After the Georgia Bulldogs’ Tuesday afternoon practice, Head Coach Kirby Smart gave an update on the team as they continue to prepare for Saturday’s home game versus South Carolina. Kirby gives an injury update on the status of cornerback Tyson Campbell and defensive tackle Jordan Davis as well as addresses why freshman defensive lineman Travon Walker has been absent during the media viewing period on Monday and Tuesday. Coach Smart also discusses the number of penalties that UGA has been drawing, converting short-yardage situations on offense, transfers, the development of cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, and more.
Note: The full transcript of Kirby Smart’s press conference is below with a timestamp for each question and answer. The timestamp is a clickable link and will open up and play the video at the appropriate mark.
00:00 Opening Statement
‘’I thought the guys had really good juice today. It was cooler outside. I thought we were going to get some rain, but it didn’t end up happening and the guys had extra pep in their step. They were really good yesterday, too. Cooler weather, I think, helps things go faster and they’re excited about this game, so we had a pretty good practice. Got a lot of things done. Still got a lot of things to work on this week, got a lot of game plan stuff to put in tomorrow. But the guys are in good spirits and working hard, so that’s good.’’
00:39 In terms of penalties, what are some of the things you can work on this week?
‘’Not get as many penalties. I mean, penalties are an interesting stat because when you look at the history of football, the teams that win the most are not the least penalized. A lot of times they’re aggressive teams. You don’t want to be last, either. So we made a big jump from middle of the pack to the back in our penalties last week. Some of them were caused by the crowd noise and you’ve got to overcome those, and we overcame a lot of them. Some of them were undisciplined and you can’t do them. They probably cost us a drive and it cost us a touchdown. I don’t know if we would’ve stopped them on third down, but we’d have had a chance. Those are critical, critical errors. That hasn’t been a trait that we’ve had, is undisciplined penalties, and we’ve got to prevent those.’’
01:35 When it comes to those penalties, how much discussion takes place about taking things to the limit of what’s allowed?
‘’It’s always a fine line. There’s probably holding on some kind of play everywhere somewhere that they either don’t see or don’t call. You’ve got to be aggressive. You’ve got to go out there and block people the right way. Our kids do that. We have officials come in. They came in and spent some time with us in fall camp, and they actually tell us what they’re looking for, and they coach guys. You want to be as efficient as you can, from a penalty standpoint.’’
02:17 Update on Jordan Davis and Tyson Campbell:
‘’Tyson’s running really well. He had some really good numbers on GPS today. As the practice went on, he got better and better. I don’t know. But he still has not had contact and the pressure you need from getting some contact. We think Jordan’s going to be fine. He was able to run and move around and do some things, and he continues to improve. If he continues at the rate he’s at, he’ll be fine. He’s ahead of where Solly (Solomon Kindley) and Isaiah (Wilson) were in each of their weeks when they were cleared to play.’’
02:57 Update on Travon walker
“He’s (Travon Walker) getting something worked on, I think, during indy or something. I’m not sure.”
03:08 What percentage are you looking to convert on short-yardage situations and where is your team’s execution there?
‘’You’re never there. You never arrive. I mean, we say that third-and-one, fourth-and-one, you want to be 100 percent. We’re certainly not there. We have some pretty lofty goals here. It the same way when we want to give up zero explosive plays every game. We want to give up zero turnovers. I don’t know how realistic zero explosive plays is in today’s day and age. I don’t know how realistic being 100 percent on third-and-one and fourth-and-one is, either. We obviously have not attained that goal. But we look at things from the standpoint of efficiency. So whatever you need to gain on third down, you’ve gotta gain it. Doesn’t matter if it’s third-and-six, third-and-10, we want to convert all third downs. But our goal is always to be around 60 to 70 percent, which would put you in tops in the country from that standpoint, as an offense. But we always look at things from inside out, trying to improve in areas. We’ve done a lot of off-season work on it, and we look in the season at every team in the country that’s converting those. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what other people are doing. What you’re doing is what you’re able to execute and what your players can handle. Our guys have done a good job in a lot of situations, and then the ones that stick out are the ones last week that we didn’t convert.
04:46 What’s the thinking on shotgun formation in short-yardage situations? Does the ball reach the running back quicker?
‘’Not necessarily. A lot of it has to do with tempo. If you remember, we were under center at Vandy and y’all asked me why we were under center. Then, when we go shotgun, ‘Why are y’all in shotgun?’ You can get stuffed under center and you can get stuffed in shotgun. So it works both ways, and there are a lot of trains of thoughts to that. I know defensively, it eliminates a lot of plays once you’re under center. It allows the defense to be a little more aggressive. They don’t have to defend as much area. There are a lot of teams that teach submarine, but techniques where they go down low and try to submarine you. It doesn’t allow you to use your advantage, which is your size. At the end of the day, we have to execute better, we’ve gotta do a better job as coaches. We’re not getting it done. In those areas, we’ve gotta improve, but it’s not something that we’re not working on.’’
05:42 Has the message to your team changed since 2017, when you wanted to be the aggressor in starting off the USC game with an onside kick?
‘’I’ve always looked at it that we want to be the aggressor and not the one receiving the blow. We want to be the hammer, not the nail. That’s the way we go about things. We’re aggressive. We think that if something’s there, whether it’s starting the game off against South Carolina two years ago, or fourth down and one, it doesn’t matter. If we think it’s there, and we’ve got an advantage, we always try to look. We want to keep pressure on the other team. When you keep pressure on the other team by looking for strengths of yours, or weaknesses of theirs that you think you can take advantage of, we’re always trying to be the hunter and not the hunted.’’
06:47 You have a lot of players who could have looked elsewhere earlier in their careers because of the depth chart here. How often do you have that conversation with guys?
