Head coach Kirby Smart gave an update on the Bulldogs on Monday coming off Georgia’s final regular-season game of 2019, a 52-7 drubbing of in-state rival Georgia Tech. Now, all focus turns to Saturday’s upcoming SEC Championship Game, “the big one,” and an undefeated LSU squad.
There is a timestamped index with a typed transcript of Kirby’s presser below the video. Just click on the time mark to open a new tab and the video will play at that timestamp or you can follow along as you watch the presser in its entirety by clicking on the video below to play it.
00:00 Opening statement:
“On to the big one. We have an exciting football opportunity to play what I think is one of the best teams in the country, as explosive as a team as I have probably ever watched on tape. I don’t even know what the numbers say. Obviously, the numbers say they’re really good. But I don’t go by that. I go by what I see on tape and they do a tremendous job.”
“Defensively, we have had them on tape, I know we overlapped on Auburn and Florida. And I think [Defensive Coordinator] Dave Aranda does a tremendous job. They have a very experienced secondary, talented up front, play a lot of players, just a tremendous overall program. And what Coach [Ed] Orgeron has been able to do with his program from the standpoint of winning big games, I mean, playing top-25, top-10 opponents, I think he’s been as good as anybody in the country. And I have a lot of respect for him, always have. I’ve known him for a long time. And his teams take on his personality, which is toughness, physical, and cut it loose.”
“So this will be as great a challenge as we have had, I know since I’ve been here as far as playing an opponent. And our players have earned this opportunity. We didn’t back our way into this game. We earned our way into this game. And we’re looking forward to the opportunity to play in what is probably one of the greatest stages, I said it over and over, in all of college football.”
01:43 Being an underdog, do you use that as motivation this week?
“No, we really don’t bring that up. What we worry about is what do we have to do to execute well. And I don’t get into who is favored by how many or underdogs. It’s just not important because the people that make those decisions aren’t in this room. They’re not, like, in our meeting rooms, they’re not in our meetings, they don’t go there through our practices. So we try to control what we can control with how we practice and how we get ready. And as many of the games we’re favored in, it doesn’t matter, so if you’re not favored in it probably doesn’t matter either.”
03:15 Do you relish the challenge of facing the LSU offense?
“I probably did until about yesterday afternoon. I started watching the tape and then you realize that there really aren’t weaknesses. I mean, arguably one of the best backs in the country. I mean, just vicious attack, you spin, you hit, you — in the biggest games Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been one of the biggest players. Joe Burrow speaks for himself. I could go on and on. Wideouts, tight ends, they’ve got five, really, returning starters on their offensive line. They got defensive players. They got an outstanding all around team. It’s a tremendous opportunity to measure where you are as a team when you get an opportunity to play a team like this that is firing on all cylinders. I mean, there’s no such thing as a perfect game. Nobody will ever play it. But what they did last week on A&M was pretty incredible in all three phases.”
03:45 What is the experience advantage, if any, and what is it like to have a veteran QB like junior Jake Fromm for this game?
“Experience is valuable. I think the experiences in the Mercedes Stadium, the routine, you go over there Friday, you walk through, we don’t typically walk through where we play. Well, this is a different deal, so we go over there and walk through where we play and a lot of our kids have done that a couple times now, but we’ve got 20 or so guys that have never done it because they’re freshmen and it will be their first time. So I don’t think that’s a big advantage by any means, but our kids have played in it. Like I said yesterday on the teleconference, their kids have played in a ton of big games. It’s not going to be any different for them or us when you play in the SEC and the stage you play on. Week-in and week-out you’re playing on CBS in front of the largest crowds in the country.”
04:50 How true is it that defense wins championships?
