurting.

So right now is not the time for us to be not necessarily complaining, but just nagging about our bodies being hurt. It’s football. Your body’s going to ache. You’re going to have aches and pains. But it’s all about winning every day and that’s what we’re trying to do.

Can I ask real quick how Hamlin’s injury last night impacted you guys as players?

JAVON BULLARD: As far as me just watching it, you always think just like – as far as sports, I’ve never seen nothing like that, as far as like a dude’s heart stopping. I didn’t even know that was possible in football, to be honest with you. But my prayers go out to him and his family and the Bills organization.

You’re going up against good receiving cores the last couple of games. What stands out about TCU’s group when you study film?

JAVON BULLARD: We’re just starting to get into them today but their size on the outside stands out a lot. We know they’ve got some very large receivers, big catch radiuses and they can run. Anytime you have that size on the perimeter, whether it’s quick game or deep balls, it’s always a great matchup.

Obviously Darnell went down. Oscar Delp got more snaps. You’ve seen Oscar in practice. How do you think he held up? I know you didn’t study film of him, but what do you think he brings to table?

JAVON BULLARD: I felt like played great. Oscar comes to practice and works day in and day out. That’s how this team works. One man goes down, another one has to step up.

Like I said, we don’t hold our heads out in pity. Darnell is a great player, and Oscar came in and, I wouldn’t say filled those shoes, but he definitely did what he needed to do in order to get the win.

Stetson says it’s pretty apparent he thought you guys could play better than you did. And he said he felt like you guys could clean some things up. And I was wondering, from your perspective, A, if you agreed; and B, as you watched film, what are the specific things that you guys would like to do better?

JAVON BULLARD: I definitely agree. I think the whole team can attest that we didn’t play our best game. But at the end of the day, it’s only one result that matters the most and that’s the W.

Like I said, we didn’t play our best game. But there’s a whole lot we can fix as far as I can speak on the defensive side of the ball, communication and things like that, just the basic things like that, knowing your leverage, talking. I know we’ve got to talk better throughout the secondary and things like that.

Like I said, throughout this week we’re just going to work on some other things and try to detail our work to the best of our ability.

Who handles the tickets, how many you get, and is all of Milledgeville reaching out to go to this game?

JAVON BULLARD: I’m not really sure who has a ticket, things like that. But I’m pretty sure my mom and my pops are going to be there, and my brother. So that’s all that really matters to me.

For those who don’t get to see AD Mitchell and what he’s been through this year to try to come back, can you explain what it was like watching him be able to get back for these last two games?

JAVON BULLARD: AD deserves everything that he’s come to get. AD is an extremely hard worker. And I came in with AD. So our friendship goes beyond the football field. And I just love watching him play. He’s an emotional player, cares about this game, and he cares about his team and he cares about winning. Like I say, AD deserves everything he’s going to get, not only coming up, but in life in general.

What do you remember about when you came in with him at the same time when you guys were recruits?

JAVON BULLARD: Just keeping our head down and work. There were days in I saw AD catching Juggs when nobody was in there, things like that. The plays that he makes don’t happen overnight; it’s through the preparation and the work he’s put in behind closed doors that makes him the player that he is.Read Less

Transcript: TCU’s Sonny Dykes, Quentin Johnston and Dee Winters Interview – January 03, 2023

COACH DYKES: Just want to say on behalf of TCU and TCU’s football program, we’re excited to represent the Big 12 in the National Championship Game against a great Georgia opponent.

Obviously I have tremendous respect for the Southeastern Conference. Tremendous respect for Georgia getting to this point undefeated. I know they’ve played a great schedule. It’s been an outstanding year for those guys. I want to congratulate Coach Smart and their entire program. They’re obviously an outstanding football team. And we look forward to playing them on Monday night.

It will be a big challenge for us. But our players have been able to overcome challenges all year. And we’re excited about an opportunity to try to do it again.

