"It's Georgia week this week. We got started off with a good practice. You can tell that the intensity in the players really changes when you get to the last two games of the year here. It's important, not just for the fans, alumni, and the coaches, but it's really important for the players because they really get into it. They know a lot of the guys on each team and this week it's the guys from Georgia's turn and they always look forward to it.
"We had a good practice today. We worked a lot today, obviously, on all phases, but we are starting to get a few people back. There are a few guys that are doubtful for the game. Obviously, we can't go through a game without getting someone hurt this year. Merrill Johnson broke his hand and is doubtful for this game and we hope that he will be able to get back for the last game. We had Montez Billings break his nose and he will probably be out for this game, but hopefully he'll have an opportunity to get back for the last game. It's just been one of those years. But we're excited. Like I said, the players had a good practice today. We had Tez Doolittle and Antonio Coleman back. We had Sen'Derrick Marks back on the field and it's good to see them. We're going to need those guys on the field going into these last couple of games.
"Georgia is probably one of the most potent offenses that I've seen in a long time in college football. With the skill players that they have at quarterback, wide receiver, running back and fullback, there is a reason that they were the preseason number one pick in the country.
"They had some injuries in the offensive line, but that hasn't kept them from scoring a lot of touchdowns. They are dangerous. When you are balanced like that, they can give you all kinds of problems. So, our defense, as every defense that they've faced this year, has their hands full. You pick your poison, so to speak, on what you want to try to stop and how you want to play them. We've watched all the films on who they've played this year and everybody has tried everything against them. Some things have worked and some have not. They really have been their own worst enemy when they've stopped themselves. But again, they are a good football team with a lot of speed on offense.
"Their quarterback is as good as I've seen in college football in a long time and he's got some receivers who can catch it. And, of course, when you go to their running game, which we saw up close and personal last year in the fourth quarter, we had a very tough time stopping their running back and their fullback. It's going to be a big challenge for our defense.
"Their defense has a lot of speed and they are not quite as big as they've been in the past. They have given up a few points, but it's been because people have done a good job of executing against them. There is really no difference when we've gone back and looked at last year's game on both sides of the ball and a lot of the same guys are playing and it's kind of a mirror image of what they have done in the past. They do a good job of coaching on both sides of the ball. The kicking game is going to be a huge challenge and we look forward to it this week at 11:30."
Who will start in Montez Billings' place this week?
"It'll be any one of the guys. We could move Rod Smith around into his place or Chris Slaughter. Of course, those guys play backing each other up. What we've done in the past few weeks is that every receiver plays every position. So, he was out there today, but we'll just have to wait and see if he will be able to do anything. But with what we are doing, he's going to need to get some practice time in. He has got a better chance than Merrill (Johnson) with getting in, but he is one guy that does have some experience. He's played in some big games, but it's unfortunate that he got hurt."
Do you see a renewed energy in the guys going into these next two
"When you get to these two games, you can count on some intensity with both teams and on both sides. As I said earlier, when you've got carry-over players that you've played against, or you know guys and there are families involved, it always makes it a little bit more of an emotional, special occasion. Since we've been here, going on our tenth game against Georgia, it's a fun game with the fans, also. They really get into it. There is always a lot of interest in the game. It really doesn't make a lot of difference when you play this game. The stands are always filled and there's always a little extra incentive on both sides."
Can a win(s) salvage this season?
"Well, when you get to this point, that's the reason that a lot of these players chose to come here, because they wanted to play either against Georgia or Alabama. I don't know whether you would call it ‘salvage' for us. When you lose five games, we are not used to it and you are still going to have that knot in your stomach, but it sure would ease the feelings a little bit going into these next few games. We just want to play better. We didn't give ourselves much of a chance in some of the games that we've played, but this will probably be the best team that we've played so far. It will be a challenge for what we are doing on offense and defense, but we are getting back healthier. I think that we have a better chance to play better on both sides of the ball with guys back on the field."
With Merrill Johnson out, will Adam Herring become the top backup?
"Adam and Spencer (Pybus). Of course Chris (Evans) plays mostly every position and so we could look at that. But Adam will obviously have to play some."
When is the last time that you can remember that most of the team was
"The last time that we had everybody back and healthy was the first quarter of the Vanderbilt game. We've gone back and looked at where we were at and how we were doing and, up until that point, we were playing pretty well. And in that game we lost Sen'Derrick (Marks), and much of the last few games we haven't been 100%. And when Jerraud Powers went down, we lost an opportunity to play nickel and dime defense, like we had in the first few games. You lose two guys that are a major part of your front seven and your secondary and you have a little bit of a problem. I had to make a couple of adjustments. Players had to play some positions that they weren't used to and it cut back on our execution. But everybody has injuries and you just have to work through it."
Has this game lost any of its luster?
"It maybe has nationally. They were picked as the preseason number one and were hoping for better things, but they've had injuries and it didn't quite work out for them or us. They were picked to win the East and we were picked to win the West. I would think, for BCS rankings and all those things, it would affect the game, but it doesn't affect the alumni, the fans, or anybody else that is directly involved in this game every year, or the players or coaches. Everybody wants to play well in this game. We haven't been successful since being over there a couple of years ago. We made a big play at the end of the game to win the game, but this is usually a hard-fought game, very physical and I think that this might be their fourth game in a row on the road. So, it's good to have it here. I know that in the past, the home team has lost this game, but I think that's just been coincidence. We're looking forward to playing at home."
