INDIANAPOLIS — Ahead of the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship Game, four players for the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs spoke to the media for the final time this week.
Bulldogs offensive lineman Jamaree Salyer, linebacker Nakobe Dean, quarterback Stetson Bennett and defensive lineman Jordan Davis all stepped up to the microphone and took questions from the media.
Here's everything the Georgia Bulldogs said on Saturday morning:
Full Transcript: Georgia Football — January 8, 2022
OL Jamaree Salyer
Q: From the offensive line's perspective, what's the biggest carry-over that you want to see from the Orange Bowl to Monday night?
Just the physicality, just playing with that same intensity that we played with in that game. I think we knew we had our backs up against the wall. That's pretty much the name of the game, both teams have their backs up against the wall this time. Kind of playing for glory this time.
The same intensity and execution and being on the same page. I thought when we we're on the same page, we're very dominant offensive line. Not too many teams can mess with us. Just being on the same page, understanding the game plan and executing it at a high clip. And just play it with the same intensity, that's what it comes down to, to impose our will and take over the game.
Q: Obviously fantastic game against Michigan. What would you say was the biggest thing that changed between the SEC Championship game and the Michigan game for you? Was that about getting more healthy as much as anything else?
Are you talking about for me personally or for the team?
Q: For you personally, talking about Jamaree at left tackle.
For me, I just wanted to get more healthier for that game, just hitting rehab hard. I think just coming out with the right mindset. Understanding that a great challenge and a big part of our game plan was me doing my job, was McLendon doing his job. We took it personally to make it our best game so the team had a chance to do something special. I think we understood that going into it and that's what we wanted to do.
Q: Wanted to ask you about James Cook. What is different about him this year maybe than – this year he's finally having the season that a lot of people thought he would have in his couple of years in Athens?
I think he's more just understanding his leadership role, honestly. Helping his performance on the field, understanding that his leadership on the field can make him a more impactful player on the field.
I know a lot of guys look up to him take success in what he says. He's become more vocal leader than in years past.
As far as years past, Cook is going to be Cook. He's a Florida kid. They love football down there, they play football a different way. Not many things affect him, the weather or anything else. He loves the game of football and goes out and plays it hard every single day in practice.
The things you see on Saturday is the things we see in practice every single day. Guys not able to cover him when he's flexed out, him running really hard. That's just Cook. Not anything special to him. He just is who he is and he plays the game the right way. He's a special player.
Q: I had a follow-up question to what you just said about bringing the same intensity, because it felt like it looked a little bit different, at least from where we were sitting. Can you just describe the difference in the intensity level you felt you guys had against Michigan compared to maybe the last game that you had played?
I think we just came out hot against Michigan in the Orange Bowl. We came out hot first drive. We got the ball first and things just started rolling. The ball started rolling down the hill. We were executing at a really high level. All the plays that were called, we were just kind of all on the same page, understanding not necessarily what we were doing but why we were doing it, at the same time.
I think that's even more important especially when you talk about a game like football where there has to be cohesiveness.
It kind of felt different. We all felt we were pushing in the same direction. I think that worked very well for us, especially in the first half we played really well. Had some things we had to clean up in the second half.
But we played a really great game. I'm proud how we played up front and on offense. Because it seems like we were really into our game planning and all pushing in the same direction.
Q: What can you say about the offensive line in general? You guys don't typically get the spotlight but championships are won in the trenches. What can you say about this year's line at Georgia and some of the guys that are there with you to guide them to the national championship game?
It honestly has been a special group. Throughout the years you've always had a special group, but this group is definitely special to me. It's kind of my group now, being a senior. So it's a special group of guys.
Honestly I tell them all the time – I've definitely been telling them as recently that it's been fun to be your guys' senior, to be the captain up front for you guys because they make it easy for me. It's not hard to get them to do the right things. It's not hard to get them to show up to things on time, do things the right way, to practice hard. Those guys just kind of do it.
They understand the goal. They understand what practice means. They understand what showing up on time and doing things the right way means. So it makes it easy to be, to be the old guy in the room. It's not like chasing around a bunch of kids. It's just telling guys this is what we need to do and they just kind of get it done.