I was just wondering how Kendre Miller is feeling and what’s his status?

COACH DYKES: You know what? I think he’s feeling pretty good. We got a pretty good eval on him the night before last when we got back from Phoenix. He was pretty sore. Woke up yesterday, felt a little bit better.

I just saw him a little bit ago. He’s feeling better today. So I would say he’s probably questionable, would be the way I would present it. We’ll see how he progresses through the week, see how he feels, and we’ll try to make a determination as we get closer to game time whether we think he’s going to be ready to play or not.

I wonder, seeing what Tulane has done, and also Utah has been in the Rose Bowl two straight years, what you guys have done, I don’t (indiscernible) you got ready to go, but have you ever thought how cool this would be with 16 teams?

COACH DYKES: I have. I thought that way for a long time. There was probably about a 6-hour period at some point in my life in the middle of the night where Mike Leach actually convinced me it was good for a 64-team playoff. But that’s another whole story. And like I said I woke up the next day and talked myself out of it.

I think 12 is going to be great. I think there’s a lot of good football teams that deserve to be in the playoff. And I’ve always believed that the cream rises and the more opportunities that schools outside of the traditional brands get, the more those schools can become traditional brands.

I think if you exclude them, it’s hard to break in. And I think this will give a lot of schools like TCU an opportunity to get in the mix and show what they’re capable of.

And we were fortunate this year to get into the four-team playoff. And we were fortunate to beat a very good Michigan game and advance. And our prize is we get to play Georgia now.

So, look, you can’t help but look at how much fun it’s going to be when we get to that 12. And it’s going to be like everything else, it’s going to be a work in progress. And there’s going to be some things that I’m sure we don’t like about that.

But at the end of the day, the best thing, it’s going to include more people. And I’m a big believer in inclusion. And so I think it’s going to be a good thing.

You sat through that Mike Leach conversation about 64, huh?

COACH DYKES: Oh, yeah, not – just for about 6 years. You know what? He made some pretty good points. I just kept coming back to him saying, well, Mike, we can’t play two games a week.

Johnny Hodges mentioned a little earlier about the Oklahoma game being kind of eye-opening for you guys this year. I’m curious whether it was that game or another point in the season, when did you feel like this group really could be special?

COACH DYKES: I think the Oklahoma game is when we saw, okay, look, here’s what we’re capable of because we played really good football on all three sides of the ball. We played great offense, great defense, great special teams in that game.

It was a bit of an eye-opener for me, honestly because we played okay up to that point. We felt we were playing against really good competition.

And the big question we had to answer after that was how are we going to handle prosperity. And also how are we going to deal with adversity, because that’s going to happen quickly.

And fortunately Oklahoma State rolled around right after that. And we were down 17. And we had to rally. And I think that was, to me, that was just a big a moment for our football team was seeing how we were going to do when we were down.

And the great thing about both of those games was I remember walking into the locker room at halftime of the Oklahoma game expecting to find our players celebrating and patting each other on the back. And I was going to address the team.

I walked in, everybody was sitting in their chair talking about the first half didn’t mean anything. The second half is the only thing that matters. Well, fast-forward a week, we’re in just the opposite situation, we’re down double digits at halftime. And I expected to walk in and find guys moaning and complaining and griping and panicking and all that. I found them doing the same thing, sitting there talking about the importance of the second half.

And so, to me, that was when I thought, okay, this is a special group. These guys get it and there’s some maturity, and we might have something fun here. And so those were two moments for me I thought were big.

How much of that comes from the fact that some of these guys have played together so long? I know Max and Taye and Quentin and Kendre, a lot of those guys have been together for several years, and in the age of player movement it doesn’t always happen. But how critical has that chemistry been for those veterans on this team?

COACH DYKES: I think there’s something to that. I also think that it’s just – I think our strength and conditioning group has a lot to do with that. I think Kaz Kazadi and his group are outstanding. Those are things we’ve talked about every single day, and talked about every single day since I got the job there.

