ATHENS —— The third-ranked Georgia Bulldogs continued their preparations for their non-conference matchup at home this Saturday vs. No. 7 Notre Dame with a two-hour workout here Tuesday afternoon.
Head Coach Kirby Smart, along with redshirt freshman linebacker Azeez Ojulari, fielded questions from the media after practice. Excerpts from their sessions follow:
Head Coach Kirby Smart:
‘’Well, it was warm out there. That’s for sure. Still 97 degrees. I thought the kids pushed through it well and had a lot of energy and enthusiasm. We did kind of a split practice inside and out, like we typically do on Tuesday.’’
You’ve seen them for a couple of days. How do you feel about the way they’ve gone about things?
‘’We’ve got a long way to go. We don’t have but 50 percent of the game plan in, when it comes to what we’re doing. I like the enthusiasm, but that’s to be expected. They’ve had a couple of weeks where they’ve been pushing through practice, and this one they’re obviously more excited for. I’m sure that’s going both ways.’’
When you look at their first two games, what’s happened in Notre Dame’s run defense?
‘’Stats are overrated. I thought, especially the first game, there were some very different type runs. I don’t know if they hadn’t seen those before, or if they’d been exposed to those. You’re talking about a guy in (Louisville RB) Jawon Pass, who I recruited, as an elite athlete and a really good runner. We’re different than that, so it’s a different kind of run-game type stuff. I think people just look at rushing stats and they don’t look behind it. There’s a lot more to the story sometimes than what meets the eye.’’
Any update on (DB) Tyson Campbell and how he’s doing right now?
‘’He’s pushing through. He was out there today, trying to work and help us out. He’s mentally getting prepared and he’s not able to take a lot of reps.’’
What sorts of challenges does the Notre Dame offense pose?
‘’They’ve got multiple formations, they’ve got tempo, they’ve got the ability to do a lot of things. They have a lot of offense. When you start looking at all the things they do, it’s hard to prepare for all of it in a week’s time. And then you throw on the fact that they have a quarterback who can make you right every play. A coach can make a bad call, and the kid will bail him out and go scramble for it. He can make a perfect call, and he takes care of that, too. It’s nice when you’ve got a guy that can make somebody miss, you know, whether it’s pressure or a 3-man rush or a 4-man rush. He can make you right. That’s the thing. You’ve got to be patient because they accumulate yards, they’ve got a vertical passing game that’s explosive. They’ve got good runners and they use their personnel very well.’’
Will Tyler Simmons’ injury affect your punt return game?
‘’It shouldn’t. Tyler’s been practicing, so we expect him to be able to go. If he can’t, then Dom (Blaylock) will be back there.’’
Did you have any involvement in the new lighting that was installed at the stadium, and what are your thoughts on the fourth-quarter tradition (of using cell phone flashlights)?
‘’No, I didn’t have any involvement in the new lights. I think we’ve used them in recruiting, but I didn’t know they were put in for this game. We hope to have a lot of night games. As far as the phones and all, I think that’s awesome. Our fans have carried it on wherever they’ve been.’’
Do you have a preference of what time of day you’d rather play?
‘’It really doesn’t matter. I like an early game that allows you an afternoon off to enjoy other games. And I like to not play in the super-duper heat because I think it makes it less desirable for the players. The night games, they certainly get better temperatures and it seems they are cooler longer, and they (players) can play at a high speed for longer. So I enjoy that part, too. You take what you get, and you don’t fuss a bit. That’s what they used to say.’’
How much of an impact would you think the crowd would have on Notre Dame’s offense and their ability to execute?
‘’I don’t know that. I mean, I don’t know how much they’ve prepared for that. I know this, when you have an experienced quarterback, which they do, it’s less of an impact than for an inexperienced quarterback. But I do know that our crowd will have an impact, whether it’s on a lineman, whether it’s on a communication or a receiver or a tight end. Who knows? They’ll have an impact on the game, and we need them to. That’s the advantage of playing at home.’’
You talk about limiting the outside noise in a week like this. With the increased attention on this game, how do you manage that aspect of preparing for the game?
‘’We have interviews with our players every week. Yeah, it’s a bigger game. Yeah, there are more people here. But the amount of time we commit to those people and those groups really is the same. There’s more of them, and we try to manage it for them. Claude does a nice job of trying to bundle it together, so that it’s 20 minutes at this one time instead of four times five minutes. That is what it is. We’ve talked to the kids about that. We’re kind of used to that. I mean, in the SEC you have that almost every week you play an SEC game, you have that kind of coverage.’’
Did the 2017 game at Notre Dame factor in the desire to get more ‘marquee’ games on the schedule?
‘’I really don’t know that it factored into it. We wanted those games anyway. We were wanting that for a long time and wanted it since I got here. We got the opportunity to start scheduling, so we started scheduling them. It seemed like a lot of them came really more recently to me, not since the Notre Dame win, but more recently, in the last year. What factors in it to me is, you need to play on a national stage, you need to play good opponents, you need to have strength of schedule, and you don’t need to be afraid of having one loss or two losses because I think that’s the way it’s going. I’ve said repeatedly that eventually some team with two losses is probably going to get in because they have a better strength of schedule than a team that has one loss. I think it’s better to go out and play the best games, and if you’re good enough, then you should be in there.’’
What have you seen from the outside linebackers this year, in terms of rushing the passer, and are you looking forward to their getting the chance to compete against an offensive line such as Notre Dame’s?
‘’I think they’ve been technically sound. They play with great motor. I think that room has changed so much in the last, I don’t know, six or seven months because Azeez (Ojulari) has taken over the room. He’s had such a positive impact. He’s a great leader. Nolan (Smith) is a positive impact. Jermaine (Johnson) has been a positive impact. It’s just the dynamic in that room. They get along so well. They compete really hard, and they’re playing at a really high level. They’re producing more sacks than we’ve gotten in a long time. So Dan (Lanning) is doing a great job with them.’’
Redshirt freshman OLB Azeez Ojulari:
On whether the team has seen anything on film that’s indicated some challenges Georgia may face against Notre Dame...
“They’re really good. Like I’ve said, they can sack. They can block, and they’re very versatile. It’s going to be a good challenge for us."
On how Georgia is dealing with the build-up heading into this weekend’s matchup...
“Every day, it’s getting closer and closer. We’re just trying to stay locked in at practice. We’re directing our focus to the game plan and just trying to eliminate any distractions and focus on Notre Dame.”
On what he remembers about the last time Georgia played Notre Dame in South Bend...
"It was a heck of a game. It came down to the wire, with Davin Bellamy finishing the game with a strip sack— the game-winning sack— at the end. It was just a great game."