Video/Transcript: Kirby Smart – Peach Bowl Preview – December 26, 2020

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Video/Transcript: Kirby Smart – Peach Bowl Preview – December 26, 2020

Opening statement…
“I hope everybody had a wonderful holiday and a chance to spend some time with the family. Obviously, during the pandemic, it’s been tough, and it’s great to get some quality time. I know our players have enjoyed getting to be around their families, the guys who were able to, and getting a little break from football, at least two to three days. We’re back getting cranked up today, this afternoon, and getting guys COVID tested so we can start back, and that’s what we’re excited about—moving on to Cincinnati. We got to work a couple days last week, just really on fundamentals. I tried to introduce some things on Cincinnati, but we’ve got basically a game week left to prepare for these guys, and we’ll start tomorrow, and pretty much do a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday [game week] that will just be Sunday to Thursday and then play the game on Friday. Our guys are fired up, and our coaches are excited to get the guys back in here for a chance to play in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. [ Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl CEO and President] Gary Stokan and his staff do a great job. The more I look at Cincinnati, I have a tremendous amount of respect for [head coach] Luke Fickel. He’s done a tremendous job there, and they’re probably the most balanced in terms of being really good offensively—top 20—and really good defensively – top 20 – and then special teams, the same way. They’re very good across the board.”



On whether he knows the players opting out at this point in time…
“For the most part, but I’m focused on the guys who will play. Apparently, there’s a bunch of bad information out there. You in particular, seem to be dead set on writing things that aren’t true, for whatever reason. I don’t really know where some of you guys get your information, but it’s not always accurate. The biggest thing to know is that we’re worried about the guys who are going to play, and we’re focused on the ones who are. Azeez [Ojulari] is going to play. There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and I don’t really know where you get it from, but I’m focused on the guys who are going to play, and we’ve got a lot of guys who are. And the guys who don’t have a particular reason, and I’ll leave that up to those guys because some of them have been injured and played throughout the year. I’m focused on Cincinnati, Cincinnati and COVID because those are the opponents we’re dealing with right now. That’s what we’re really focused on, [and] the guys who are here are going to try and play in the game. I’m excited to see a lot of those guys you keep listing [play]. Mark Webb is going to play, so I don’t know why people keep listing his name. Richard LeCounte is trying to do everything he can to play in the game. He’s been battling to come back, and he’s been at every practice. He’s been at every rehab session, so for whatever reason, there’s a lot of bad information out there.”

On what he can do to ensure his players have a good bowl experience…
“It’s hard, because the bowl experience is at the bowl, and we’re not going to be at the bowl until the night before the game. So, it becomes your workweek experience. That’s this week, and like I said, the third opponent we’re playing is COVID, so we’re trying to avoid doing a lot publicly, and we’re trying to avoid any positive tests that might knock somebody out for this game with the numbers spiking across the country, but really right here in Georgia; with things going up, our concern really with our players that have gone home and come back, and also our guys being around each other, so there’s not a lot you can do to enjoy the bowl. You have to be able to enjoy the fellowship with your teammates and staying safe so that we’re able to finish off this season.”



On when Georgia will travel to Atlanta the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl…
“We’re going the night before the game, so I guess that would be Thursday.”

On whether Monty Rice, Tré McKitty, Ben Cleveland and Eric Stokes are playing in the bowl…
“Those are the four that I think, right now, are not going to play. Tré [McKitty] obviously has the senior bowl, and Tré was dealing with a knee [injury] all year. He had a knee injury right before the season that slowed him down. Ben [Cleveland] has been dealing with his shoulder, and Ben has played a lot of football with us. Monty [Rice] has had a foot injury that he’s pushed through ever since Alabama, and he’s been trying to prepare and get ready for the senior bowl. He’s got a bright future ahead of him, but he hasn’t been able to practice, so it’s truly kind of unfair for Monty because he literally can’t practice, and he tries to go out there and play in the games, which is tough on him. He’s trying to get well and recover. [Eric] Stokes has chosen to declare for the NFL, so with Stokes’ situation, those four guys probably won’t be able to play. Like I said, I’m super proud of the guys who are [playing in the bowl] and who want to finish it off. They’re committed to Georgia and finishing off the right way. Hey, look. At the end of the day, I’m focused on the ones who are here. I think it says a tremendous amount about the guys who are. I’m not focused on the guys who aren’t, because that’s an individual decision for each one.”

On the play-making ability of Monty Rice and Eric Stokes on defense and players who will have to step up to fill those shoes in the bowl game…
“Well, [Rice and Stokes] have scholarships. Monty hasn’t been in every play of the year; he’s had to rotate quite a bit this year. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Quay [Walker] and Nakobe [Dean] have played a large amount. There were probably two or three games that Monty just went in to spell them, because he was doing all he could to help the team and wasn’t able to go full speed. Channing [Tindall] has played more, Nakobe, Quay, Rian DavisNate McBride—all those guys have gotten more opportunities, and they’ll continue to. Same goes out at DB. We’ve had other guys who’ve had to go out and play corner. [Amir] Speed has played some corner. Jalen KimberDaran Branch has grown up and started to play more. Those guys have got to step up and be able to play in Stokes’ shoes.”

On how Trey Hill is recovering from his knee surgery and whether he will be cleared to play in the game against Cincinnati…
“No, [he’s] not likely to play in the bowl. He’s doing really well. He’s moving around on his own. He’s comfortable walking around. He had both those knees scoped, and he’s rehabbing with Ron [Courson]. He’s doing weight-bearing exercises now, but he’s not going to be cleared for the game.”

