They Said It: Kirby Press Conference

ATHENS - Kirby Smart addressed the media on Monday ahead of Saturday’s game against Tennessee.

Opening Statement...

“We're excited for another great opportunity to play a really good team in Tennessee. We've always said around here ‘humility is a week away.’ When you talk about the SEC, you never get a chance to rest. All the teams we play are really good, well-coached teams. I've got a lot of respect for Tennessee. As you know, I played them over all the years that they were a common opponent when I was over in Tuscaloosa. I think Coach (Butch) Jones' staff and their team plays really hard and really physical. They were probably the most physical team we played last year as far as just coming right off the ball and hitting you in the mouth. On special teams they do a really good job, so we've got a great challenge in front of us. This team is a good football team, and we've got to show improvement at pretty much every position, especially from the last game. We’ve got to get after it this week and make sure our guys know what they're in store for, because it will be a physical, tough game, which Tennessee just played in as well. Our guys have got to be up for the challenge. (Tennessee has) got a lot of good players back.”

 

On Nick Chubb’s injury...

“He's going to continue to rehab really hard. We're obviously hopeful he'll be able to do something, but we won't know more until later in the week. But it is an ankle injury.”

 

On the greatest improvements within Tennessee’s program...

“The offensive and defensive lines. It's easy to say. I think they’ve always been able to get wideouts and get skill players, but the offensive and defensive lines, he's built a program around that. They've got a core group of offensive lineman. I don't know how many starts those guys have, but I swear they’ve got like 13 returning starters on offense. They’ve got guys at multiple positions who have all started depending on what personnel grouping they're in. I remember two years ago going and playing this team in Knoxville and they were really physical then. They were really physical last year and they're that way this year. So he's built it around the offensive and defensive lines, which I think is the best way to build a program. Their defensive line is a lot bigger than it's ever been. They’ve got some good players in there.”

 

On developing a game plan based on line play...

“I think it's hard to scheme around fundamentals of football, and I think blocking and tackling are the number one things that you have to be able to do in football. Right now we're not a really good tackling defense. We had 15 something missed tackles in the last game. And to your point, the offensive line, we’ve got to be able to block really well. That’s important. That's a key cog in order to be able to run the ball. We actually improved in that area against Ole Miss. It was all the other areas that imploded on us. To try to cover that up, you don't cover that up. You confront it. You go get better at it. You practice it. You go against really good people. You play physical. You practice physical. You live physical. That's the way you improve that with the guys you’ve got.”

 

On moving past the Ole Miss game...

“I wouldn't say forget. Today is a learning day for us. Some guys got to watch tape yesterday on their own, and a lot of them feel bad about it. We do have the 24-hour rule. Today is going to be about Tennessee and getting better. We'll have some corrections for things we might see again. I don't think you ever forget it. You learn from it and you advance and you move on. You can't let that set you down for too long. You’ve got to move on. Like I said, humility is a week away. When you play a team like Tennessee, they better get over it quick because they’ve got to go out and compete and get ready for a physical, tough game.”

 

On the play of Elijah Holyfield and the running back rotation...

“He did a nice job. I thought Brian Herrien did a nice job. I thought Sony (Michel) did a nice job. I think getting Elijah (Holyfield) some experience in-game was valuable. Really we had been wanting to do that. It wasn't that we were holding back, just only so many guys you can get carries to. With Nick (Chubb’s) injury, we didn't know at the time whether or not if he was going to be able to play this week. We still really don't. So we were sitting there going, ‘We better get Elijah ready.’ And he did a nice job coming in, catching the ball out of the backfield, running the ball. He runs really hard and runs with good toughness.’ I've challenged those freshman guys. They've got to help us more on special teams. They’re size and speed guys. They're both 200-plus pounds and they run fast. We don't have enough guys on special teams that can do that. They can, but they’ve just never done it before. We're needing their help and we expect Elijah to play a role certainly on offense.”

 

On the play of Tyler Catalina...

“Well, he's working to get used to playing against these kind of players. He gets it in practice and during camp. We try to simulate that. They do a lot of things in practice to go against whether it's a speed or power rusher. We've worked him at right tackle, left tackle, guard. So he goes against all type players so that when he gets in the game he's got some experience doing it. We all know the in-game experience is invaluable. Can't get enough of that. He's had some trial by fire. He's got to go out there and compete and do it against good players. The guys, (Marquis) Haynes, Charles Harris, those guys he's gone against will prepare him to go against the guys he will go against in the future. It's every week. Part of the reason he came to this league is that there is a really good pass rusher every week we play against.”

 

On the play of Lorenzo Carter...