And they're really great at accepting challenges and that's kind of been the theme of our team this year, just accepting the challenges that either the coaches may present or the leaders may present and just kind of rise to the occasion.
I'm definitely lucky and blessed to be able to have had this group, to be the captain of this offensive line group because it's a special group. I'm not sure there would be one like it again, to me, but, yeah, a special group of guys from young to old.
Q: How tired are you guys of hearing about your record against Alabama?
I mean, it's definitely motivation. I wouldn't say tired of it is. It is what it is. It's the truth. You can't really run away from the truth. That's what it is. That's our record. But we're not trying to make it an emotional thing, where you go out playing with emotions.
You want to be calm, collected and have composed attack. Play our game not necessarily play their game but be who we are. We're good enough at what we do. We have great coaches. We have great players and great game plan.
We are good enough at what we do. The record has been the record but we're – this is a new game coming up. A different game, different environment. One different than I've ever played in. The stakes are different. We want to play this game. Not worry about the last few.
Q: What makes Will Anderson Jr. different from other guys you've had to block in your career?
He's a very high motor guy. Freak athlete, very high motor guy. He can run. And he plays to the whistle. He plays to the whistle. Obviously very explosive player. Understands what he's trying to do and what he's trying to accomplish with every snap.
And he just plays hard. He plays the game the right way. He's a very talented player. You can kind of see that from him coming out of high school, that he was going to be a talented player because he was playing at a different speed than everybody else at that level. And he still is now.
It's going to be a great matchup. I'm very excited for it and it's going to be a good game. He's a great player, excellent player. I'm excited to play against him.
Q: Beyond with Stetson, what he's had to do to get to this point, is part of the reason that you as teammates are kind of drawn to him the way he carries himself? And how would you describe the way that he carries himself, as a person, not just a player?
You know, as a person, I think Stetson is just going to be Stetson. He's like kind of quiet but he can be loud when he wants to be. Jokester. He's calm and collected. He's confident in who he is. That's just Stetson Bennett.
A country kid, south Georgia kid. He'll be that one kid that will walk into the locker room blast country music. That's just Stetson. He doesn't want to be a person that he's not and he's never going to be. And I think it's just the genuineness in who he is and what he represents kind of draws people to him because he's going to be Stetson at all times.
There's nothing anybody can do about that, can say to change him. He's going to be Stetson. And I think that everybody kind of draws to that just because we know that all times we're going to get Stetson, not somebody else.
Q: Looking at the schedule, looking at I guess the psyche of this and seeing what Alabama did, is it fair to say that Georgia hadn't really been punched in the mouth in a while? It's been a while since you guys lost. Is there a psychology to coming off a game like that? You mentioned coming out with that fire against Michigan. I just wonder if that's just the response of elite athletes when they have a failure like that at that level?
I think it's interesting to me, everybody says we haven't been, quote/unquote, punched in the mouth. I think every Saturday you line up in the SEC everybody's throwing punches. You line up in those man fronts and you turn around hand the ball off, it's a bloodbath out there pretty much every Saturday, just like it is on their side. I think it's interesting everybody makes that narrative.
But they played a better game than us. They outexecuted us on that given Saturday. They had a better game plan. I think that's what it came down to. I think we understood that coming out of that game, and we wanted to make the adjustments that we needed to make. From an offensive standpoint. I know the defense has to.
I think that's what it comes down to is just making the adjustments, understanding that these are different stakes. Like I said, it's just different. And we understand that it's something we really want and understanding that things can be different this time. Doesn't have to be the same narrative over and over again. We control our destiny. Not anybody else. Not the media. Not Alabama. We control our destiny and that's how we want it.
Q: You mentioned the bond the seniors have. What would it mean to you to not only walk away with the national championship win but to become the most decorated senior class in the history of this program in terms of total victories?
It's definitely special. Honestly hadn't even thought about that since before the SEC Championship, the last time we talked about it as a team.
But it's definitely something special to us. It's crazy, like, as you say, you have one foot out the door, you think back to all the different memories you have, your first time meeting certain guys, first time being on campus, first time getting recruited and showing up here. It's just kind of crazy as you walk down memory lane. But it's definitely something special we built here.
