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Smart, Bulldogs Preview South Carolina Game



ATHENS, Ga. — University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart and several student-athletes offered the following comments during Monday’s media session.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Statement

“I will open with thanking the fans again for Saturday. What a great atmosphere. I enjoyed being back in Samford and certainly enjoyed being around Chris Hatcher and his program. Now, it's on to South Carolina for us, an SEC East rival that we get to play each and every year. Going into an extremely tough environment to play in with a lot of guys that haven't played in any kind of environment like that. You know, the Mercedes game was probably 70/80 percent Georgia fans. So it will be our first chance to play on the road, first chance to play SEC opponent. And looking forward to an opportunity to play these guys.”

On the status of AD Mitchell and William Poole…

“AD will not be able to practice today. We're hopeful that he's able to make it. Ron's optimistic, but you know how that goes. It's more where he goes and where he's at. And we'll see on Poole. Right now, he just wasn't in the lineup to play.”

On South Carolina’s defensive front…

“We've got to improve everywhere, starting with every unit. You know, it's a hard measuring stick when you start talking about comparing it to Samford. No offense to their team or their program. It's just hard to evaluate. So we have to improve in every facet. That includes throwing the ball, that includes running the ball. Includes defensively, stopping the run, and rushing the passer. So that's always going to be the case. I thought we did run the ball well Saturday. But, again, it's a little different front, a little different coverage in terms of the way they played. When you're getting four or five yards a rush, you know, it's hard to complain about that. You have to do it at a higher level against a better opponent.”

On the run game’s importance in the red area…

“I think you have to have a run game to win tight ball games, you know, to be a good, physical team. And I have -- there's not a lack of confidence in our run game, for me.

I think people look at statistics and that's all they look at. I look at it as what have we asked our guys to do. And there's a lot of things, no offense, that you guys don't understand about football. You know, when you talk about passing and yardage, I would say probably 30 to 40 percent of the plays you're calling a pass or yardage is a run play. And they can be very successful run plays. The question is: Are they more successful as a run play or more successful when we decide to throw the ball out of that run play? So the evaluation, for us, is those plays are running plays. And a lot of times, we put them in rushing yardage. Because they're actually replacing rushing yardage. I know that's really complicated. But that's the way we look at it. So we're not evaluating it just alone how many times we rush the ball.”

On the South Carolina passing game…

“They have a great receiving corps. They have really good wideouts. Fast wideouts. Guys who struggled with last year, they have -- you know, quarterback's got an elite ability to throw the deep ball. He can throw the ball over 70 yards, stretch the field. And he's an athlete. So when you start talking about, you know -- like we played against Bo, we know Bo can throw the ball, Bo can scramble. He's a guy that can move around. You got to be disciplined. You're going to have probably five to six snaps a game where you got to use scramble rules, you've got to plaster, take shots down the field. You've got to win 50/50 balls. That doesn't change based on who we play. I mean, everybody we play, especially in the SEC, is going to be challenging us down the field. And you got to be able to win those one-on-one matchups. They got really talented guys to do that with.”

On Kendall Milton…

Kendall's done a great job. He did what he did in the spring. He's run the ball with toughness. He's very smart in terms of his pickup. He's improved as a pass receiver out of the backfield. He's done everything we've asked him to do to this point. He's hard to tackle. He's physical.”

On the intermediate passing game…

“Can we sustain it? I think it's probably dictated more by what the defense does and what the defense gives us. You know, I wouldn't -- I would like to think we could sustain it when it comes to accuracy, completion percentage, decision-making. A lot of those plays, there's multiple people that the ball can be thrown to. It boils down to, Did we read the coverage right? Did we take what the defense gives us? Did we hand it when we should hand it? Did we throw it when we should throw it? Did we -- a lot of things involved in that, you know? I would certainly think we can maintain that, but it's gong to take staying healthy, protecting the quarterback. It's going to take protecting the football. But that's the expectation.”

On facing experienced quarterbacks early in the season…

I think it helps any time you face an athletic quarterback. We face one every day, you know? So it's like one of those deals that you get better the more you face a guy who has athleticism.

You know, Spencer's a little different than Bo. I mean, he's a really good athlete. He's got great arm strength. He's got a lot of playing experience. But each guy's different because their offenses are different.”

On playing in South Carolina’s environment…

The only asset to going into an environment like this is experience. And we've probably got 20 or 30 guys that have experience going into Auburn, Tennessee, places similar in terms of fan experience. So we've got some guys that can draw on experience. We've got some guys that will lean on those guys because they'll be new. Any time you go on the road for the first time, guys have to get comfortable with that. We had that a little bit in Atlanta in terms of not being on our own field. But it certainly wasn't the same kind of environment we're going into this time. And we'll have some guys that are young guys that will have to lean on those older players.”

