UGA Football: Smart, Bulldogs Preview Missouri Game

ATHENS, Ga. — University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, previewed the upcoming game against Missouri with media on Monday. The No. 4-ranked Bulldogs take on the Tigers at 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Sanford Stadium.

Smart and the Bulldogs offered the following comments on Monday.

Head Coach Kirby Smart 
Opening comments … 
“We are excited to get a game at home — Homecoming. It’s another night game. We are expecting our crowd to be extremely loud and turn out in forces, and we need them. This is an extremely high-powered offense, extremely explosive. When you watch the tape you see the reason they are. You watch our tape against them last year, we gave up more explosives in this game than we did any other time last last year. To be honest, offensively, they have only stopped themselves. Not many people have really stopped them as far as yardage. They do a good job on defense — I think Barry (Odom) always has — of giving negative yardage plays, lost yardage plays. They do a good job with their front and we struggled to block them last year. So, we have a good opponent to get ready for. It will be a good challenge for us. Obviously, their record does not indicate how good they are, and we know that as coaches. Our job is to get that message to our players.”

On where the defense is as far as taking on the challenge of Missouri’s offense … 
“We just have to play well. We have to play much better than we did last week. We’ve got to have a good week of practice. I hope last week got our attention that a good quarterback that is accurate that knows where to throw the football can attack a defense. That is certainly what Mizzou has based on Vanderbilt as far as the quarterback making decisions and processing things. I think this kid (Drew Lock) has as strong as an arm as anybody in the league. He has two really outstanding wide outs, not to mention some big tight ends. They do a great job at the RPO game. They were very hard to defend last year and they are very hard to defend this year. Again, they stop themselves. People don’t stop them. They’ve stopped themselves with turnovers, so we’ve got to have a good plan and we’ve got to play well.”

On how he would evaluate Georgia’s secondary through six games when it comes to one-on-one situations … 
“Some good, some bad. With the 50/50 balls we have probably won more than 50 percent of them. We’ve had a good chance there to get the ball down and make some big plays in the Mississippi State game — you know Tennessee, when the ball was in the air we made plays on it. We did not do that all the time the other day. We were not in as near as tight of coverage, so you win some you lose some, which with the style of play that we play you have to win more than you lose and you’ve got to affect the quarterback some. So, as far as the evaluation, it is up and down depending on what game, what moment, what player.”

On how senior running back Nick Chubb is playing and if he should be considered for more national awards … 
“That is not for me to judge. I am not here to lobby for anybody. I certainly love Nick and I love our entire offensive backfield. They work so hard. I tell them all the time that the thing that sticks out to me is that the teams that win you get more individual accolades. Together everyone achieves more — that is what team stands for. If everybody wins then at the end of the day the accolades will come. So, I think he is focused on that. He knows whatever is best for the team helps. Sony (Michel) is the guy that nobody talks about and he has had one of the best couple of runs we have had all year. He was really productive the other day. I think they those guys obviously take away from each other when it comes to national recognition because they do not get the carries. but they do not care about that. The reason they came back was to win and that is the ultimate goal. Right now, they are helping us achieve that.”

On how they map out the five running back rotation … 
“It’s the way the game plays out. If it is a tighter ball game you might not see that many. We are big on getting a back lathered up, getting him going and playing. Unfortunately, that does not get to include everybody unless you are in a special circumstance, which does not happen all the time. We want our best runners in there to run. We want our best protectors in there to protect. We want our best pass catchers in there to catch the passes. The best players are going to play to the point of exhaustion and then we we’ve got to be able to play other guys.”

On the job that offensive line coach Sam Pittman has done in his second year … 
“I am one that looks at things a little different because I say that Sam Pittman did a good job last year. Everybody does everything based on results, that is the world we live in. He did the same job last year that he is doing this year to the tune of different results. We are able to throw the ball. We have a little more vertical threats in our receivers. We’ve got a system that is working a little bit better. Running the ball a little bit better. There’s not a lot of secrets to it — he works the same number of hours and he is working just as hard as he did last year. We are just getting better production right now and we still have not quite seen a front as big or playing as many people as Mizzou does. They play a lot of guys — they play about 10 guys upfront — and we will face better fronts than we have faced the last couple of games in coming weeks, including this week.”

On freshman linebacker Monty Rice and the role that he has taken on … 
“He has grown up a lot. He was one of the guys that was very fortunate to get spring practice, so he got spring practice, which helped him be a little bit ahead of the other backers that we signed as far as knowing what to do. We thought all spring that he was going to be a good player because he was really fast. He thumps you when he gets there. It was more of can he be comfortable and not have anxiety playing in the heat of the moment. I thought he got over some of that. He made a play against Mississippi State there at the end of the game. I thought that gave him some confidence. He was able to make some plays the other day. I think Monty is going to be a mighty fine football player. He is just growing. He has shown a lot of growth and he has a long way to go.”