You remember the good days. You remember the dog days in Sanford Stadium, scrimmaging. And you remember all of those and you find yourself talking about them with certain guys and reminiscing.
It's been a fun ride, but the ride ain't over yet. We've still got one big mission left, and we're all excited for it. We're all excited to be here.
And I think it's – just the craziest part about it is that we're here for. This is our senior class' first time being here. So we're excited for the opportunity and can't wait to go out and play in a great environment, great stadium, and it's going to be a fun time.
LB Nakobe Dean
Q: If the playoff is expanded, you guys would be playing at least one and maybe two more games. Wonder how you feel about that, how your body would feel about that right now. If there was a 12-team playoff in place right now, you guys would be playing at least one more game perhaps two more games. Wonder how you feel about that, how your body would feel about that at this point.
If that's what it takes, we come in, beginning of the season with one essential goal and that's to win a national championship. So if that's what it takes to get here to win it, then I'm all for it.
Q: Been trying to break down the difference between you guys in the last few games. There seems to be this narrative. There is a narrative that you guys were just in a different place mentally against Michigan than maybe against Alabama. How much of that do you think is true, and how much – because physically it would seem like you guys are sort of the same teams, at equal levels at least – how much is the mental approach going to make a difference this game?
The mental approach makes a big difference, just from the whole thing of it being a national championship. I mean it's the national championship. You should be prepared mentally. You should be prepared to give your best on the field. You should expect your opponent to also be prepared to give their best on the field. So the mental and physical preparation for it I feel like should be second to none.
Q: For the first 12 games of the season, you guys were phenomenal defensively statistically, and then obviously it came unraveled against Alabama. How much do you guys have to prove to cement your place in history as one of the best defensive teams at Georgia against Alabama in the second shot against them?
As far as proving, I don't feel like we're going in with that mindset that we've got to prove anything. We're just going in with the same mindset that we always go in. And that's to be elite and have complete dominance. And it's one main goal for this last game and that's to win. So no matter how it happens, how ugly or pretty it is, it's just one main goal, winning the game.
Q: Jamaree was on here earlier saying you guys can't run away from the truth about the history of the success Alabama has had against Georgia. You didn't have any history with Michigan. You do with Alabama. Is that in the back of your mind for this game? Is it motivation?
A motivation factor, of course, as many times as I played them. It's as far back as I'm thinking, though. Just as many times as I've played them. I can't speak too much about the past. I don't like to dwell on the past at all. Just the present, being here. I didn't play them back in the day.
Right now I'm just focusing on winning the game. That's the only thing that's on my mind and on my teammates' mind also.
Q: On that note, Nakobe, you talked about how many times you guys have played Alabama. This is the third significant game against these guys in the last two years. Would you call Alabama like Georgia's biggest rival? Is it like the biggest rival for you?
It's a rivalry, of course. Everybody hypes it up. Our coach once coached underneath the other coach. Everybody hypes it up. Of course it's a big rival. It's an SEC game.
But as far as this game, it's the national championship. This is the national championship. Feel like everybody should be prepared to play at their best level, at their highest clip. And like I said before, the only thing that we're focused on is winning. No matter how we get it done, we've just got to get it done.
Q: Why do you feel the first time you guys played, Bryce Young had so much success against your defense?
They did a lot of things good, they were able to execute in places we weren't. He was able to extend plays. We had zero sets that game which was really uncharacteristic of us. They were able to execute at a higher level than we were that day.
Q: When Coach Smart refused the Gatorade bath, what tone did this set for the team in practice in preparation going into this week, this rematch against Alabama?
I feel like Coach Smart's mindset is kind of reciprocated in a lot of the older guys as far as we won the game last week, but it means nothing if we don't get the job done. That's exactly how I feel also.
It was cool that that we were able to win the Orange Bowl, but it was still closer to playing in this big one. Last week and the week before that, we just emphasized it being a one-game season against Michigan, one game season. Because you lose you go home. You win you get more time together.
And now it's what it is. It's a one-game season. And we're all looking to win, basically our goal that we set back in January.
Q: Looking back at your recruiting class and guys like Nolan and Travon, what do you remember about the first time you talked to those guys about how good your group can be? Was it at a camp or an all-star game or just over DMs or whatever? What do you remember of that conversation and talking with those guys those days?