There’s always some kind of sports psychology associated with our lifting, talking about adversity, talking about handling success, and treating them just the same, and doing the little things that we can do to make sacrifices.

Because, look, what that comes down to, that comes down to confidence. And confidence is the result of hard work and doing things that other people aren’t willing to do. And our guys have done that. And so I think that’s what gives us that confidence to be down in games and not panic and a belief in each other.

I think that’s the big thing. Football is unique because you’re counting on 11 people to do their job. And if one guy messes up then you’re going to have a problem. And it’s critical that all 11 people believe that the guy next to him or the guy behind him or the person in front of him, that they’re going to do the right thing so they can do the right thing.

And when you have problems is when you’re a safety and you don’t think the corner is going to help you the way he’s supposed to and you try to overcompensate for that and now you don’t do your job. It’s a series of dominos that begin to fall at that point.

I think these guys believe in each other. They’re confident in their abilities and their schemes. The offense is confident in the defense and the defense is confident in the offense. And I think it’s just a general belief in each other. And that comes from hard work and dedication and doing things the right way when not everybody’s watching.

Between your father and your Grandma Alta (phonetic) and other family members, I wonder how that spirit might have impacted you as a coach?

COACH DYKES: I’ve been really fortunate. My dad was a character. He just was. He was raised by characters. His mother and father were really great people. I didn’t really get to know my grandfather at all. He died when I was very young.

My grandmother was a bit larger than life personality. My dad was a big personality. I’ve been lucky to work with coaches that were that way. Hal Mumme is a big personality. And Mike Leach was a big personality. And Mike Stoops was a big personality.

And guys that I’ve had a chance to work for, you know, they were all unique guys and they were all really one of a kind and they all had a different approach to doing things.

So those were all great mentors for me. They all had different strengths, they really did. And I think a lot of times the way that they’re perceived in some ways might not be the way they really are, particularly talking about Coach Leach.

Just the perception of Mike Leach is this real complicated scheme and this innovator when it comes to Xs and Os. And he’s really a believer in technique and fundamentals and keep the game simple and it’s a player’s game, not a coach’s game.

And I got to learn those lessons from those guys. And those have obviously had a huge impact on me and the way that I’ve tried to build a program and develop a style and a methodology for teaching. And so I like people like that. I like people to think outside the box.

That’s why I love our strength and conditioning coach so much is because he’s not a believer in bigger, faster, stronger, only – that’s a very small part of what he does.

And so I think that we’ve tried to find ways to be creative. We’ve had to at places I’ve been. I haven’t been blessed to sometimes go to traditional powers and coach at traditional powers.

When I went to LA Tech, we had to recruit a lot of junior college programs to turn our program. At SMU we had to go to the transfer portal to turn the program. And here we tried to kind of do a bunch of different things to find the best players and get them to buy in quickly.

So those people all taught me that you have to be yourself and you have to think outside the box. And you’ve got to not be afraid to try things maybe that other people aren’t doing or try things that people tell you, hey, that’s not going to work. Or you just gotta believe in yourself and believe in your plan and go out and execute it.

What’s been the key, do you think, to your guys not being overwhelmed by the moment? Like Saturday, certainly they were not on the big stage; they were ready to go. It’s been like that most of the season. What’s been the key factors for that?

COACH DYKES: I truly believe maturity, preparation, hard work, kind of goes back to some of the things I just talked about. Just a general belief in each other and a belief that we’re good enough. I think that’s been the message really since I got the job here was we’re good enough. We’re good enough to compete. We’re good enough to win game one and we’re good enough to win game two. And let’s take it one game at a time.

But we have all the pieces here. We just have to put them all together and we’ve got to do things the right way. We have to be willing to pay the price. And those guys believe that. They really have. They’ve believed it from day one.

