THE MODERATOR: Joining us is Stetson Bennett.
Q. You obviously played well pass game and then even though you all lost to Alabama the first time, what is it going to be like going against their defense for the second time? What is it looking like in practice right now in terms of prep-wise, one week from the game?
STETSON BENNETT: It’s the same schedule that we’ve been having. As to the game, what it’s going to be like, I’m not sure. They’re going to be a great team, just like they were the first time. And I think the key to it is who comes out and executes better.
Q. You seem to have a real sense of who you are. And is that something you try to really get out there to people, and do you feel that’s what endears you to your teammates and your coaches?
STETSON BENNETT: I don’t know. I’ve always kind of felt like you can’t really — maybe some people can — tell people what to think about me or something. I just kind of am who I am. And I try to be the best person I can be, football and in life. And I don’t really know why people like me, but if that’s why it is, then so be it.
Q. One of the things we saw against Michigan was an incredible blocking scheme on the edge that really freed guys up. What was practice like in that offensive week leading up that really made that crisp for you guys, that opened up the offense?
STETSON BENNETT: First things first, we can’t do anything on either side of the ball if we don’t win up front. That’s the start of football, always has been and always will be. And we knew that they had those two guys on the edge and we knew they were going to be coming for my head. And Jamaree and Warren and all the guys inside, they took a — they kind of felt slighted a bit by the Joe Moore Award going to Michigan.
And they knew what everybody was writing and what everybody was saying, that those two guys would ruin the game for us. And they took it as a personal challenge, and they were focused and locked in the whole week, and they played their butts off.
Q. Did you need that Michigan performance, did you need that at all for any, reinforce any maybe one percent of one percent doubt that you might have had coming off the SEC game. And jokingly, did you hear from any heart surgeons out there asking for some advice?
STETSON BENNETT: Like I said after the game, I thought I played all right in the SEC Championship game. I made a few mistakes that you can’t do against a good team. But I also made some really good throws, good decisions. So my main focus going into the Michigan game was cleaning up on the mistakes and keep doing what I had been doing well.
There was no personal doubt. I knew what I had to do. Felt like I needed to play that well to beat a team like Michigan because of who they are and how talented they are. But it wasn’t to prove anything to me that I could play football in this league.
And no, no heart surgeons have reached out, unfortunately.
Q. I think as far as your offensive skill position players around you, Zamir White is only 12th in rushing yards, and Brock is only ninth in receiving yards. But so much of that obviously as you know is guys cannibalize each other’s stats because you have so many. Do you all ever go into the game with a plan, we want to get this guy X amount of touches or showcase this guy X amount of times or something along those lines to kind of spread out things?
STETSON BENNETT: No. We know the guys that we have on our team who we think are game-changers. And so we want to get the ball in those guys’ hands. But as far as, like, when the play starts, I throw it to who’s open. I’m not — there’s certain times when it’s man-to-man, and it’s matchups — when you think have you the matchup you want, then you go there.
But it’s never, we haven’t gotten this guy as many touches as he needs. Maybe Monk calls a game like that, maybe he calls a few plays like that; I’ll leave it to him. But when the ball snaps for me, unless it’s those specific matchup scenarios, I just read it out and I throw it to the guy I think is open.
And I think that’s the strength of this team on offense and defense. Our defensive scheme doesn’t — like Michigan, they wide bust. Those two guys go for sacks.
Us, we play more complementary defense. And I think the same way on offense. Brock’s obviously had, I think, maybe the greatest year for a tight end in Georgia history. But like I said, Zamir doesn’t have the yardage in the SEC ranking, but we’re in the national championship.
So I think our guys kind of know what matters, and if we’re scoring points and if we’re stopping people from scoring points, it doesn’t really matter who is getting credit as long as the team is doing well. And I think our guys really understand that.
Q. How does the preparation change or vary when you’re playing a team for the second time? Is it something you’ve ever done before maybe at the high school level?
STETSON BENNETT: I guess it would change, but watching a good bit of the previous game. But as far as the schedule and what I’m going to watch day to day, no, that’s not going to change.
And to answer your question, no, I’ve never, I don’t believe, played the same team twice in a season. But preparation is going to be the same. The respect’s going to be the same. How we go about our day to day is going to be the same. That’s what’s got us here, and that’s what we’re going to stick with.
Q. You’re a Georgia guy. You know the history of the program. Do you have a sense of the magnitude of what this means to people in Georgia, longtime Georgia, long-suffering Georgia fans? And of course you were there in 2017 when Alabama sort of crushed those hopes on this stage before. Does that bear any meaning back of your mind, sort of the history that comes with it?
STETSON BENNETT: Maybe I’m not capable of holding that weight on my shoulders, but, no, I’m just treating it as a football game. Do I know that means a lot to a lot of people? Yes. Am I trying to play some kind of savior by winning a national championship for millions of people? No. I don’t think that’s my job.
My job is to go out there and throw completions to very talented people we have on this team. And I think it’s as simple as that.