As far as recruiting, I wasn't really involved pre-college with other recruits. Just kind of like, I knew guys. I didn't really speak to them much. But after we got on campus, actually the guys who know Nolan and Travon was our roommates. I do remember them talking in the living room, talking about how good we can be. We've just got to keep working to get better every day.
Coming in knowing that it's hard. Coming in and all getting back to the room at the same time and just being tired as all get out, but just knowing we've got to stay the course, continue to work and get better.
Q: What (inaudible) did you take away from the first meeting against Alabama that would be applicable to the game on Monday night?
Everything, basically. We're looking at every little thing from the scheme that we use, the scheme that they used to how we can possibly take advantage of some things that we did – how we can play better, finish better, and from the back end to the front seven.
So we looked at every little thing how we can get better. Not just from that game but from the games throughout the season where we feel like they might attack us and basically what other teams have had success in going throughout the season. We looked at every little thing. We're trying to leave every stone unturned.
Q: Did you have a Kirby Smart story? What's he like as a motivator? And how has he kind of mentored you all these years as a coach?
He can get you going, if you ask me. At this point, a lot of guys, if you just kind of see them and you weren't around him all the time in practice, you would think when he's coaching he get all riled up, you'll think he's kind of, like, chipping a little bit.
But he comes from, I feel like, every time – I don't feel like he's bad at all. I feel like he comes from a great place. He wants you to be great and he want to be great.
And the only thing he care about is winning, and I feel like that's the same for me. The only thing he cares about is winning the game. So whatever we've got to do win this game, Coach, I'm going to do it for you.
That's been my mindset, just trusting the coaches, trusting the game plan. And just going out there and playing like we know how we can play and just be elite.
Q: For all the film study that you guys have done, how much is there to be said for actually playing against Bryce Young in terms of his quickness, agility? Is it kind of the deal where now once you've seen it you have a better idea of how quick and elusive he is? And is he the most elusive guy in the pocket you've faced, would you say, at quarterback?
We've faced pretty elusive guys. I feel that he's one of the best ones as far as sitting in that pocket and staying calm. I feel like he does that better than anybody.
He's busy, just sit there, be calm and being able to extend plays and make plays. Just his ability to do that also just makes it tougher for the front seven to get aggressive. We've been kind of working on that and basically trying to make it a different outcome than the last time where we had no sacks, very uncharacteristic of us.
Q: You mentioned preparation earlier in this. And I was wondering, how was preparing for a team you've already seen this year different than maybe in a normal week of game prep, like in a regular season for a team you're only going to see once? Is there anything different that goes into a rematch?
It's not too much different, just we were able to watch the game that we played before. We're able to see what their game plan was against us, what our game plan was against us and how they made adjustments, and how we can adjust.
So that's probably the only biggest thing. The work is there. That's the only thing we've been focused on, working, getting better from a mental, physical and spiritual standpoint. I feel like this team has done nothing but work hard to get better day in, day out. And I feel like that will be reciprocated on the field.
Q: With the senior class, what's the DNA of them? What do they mean to you, and knowing that if they win this game not only do they walk out as champions but as the most decorated senior class in the history of Georgia football in terms of victories?
Yeah, they mean a lot to me, those guys, the hard work they put in. Everything from the leadership ability. They've been here as long as I've been here, longer, of course. They just exemplify Georgia football and everything it stands on.
So, to be able to finish this one out with this group of guys, I wouldn't want it to be with any other group. I love them boys. And that's who we'll be playing for. But we'll be playing for our brothers alongside of everybody. But the seniors definitely.
Q: How do you balance being a 4.0 student and an All-American player at the same time?
Well, it's hard. I am not going to try to shoot the (indiscernible). It's been a lot of long nights. A lot of times where I don't get that much sleep. But you have to try to find your balance.
There's a lot of things before you get to college they say that you can do in the recruiting thing because they want to get you, of course. And then it's, like, you get here, it's way harder than they probably made it appear. But that's college. That's life. That's growing up. That's maturing.