On the team’s offensive philosophy…

It's evolved based on the players. And that will never change, right? So when the strength of our team is the backs, then we feature the backs. If the strength of the team is the tight ends, you try to feature the tight ends. The strength of the team is the quarterback, O-line -- you know, right now the strength of this team is probably its depth upfront, experience at quarterback. And a distribution of the ball across the entire offense to make you defend 53 yards. So the evolution is based on what players you have.”

On being ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll…

It's never a big deal. It only matters at the end of the year. I mean, I don't know that we've spent many weeks outside of the top 10. And it never mattered whether we were inside the top 10 or outside of the top 10. It just is irrelevant. I mean, it's a lot more -- a lot more worried about how we execute a combo block than I am worried about what we're ranked. And hopefully the kids are the same way.”

On Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins…

He approached it the right way last week. But, literally, we have not seen the guys yet. You know, I know he'll be excited. He's going back to play in South Carolina, he is from there. He's not going to be a captain this week. But Tyrion does a great job for us. And we'll see as he approaches the game as we start practice.”

On the team’s depth and rotations …

“It depends on how guys practice. You know, you'd like to think guys separate themselves in games. But I get a better evaluation of those guys Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, than I probably did Saturday. And we'll continue to evaluate it and see who plays well and who competes. And we get to go against a really good team three days in practice, then we get to go against another good team on Saturday. So we'll figure it out.”

On the team’s identity and mantra…

They come from the players. The messaging comes from them. And you create an identity about what you believe in. And we've had a pretty good identity around here for along time about being really physical. And the message might be tweaked game to game, year to year. But we hope the results and the process is the same. Because we don't really change the approach based on who we play, based on scoreboard, based on anything. So the focus is on us. And that doesn't change.”

On Shane Beamer and his progress at South Carolina…

“When I hired Shane, I'd known him for a long time. He was interested in coming and I thought it would be a great opportunity to jump into SEC and be part of our program, and he did. He's created a lot of energy through his program through enthusiasm, their staff, they have an excellent staff at South Carolina. And just creating an environment of competition for their program to compete at a high level. Which South Carolina's always historically played Georgia, you know, really hard. It's usually the first SEC game most years. They recruit our state hard. We recruit their state hard. So there's a lot of things to that.”

On Warren McClendon’s progression at Georgia…

“I think he's more vocal this year than he was in the past. Last year -- he's a naturally quiet guy. Last year, probably didn't have much to say with Jamaree and Shaffer around. This year you know, he would -- he and Sedrick together would be considered the leaders. I'd throw Broderick and Warren Ericson in that boat, too. But Warren McClendon is like a -- you know, just a very well respected vet. And they just -- players respect him because his durability's been incredible. His toughness is remarkable in terms of doesn't miss practice. And just works really hard. So he's a guy that the players look up to and listen to.”

On playing against South Carolina as a player…

“Not really. We kind of went back and forth. I don't know, we probably split with them while I was a player. That it would seem like, you know, we won at home and lost there a couple times and had some really good football players. Played against Duce Staley and some of those guys were just unbelievable athletes. And don't remember much about it.”

On Travon Walker’s performance in his pro debut…

“No, I haven't spoken to him. But I did see the little clip or whatever they call it, the little snippets of the highlights. And pretty incredible. You know, it's unique for a guy that size and speed to be able to do some of the things he does. But over the last three years here, we saw those. You know, when you see practice, you see thousands more reps we've seen in a game. So we've seen some really freaky events by him. And to have those three in the same game, pretty spectacular.”

On reaching out to Sam Pittman and a previous opponent’s staff…

“Probably more as a position coach or a coordinator, that's a very common thing to try to reach out, talk to people, see if they got any nuggets, anything you can learn, they learned maybe in game, maybe how they look on the hoof, you know, pace of play, things like that. I think as coordinators you like to talk to the other team and you can share ideas and things like that. But as far as Sam and I, we text. But we text every so often anyway.”

On reaching out to Georgia players in the NFL…

“On the NFL front, I haven't talked to any of those guys. I try every now and then to shoot a guy a text when I think about them. And to be honest, it hits me more when I'm watching our tape, you know, a tape of us playing and one of them is on it. Meaning you go back and watch an opponent from the year before, watch the South Carolina game last year, and DK has a pick. And, you know, I send a text to him or, you know, watching Samford. Saw a Roquan Smith play at Samford and shoot a text to him. Thinking about him from when he was playing.

But not necessarily. Because I don't get to watch NFL games and communicate with those guys. But, I mean, as far as the upsets and stuff, guys, it really doesn't -- it's a part of college football. It can happen to anybody on any given day. And I really try to focus my attention on how we get better. That's all I concern myself with, is what are we going to do today at practice that gets us better. Because I'm not worried about tomorrow's practice or Saturday's game until I get through today's practice.”

