Dean Legge/Dawg Post

They Said It: Kirby Talks Auburn

ATHENS - Georgia coach Kirby Smart addressed media on Monday ahead of Saturday's game against Auburn.

Opening statement … 

“We got back really late the other night and we are pushing the envelope to get ready for today's practice for Auburn. They obviously have a really good football team. They know how to run the ball. We have a lot of respect for Gus (Malzahn) and his staff. Obviously, I know the defensive coordinator (Kevin Steele) well. I've worked with him for a long time. They are a very talented football game. They do a good job coaching them. They play hard, play really good on special teams, really good on defense and really good on offense. So it's a great challenge for us. We're looking forward to getting back home, and we're looking forward to having an awesome turnout and a great atmosphere to play in.”

On any updates regarding injuries after Kentucky game … 

“That was a real physical game. I guess all SEC games are and this one will be, too. We have a lot of guys beat up, banged and bruised. We're trying to get each one back as healthy as we can. The only guy that I can tell you will definitely be out is Jayson Stanley with his foot injury. The other guys, each one, I do think will be back or have a shot to be back. Questionable would be (Daquan) Hawkins-Muckle. Rest of those guys should be back.”

On preparing for running back Kamryn Pettway and the Auburn rushing attack … 

“Any time you play a good football team, you want to play against the best players. Again, we have to prepare as if he's going to be there. Whether he's there or not, they know how to run the ball. Trust me. They did it at the beginning of the year sometimes without him.He was a kid that I personally recruited out of Prattville, and he was a really good player. We offered him at the University of Alabama and thought he was a good player. I always thought that he could be a good running back, and he proved that to be correct. He's a real physical, downhill runner. So whether he plays or not, they run the ball downhill. They are going to have ways to do that, whether it's with a quarterback, another running back, another guy. They're creative, they know what they're doing. This isn't their first time with a running back injured. So we have to prepare either way.The number one thing we've got to do is worry about us. We've got to tackle. They've got good people to tackle, whether it's him or somebody else. We've got to tackle better and strike blockers and play backs better. They are really good at running the ball.”

On offering Rodrigo Blankenship a scholarship and the hype after the game-winning field goal … 

“To be honest with you, the last 24 hours have been all work and no play. I haven't noticed the social media aspect. As far as the other part of your question, we determine that kind of stuff at the end of the year. We look at the whole, where we are at, go through recruiting. We're obviously in hot pursuit of some good specialists because that is an area that we've got to improve on. That will be based off how he finishes up, the whole picture. He's certainly done a great job and gained a lot of confidence, which I'm fired up about.”

On how quarterback Jacob Eason handled himself this past Saturday … 

“Well, his maturation process is what's most important and him improving week to week. Obviously, he's played different calibers of defenses. That's had a big factor on it. We know this defense is really good. So he's got to play within the system. He's got to understand to put us in the right plays, to make the right decision with the ball. Sometimes that's throwing the ball away. Sometimes that's not throwing it into coverage. So he continues to improve at that. We're challenging him to do that. I hope playing at home helps him a little bit from the noise standpoint. That's always a factor communication wise. Not really his composure, but just communication tends to go smoother when he's able to play at home. I'm hoping all that helps him have a good game.”

On the status of Kirby Choates … 

“Kirby is focusing on academics right now. Kind of a joint decision. He was struggling with some things. We wanted him to focus on the academics, and he's been doing that.”

On Auburn’s rushing game and how quarterback John Franklin III fits in … 

“They are running the ball at a success rate that I don't know that is comparable because it's staggering numbers. I read somewhere where three or four of their largest offensive outputs in the history of the school have been this year. And they are really physical. Franklin brings a dynamic of speed. He's got a speed element that is unmatched. I mean, the guy is 4 by 100 relay at Florida State before he leaves. That tells you enough that he's really fast. He brings a new dynamic. But they are good at running it because they are stubborn at doing it and they do it really fast. And they kind of always been that way, but they are doing at a clip now that's kind of untouched.”

On winning on the road and homefield advantage … 

“I don't think it's anything about home or away. I think it's the demeanor in which you approach those games. I think it's important that we try to keep a routine for a game. And whether it's home or away, we try to keep the same routine in making sure the players have the same amount of free time or rest time or focus time, trying to keep that consistent from a home game to a road game. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes on the road game, you get away from things more. You get isolated more. As far as that goes, I think the crowd obviously is a difference and the momentum of the crowd is big at home. I think that helps.”