And I feel like the things that I tackled in college from a time-management standpoint and just a real-world standpoint, leaving home and everything has prepared me on and off the field greatly, has matured me into the young man I am today.
QB Stetson Bennett
Q: When you come back to Georgia from junior college, do you have any stories you share with your teammates, maybe, hey, this is what it's like in junior college and this is why you should appreciate being at Georgia? I know you had a great experience there at Jones and you played with some great players, but what's the go-to – here's what it's like to be in junior college story?
No, not really. No, not like a 'be thankful for where you are' type thing. But just telling them about people who ask. Most of these guys come from small towns, so they what's out there and how lucky they are that we're at the University of Georgia. So they don't really need to be told again.
Q: As a Georgia kid, I'm wondering what kind of feel do you have for the 1980 team and do you feel – do you feel connected to the longing that fans want to give back to what that team did?
Being a player who graduated a few years ago, Kyle and I were talking about this the other day, I know Lindsay Scott, he's from Wayne County. He's down there from where I'm from. And obviously I know Herschel. Talked to Buck Belue and a few other guys on the team. And I grew up listening to Larry Munson highlights on YouTube, all his calls.
But there's a point in time when you become a player that you can't really be a fan anymore. And I don't really know when that switch was. And I don't really know why. But you kind of flip a switch because you go through the day-to-day and you know all these guys. Can't really be fans of them.
You can't really be fans – I don't really know how to explain it. I guess I do know the magnitude for everybody else out there because I was a fan at one point. So I know it's a pretty big deal.
Q: We're talking with some of your former coaches in high school and even juco. They all talk about the inner belief and confidence you've always had, especially getting back to being a quarterback for the Bulldogs. I just want to know where does that inner confidence come from? Is it from your family? Is it from a mentor? Is it from someone that you watch in the NFL? Just where does that come from throughout your career at a young age?
I don't know. I'd say it's probably a whole bevy of things. There's not one specific thing I can point to. I know it's not like a – I'm not as confident in everything I do as I am in football. So I'd say it comes from work.
It's not an ignorant confidence, like I believe I can do anything. But I believe I can play football really well, and that's from the work that I've spent over these past however many years I've been playing football.
And my parents have always supported me, and I've always had really good players around me, which is everything on the football field.
Q: How much did going through the playoff preparation as a backup last time Georgia was here in 2018 and all the experiences that came with that get you ready for this? And what do you remember most from that experience last time Georgia was on this stage?
I don't know if 'backup' is the right word. I was the scout team quarterback. And, so, that experience – I was 17 – I really don't draw too much on that experience. I was really young, no expectation of playing, absolutely none. My only focus was to get the defense ready.
And so I kind of just draw from all the big games we've had this year, like Clemson when I was the backup – Bama, Tennessee, Auburn, Michigan – all those big-time games that we had this year. That's where you draw from and you kind of take things from.
Q: What sticks with you the most about how that game played out for you guys? And how you feel now that you have the chance to lead this team to a long awaited championship?
I assume you're talking about the first Bama game this year.
Q: No, I'm talking about the 2017 season, the national championship game, just from 2018. Just the feeling that stayed with you from being on the sideline watching how that game played out for you, and now how you feel being the guy who has a chance to get a championship for Georgia.
Yeah, obviously it's a little different because I wasn't playing and didn't really have a chance to play. I guess then I was more of a fan.
But it hurt. You still put the time in just like all our scout team guys do. They want to win just as badly as we do. They've all worked out every single day we have, spent the long hours that we have, and they deserve to win just as much as we do.
And to have the opportunity to be the starting quarterback here, first of all, I'm lucky and extremely blessed, but it's also exciting. Like I said before the Michigan game, you want these games, or you come to Georgia because you want these type of games.
Just like Nakobe, Jamaree, Jordan, who is about to speak, you come to the university because you think you're a good enough football player to play at the University of Georgia, and you want to play against really good other players from other teams.
And we're playing against the best in the country this week. So it's exciting. And I think we're all ready for it.
Q: Let me ask about the flip phone because I don't know if anybody has actually asked you about it in this setting, what's the background on that? Do you actually still have a smartphone, or do you have to like – and where did you find a flip phone? Did you have to like go on eBay or something?