“You’ve got to play good football to win, period. I don’t know that the adage defense wins championships stands as much as it used to. When you saw scores from the ’60s and the ’70s and the ’80s and you saw scores of games it was indicative of defense, compared to now. Now, it’s like I got to play pretty good defense and I got to score a lot of points. I can’t play horrific defense. I can’t play bad defense, but I might not have to be perfect, is the way a lot of teams have had success. They probably take more chances and risk and they just score tons of points. That’s not, I’m not talking about LSU. I’m just talking about college football. I think LSU plays really good defense and they are explosive on offense. But an explosive offense allows you to play a certain way on defense, too, because you know that you’re going to score a certain amount of points. Sometimes that changes things. But I can’t say, because you could go over the history of the last 10 years, still there’s been some really good defenses that have won national championships. The Alabama ones, the Clemson ones. A lot of them get overshadowed by really good offenses, but there’s been some good defenses winning.”
06:17 Is there a transition period when there is a new coach that comes in and has Jake (Fromm) experienced that with the change from (Jim) Chaney to (James) Coley?
“No, I don’t think so. We really don’t have a new quarterback coach because it’s the same guy that did it last year. Different coordinator. But I don’t think, if anything, they’re probably on, better on the same page because they’re in a second year of being in the room together. So I think that’s a big part of growth and growing up, being able to do things. The biggest difference this year is who is healthy, who is out there playing. I mean, three guys are in the NFL that were out there playing last year and, really, five when you count Holyfield and Nauta. So there’s not been a level of consistency with the perimeter skill that there probably was last year. That’s the biggest difference.”
07:09 Have you ever had a defense like this and how would you compare them to some of the other defenses you have coached and had?
“It’s a hard comparison. I mean, first of all, our defensive staff, I give tremendous credit to the coaches on our staff. I don’t take credit for that myself just because I’m a defensive guy. I think our coaching staff, [Dan] Lanning, [Glenn] Schumann, Charlton [Warren] and Tray Scott have done a tremendous job. Our players have done a tremendous job of working hard, buying in. Look, we don’t have natural star power on our defense that a lot of the defenses I’ve been a part of that were successful had that. They had three or four first-rounders. This group plays really hard and well together. They’re well-coached and they’re fundamentally sound. But this, obviously, will be the ultimate test, best offensive unit we have played all the way around, really not even close.”
08:20 How much do you plan on picking through the 2018 LSU game on film as part of preparing for the Tiger’s this weekend?
‘You always watch it. You have it in your breakdowns. You look at things, you look at matchups, you look at guys, playing guys, covering guys, because a lot of the guys are the same and you look at those things. But schematically, they’re different. They hurt us with some things last year. Some of the things they hurt us with last year they still do. Some of them they don’t. They’re just a really different team from an offensive perspective. From a defensive perspective, they’re not exactly the same team, but they’re more similar.”
08:59 Kirby, talk about the challenge that your safeties will face versus Joe Burrow’s ability?
10:55 What to Richard LeCounte and J.R. Reed bring to the defense and the team at the safety position?
11:32 During Saturday’s post-game, you mentioned running back James Cook and finding ways to get him the ball more. Can you discuss that?
12:03 Update on running back D’Andre Swift’s injury:
12:18 Assessment of LSU’s defense
13:23 In big games, you haven’t been shy to call a fake punt or onside kick. Where do you get the guts to make those calls?
“I think you just work on things. You are always looking for an advantage. No different than Geoff Collins and them last week with Georgia Tech. You’re saying that if I get an opportunity to steal a possession because I think someone’s unsound or not ready for something, then you try to give your kids a chance to win. I mean, you saw it last week in Auburn and Alabama. I mean, it was not a trick play. It was a maneuver to get an extra possession and they gained an extra possession at the right time and that’s big. So I think anytime you can find some advantage, some ability to do that, it’s important to do it. Just got to be calculated. You have to understand why you’re doing it and you hopefully are going to be successful at it. Otherwise, it doesn’t look real good.”
14:16 What is the biggest challenge for the wide receiver group with Lawrence Cager out and George Pickens having to sit the first half?
“No, it’s very similar to last week. As far as, hey, guys, you’re going to get an opportunity to play. Step up and make plays. We had some guys do that. We had some guys catch balls that haven’t caught balls in a long time or very little all year. And they made some good plays. You’re going to get one-on-one opportunities when you play in our offense because of the run game. So you have to win your 50/50 opportunities. You have to take advantage of it. And it will be very similar to last week in regards to not who we’re playing but the guys on the field.”
