After the Bulldogs’ Tuesday afternoon practice, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart gave an update on the team as they continue to prepare for their seventh game fo the season, a homecoming date with Kentucky. Coach Smart updates the status of several injured players including Lawrence Cager and Travon Walker, the challenges that Kentucky’s athletic Lynn Bowden presents to the Dawgs’ defense, the progress of a couple of freshmen, and more in his post-practice press conference.
Note: Full timestamped transcript of Kirby Smart’s press conference is down below the video.
00:00 Opening Statement about Monday’s and Tuesday’s practices
“Good weather today, good spirits and I thought the last two practices had a lot of energy. I was probably a little worried about today and we came out and had a good physical practice. Tough prep, because we don’t really know what the quarterback situation is going to be. It looks like they’ll use both of them and they have a third component which is the Wildcat component because Bowden can throw the ball and he’s a really good athlete. They’ve got Wildcat guys who can throw the ball and their quarterback who is cleared enough and healthy enough to throw the ball. They’re a good physical team and defensively they’re really big up front. They’ve got a couple of those guys back from last year up front so we’re trying to get looks from that and our guys seem to be practicing well.”
00:49 Kentucky’s Lynn Bowden
“He reminds me of Hines. Hines Ward, anytime he got the ball back there at quarterback, what happens is you play conventional coverage and you forget the guy back there is always open. Probably the most dangerous place he has as a football player is when he has the ball in space, at punt return, at kick return, a screen and every play at quarterback is that. He’s sitting there with seven lanes in front of him that he can take off and run. Some of his most explosive plays the other night were on third downs that were dropped back passes. It makes you play the game so different – it’s unusual and in college football, you’re not used to playing that kind of game. So, it makes you call the game differently.”
01:41 Do injuries to key players affect morale?
“As far as the guys that aren’t hurt being upset about the guys that are?”
“I really don’t think it affects those other guys. I think it probably… you get a little anxiety out of the backup guy who maybe hasn’t played as much or in some cases, he has. We got a lot of ’em dinged up out there. A lot of them, particularly in this last game, were in and out, in and out. Some guys still beat up out there today, but that’s life in the SEC. To be honest with you, it’s like that across the board.”
02:43 How is freshman cornerback Tyrique Stevenson progressing?
“Tyrique had a good week of practice last week and he actually played in the game when Mark Webb’s injury occurred. He had two opportunities to make tackles – he missed those opportunities – one was on a close sack, I think that’s more of an experience of playing not a lack of ability. But those are the growing pains you have to go through when you play guys who are getting their first considerable playing time. But he’s still in a battle at Money to play, he’s in a battle at corner. He’s becoming a better practice player.”
03:22 Secondary having busted coverage on long pass plays
“Not at all. We had a busted coverage against Tennessee but it was a good designed play, it was a double move (and with max protect) where you don’t bust, you got beat, there’s a difference. If you bust you don’t know what to do, and then if you get beat, you get physically beat by a route, so we got beat on the double move against Tennessee and it happens, it’s unfortunate, and you learn from, and then against South Carolina we just had bad eyes, when somebody has got somebody and they’ve got to take them, and they don’t. It’s not about the right or left side, it’s not about this guy or that guy, it’s not about the coverage call, it’s about the discipline to do my job when it matters most, and that’s what it boils down to.”
“We talked a long time with our guys about explosive plays, we’re 18h in the country in not giving up explosive plays defensively, and we’re 30-something in on offense in explosive plays, so we’re trying to move up in both of those, and the best way to do that is work on it.”
04:53 Update on wide receiver Lawrence Cager’s injury
“Well, it’s probably week-to-week. It’s not looking good this week. It’s going to be week-to-week depending on how fast he heals.”