“Lorenzo has worked hard. We're going to continue to work with him. He's got to continue to practice more physical, practice better. The kid wanted to make those plays. He didn't not want to make them. It's a situation where he came free on one and he did a nice job playing a run play and he came out of it and just missed the quarterback on it. We're going to work hard at everybody tackling better, especially in space, and finishing on the quarterback. Because when you play a quarterback that's athletic, a lot of times you don't temper your enthusiasm when you arrive in the pocket. (Chad Kelly) was good at making people miss. Same as this week (with Josh Dobbs). You get a free shot at a guy, you’ve got to be under control and be able to make the play. So I think Lorenzo is going to come out and accept the challenges we've issued to him and get better. He's got no choice but to get better. He has to work on it, work on his trade, just like a lot of guys do at a lot of positions in our program.”

 

On team morale...

“Yeah, morale wasn't up coming home. Shouldn't be. We just took a tough defeat. (Morale) Wasn't good, but it's improved. We got to see some of the guys yesterday. They came over and stopped by. That's a big part of today. Part of my job is making sure they understand that that loss has been put behind us. We’ve got a great challenge in front of us playing another really good football team that's good in a lot of areas. The focus will be on that and not on the perceived morale of when we came back from the game.”

 

On Jonathan Ledbetter’s availability...

“No, he will not be available this week.”

 

On Tennessee’s Derek Barnett...

“First of all, he's a phenomenal athlete and he's big, so when you’ve got a big, athletic guy, he can play a lot of positions. They can move him around. He's a dominant rusher, plays the run well. Really not a lot that you can say the guy does poorly. When you have a guy like that, you’ve got to know where he is at all times. The center has to know, quarterback has to know, tackle has got to know. It's really not easy to game plan because they can move him around. So it's more of an ‘I’m up to the challenge.’ When this guy is here, you’ve got to know where his presence is at all times, because (Tennessee defensive coordinator) Coach (Bob) Shoop and them do a good job of using him. He's a talented rusher.”

 

On facing Tennessee’s receiving corps...

“They’ve got big wideouts and they've recruited to that size and that speed. Again, these guys have been there for a while. I've seen them for a long time. The guy that's really impressive is Jauan Jennings. He is tough, he is physical, he enjoys blocking, and I think that's a credit to the job they do with them. Josh Smith has been there for a long time. Makes a lot of plays. Josh Malone is a great player. They have Preston Williams. They have big, big receivers. It's another challenge for us to go up and make some plays and get some guys in the game that can compete and fight to make the plays down the field. Because ultimately you're going to be in those opportunities, those situations where you've got to win some one-on-one battles out there, and we’ve got do a better job of doing that.”

 

On lessons learned facing Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly that could help against Josh Dobbs this week...

“I think the biggest thing is finishing on the quarterback when you get a chance, because you're not going to get a whole bunch of chances on these guys. When you get your opportunities, you’ve got to make them count. You can't miss them. You’ve got to finish on the quarterback. You try to limit the opportunities they get by getting off the field on third down. I think that was a big part of our game plan last week, but also this week. When you get somebody in second-and-long, you’ve got to force them into third-and-long and get off the field. A big part of that is third down conversions. Limiting his opportunities is important. Josh Dobbs is a phenomenal player who plays the game with heart and energy. He plays with a great toughness. They ask him to run the ball up the middle, he does it. Ask him to run outside, he does it. He's become a much better passer over the last two years than the first year we played against him.”

 

On momentum built in the second half against Ole Miss...

“Well, I don't know that it carries over. I mean, I think when you’ve got a defeat like that, the big part was that they came out and fought and battled and they competed. It was important to them to score. It was important to them to get the backs in there, and the backs ran hard. I think that part was really what I wanted to see out of them, was no quit, fight your tail off, and keep battling. As far as momentum, I wouldn't say it created any momentum.”

 

On any positives from last week’s loss...

“The silver lining is you get another opportunity to play a good team this week. The opportunity that we have looking forward is what we're fired up about. I mean, the best thing we can do is look forward and continue to develop our players to get better. My end goal is for each guy to play his best game this game. That's what we want. That's all we can focus on right now, is ‘what do I have to do to play better?’ The areas we are deficient in, how do we improve them? That's what we're focused on this week.”

 

On how to limit big plays from the opposing offenses...

“Tackle. Tackle better. I mean, the offenses we play, they get explosive plays on everybody. It's more about limiting those. Like you mentioned, how do I give up less? If we tackle better and you take nine of the 15 missed tackles away, then you take away about seven big plays. I think that's the most important thing. Great defenses are built around tackling and getting the other team to turn the ball over. We didn't tackle well. They're going to hit some down-the-field plays. They're going to be one-on-one and hit some. But you’ve got to tackle them when the ball breaks out of stack, and you’ve got to do the great job of limiting the opportunities to hit those big plays, and we didn't do that Saturday. So we’ve got to do a better job of that.”