On moving Isaiah Wynn over after Tyler Catalina went out with an injury … 

“Isaiah went out and did a nice job. He reps there every week. We talked about it in practice. We do a rotation where we have scenarios played out where if any guy goes down, we know how to mix and mingle those guys. So it was not unique to have to play that way. We'll continue to have guys compete in practice to try to figure out who the best five are, like we always do. And that will continue. But, I mean, Isaiah has to get reps out there just in case something happens to Greg (Pyke) or Tyler. So that will continue from that regard.”

On Georgia’s offensive identity … 

“I think it's been definitely mixed feelings when you are in two back. Because we've had games we've really done well. The other night, you could argue we ran the ball really well out of a two back and two tight end sets. We ran the ball well. We were able to do that. We have not always been successful in spread sets. I think some people -- I think some media get mis-portrayed with two-minute in spread. There's two different dynamics there. Teams play different coverages before the half. Teams play different defenses at the end of the game. So if you say just look at the opportunities you've been in, opened up sets in the first half when it didn't matter, that's not necessarily true that we have always been successful. We have a game plan every game we go in, just like every team does, that you have three wide sets and you are able to run certain plays out of them. We have those. If those work, then I'm great with it, especially if we're not successful in the other. But we have to do what the strengths of our team are. And sometimes that's two back, sometimes it's not. It really depends on what's working. What I don't want to do is be just one or just the other. That's where I say the balance and the creativity has got to come through. If we were just successful all the time in three wide sets, I think we would be in that. But that's not always the case. We have not always been that way.”

On where John Atkins fits in as a leader for the defensive line … 

“He is the veteran. He is the leader of the group. He's a tough kid and his role has increased tremendously because of the loss of those body types. I mean, he's the one guy that I say can play block protection, can strike blockers. We've used him a lot this year. You would like to have a rotation. He's kind of the better guy at stopping the run. He's improved his stamina. He's improved his weight down a little bit so he can play more snaps. But certainly he's a valuable asset for us because he's unsung hero of that group because he doesn't get a lot of stats.”

On Jacob Eason being calm during late-game situations … 

“I think it's an opportunity to gain confidence. He's a kid that the more he plays in a game, I think the more confident he gets. He understands what the defense is trying to do to him. Week to week we get different looks. People play us different in two backs, then they play us in one back, they play us three wides. We try to find out early how they are doing that and build our game plan off of what they are doing. Everybody is kind of taking a different approach to stopping us in those looks. But he gains more confidence as he goes. He's got a long way to go. He's got to improve. He's got to improve communication, decision making and that's the parts that we continue to grow in that area. But I certainly think these opportunities at the end of the game give him a chance to show leadership and gain the confidence of the other players.”

On the progression of wide receiver Javon Wims …

“I think he's been progressing throughout the year. I don't look at it as a big outlier. I see him every day in practice. He had a really good off week before the Florida game. He worked hard to play well in the Florida game. Didn't get a lot of opportunities, but he's a kid that we've got confidence him and he's gaining trust. I mean, he and Jacob are gaining a rapport with each other that helps and that will only grow over time. Initially he didn't get the spring ball, he didn't get the spring practice. He didn't get a lot of the time. So it's been a work if progress for him to gain confidence and trust in the system and know what's going on. He's gotten better each week.”

On the rivalry with Auburn … 

“It's one of best. I mean, it's one of greatest rivalries in college football, when you talk about Georgia and Auburn. I think historically it's been very balanced. I mean, there's some similarities in the two stadiums, similarities in the programs. I mean, you look at Coach Dooley, Coach Dye, where they came from, there's a tie that bonds. It's an interesting rivalry. It's always heated. It never ends because it goes on recruiting trail. Both schools recruit the same area primarily. I mean, it's an interesting deal. And they got a great program and I certainly think we do too. So it makes for great college football.”