On the defensive backfield…

“Yeah, Dan, he doesn't have a ton of experience. He got to play some last year. I don't know that he started any games. But he does -- he got to play in our dime package. So he gained some confidence from that. He's got two pretty good years of practice under his belt. Which usually in our system, you get to where you're comfortable and you don't require 100 percent of reps to get ready if you've been in the system two years. So Dan's in a position where we feel like he knows what to do. But Dan can still grow and get better as a player. Chris played a lot of football from us. We had the luxury of trying to help Chris take care of his body and have a good year and be productive by, you know, putting his reps at 75 percent. And then Malaki needs all the football he can play. He still hasn't seen everything, done everything. Tremendous talent and continues to stay level-headed and work really hard. Back there, David Daniel's a guy that I really think has had a good camp. He had some good plays against Oregon. He's shown confidence. He knows our defense. He's playing with more confidence and awareness. And we need him to keep getting better.”

On keeping a player engaged when not playing…

“Just honest with him. I mean, honesty is the best way to go about it. I mean, it's no different in the NFL. It's no different anywhere in production. Most of our kids know. I mean, they'll be the first to tell you that we're going to play the best players. And Malaki has earned that right. Dan's not upset about that. He's a team player. He gets it. Dan has a major role on our special teams units and he continues to play on defense. So you're one play away at all times. Those conversations are not hard or complicated.”

On the performances of Jackson Meeks and Dillon Bell…

“Jackson actually went in and played. And I thought Jackson did a good job in the moment. And Dillon got to play, as well. You know, it's hard to play just two or three wideouts in a game, especially early in the season when the temperature is as such and you're trying to get guys in game-condition. So we have a lot of guys that play at wideout. We've got several young players that are really talented. Dillon being one of those. They've got to grow up. And the best way to grow up is to go play. So we're going to keep getting those guys better and keep giving them more opportunities. They got to be able to play in the moment.”

On Arian Smith’s status…

“Yeah, Arian is coming back. He's been able to do some weight-bearing running. He's been hitting some good speeds. Hopefully he'll be able to get back -- we don't know when he's going to be back. It's doubtful he's back this week. But he is back running and he's not 100 percent. But excited for what he's been able to do. He's not cutting and breaking. He's only at altered G. He's getting better and you can see it in his eyes. He's getting healthier. We just got no idea when he's going to be back.”

#2 Smael Mondon | So. | ILB

On his excitement to play an SEC road game...

"I am really excited. I have heard that is a really good atmosphere. Their fans can get real loud. It is going to be a good environment, and I am excited for it."

On playing for Coach Will Muschamp...

"I love playing for Coach Muschamp. he is one of my favorite coaches. He has an energy to him that feeds off of him. Being around him makes me feel more confident, and he is going to get you fired up. He brings that juice."

On working through improvements each Monday...

"It wasn't a perfect game. We know that. There are always things you can clean up. You will never play a perfect game, but as long as you strive to be perfect, I feel like you are going to get better week in and week out.”

#70 Warren McClendon |Jr.| OL

On the offensive line…

“The first week I thought we played really well. Last week I don’t think we played to our standard. We have some things we need to fix, some things we need to prevent from happening and some pre-snap things we need to get better at. Just coming back in today, look at what we messed up on and get back to work.”

On being ranked No. 1…

“We really don’t pay attention to the ratings. We worry about getting better day-by-day and this upcoming game.”

On the stadium environment at South Carolina…

“I played at South Carolina my sophomore year. It was during Covid-19 so we didn’t get to experience ‘the sandstorm’ and all of that, but through recruitment I remember how the games used to be, so I’m pretty excited to play there.”

#63 Sedrick Van Pran | R-So. | OL

On how playing on the road affects communication with the quarterback…

"I definitely think it can be a factor especially, on the road in the SEC. I think there's a lot of great stadiums, you talk about South Carolina, Auburn, whoever it may be, those environments get really crazy and loud. They can cause some problems, being in those environments, but honestly, that's something that we work on that we practice throughout the week. We try to minimize those things.”

On the South Carolina defensive line…

“The thing that has stuck out most to me has to be their athletic ability, just pure God-given ability that those guys possess. I think they are extremely talented. They fit the stereotype for the type of guys you look for in the SEC. I think those guys are really talented.”

On the team’s ability in the ground game…

"I think it's a bit of everything. We left some things out there for sure, but I think in general, we lost a few things out there - pass protection, run protection. Just in general, we can be better, we will be better. That's something that we look forward to and something I'm excited about going into this week in practice.”

On the team’s mantra that speaks to him the most…

"I'm not even sure if I'm supposed to really share this, but just our biggest thing lately has been, 'Nobody cares about your feelings.' At the end of the day, whether you're hurt, you are tired from class, nobody really cares. At the end of the day, you're expected to do your job and that's just what it is.”