And as I said earlier, look, they’ve done so many little things the right way and so many little things that they talk to their friends all the time and people at other schools and they’ve done things that other people at other schools probably aren’t doing.

I think they’ve gained confidence from all those things, and I think it’s made them just believe in each other. So they feel like the moment’s not too big.

This year’s team had four bowl players – or four players on this team that had played in a bowl game for TCU. That’s it. And so that experience in Phoenix was new for everybody. But those guys believed in the plan and they went out and executed it. And, again, it’s just a belief in each other and our program.

You mentioned about guys that thinking out of the box and coaches thinking out of the box. And your dad was at a place in Lubbock that wasn’t a traditional power. He got smaller kids from – kids from smaller classifications in this state. It looks like you’ve had a lot of success with kids doing that the same way.

COACH DYKES: I think so. Honestly, I think that’s been something, if you go back and look at TCU’s history, they’ve always done a really good job of recruiting players particularly in East Texas and guys that were probably under-recruited. I know Coach Franchione recruited LaDainian Tomlinson. He was an overlooked high school player from Waco, and he ended up becoming a very good player.

You go back and look at history there’s been a lot of kids who came from small towns. Coach Patterson did a great job going out finding guys that fit his style of play and his program. It’s kind of been a tradition here for a long time.

The Georgia players were talking about how they thought they could play a lot better than they did against Ohio State. And I’m wondering, from your perspective, when you watched that game, one, what do you expect them to do better than they did; and, two, what kind of vulnerabilities did you see that you could take advantage of?

COACH DYKES: Ohio State made some big plays against them. And I’m sure particularly in the passing game. And I’m sure they’re going to work to get some of those issues addressed. And, quite frankly, they just made some contested plays, and Ohio State’s got a really good group of wide receivers. And those guys really played well.

And credit their quarterback. I thought C.J. Stroud played really well in that game.

So I think that, again, Georgia is not accustomed to giving up that many points, but you got to see what Georgia is all about in the fourth quarter of that game. And you got to see what kind of team they have because they responded and did exactly what you would expect them to do, found a way to win.

You’ve got to give Kirby and their players a ton of credit for doing that. At the end of the day, that’s what this whole thing is about.

But I’m sure they’re correcting some of those plays in the passing game. And those are the kind of plays that we’re going to have to make. We’ll have to make some 50/50 ball plays, and we’ll have to have our best players step up and play big games, kind of like they did last week. And when you get to this point of the season on this kind of stage, those great players, they have to perform at a high level.

I hesitate to use the word “Cinderella.” Listening to you and the players, like you said, the moment doesn’t seem too big. They don’t seem particularly surprised. Would it be fair to say that you’re rejecting the Cinderella label even though you weren’t ranked in the preseason and you’ve turned the program around, number one? And, number two, you mentioned Georgia’s comeback. But what does strike you about Georgia? Are they built somewhat similar to Michigan in their offensive personality? Are there some trends you see there?

COACH DYKES: I’ll say this, I think Georgia’s got probably a little bit more varied scheme than Michigan did. I thought Michigan’s obviously very well-coached to have a great scheme. But Georgia does a really nice job. They’re going to show you different looks. They’ve got great answers for things when people make adjustments in game.

Seems like Coach Monken does a nice job of staying ahead of people as they adjust, he adjusts. And they do a really good job getting their best players the ball. And they have a ton of playmakers.

That’s the thing that’s unique about this team. Most of the time you play against a good team and there’s two or three guys you say, look, we’ve got a really take this guy away. But Georgia has just so many good players and guys that are really exceptional talents. You can’t go into a game and just say, okay, look, we’re going to – if we take this guy away then they’re going to have problems. That’s not the case with their offense.

So they do a great job throwing the ball, they do a great job running the ball, they’re very efficient, really good on third down, really good in the red zone. You sit down, look at all the important characteristics for an offense, and they check the box in every single one of those.