 

On the role of Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy in stopping Tennessee’s running game...

“The role for those guys is to play really physical. Sometimes both those guys can't be on the field. Tennessee has a big offensive front. They run the ball well. The role was for them to do their job. Their job might be to strike the tight end, might be to strike the tackle. Both those guys are 240, 245 pounds and they've got to play against bigger people. They’ve got to be able to hold up when they play against bigger people, especially in the run game. They don't get any smaller in the SEC the rest of the way. The whole outside backer group has got to be able to match up and play against tight ends and tackles on a consistent basis in a big league.”

 

On Les Miles and LSU...

“I'll be dead honest with you. I don't have a whole lot to talk about. I know Les. Les is a great man, good person. I respect Les and the job he's done in this profession. I think he's a very great kind of ambassador for our league. I hate what's happened. But I'll say this: Les has been nothing but good to me and he's a great person. But I’ve got to focus on Tennessee obviously.”

 

On D’Andre Walker’s play...

“He's a guy we talked a lot about yesterday. Interesting you brought it up. He's playing good in (the secondary). He's playing really hard. He doesn't play as many snaps as those other guys so it's a situation of where he maxed out snap-wise. Right now he's getting 15 to 20 (snaps), whereas the first game he didn't get that many. (He has) gone up each week in snaps because he's played better. We will continue to develop him. He plays hard and runs fast. He's not the biggest guy. He does play hard and play physical, and that's what we're looking for. That's the challenge for our team this week. We're going to put the best guys out there that will go out and compete and play physical.”

 

On the importance of the home field advantage this week...

“We're going to need the fans to help us defensively when Tennessee is out there to make it really hard on them. They really haven't played on the road. They played a neutral site game that was in a large stadium, but really haven't played truly on the road. That's got to have an effect. We need a packed house to affect their offense and their ability to communicate, and then we need the ability for our guys to communicate offensively. I think the enthusiasm and the juice they bring helps our team. They feed off that. They feed off the energy. We’ve got to go out and do our part by playing good and keeping the crowd into it, but that can play a big part in this game, which I think will help us tremendously.”

 

On the receiving corps and problems catching passes...

“Well, it's something we’ve got to do a better job of. We challenge those guys every day and try to put them in tough situations. We're trying to make those receivers make the tough catches, which we struggle with. We’ve dropped some balls this year. I think we had five or six in this game that we counted as drops, and that's frustrating. Two of those could have been game changers, momentum changers. That's the most frustrating thing about that game was the opportunities missed could have changed the game. Most games you can say that in, so it's no different than this one. We'll continue to challenge them. That receiver group is a work in progress because we want them to be physical. We want them to play hard. We want them to go catch the balls. We're working hard at it with them. I'm on those guys every day to challenge each other and compete in that room. It's one of major rooms we’ve got to improve in.”

 

On what he remembers about playing against Tennessee...

“They were very dominant. Peyton (Manning) was here and Tee Martin, both really good quarterbacks, really good offenses; very power-based, good-run offenses. It's a great rivalry. It's what college football is all about. It's a pretty balanced rivalry. It's gone kind of in cycles back and forth traditionally, but I’ve got a lot of respect for their program. To be honest with you, it's what the SEC is about, these kind of rivalry games.”

 

On Isaiah McKenzie’s play against Ole Miss...

“They did a good job game planning on Isaiah, especially from a receiver's standpoint, which we expected. We had some plays in to complement him. Some of them we weren't able to hit. Some hit and dropped and just didn't get. But he'll continue to see more defenses like that. But, again, he's a competitor. He'll go compete. A lot of times it's not necessarily the scheme of the play or ticking them with Isaiah. It's blocking the right guy and getting Isaiah in one-on-one matchups. If he can get one-on-one in space we like our chances. It's when they get two-on-one or we don't block one of the two that we get in trouble. So we'll continue to use him and he'll continue to compete and do it. We didn't do a good job getting him the ball in this game, but a lot of that had to do with what they did.”

 

On Tennessee’s Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen...

“The fact they've got two (strong ends) helps tremendously. You can't focus on one, slide to one all the time. (Barnett) is a dominate pass rusher. He's what this league has been known for for so long. He's just another one of those guys that when you look out there you say, I got to have one of those. The teams that have those, even the guy at Florida, (Caleb) Brantley. A lot of teams have that dominant guy that changes the game for the offense. Hard to block. Well, they’ve got him and Vereen, who are really good players. When you got two of that caliber it's tough to game plan for. Again, you’ve got to do a good job blocking and tackling in order to be good at the fundamentals. That's what Saturday is going to come down to - who blocks and tackles the best and makes the plays at critical times.”


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