14:58 Based on what you have seen so far, what makes it so difficult to defend LSU RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire?
“Baller. I mean, he is a football-playing machine. When they cut out a running back and say, this is going to be a running back, this guy is as explosive quickness — he makes the best football tacklers in our conference miss. So when you got football players that are playing against him from Auburn, Florida, Alabama, and he’s making them miss, you get immediate respect with the toughness that he runs with. And I mean, the kid is, he’s got an incredible drive and ability and willingness to break tackles and toughness that I just respect. He plays the game the way it should be played, and they play him an awful lot because he’s really good.”
15:48 Why hasn’t James Cook been utilized more this season?
“He has been utilized quite a bit. When he’s been healthy, he’s been out there a good bit. Some of them are what we call PRO’s, which I talked about before. So they’re controlled by what the defense gives us, not by touches necessarily for him. In the last couple weeks, we have given him a few more carries. It boils down to us, really, saying, all right, who are the best football players to give us the best opportunity to win. And he’s at a position where it’s more shared. To be a wideout and go out there and play wideout, that’s not a natural position for him. So the things he’s able to do, the things he’s really strong at, are best around the backfield. We happen to have other strong guys in those areas. So we’re trying to find ways to get him the ball.”
16:35 What goes into the decision as far as who you start and use in the offensive line in regards to Ben Cleveland, Solomon Kindley, Cade Mays, and Jameree Salyer, is it based on matchups?
“No, it’s a practice thing. It’s who practices the best, who gives us the best chance to win, who is playing the best within the game, who is prepared, who is doing the best job of communication based on fronts, and who is pass pro-ing. So, basically, whoever is playing better, we try to play.”
17:01 What have you seen from LSU’s offensive line? How do they stack up?
“Great experience. Look across the board, all five of them have played a ton of games, they communicate really well, they have got a great system to help those guys out, whether it’s chipping in protection to protect them on one-on-ones. They got a really good complimentary run game, they do a tremendous job of making decisions at the line, they’re in the right play very often because people can’t play them in hard boxes because of their wideouts, so it allows them to be really, really successful at checking run, checking pass off of looks and making things look the same and being able to do different things off of them. And their offensive line is the key to that because they’re the ones that protect the quarterback.”
17:48 Have you seen QB Jake Fromm and WR Dominick Blaylock’s comfort level with each other grow?
“I think that’s been the case with each of the wideouts. (Jake) has had so many different guys in the lineup that he’s familiar with them, he’s comfortable with them, I think he likes Dom, because Dom is a guy that is constantly working, he’s where he’s supposed to be, he runs the right route, he runs it the right depth. Jake has a trust with all those guys but he and Dom have grown for sure.”
18:17 How confident are you in the running backs behind D’Andre Swift if he is not 100% or cannot play versus LSU?
“Very confident. Zamir (White) had some good games and gotten to play more and more, we’re trying to find ways to use him. James (Cook) the same way, and Kenny (McIntosh) got to go in the game and did some good things the other day, so I feel very comfortable about the other guys. Obviously (D’Andre) Swift has a different skill set probably as a total package than all of them, and we want him to be in there, but we have got some depth at that position that we can use guys.”
18:55 What does the fan support mean to the team?
“Yeah, I think it helps. Our guys love any environment. A lot of players will probably tell you they like a hostile environment more than they like a home environment because they like to go in and get in front of the other team’s fans and play well and be motivated by that. I certainly like the fact that you can go on the road and in certain locales and take over a stadium. It says a lot about your fan base and the passion they have for the game. But we know in the SEC that’s tough, because you’re going to find very few places you can do that.”
19:43 How important is it for veteran players like Brian Herrien to reach out to younger players like George Pickens in handling situations as what occurred in the GT game?
“Well it’s important to have a big brother. I mean, we all have mentors and you grow. A young player, I mean, young players across the country, you have to grow up. And when you have an older player, that’s able to help you with that, I think it’s always a benefit and we’re always trying to get our guys to help out the younger players in every facet.”