No, so they actually still sell them at Verizon stores. Apparently a lot of old people still use them. I guess in June or July, I went – I had a bunch of school coming up the next semester, I had football, I was, like, I spend, whatever, an hour on my smartphone a day doing what? Doing nothing, nothing that's going to help me. I don't even remember what I did.
I've thought about it before. I've thought about it for years. And I was like, well, I've got all this stuff to do, all this important stuff. Let's try not to let anything get in the way of that focus and just go get a flip phone.
I still have a laptop and a tablet for e-mail and anything important like that that I can use. And I will just use my cell phone for texting and calls. One pain in the butt is I have to carry a Notepad to write down stuff because I used my notes app a lot back in the day a lot. But strictly to help me out with time management and wasting time.
Q: We've heard so many things from you this year, but I haven't heard that much about your family, your mom and your dad and your brothers and sister. How big of a part, you all like to use the term 'why,' how big a part is your family part of your why, and your upbringing, and enabled you to get you where you are at the pinnacle of college football this week?
I owe everything to them for, first of all, for raising me in a good Christian house, teaching me right from wrong, which helped me through the past, whatever, not leaving and all that stuff, all that hoopla.
But I mean they supported me from the walk-on process saying, go, we'll help you out. And they're here now. They're supporting me now.
My little brothers and my little sister, they're always there for me. And they've got a hectic life. I'm not the only athlete in the family.
Good Lord, my mom and my dad, there's no telling how many miles they've traveled all over the country for softball, football, basketball, baseball, soccer. And they never complain about it. All while they're running businesses.
So it's impressive. And it inspires me – I don't want to sound cliché and cheesy – but it does, it inspires me, if they can do all that and be successful, then what's a little bit of football?
Q: Will there come a time where you do allow yourself back to the smartphone world? And the second part, talking about the frustration last week where you don't pay attention to what's being said. Is part of that frustration just kind of almost wanting to say, like, what do you want from me? I want to play quarterback. They're giving me the opportunity to play quarterback.
No, I probably I will. I'm not going to be some nomad, unless I decide to. I don't know.
I don't know, there's a lot of things that go unsaid from that frustration. I'm not really allowed to say it. But that's what, it's the nature of the beast. You're the hero or the zero.
I'm glad it was me instead of anybody else because I can handle it because I can just shut it off and tell people to go blah, blah.
But you just keep your head down and keep working. Trust your teammates to make plays, and you just go play football, the same game you've been playing since you were in little league. Just because more people are talking about it doesn't mean the rules have changed. So just go play.
Q: Sticking on your family, I know your grandfather was a college football player. I know he passed a few years ago. What was kind of his impact on you and what do you think he might say to you now kind of being in the position you're in as well?
Growing up, you always looked up to your granddad, at least I know I did – both of them, my mom's dad and my dad's dad.
But my dad's dad, he played football at Stetson University. They quit the program. He hitchhiked to South Carolina. Was the ACC's leading rusher. Like I said, people make it such a hoopla about my journey. I didn't freaking hitchhike anywhere. That's just what you want to do if you want to play football. And it's as simple as that.
Maybe people aren't willing to do it anymore. But it never seemed like a big deal to me. And I guess that comes from seeing his example.
And you always want to make him proud and the texts that get me the most after a good game or whatever, saying papa would be proud of you. And you always want to make your family proud and leave the family name in a better spot after you've had it. And I know that's just football. I know there's a lot more to life than that. But while I'm here I'm going to try to do the best I can for it.
DL Jordan Davis
Q: In your time with Stetson Bennett, what has impressed you the most about sort of everything he's done, his journey and all that he's gone through?
Definitely his resiliency. Stetson is a resilient kid. He went from Rose Bowl scout team QB coming in, and just grinding, working. He's an extremely hard worker. Every time I see Stetson he's either learning up on something or on his flip phone. He's that guy you want to be around.
Q: As everybody's attempted to break down your last two games, the team's last two games, not yours, it seems like everybody, the narrative is you guys were just in a different place mentally against Michigan. Would you agree with that? And since the two teams in this game seem like they're pretty equal physically, does it really come down to focus and mental approach in your view?