They’re just a team that really doesn’t have a lot of weaknesses. So that’s the thing about them.

The question about the Cinderella thing, I think for a while that’s kind of, I think, in some ways we probably viewed ourselves as that early on because we were figuring this thing out.

I think that if you had asked us before the season started, would we play for a national championship, most of us probably didn’t think that we would. Thought that we were capable, certainly, but we just hadn’t done it together.

And there is a lot that goes into doing it together. You know you can. And you learn a lot of things as the journey goes along.

So we’ve kind of had to build the plane while we’re flying it in some ways this year. And I think that’s just been something that our guys have done a fantastic job of adapting.

And to us, I think the Cinderella label probably started to wear off a little bit after the three-game gauntlet where we had to play three or four on the road, West Virginia, Texas and Baylor.

I think at that point our guys started to believe, okay, we’re a real football team and we’re a battle-hardened team and we’ve had to overcome some adversity. And you know what? We have a chance to make a run.

I’d like to hear your reaction to the fact that you guys are 13-and-a-half point underdog. Even after beating Michigan, does it feel like they’re still being counted out, do you like that role the experts and oddsmakers don’t give you a shot here, what’s your reaction to that?

QUENTIN JOHNSTON: I mean, I’m not surprised with it given that we were picked to be seventh in the Big 12 and end up coming out on top. Obviously being the underdog is something we’re not unfamiliar with. So going to try to just keep moving like we did the rest of the season. And keep our heads to the ground and keep playing football.

Does any part of it even after you’re one of the last two teams standing that you’re still not kind of getting the so-called respect that maybe you feel like you deserve?

DEE WINTERS: I think Q kind of hit the nail on the head. All year we’ve been picked second to last in the Big 12. And then coming into the playoffs being the underdog against Michigan. But I think the big thing for us as a whole, it just fuels us and kind of gives us a little more motivation to go out there and prove who we are and show what TCU is about.

I’m wondering, are you the type of guys that use that underdog status as a motivator? I know Georgia tried to do it after they beat Ohio State, Coach Kirby Smart said that everybody disrespected them all year even though they were number one all year. You guys had the legitimate experience of being dismissed even up til you guys were selected. Have you used that to help you have the excellent season you’ve had?

DEE WINTERS: I would definitely we used it all season. I think our coaching staff does a great job just motivating us. But when you hear how you’re about to lose to a team or however many points you are going to lose by, it just fuels us as a team, I just said. And I think everyone takes it into consideration and it fuels them.

QUENTIN JOHNSTON: Just going off that, I feel like he said it all, but absolutely, we use it as motivation because why not? It’s one of the main things I feel like has driven us to the success we’ve come to this year. So honestly going to be a lot of outside noise, people projecting us to lose by however many points, but we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing and prove them wrong from week to week.

Dee, as you are getting your game plan together, how unique is the challenge that’s posed by the Georgia tight ends and especially when they go in two tight end sets for those two guys – Bowers and Darnell Washington are so different? Does that kind of jump out at you as you get your game plan together?

DEE WINTERS: Yeah, Georgia has a very good offense. They like to use their tight ends the majority of the time. And I think Bowers is a really good tight end that they’ll try to target against us.

I think Coach Gillespie does a great job setting up game plans for us to have success in the 3-3-5 and he’s been doing that.

Dee, is there going to be anybody left in Burton this weekend? Or is everybody going to be out in California?

DEE WINTERS: I think the whole community of 30 people will be there.

When you were playing high school football there, if somebody would have told you hey you’re going to be playing for the national championship in a few years, would you have believed them?

DEE WINTERS: I definitely wouldn’t believe them. This moment right here is surreal and it’s just a dream come true.

Dee, would you have believed if they had told you that you would be a linebacker playing in that game?

DEE WINTERS: Coming out of high school I was only weighing 185. I definitely didn’t have that expectation of switching from wide receiver to a linebacker. So just credit to Coach Spie just believing in me and transitioning me and seeing how successful I would be on defense. And I’m just glad to be here at TCU.