On the improvement of the freshman class … 

“I think every game a guy shows improvement, but he also shows that moment of being a freshman. Every kid has that. There's not been a guy that's played a perfect game as a freshman, probably won't ever be. I met with just that group on Sunday after the Florida game and I expressed to them how much they needed to focus on the stretch run because they are integral part of this team. I think there were 19 of them in this room when I met with them. They are still in that youth of I've got plenty of time here. They are really playing for the senior class. It's important that they understand that they take every moment, every rep serious because you are playing for guys in front of you that it could be their last season. So I think that sometimes freshmen hit a wall. We're trying to put our arm around those guys right now and say you can't hit the wall because you are really not a freshman anymore. You are an integral part of this team, you're starting on every special teams, you are playing a ton of snaps. There's a lot of those guys playing that we've got to keep getting better and show improvement with.”

On success of Auburn’s running game and teaching defensive backs to be disciplined … 

“We call it eye discipline. Your eye discipline has to be on your responsibility. We had some problems with that the other night where a guy looks at the wrong thing and the ball pops out on him. If you keep your edges and keep the ball inside the pen, then you send it to another defender. In theory, you should always have two people there to make the tackle and not be in one-on-one situations. But a lot of times guys get mesmerized by emotion or some kind of window dressing, the next thing you know their eyes are in the wrong spot and you don't leverage things properly. Or a guy runs a wheel route down the sideline and you don't see him. It's why they do it. So we talk about discipline all the time. You have got to have disciplined eyes to play defense Auburn. They do a great job of misdirection stuff.”

On the creativity of Georgia’s rushing attack … 

“You are talking about being able to run the ball. Again, a lot of that is based on not only who we are or what we run, but who we play. The bottom line is the bigger and more physical they are out there, the harder they are to move. We have to be creative. We have to have the right runs into the right fronts. We have to be stubborn enough to be able to run those. But at the same time allow Jacob to use his strengths and use the wide outs. This is a really good Auburn defense. They have played really well against the run, really well against the pass. They have stopped people. We have to find ways to be able the run the ball, find ways to be creative and get some plays or easy throws. But that's not easy to do. When you watch their defense, they have got a good defense. But to answer your question, against Kentucky we were able to run it efficiently because we got a hat on a hat. If you get a hat on a hat, you like to think your back can win on their one tackler for three or four yards. When we did what we were supposed to do, we got a hat on a hat, we usually had a successful play. When we didn't, they stopped us.”

On how big this weekend is for recruiting …

“Recruiting is always a big part of every game, but especially the bigger home games. It certainly builds up that way. It will be no different for us. We have a designated plan. I've got a certain amount of time before the game, before I meet with officials and meet with the players that we designate for recruiting times, which is a couple of hours. And we've got time after the game, because there's not a lot that we can do with our players after the game. So we get a chance to visit and share time with those recruits and their families and make sure they understand the importance they have to us and they have a good, positive experience while they're here.”

On Uga V leaping at Auburn wide receiver Robert Baker in 1996 … 

“No, I didn't notice it. I don't remember it at all. I remember the posters and the pictures that are all over everywhere. I didn't at the time notice it.”

On the sideline warning calls at Kentucky … 

“It's just passionate energy and trying to help the kids play well. Maybe they can't hear me, maybe they can. There are certainly things that we're trying to help them with to play good and execute. I'll take the blame for the warning. It was actually a penalty. There was a warning and then a penalty. So I mean, really doesn't matter that we had it. At the end of the day, it's on all of us.”

On Auburn defensive lineman Carl Lawson … 

“He's a dynamic pass rusher, dynamic player. The challenge is knowing where he's at. They have been creative and moved him around. That frees him up to do more, kind of expand his role, where he's not in one place all the time. If you are in one place all the time, obviously you can find ways to protect him. They do a good job moving him around. You can't put yourself in situations where he's at his most dynamic. He's at his most dynamic when they know you have to pass the ball. That's when he's at his best. You try to avoid those. If you want some balance and you don't want to be in situations where they know you have to pass the ball.”

On Auburn’s offensive play calling with Rhett Lashlee … 

“Not a big change. I think those two have been together so long, they know what each other's wants. They think very similar. So many years together, having played for him, coached with him, been everywhere with him. Rhett does a great job, always has. He's a really good recruiter, he's a good developer of talent. I mean, Rhett calls a good game. Whether it's he or Gus or suggestions are being made, I think that's way overrated. They have an offensive system they believe in and they go a good job with it.” 


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