With Kodi Burns progressing, how do you see him matching up against the
"I'm sure that they'll look at our film and look at how we moved the ball last week and Kodi's presence with running the football. They gave up some yards last week against a quarterback that was scrambling around and breaking routes, but they'll make adjustments. They'll probably do a couple of different things in the secondary on how to contain the quarterback or whatever. But we'll put in our game plan and try to match whatever they do and make adjustments as we go. They did have a problem last week with a quarterback that was very mobile."
Are the players aware of the eight-year bowl run?
"Yeah we haven't even talked about it. It's been a situation each week where I haven't brought it up because there is no sense putting more pressure on them than what they have had on them. I want them to relax and play. We put a game plan in and try to play better each week. We've just been trying to improve and even last week against a 1-AA team there were times when we weren't hitting on all cylinders. You would hope that the end of the year that you have got in the regular season that the incentive and the sense of urgency that we didn't have the first half last week would be there all four quarters. I think a lot of that had to do with we didn't put a lot of credence into playing that game last week other than just going out there and playing it and playing better and winning the game. There will be a bigger sense of urgency, or has been with the coaching staff and players obviously going into this game because who they are playing and what it means to everybody involved."
What do you remember about last year's game in Athens?
"It was a tough game. It was out eleventh game in a row. We were tired. Our guys were mentally and physically tired. I thought going into the game we had a great game plan. We played pretty well at times. We came back and tied it up. We played well in the second quarter. In the third quarter, we played pretty well. We gave up a couple of long pass plays that really got us in a bind and then we started missing tackles. It kind of got away from us. It was one of those where you get behind and you fight to get back, even up. It looked like we let our guard down a little bit. We were a little tired mentally and physically going into the eleventh straight game and that was a tough scenario for our players. I thought we played well enough to win the first three quarters, but we didn't the fourth quarter. It just got away from us."
Talk about your relationship with Coach (Mark) Richt after going on the
Middle East trip with him this past summer…
"Mark and I have known each other for a long time. We've crossed paths recruiting. We actually worked together for about a week at East Carolina. I was on the defensive side of the ball for Bill Lewis, and he was on the offensive side. This summer was very good. We sat down and talked a lot on the planes flying or different places. We had many hours on a plane to have the opportunity to do that, and on the ships or in cars. We talked about seasons and games, but Mark and I have known each other for I guess 25 years. He's doing a good job. He has worked his way up, and he's been on the verge. He thought possibly this could be the year this year but sometimes things don't work out that way. Sometimes there are things that you can't avoid. I haven't talked to him this year but I'm sure we'll have a pretty good discussion about that before the game."
Do you use anything from the game last season as motivation for this
"You really don't need it for a game like this. I wouldn't think on either side. I would think that sometimes maybe if you get the momentum that could help you, but we don't use any special things for this game or the Iron Bowl. We kind of lean on our seniors. We have a lot of players on this team from Georgia and vice versa for two weeks from now when we play Alabama. These are player games. They all get up for them. We haven't played a game against Georgia or Alabama that our guys weren't ready to play. These two games are a lot easier on the coaches than the one last week or a couple of those that we played earlier. These are much easier to prepare for because as I said earlier you have to have a sense of urgency not just 15 minutes before kickoff. You have to have it all week during practice and in meetings. Everybody has to be into it more and listening and doing things that they need to do a little more attentive to get the job done."
Is this game different for the coaching staff?
"Yeah, over the years I've had coaches from Georgia. Coach (Hugh) Nall always gets into it. Of course he was a center there on the National Championship team in 1980. He has a lot of friends that he gets lots of phone calls from. He doesn't take many phone calls this week from all his buddies over there because they usually want to make predictions. Even at Ole Miss, we have had some great games against Georgia. He takes it personally."
Will the passing of Virgil Starks have an effect on the players?
"Yeah, Virgil has been like a second father to all these guys. He was actually closer to them a lot of times than we are as coaches. He was around them a lot more in study halls, sitting down in meetings, talking about different things other than X's and O's, talking about life, what they have to do to get their degree and how to handle themselves. He was a personal mentor to all these players. It‘s been tough on them. It really has. It's an emotional situation when people are in your lives every day like your mother, father, brother or sister. That is how close this relationship is and all of a sudden one minute he is here and the next minute he's not. He's around the players every day. He was a stern guy. He wielded a strong fist so to speak. He was very direct in how he wanted things handled. He didn't take anything off them. That's the kind of guy he was but that's the kind of job that that is. A lot of them come here and think that the first thing they want to do is be good football players. The first thing he wants them to understand is that they are going to be better people and get degrees.
"I thought he did a great job. He was very close to the players. He could get close to them, but he could also separate himself from them. That's a good leader. It's really going to affect our team. I think that these guys will play for Virgil, and we are going to have a sticker on our helmets that is going to have his initials. I think in the long run once they settle in and understand when they are in academic meetings and study halls and all those, he's not around and that stern voice is going to be missed. I think that is going to be a tremendous effect on all the athletes, not just our football players."