How long did it take you to realize that that transition was going to be good for you? For a guy who had always gotten the ball instead of chasing guys with the ball, how long did it take and how much did you just embrace it now?

DEE WINTERS: My first year it was a very rough transition. But I had guys like Garret Wallow who just led by example and I kind of just watched him.

And that second year was kind of where it all started in my career. And I feel like I’ve been having success on defense the past two years. So I’m very grateful that I made that transition and it’s been successful.

How would you best describe how different this defense is with Coach Gillespie and his scheme? And just what it allowed you to do, especially in this game, this last game, allowed you a little more freedom? But how different is it from what you guys were doing and how has that adjustment gone for you guys?

DEE WINTERS: I think it’s just simplifying the defense, allowing us to play fast. Just flying around, and Coach Gillespie preaches that we’re going to make mistakes, it’s inevitable. But he wants us to go out there and have fun. And he constantly reminds us at the end of the day it’s football and just play fast.

Coach Dykes mentioned the impact that Coach Kaz had on you guys this year, particularly from a psychological standpoint and the talks he gives you guys. Can you give me a sense for what type of impact he’s had on you guys when you guys are lifting or training and how that has helped you guys?

DEE WINTERS: Yeah, I think Kaz is a great strength and conditioning coach, but he’s a great mentor and father figure to all the players. He gives us these psychology, the psychological info to know, kind of just gives us an idea of how to control our bodies and our minds. And when we get in situations like this and like the semifinal game, and he’s been – like I said, he’s been a great mentor for us and father figure for us all.

When it comes to progression and recovery, things you’ve done differently this year, what are some examples of things you guys have done that have been new to you guys that have also helped you in that front?

DEE WINTERS: I think just nothing new. I think it’s just taking it more serious. Ice tubs, getting in the recovery booths, hyperbaric chambers, just taking the initiative to go ahead and take care of your body, because the more you take care of your body, the better you’ll perform. I think it was a big emphasis on that when he got here. And we’ve been having success.

It’s been since 2009 since a team from Texas has played in a national championship. You guys both played high school football in the state of Texas. How much does that mean to you and how much does playing high school football in Texas prepare you for jumping to the college football?

QUENTIN JOHNSTON: It means a lot to us, being from Texas and stuff, just having everybody in Texas backing us up on this run we’re making. Just having overall a very positive impact. And then for me, myself, is like the process, this whole year has really like humbled me – I don’t want to say humbled me in the sense I came in like cocky or anything like that, but at the same time it’s something me or Dee hasn’t experienced up to this point. But overall I would say it’s a blessing. And I’m just extremely happy for me and my teammates.

DEE WINTERS: To piggyback off that, I think it means a lot for the state of Texas. Like you said, it’s been over a decade that a Texas team has been in the College Football Playoffs and to be going to the national championships. I think just realizing you’re in the state of Texas and we produce great athletes in Texas, us going from high school, as you said. And I think we were capable to perform at this type of level. And we’re excited.

Was there I guess a moment or moments when you saw maybe in Michigan’s eyes that you guys were more than maybe they had thought?

QUENTIN JOHNSTON: Yes, definitely I kind of seen the (inaudible), especially like the third quarter, we started running more of a tempo offense and hurry up. And it was like taking them a minute to get set. And a lot of them were tired and worn out early. I feel like overall that’s where we had the upper hand.

DEE WINTERS: From a defensive standpoint, I think besides the first play of the game, I think it was the whole game that kind of had them shook. They were told we were small and they were big. That’s all they’ve been hearing.

So I think once they realized that we were there to tackle and they felt our strength, they were, like, these guys came to play. And I think they were shocked.

Quentin, there was that big play on the third and seven where they came after Max and he bought time and bought time, gets you the ball and you go down the sidelines. I was wondering, with Max, not only in the fourth quarter, but when he is facing that pressure, what impresses you about how he’s been able to deliver in those situations for you guys all season?