05:11 Team goals & explosive plays on offense
“We have goals every game. Our goals are extremely lofty. If you came in and saw what our goals are defensively and offensively, every year on my coaching staff everyone wants to change the goals because they are just crazy goals. We make some, game by game goals, and then we don’t make some. You’re always trying to set the golden standard, whether it’s how many first downs you give up, red area attempts, three-and-outs, we have a metric we use for almost everything and we haven’t had a game defensively that we’ve made over seven of our 10 goals, but to be honest with you we didn’t have any last year, either, because our goals are really high. I think our kids realize they are aspiring for excellence, not perfections. It’s the same way on offense, we have high targets and we aim high and try to hit them.”
06:27 How is freshman linebacker Nolan Smith progressing?
“He made a heck of a play in the game late. He’s an effort guy. He ran the quarterback down late in the game and just extremely good effort. He had two times where he was all over the quarterback as he’s throwing the ball.”
” I think he’s improving rapidly. He played the counter well, which one of his pitfalls is going to be playing the run against big people and he did an excellent job of squeezing and bouncing back. He continues to get better and show promise and we’re playing him quite a bit.”
07:04 What are the keys to movement on the offensive line?
“I would say consistency. Again, I mean, when you have a rush efficiency goal to be a high level and you make it, yet you don’t make your run average, it’s tough because you’re sitting there going… We’re 56 percent efficient. We’ve never lost a game where we’ve been over 50 percent efficient run. For these guys (Kentucky), it’s different. It’s a completely different style. They (South Carolina) were more of a 4-3 style last week. These guys are more of a 3-4 style. Similar to us but they’re playing more over this year than they have in the past. They’ve got really big, physical guys. It’ll be important to get movement but it’ll also be important to allow the backs to cut back, find lanes, to get the ball on the perimeter as well. It’s always important up front that you can establish movement and displacement, is what I like to call it. You can get displacement and that’s big. We had some good displacement last week. We just didn’t do it consistently.”
08:07 Shuffling of the offensive line, subbing due to injuries
“I don’t know that that’s… They all practice everywhere. Now, that was unique when they had to flip sides in the game, but I don’t think that had a major impact on the game. It was just a lot of guys shuffling in and out and they do that every day in practice. We practice different lines because you have to. You practice the same guys in the same spot and when guys are injured, you’ve got to have a backup ready to go and you want the best player on the field. You don’t want your fourth left guard to go in because he’s the only one that took reps at left guard. So we flip those guys and try to give them looks and try to do a good job of it. Trying to get them healthy as we can right now. That’s the toughest thing”
09:04 What player does Nolan Smith compare to?
“He’s a high motor guy. I mean I don’t… Nobody really jumps off the page at me. He can play so athletic, so fast, so explosive that I don’t think people account for how twitchy he is up there. He’s really disruptive. He’s a good compliment to Azeez (Ojulari) because Azeez has been a good run defender for us. Nolan’s been a good movement guy. He’s quick. I don’t know who you compare him to.”
09:35 Young receivers adjusting to press coverage
“Our league is different now. Even out there in practice, we have good corners that during camp when you go up and press on people and get your hands on people, you can affect the timing. This is a press league. You’re going to go play South Carolina, Florida, LSU, Alabama. Every team across the board likes to get their hands on you and disrupt timing. It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman all the way to a senior. You better be the attacker and not getting attacked at wideout. If you let them, they’ll maul you to sleep.”
10:18 Update on freshman defensive lineman Travon Walker’s injury
“He had a couple of weeks ago… he had something bothering him and then they ended up finding out what it was. He had to get surgery on his wrist, but he’s expected back real soon. Like, next week.”
10:43 Playcalling communication
“It’s much better since the last time I talked about it when I was so frustrated, maybe the Notre Dame game, it’s been much cleaner. We’ve done a lot of things in practice to clean it up the last couple weeks. It’s been much more efficient.”