On playing a large number of freshmen and how he determines someone is ready to play … 
“You determine that by their practice and their awareness. We knew a long time ago that Andrew Thomas was ready. We knew a long time ago that D’Andre Swift was ready. They proved that in camp and neither of those guys were here mid-year. That is an on-going process and an on-going evaluation. We do not hold anybody back that can help us win. If a guy is ready to help us win then the guy plays. As far as how much, that is up to them. That’s up to the competition in practice and how well they do. A significant amount of those freshmen you are referring to are helping in special teams and they have been part of the special teams turnaround.”

On the status of junior defensive tackle Trenton Thompson and how the team played in his absence … 
“Trent is recovering. He will be day-to-day and week-to-week. We have not ruled him out for this game. We hope to be able to get him back. He is still battling back. He is moving now, running some. As far as his absence and how the guys played, they played very similar to the way they have been playing the weeks before. We probably did not strike blockers against Vanderbilt as well as we had done before. We had a couple of guys playing more snaps than they did before. We had a couple of guys playing different positions, where our zero nose is playing five technique. Julian (Rochester) had to go play some other positions. We had guys playing more snaps and we also did not get off the field on third down, which resulted in more snaps for the defensive line. So, the conditioning part had an effect on Saturday playing in the heat and playing guys a lot of snaps. We just did not have as many guys to play with Trenton out.”

On Missouri’s passing attack and if younger guys will get to play in the secondary … 
“My first thing is that I would say people mistake Mizzou. Mezzo is a very 50/50 balanced team and a lot of the passes you see from Mizzou are RPOs, which are dictated by what the defense does — so they are a designed run with a pass attached. They are a very, very good running football team when it comes to execution. They get people out of the box. they spread you out and then they attack you. If you do not control the run game, it will be a long night because they will just do that. Now, can they throw the ball vertically down the field? Yes. They throw it well and they have some weapons to do it with, but that will probably have nothing to do with the number of DB’s that play because typically we play the best DB’s in all situations. We are not rotating a lot of guys at DB.”

On how last season set this team up for success this year…
“I honestly believe that every year is independent of the previous.  It’s like a coin flip. They say if it’s ten times head, the next one is going to be tails. That’s not true.  It’s 50/50 every time.  Last year had nothing to do with this year in my opinion.  I think they are completely independent. I think the leadership of this team is completely different than the team last year.  The practice environment is different.  There are a lot of differences.”

On if you have a feel of the maturity level of the team from week-to-week … 
“It’s hard to say the feel.  I always meet with a few guys to discuss some situations on Sunday, but I haven’t seen the team yet.  That will be a big directive and motive for us as coaches today.”

On how pleased he is with the running backs running hard after contact….
“I don’t know statistically what it is, but I have to believe it’s pretty good.  I know they keep up with it, but it’s not something that I chart. I know Dell (McGee) calls them “Dawg Yards”- yards after contact. I think it’s a lot of motivation in his room because there is competition to see who does the best job of that.  They do a tremendous job of that.  I think our offensive line deserves credit because it’s not only getting the holes there, but it’s the second level covering down and pushing the pile where a lot of those yards are extended.  Sony (Michel) had that run where he kept his legs driving and they just kept piled on.  They take pride in that and I think Coach Pittman takes pride in that.”

On the injuries of Reggie CarterSolomon Kindley, and Michael Chigbu….
“Chigbu will be out there today.  We hope to get him back 100 percent healthy.  He’s had a lingering shoulder that’s been bothering him.  Reggie is day-to-day. We hope to get him back today or tomorrow.  We will check how he is today.  Solomon I think is fine.”

On being ranked fourth in the AP Poll…
“You address it with the kids.  We don’t talk about what we’re ranked.  We didn’t talk about what we were ranked last week.  There’s really no difference because none of it matters.  All we talk about is a race.  The race is after the 50-meter mark and that’s where the race is.  I don’t know one person that ever talked about (Justin) Gatlin being ahead of (Usain) Bolt at the 50-meter mark.  Nobody cared.  They only care about where you finish and they only care about what you do next.  That’s our objective- to do what’s next.”

On the balance between distance and hang time and coverage unit for Cameron Nizialek and the punt team…
“Cam is doing a good job.  I would love for him to be a little more consistent with yardage and hang. We always talk to him about that.  That’s a hard job to measure because every punter wants to bang it as far as he can and we want him to hit it as far as he can.  He just has to balance that with the hang time and the distance.  He hit that one a little firm.  He hit it with a 90-degree driver instead of the 12-degree, but he drove it and we have to cover whatever he kicks.  I’m proud of the way he’s kicking, but that’s one that he has to improve on.”