QUENTIN JOHNSTON: Just his poise and like how he’s able to stay calm. Like you said, with all the pressure in his face, not only that play but the “D” Ball before that, he had to step up into the pocket with like four or five guys in his face. He could have are run, slid, do whatever. But he trusted that I was down there and did everything he could to buy time.

So that’s a huge part of how our offense moves the way that we’ve been moving this season. And it contributes a lot to the success we’ve been having.

When you’ve been in as many four-quarter games as you guys have been where it’s close, it’s tight, is it almost like just second nature in some ways that we’ve got to go do what we’ve got to do to win?

DEE WINTERS: I definitely will say we’ve been in a lot of four-quarter battles, but at this point we know what it takes to come out and prevail and be victorious. Like I said Kaz does a great job of keeping us emotionally and psychologically ready for those times and he just kind of gives us that next-play mindset, and we just try to go out there execute it to the best of our ability.

WBB: South Carolina Spoils Lady Bulldogs SEC Home Opener

📸: Zachery C. Kelly

The No. 1 South Carolina Gamecocks defeated the University of Georgia women’s basketball team, 68-51, in the Lady Bulldogs’ SEC home opener in Stegeman Coliseum Monday evening before 6,225 spectators.  

Fifth-year guard/forward Audrey Warren led the Lady Bulldogs in scoring, registering her sixth double-digit performance of the season, with 12 points and a pair of rebounds. Fifth-year forward Brittney Smith followed with 10 points and two steals. Senior forward Javyn Nicholson led Georgia in rebounding with eight boards and collected 10 points. Senior guard Alisha Lewis fueled the Georgia offense with a team-leading five steals.  

“Clog the paint,” Georgia head coach Katie Abrahamson-Henderson said following the game. “The number one player in the country, I mean we held her to four points. That’s amazing. We really got beat by one kid, Zia Cooke. She just got hot. She’s got really hot. I don’t know if you’ve watched any of their other games, but nobody guards any of them on the perimeter. I thought our post players did a really good job. If Aliyah Boston only has four points, that’s a really good job. Kamilla (Cardoso), she only had eight points. They both average a lot, so we held two of their go-to players down. Zia Cooke just got loose and started to get comfortable.”  

Warren opened the game by tallying her 15th three-pointer of the season to fuel a 7-2 lead for the Lady Bulldogs. Georgia attacked the basket, going 4-for-4 in the paint. The Lady Bulldogs forced five Gamecock turnovers, holding South Carolina to a 13-11 deficit, the third time this season the Gamecocks have recorded a season-low in scoring. 

South Carolina knotted the game at 13-13 at the start of the second quarter with a fastbreak layup. The score was not tied for long before Warren ripped her second basket from behind the arch to regain the Georgia lead. The Lady Bulldogs and the Gamecocks began to trade baskets, but South Carolina was unable to get within three points of Georgia for the remainder of the half. The Lady Bulldogs held the Gamecocks to 29% from the field, only the second time this season South Carolina has been held to less than 30% in the first half of play as Georgia took a 29-26 lead into the locker room at the half.   

The Gamecocks inched closer to the Lady Bulldogs, cutting Georgia’s lead to one point midway through the third quarter. A three-pointer off a 9-0 run from the Gamecocks gave South Carolina its first lead of the game, 35-33, with five minutes remaining in the quarter. The Gamecocks held their lead and took a seven-point advantage, 47-40, into the final quarter.  

South Carolina used the fourth quarter to extend its lead. Uncontested scoring runs allowed the Gamecocks to remain ahead and finish the game, 68-51.  

The Lady Bulldogs return to the court Thursday, Jan. 5 when they play host to Kentucky. The matchup against the Wildcats will tip off at 7 p.m. and be aired on SEC Network+. 

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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.