11:05 Assessment of Offensive Coordinator Jame Coley
“I talked about it the other day. I’m not judging and basing things on that. That’s for public opinion. Right now, offensively we’ve got an identity that we’ve got to create more explosive plays, we cannot turn the ball over and if you don’t turn the ball over, you’re really not talking about a lot of things because if you go back and watch the tape, there were a lot of successful runs in there, as many as there weren’t. Like I’ve said, We’ve never lost a game when we were efficient in the run game. It’s hard to make our efficiency chart and we made it. Some of those are third-and-ones and if you get a 2 yard gain, that’s a successful run. If it’s third and goal and you score and it’s a two yard gain, it’s not good for your average, but it’s great for your efficiency and that’s what we go off of.”
11:56 How do you measure offensive success?
“I go back and say again, we talked about it the other day, it’s simple: Don’t turn the ball over, be more explosive, and win two-minute, all right? Those are three really critical factors. We’ve got to be more explosive…”
12:38 How is quarterback Jake Fromm?
“He’s been great. He’s been great. I’ve noticed – Rod as well. Rod’s been great. Jakes’ been in good spirits. He’s been helping those wideouts, challenging them, just as he was befor4e. He wasn’t not doing that before, but probably more attention to detail with that now. But challenging them outside, giving them looks like we know they’re going to get. Hard corners, and trying to get them more physical guys at the line, pressing them and things like that. So we can simulate those looks a little better. But Jake’s been great.”
13:10 Who is the “next man up” with Lawrence Cager out?
“Everybody. I mean think about it, it’s by committee. We’ve got some good players out there. Matt Landers gotta step up. Tyler Simmons gotta step up. George (Pickens) gotta step up. Kearis Jackson went in the game and did some physical things. Dom’s (Dominick Blaylock) gotta step up. D-Rob’s (Demetris Robertson) played well at times and has to continue to play more physical. I mean we’ve gotta use everybody we’ve got out there when he’s not out there. Because he is a physical presence. He is a physical guy.”
13:38 What does Dominick Blaylock need to improve on to get more playing time?
“He’s playing a lot. Dom’s played quite a bit. He plays very consistent. I’ll say again, you can’t play wideouts for 95 plays in a game. I don’t know how many snaps we had, we had a ton of snaps, but you can’t play 95 snaps and expect to be going real fast. But Dom is a very consistent player. What you get in practice is what you get in the game. He is every day full effort. He continues to improve. I think he’s in Game 7 in his career. And he and George are improving, and we need them to. Rapidly.”
14:19 Evaluation of the run defense; where can you improve on defense?
“Well again, I’d rather give up a 1-yard touchdown rush than a 50-yard pass. We have been scored on from outside those areas at times, and not as close. But I do appreciate the demeanor and the pride. Because to be honest since I’ve been here we have not been a good goal-line defense. We have not been a real good – I’m not gonna say we haven’t been a run defense, we’ve had good run defense, but we haven’t consistently stopped people in the red area. We’ve been able to do that so far this year. It makes it hard to score touchdowns when you’re hard to run the ball on.”
“So there’s a lot of areas we can improve on. You ask that on defense? A ton. Like flipping the field, like forcing three-and-outs. Like not giving up third downs that then force us to be catching the ball on 10-yard-lines on punts. There’s a thousand things that we can do better, defensively. And the kids have had that explained to them. That’s very important, that we get turnovers. We’re not getting the turnovers. We’ve made our havoc rate a lot of weeks, but it wasn’t last week. So it was not where it needed to be.”
15:38 Update on freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis
“He’s getting closer, we’re hoping, he’s getting to do more. He’s getting to do some scout-team things and do more activity. But he’s still not cleared to play and take live reps soon. And we’ll hope that’ll be soon.”
15:57 Is the o-line’s mindset better this week?
“I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the mindset of the offensive line last week. Just have to be honest, you always want me to be honest with you, the offensive line didn’t have a bad mindset last week. They didn’t have terrible practices. There was no moping around. They played a really good defensive line with a lot of good deep players, that guess what, we’re going to play more of them like them. You know what I mean. There’s been good energy out there at practice. There’s nobody running from work. And there’s been good spirit out there.”