On whether there are any other players opting out…
“I wanted to talk about Cincinnati tonight. There’s nobody—like I said, I am really worried about the guys that are here and not the ones that aren’t, and that’s my focus. For whatever reason, everybody wants to write the story about the ones that aren’t, but really the focus and attention should be on the ones that are. In my opinion, that’s where my focus is. I don’t know if you guys know, but you could probably look down the list and see, but of the first 64 players picked last year in the NFL draft there were only six that didn’t play in their bowl game if they had a bowl game. But there were only six that didn’t. So, it’s not necessarily the modern thing or the trend to do that. I think people make it out to be that way but that’s not actually true. A lot more played than didn’t play, and it’ll be the same this year.”

On COVID-19 protocol for the bowl game…
“No, I mean we have three tests to clear—one would be tonight. We have two more tests to clear which will be Monday and Wednesday. We’re following our conference protocol just like they’re following their conference protocol, and everybody agreed to stick with your protocol throughout the year. We have three hurdles to get through, one would be tonight’s, which we hope to get back the tests as soon as possible. Then we would have Monday morning, I think it is, and Wednesday morning. You can imagine, we are on pins and needles because anybody that hits on those three testing cycles would be out, and the bigger concern is the contract tracing in which they may knock out more guys. Anybody wouldn’t clear contract tracing or COVID. It’s an obvious concern for both teams. We have dealt with it all year, but our numbers have gone up in the last two to three weeks in terms of us hitting some players where we have gone, I don’t know, a long time without really losing anybody. We have had some guys that we have had to quarantine, and we’ve lost, and we’re fighting to get every one of them back. If we would have played Vandy [Vanderbilt], we would have had one or two. The next week we would have had one or two. We have been able to get those guys back, but we know at this point forward there’s no getting anybody back. So, if it’s the wrong position from a depth standpoint, it could really attack your team.”



On whether he and his staff have a plan in the case that Smart must miss a game due to COVID…
“Yeah, we have protocol in place. Every time I test it’s a concern of mine. I’m not going to share that exact plan because it hasn’t come to fruition, but we have been through it and talked about it and have things available for Zoom meetings to sit in team meetings to be in practice by a way of zoom meetings—have someone in charge of gameday decisions, and pretty much everyone in the country has that now.”

On the opportunities, a bowl game can present to players…
“Yeah, I would agree with that statement of guys getting an opportunity to step up and play. I don’t really know exactly what you’re asking other than, ‘Do guys get a better opportunity to play in bowl games?’ Yes. A lot of guys get an opportunity in bowl games because sometimes you have postseason injuries, sometimes you have first-round picks that choose not to play. For whatever reason you have attrition and other guys get an opportunity to play. We certainly had a lot of that, but that was—a lot of those choices last year weren’t their own. A lot of those choices last year were our choices. We had two first-rounders that chose not to play, but we had some other guys that couldn’t play.”

On what he feels will be the biggest takeaways from the bowl game…
“Yeah, I think everybody tries to spin the bowl game as momentum—that’s great. It is 100 percent is an opportunity to build momentum. Everybody wants to talk about 2021 anyway, that’s all any teams want to talk about when you’re not in the final four and you’re not in the playoff—that’s what people want to talk about. They are going to talk about the next season. They’re going to ‘gloom or doom.’ It’s going to be way up here if you win and it’s going to be way down here if you lose. The truth as I always say resides somewhere in the middle. That’s not going to necessarily change for us. What I want to do is play good, sound football. I want our seniors that are in this game to go out on top. I want the guys that have dedicated five and sometimes four years to our programs, some cases three years to our program—I want them to go out on top because they have worked so hard to do that. It’s an opportunity, it’s a reward for our guys to go out and play a Top 10 opponent that has not lost a game all year, that’s got one of the best programs in the country over the last three years. We want to go out and perform well. We want to perform our best. We won’t play our best game. I’m not auditioning for next year, although some players will get their first significant playing time. But, it’s really about these seniors and the guys on the team that have given so much and finishing things off the right way. At the end of the day, it’s how do you finish things off with something you started.”

On what he has noticed about Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder from watching film…
“He’s a much better runner than you give him credit for. He’s long. He covers a lot of ground. He makes the right decision a lot. When you’re playing a guy that’s played as many games as he has, you know he’s seen it before. We’ve been over this before in terms of experienced quarterbacks. Quarterbacks that have a lot of experience don’t make mistakes. He pulls the ball and makes you pull it. He makes the guys miss on the perimeter. He takes off and scrambles for a 50-yard touchdown run. You can’t really account for that as a defensive coordinator when you’re trying to cover all of the weapons that they have. He’s just a really, really good football player.”

On how beneficial extra practices are to young players prior to the bowl game…
“They are really beneficial when you get the full, I guess allotment you would say, like the full gambit of, ‘Hey you’re going to get five practices, and then you’re going to come back and you’re going to practice for the bowl game.’ Those are really good. We didn’t get that this year with the pushed back schedule. We kind of got two practices in which we worked on Cincinnati a little bit, but we competed and went good-on-good as well. This week it’ll be focused on a game week. We don’t get those, that benefit that we traditionally get.” 

On his favorite Christmas present…
“For me, the gift I got or gave, I guess my wife purchased one of the ring lights. So, she thinks I’m going to be at home doing these Zooms with you guys this offseason. I told her we were trying to get back to normal. She’s purchased one of these things that I guess glows light and throws at you from the other side. Anything she can do to maybe help me look better will certainly help.”

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