Definitely. After the last Alabama game it was like our wake-up call. We realized that we had a lot of work to do and we hadn't arrived yet. And we just came back, worked hard, and went out and played Michigan. And we've seen the result of that game.
It's just a different mindset switch from practice to where we carry ourselves in the locker room, especially like this week, grinding hard.
It's kind of like a bittersweet moment because although we're playing for a national championship, the older guys and seniors are leaving. So it's kind of like balancing that and balancing those emotions.
But definitely this game is a lot more mental than physical. And these teams are pretty much evenly matched when it comes to personnel and physicality and everything. And the thing that really sets us apart is just mentally and who do things better.
Q: First 12 games were unbelievable statistically for your defense, obviously. And then Alabama took some of the shine off of that. I just wanted your take on what you think your perspective is on the true identity of this defense.
Our defense is what you've seen for the last 12 weeks in the regular season. Alabama, they gave us a little fit. Threw a lot of haymakers and we couldn't really respond like we wanted to.
But with time, you get better. You learn more about yourself as a defense. You learn more about Alabama this time going into the game. So definitely this time around definitely will be different.
Q: What did they do specifically, Alabama, against you to make it difficult in the SEC Championship game?
Honestly, the SEC, it was down to mental execution. It was a couple of plays that we busted and they got big plays on. And just I'd say we wasn't as conditioned as we should have been, especially on my part.
And definitely this week we've been working hard. Coach Smart has been working us hard. And actually I'm about to go run right now after this meeting. So it's definitely about pushing yourself to the next level. You just want to do the things -- this is for all the glory. So, if you're not pushing yourself to the absolute limit, then it's like what are you here for.
Q: You kind of talked about pushing yourself to that next level. Coming into Monday night's game, as a leader on Georgia's defense what have you seen in terms of preparation over the last few days to make you believe that your team is prepared for this rematch against Alabama?
Definitely the buy-in. The whole team is bought into the plan, to, like, just everything, extra film, extra conditioning, just doing the little things extra that we need to get us to the next level.
And it's been a great journey. We always talk about if you're going to do something, bring somebody with you. So it's been like young kids going with the seniors and getting some extra film or getting some extra conditioning.
I was out there working with Kelee, and when you're working out with Kelee or somebody else from a different position you learn more about them. And it kind of ties in and that connection piece we've been talking about all year. So it's one of those things.
Everybody's just been bought in. So it makes it a lot easier to just coach for the coaches and it's a lot easier to play as a player.
Q: Can you talk about what not only beating Alabama would mean but what winning the national championship would mean both for you and for Georgia as a whole?
Definitely beating Alabama would be an accomplishment, not only for me but for Coach Smart and everything.
I've had three shots at Alabama and I haven't beaten them yet. So that's speaking for myself. As a team, winning the national championship, that's what we're grinding for, what we're working for all season. Of course it's going to be an amazing feeling. We haven't won a national championship since 1980.
So to be able to do this and have a regular season like we did and just come out on top, at the end of the day it will be an amazing feeling and it's one of those things you work hard for.
Not a lot of kids on this team -- I was fortunate enough to be a state champion in high school. But some kids, they haven't been a champion ever. So for them to win, it kind of puts a lot of things in perspective, because you come to Georgia to be your best and be elite. When you win a national championship, you're considered the best and elite. That's one of the goals we're trying to reach. And we have a chance at that on Monday.
Q: You said it's a lot more mental than physical as it relates to Alabama and the success they've had. How would you guys approach that to have the right mental frame of mind?
As I said, it's just a lot more film. A lot more paying attention to the details, with technique, film. Noticing little nuances with the offense and just learning about how they operate a little bit more. Obviously we have a little bit more time than we did for the SEC
We just took that time to really just work on ourselves. It's not even about Alabama. It's really about working on ourselves and getting that mental piece and getting that mental hurdle over.
Q: Enjoyed watching you rise through your career. Stetson was up there a moment ago talking about hero or zero. And I think about all the social media, highlights of that first game and you being kind of the face of the program. A lot of people zeroed in on you in the sideline-to-sideline play and neutralizing the Outland Trophy and Bednarik. How hard did that hit you? You just mentioned the conditioning, and you seem to have a little bit more of an edge today. Did that game hit you hard in terms of just how important it is for you to be that sharp on point and physically ready?