So, yes, I know it means a lot to a lot of people. Is it just another game? No, I’m not silly. But I don’t think for 20-year-old kids you can put that kind of pressure on yourself because you might go crazy.
I’m just treating it as another game and I’m preparing my butt off, and everybody on this team is. But the reason we’re doing that is because we respect the heck out of Alabama and the team they are. And we know we’ll have to give it our best shot to win this game.
Q. Coach says all the time, recruiting stars, your recruiting ranking doesn’t matter when you show up. But as a player, how aware are you of that, and how, if at all, does it factor into, hey, I should be playing earlier or I should be playing over this guy?
STETSON BENNETT: I can’t speak to the five stars in the room. I wasn’t one. I mean, yeah, coaches say that, but it’s, like, those guys are going to get every opportunity to fail before a walk-on gets an opportunity to succeed. I’ll put it that way.
It’s just business. If you recruit all these five stars and then you play walk-ons over every single one of them, who is to say the next five star is not going to see that and not come here?
Usually five stars are better than walk-ons. That’s typically how it goes. But I don’t know. I think our team does a good job of — our players do a good job of not really worrying about five star, who — this and that when you walk in the door because all that stuff is over, it’s wiped out.
I don’t even know who our five stars are from this last class, I don’t know any recruiting. I know we did well like we typically do because our staff does a great job. But I don’t know who was ranked where because I really don’t care. And I’ll tell you every single senior on this team feels the same way.
So I’m sure the coaches are aware and every single media person in the entire universe is aware. But, no, the players are not aware.
Q. What has Coach Monken meant for your development over your career?
STETSON BENNETT: Tons. He’s a great coach, extremely knowledgeable. There’s a lot of times where I wasn’t playing, so I had to take that development on my own and do that stuff. But the meeting time and just listening to him talk — he likes to talk — but just listening to him talk in the meetings, that’s invaluable.
Those things are — I mean that’s why he gets paid what he gets paid, just to talk to people like us, to make us better and obviously to play hard.
But just sitting there trying to be a sponge, trying to write down everything I can write down, trying to learn from somebody who has been in this business for 35 years at the highest level. Obviously I’m a lot better than I was last year. So that’s helped.
Q. A little bit more on playing a second time. Obviously you want to play better against Alabama, but you don’t know that you’re going to see the same stuff that you saw from Alabama last time. But you might. I mean, tell me about the line that you’re sort of, you and Coach Monk and everybody, are tiptoeing about: Do we expect them to do this again and we need to do this better? I’m sure that gets really down in the weeds before y’all finally get to this game, right? How difficult is it to play somebody a second time, or do you know yet about the complications of not knowing if they’re going to do the same thing or if they’ll do things slightly different this time?
STETSON BENNETT: I guess, are you going to outsmart yourself? Are you going to over think everything? No. We are not. Obviously when we go out on the field, would I prefer for Alabama if they’re going to change anything up to send us an e-mail this week? I would love that, but I assume they won’t.
So we’re going to prepare with what they’ve put on tape. And obviously other — we’re going to stick with their tendencies, just the same way I do every week, and be ready to adjust, say they come out in a completely different defense.
But I would be willing to bet they’re not because they’re here in the national championship. They’re not going to change up and go all Arkansas on us. They’re not going to do that. They’re going to be Alabama. And we’re going to be Georgia. And we’re going to see who executes better. And if there is a wrinkle come Monday night from either side, then whoever adjusts best to that will win the football game.
Q. Coach Smart throughout this whole season has had your back every single time we’ve asked about you. What does that mean to you have your head coach have your back like that?
STETSON BENNETT: It feels good. Obviously it’s better than the other way. It feels nice and I appreciate it from him.
Q. You’re clearly level headed about the big picture here. But I’m wondering if you and your family have had a time to talk about, appreciate where you have come from, where you are right now and the opportunity that’s in front of you and what it means to you on a personal level?
STETSON BENNETT: No, we haven’t had time to sit down and break it all down. I’m sure that will be a long talk. But I appreciate everybody giving my story so much attention. But every single player on this team, even though they’re more highly recruited, they all came from a little high school with no such — the players with the ginormous high schools. But most of the guys on our team came from small schools in Georgia.
They haven’t seen the splendor of a college football national championship yet. They’ve never experienced that. Maybe they went to the Army All-American game. But they’ve been working just as hard as I have for just as long as I have.
So to answer your question, no, we haven’t sat down and talked about it. But it’s not like I’m the only one who has done so much for themselves because of where they started. Every single player on this team has worked hard to get to play in the national championship.
And hopefully after this season, after this game, hopefully we play well enough to beat a great Bama team. And then hopefully every single one of us can sit down and talk about, wow, did you see how bright those lights were? That was pretty awesome. So we’ll see when that time comes.
Q. You mentioned during your MVP acceptance speech, after the Orange Bowl, Georgia taking a chance on you or giving you a chance, I guess I should say. Can you elaborate just more on that and what that means to you and how quickly you were able to fit in in this program?