On the pass rush protecting the quarterback….
“It’s up and down. It’s not where it needs to be.  We’re not an explosive pass rush team.  I don’t care what everyone wants us to be, that’s just not who we are. We’re strike blockers, play run and we try to convert the pass rush and we try to get the quarterback in passing situations and attack them.  It’s hard sometimes in the style of defense that we play.  Some games we are more apt to give pressure than others.  We didn’t do a real good job of getting pressure in the last game. It’s something we work on each week and try to improve on.  We need as many players as we can to be helpful to get where we want to go from the pass rush standpoint.  There’s so much more to pass rush than sacks and it’s affecting the quarterback and that’s where it was disappointing last week because we didn’t do as good of a job with that as we need to.”

On Malkom Parrish‘s playing time…
“Malkom is back, he feels good, he’s playing.  Tyrique (McGhee) is playing good.  It’s similar to every position we have.  We are going to play the guys that are playing the best. I don’t feel like Malkom is being held out of anything for any reason.  He’s back.  He feels good about his foot. Conditioning is probably the biggest thing as far as not being able to play every snap of the game.  Being able to play a role with the players, especially guys that have earned the right like Tyrique and (Deandre) Baker, we will continue to do that week-to-week based on practice.”

Graduate P #92 Cameron Niazialek
On progress of his individual play…
“I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job so far. Coach (Kirby Smart) has been harping on me to get the hang time a little better. This week I out kicked the coverage a little bit. Against Tennessee, that one punt I had about five seconds of hang time so we were able to cover that and force a fair catch. So that is something I’m going to continue to work on, but I’m happy with how things are going.

On limited punting occasions…
“It is obviously great from a team perspective that we only had to punt one time. That’s great for our team. I felt really good going into it and hope to keep it going this week against Missouri.”

On reflecting on the season and playing at the different stadiums…
“I’m living the dream. I love Athens and I love this town. I’m excited, because every week is a new opportunity to show what I got and I think I’m doing a good job. I’m having a great time.”

Graduate DB #35 Aaron Davis
On not getting caught up in the rankings…
“To keep that out of mind, you just focus on the goals that you set before the season and the different things that we want to accomplish whether its personal or team goals. As long as we stay focused on those then we can keep our mind off rankings and things like that.”

On Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock…
“He has incredible arm talent. I think this is the third year that I’ve seen him. Every time he can make any throw that he possibly wants to on the field. We definitely need to be on our cues when we go against him.”

On going against Georgia’s talented running back group in practice…
“All of our running backs here are extremely talented, that is why they are here in the first place. Tackling them in practice is not easy for us, so it helps us prepare for Saturdays. We feel like if we are going against the best then it is going to help us prepare against all the other great teams and running backs.”

Junior ILB #3 Roquan Smith
On the Missouri offense...
“They’re a high power offense, I think that they have a great quarterback, an awesome running back as well, and I think it will be a good challenge for us on defense.”

On practicing up against the group of Georgia tailbacks..
“All of them — it’s a challenge, week-in and week-out, and day-in and day-out, going up against those guys everyday in practice. But I feel like going against those guys everyday will prepare you for just about any back you’re going to face in the country.”

On the 6-0 start…
“When you have a mindset, like we don’t really listen to all the hype and outside noise, we just focus on each other and everything that we do day-in and day-out. When things like that come, you always hear types of things like that, but we’re just keeping our heads level.”

Senior TE #83 Jeb Blazevich
On the group of Georgia running backs…
“They’re a physical group; they challenge and push each other. I think that’s why that room is so special, because of what they’re able to do within the running back room. They always push each other, and give each other grief if they get taken down after one hit; I think that’s why none of them really do.”

On the running backs wearing down opponents’ defense…
“I think it’s what they do in terms of wearing down the secondary guys. I think the game, you’ll see it on film, they go in and in the first quarter, they’re ready to go after it, and towards the fourth quarter, they’re like ‘I don’t know if I want to hit these guys anymore,’ and that’s a testament to what they do, and that’s something we need to keep up, and not expect, but try to make happen every week.”

On offensive line coach Sam Pittman
“We love Coach Pitt. I feel like regardless of where he’s been, people have always bought into what he does. He’s pretty goofy, which I enjoy. He’s extremely passionate, he knows what he’s talking about, he loves helping people out, I feel like whether you’re first string or last string, it’s the same coaching to bring you along, because that’s what he’s here for. He’s here to develop young men into great football players.”