Yeah, definitely. It was definitely a wake-up call. I had to look at myself and realize I wasn't doing enough.
I try not to let things get to me and affect me like that, but that game, it definitely stung a little bit. Because obviously every game you go into you expect to win. And not winning that game and the SEC Championship hurt a little bit. But we knew we had a new opportunity. And with new opportunities you have a chance to be different.
So I took that chance, took the opportunity to be different, and definitely it will pay off for me tenfold because I feel better, my body feels better. I'm just doing the little things like recovering and getting in the training room and rolling out and icing up.
Just the little things that makes you a better football player I'm doing. And I'm just ready to showcase that on Monday.
Q: You touched on not winning a national title at Georgia since 1980. I just wonder how much fans come up to you kind of pleading with you to end that drought? And do you have a sense of, beyond the football program, how kind of desperate the state is to win another national championship, or Georgia fans are?
Definitely. The whole state's behind us. And you can think back to how many great teams have been at the University of Georgia since 1980 that haven't won a championship. We just want to take that opportunity and be different. And at the end of the day that's what we came here for. That's what we're grinding for. And we want to do something absolutely special in our time here.
Q: I think it was Jamaree that said Stetson is just going to be Stetson at all times. What does it mean or look like for you guys both on a day-to-day basis and actually on game day too?
Stetson is calm, cool and collected every day that I've seen him. He never gets too high. Never gets too low. And we just need that even-keeled Stetson. I definitely think there was definitely a lot of trash talk about him after the SEC game that we all seen.
We just want to make sure he had our support. And no matter what, we always are tenfold behind him. Stetson is, how he went to Michigan and played lights out. And we know and you know what he's capable and we all know what he's capable of and we just need his best just like he needs our best, and we're always there for him.
Q: I know you have a walk-through tomorrow, man. But this is the final practice of your college career today. Are you going to miss them? Your past experiences, do you guys do anything fun at the final day of practice for the seniors or any of the old guys?
Yeah, I'm going to miss practice a lot. I was just thinking about that. Yesterday I was, like, man, this is my last practice in this facility. So I was just taking time and writing, like, a little message in my locker for the next person to see, whoever that might be.
But it's definitely a bittersweet moment. Grateful to be in this position playing for a national championship. But it's also sad that it's my last go-around. But at the end of the day, you just have to leave the nest. I can't be here forever. I'm grateful for the time I had here. The University of Georgia has been so great to me and my family. I thank them.
As for senior traditions, the D line had to carry the seniors off on the field yesterday at practice. So it was me, Vonte and Julian Rochester. So we had about like four people each trying to carry us off the field. Each position group, they had to carry the seniors off. So that's kind of like the tradition that the seniors have each year.
Q: They actually found somebody to carry you off the field?
It had to be like three or four people. It's like two people grabbed my legs, one got my back. It was pretty -- I would say it was pretty easy for them. They didn't have a hard time, from what I saw.
Q: Could you reveal what was in that little note you left
I can't reveal all the details. But it's just pretty much like -- I would say it's just a little memo. It was just my name, a little message and the years I played and in a hiding spot so they have to find it. But when they do, they'll have a little message.
It was more so for me, so when I come back I can just look at it and I'm like, yeah, that was my locker. If I have kids in the future or bring my brothers or something like that.
Q: Every defense wants to make the other quarterback uncomfortable. How difficult is it to make Bryce Young uncomfortable?
Bryce is an extremely talented athlete. He's slippery. And I forgot, we were watching, I think "Hard Knocks" with the Colts, and they were talking about the gingerbread man and how Kyler Murray was running around like a gingerbread man. That's what we've been calling him all week. Just seeing him run around our defense in the SEC Championship game, you have to tighten up.
That's one of the things we've been trying to do. I've been going against like wide receivers in our quarterback rodeo drill in practice, so trying to track down a wide receiver who is shifty, and I'm a defensive lineman, it takes a lot of skill and a lot of practice. And it teaches you to track the hips. We've just been tracking hips all practice. And definitely this go-around we'll try to contain him and get him.