DERION KENDRICK: Everybody, if you follow football, everybody knows what happened in my situation. Being thrown into the portal, nobody had to take a chance on me at all but they did.
And when I got here, I mean, I just fit in, just doing what I do, just came in, put my head down and put in the work. They accepted me for who I was and not what happened in the past.
Q. Stetson just talked about the offensive line and how great they played against Michigan, and how maybe the offensive line took the Joe Moore Award going to Michigan as a slight, as a challenge. Seemed like Alabama did the same thing against y’all, because y’all have one of the best defenses in college football history. Do you think that served as motivation for Alabama in the first meeting with y’all? And do you all figure to match that intensity on Monday night?
DERION KENDRICK: We should be motivated every time we step on the field regardless of what awards or whatever is going on. And they just had — they’re a great team. They came out on top last game.
Q. You guys didn’t have much success against Jameson Williams the first time around. What have you got to do differently?
DERION KENDRICK: Just gotta lock in, do what we normally do, don’t try to do too much. And just everybody make plays, just top collegiate level. So everybody is going to make plays. It’s about what you do next play.
Q. Wondering from your experience at Clemson if there was anything you learned or had your eyes opened to that has impacted how you’ve been or what you’ve been able to do at Georgia?
DERION KENDRICK: I had great coaches there, and they taught me ways to be a better person, become a better football player as well. And I just took those things and just put them into myself and my game so I could just elevate on and off the field.
Q. I wanted to ask you, Coach Saban was talking about Brock Bowers, called him one of the premier players in college football. You’ve had a different look at him. You’ve had a long look at him. What do you think of Brock and what he’s done for your guys’ offense this year? And when did you know that he was capable of doing something like he’s done this year?
DERION KENDRICK: I see it almost every day, giving like flashes and stuff. He’s a great player, always working. He works hard. When you work hard, usually good things happen in return.
So I just knew early in the season he had a game where he had three touchdowns. I believe it was UAB or something, I knew right there that he was going to be great.
Q. Kirby was talking about Bryce’s ability to always keep his eyes up, and that was one of the main factors for his success the last time you met. What kind of problems does that present a corner? And your thoughts on the challenge going against him one more time?
DERION KENDRICK: I mean, we’ve just got to be disciplined. Can’t try to do too much. Gotta do our job, which our job is to cover the receivers and let everybody else do their job. Can’t let nobody run free.
Q. Outside of the SEC, it’s apparent to a lot of people that the growth of college football is dependent on the sport breaking out of the SEC. And some people are saying we’ve already seen this matchup before and it’s all SEC. Why do you think that a Georgia/Bama matchup, even though it’s an SEC matchup, is still good for the growth of college football?
DERION KENDRICK: I believe it’s just like — it’s a great matchup. Every time we play it’s always back and forth. So I feel like everybody is going to enjoy this game, great teams, great coaches, and always have great players. So everybody is just tuning into this game. And it’s also SEC. Everybody believes that SEC is the best conference in college football.
Q. You’ve played in national championship games, you’re a guy on the Georgia team that’s beaten Bama before. Is that anything you’ve shared with your teammates, your experiences?
DERION KENDRICK: Everybody knows that my freshman year we won or whatever. And that year I was on a different side of the ball. I wasn’t really tuned into their offense. I was more likely tuned into their defense.
Just like giving them keys to where we just gotta stay focused, do what we’ve got to do, just watch extra film, take care of (indiscernible) and stuff like that.
Q. I wanted to ask you because you have that perspective being both at Georgia and being at a different school. But does it feel like there’s almost a mental block that Georgia might have towards Alabama, in that Alabama is someone that, this program always is in these absolute dogfights of games with, and often Georgia is the one to walk away with a loss in heartbreaking fashion?
DERION KENDRICK: I mean, I haven’t been here long enough to answer that question. So I’m not sure.
Q. We haven’t had a chance to talk to you all year. So I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about playing against Clemson. I know that was the opener and a long time ago. I guess if you could just tell me what that was like going against a former team. We’ll see more and more of that with guys in the portal. Secondly, does it seem like a lifetime ago for you, too, or is that game still fresh on your mind?
DERION KENDRICK: I feel like it was really God just putting me in the opportunity to play in that big game at that moment. Somebody that I’ve been with for three years, a great coaching staff. Also people who I came in with my recruiting class, just being able to play against them and just being on a different side, it was a blessing.
Q. You’re obviously here as kind of the spokesman for the defense. So just overall, obviously the last game was one that we hadn’t seen the defense play like that all year and hasn’t since. So just, can you just speaking for the entire defense, what does it feel like getting another shot at this? And is it a totally different approach? Just got to be the same approach and do better this time?
DERION KENDRICK: Same approach, but different attitude. You’ve got to go out there, do what we do because we didn’t play a good game at all on the defensive side of the ball. We’ve got to help the offense out as well. So that’s how I feel about it.