‘’Oh, all the time. It’s part of college football now. It’s probably one of the most important things in a program now, especially at the major Power 5 programs, is the support staff that you’re capable of hiring to support you and support your program and support these players. There’s not one guy that comes in here that’s not highly touted, not given a thousand accolades by all the media or, I guess you’d say, the recruiting sites. So they go through trials and tribulations of realizing that they have work to do.”
“And the people that have to support ‘em here are so key to our success. There are probably 20 guys on our staff who sat down with 30 to 40 different players and explained that your best option is here. Your best option is now. We had a (NFL) general manager come in and talk to the players about developing. You’re going to develop better at Georgia, where you’ve got nutrition, weight room, unbelievable coaching staff, support staff, facilities, better than you are by going somewhere else that you might not have those facilities. You’re also going to develop better here than you are in the NFL because they don’t run a developmental league. They only have a 53-man roster, so they can’t develop players. They cut ‘em. There’s no, ‘Hey, I’m going to develop you for later.’ You’re going to be better off staying here, working and getting better, so that you’re a better player when you do go to the NFL. Because the whole key is that you make it. We sell the players on that. You’re going to develop because we practice every kid out there. Our threes took reps today, to get better. So we’re always looking at, ‘OK, what’s the best for every player on our roster and then also, what’s best for our team?’ And we’re trying to manage those two things.’’
08:48 Growth of freshman defensive back Tyrique Stevenson compared to Tyson Campbell’s situation as a freshman last year?
‘’Tyson’s situation was completely different. I mean, we didn’t have DJ Daniel here. We had a young Eric Stokes, and Eric was still getting better. Eric ended up playing more than Tyson in the end, but it was a different situation. Tyrique Stevenson’s growing up. He’s doing a really good job. He’s working hard, he’s starting on a couple of special teams. He’s made some really spectacular plays at times, and at others he’s still learning our defense and understanding what he’s gotta do for leverage. But he’s just as talented when he came out of high school as he is now, but sometimes I don’t think you guys actually believe there’s a curve, a learning curve that you have to go through.’’
09:50 Addressing and fixing slows starts in the first half of games…
“I didn’t say we had slow starts; I never say that. I said defensively that maybe we needed to start better, but if you look back at our starts, I’d say our offense has started pretty well, you know what I mean? So, don’t put the broad thing in my mouth where I said the whole team started slow. You can’t say the offense started slow against Tennessee, they went down and scored. They scored a touchdown, right, and had a couple of field goals. I think our opening drives have been pretty good, against Notre Dame we were pretty good and I thought defensively we did start good. So, it’s been one or the other, and not both. It hasn’t matched up. But elaborate?”
“The elaboration would be to play better at the start of the game. How do you do that? You prepare better. How do you prepare better? You spend more time in the meeting room and you help them understand the anxiety they may have, and the execution they’ve got to have is premium at a high level. We started the game against Tennessee with probably five or six defensive busts, errors, just mistakes and you can’t do that. But we didn’t do that with Notre Dame. We didn’t start with errors. They made some good plays, but we didn’t start with errors.”
11:01 Amount of practice time vs. rest…
“That’s hard, it’s just a balance of how hot is it, how tired are you, how many reps did they take last weekend, how many reps did they take yesterday. Every night I stay up and I go through the practice schedule for the next day and I probably spend an hour going over every detail of what we want to do in practice. Do I want this guy to get scout team reps or do I want this guy to do scout team reps? Do I want to get him to get 15 reps today, do we do 12 7 on 7 reps or just eight 7 on 7 reps?”
“It could be, hey, this team is really good on third down defense so we’re going to spend a little more time doing good on good on third down. Everything matters on the practice field and you’ve got to take advantage of it because every rep you give them, it’s taxing and you can only tax them so much before there’s the law of diminished returns from their legs. We look at their GPS every single night, who’s not hitting their numbers. You’ve got to do that knowing they’re going to get Friday off and Saturday they’ve got to go play. So, that’s what the offseason is for, to make sure they can recover and come back. I still don’t think I’m comfortable figuring it out. I think it’s an evolving thing and what does each team need.”
12:52 Importance of support staff (quality control, player development, etc.)
“They are limited in what they can do on the grass, but they are not limited to what they can do for us as coaches. Every one of them has an assigned duty, we’ve got about a 17-page book that tells you everything you’ve got to do each week, and it lets you know what you’ve got to be preparing for. A lot of them might be breaking down opponents’ personnel for the next week, they might be looking at pressures or sacks in the NFL. We try to be on the cutting edge of our players being able to watch innovative things. They want to watch a new play that somebody ran in the NFL. There are limitless things that those quality control guys can do and we try to encourage them to do those and help them. And then there’s player development guys personnel guys that spend time with our players, because more important than any scheme we put out there is what frame of mind, what’s the mindset of our team, and where are they mentally, and that’s really important.”
14:13 What is the key to selling the back-shoulder pass?
“From an offensive perspective? I think it’s timing, it’s trust, it’s beating a guy off the line so he that has to go play catch up because the harder the guy has to run to catch up and get with you, the better chance you’ve got of hitting the back shoulder. If you never threaten him vertically, he’s probably not going to be real afraid of a back shoulder.”
14:40 How much are plays scripted to start games?
“It just depends. Each coordinator is different. Some guys script the first half and the second half, some guys script two minutes. I think everybody in America scripts the beginning of the game, but that can be changed by where you started field position-wise, and a punt backs you up and then you’ve got come out of script. First play is inside the red area because your defense got a turnover, you’re not going to be on that same script. But pretty much everybody has one, and everybody follows on, and every coach I’ve ever been with has one.”