What Kirby Smart Has Said About Alabama Leading Up to Matchup With Crimson Tide

Tyler Martin

University of Georgia coach Kirby Smart met with reporters via Zoom multiple times this week to discuss the Bulldogs upcoming matchup with No. 2 Alabama. 

Here is what Smart had to say concerning the Crimson Tide ... 

On Najee Harris and Alabama's running game ...

"He is fast, physical, receives the ball well out of the backfield—it makes it much harder to defend. It's not just Najee [Harris], their offensive line is humungous—every guy is 330/340 [pounds] and they wear on you. They lean on you. It's like Nick [Saban] used to say, 'They have weight classes in boxing and there is a reason.' If a guy is a heavyweight and he keeps hitting a lightweight, eventually the heavyweight will knock the lightweight out and you have to have enough big guys across the line of scrimmage to withstand that. We feel like we are in a much better position than we have been in terms of depth, but we don't have guys across the defensive line as big as their offensive line. The difference is we have to be able to substitute guys, play guys and try to stay fresh and try to use our depth to take those punches. Then we have to be able to give some punches by how we play. But Najee creates an issue because he is hard to tackle. They get him in space. If they are successful with Najee, it makes it really easy on the quarterback in terms of play-action game."

On what former Alabama strength coach Scott Cochran has brought to Georgia ...

I like Scott [Cochran]'s energy, his enthusiasm. He does a good job in his meetings. The kids enjoy playing hard for Scott. Scott has a lot of assistance in terms of decision making and scheme. We have good players. The commitment to playing good players on special teams is a big part of being successful at it. We have good specialists. When you are going to rank that, and you have a weapon in [Jake] Camarda and [Jack] Pod[lesny], who has done a great job—it helps your ranking. To be honest with you, it could change in the drop of a hat. I don't measure—I know everybody loves those statistics, but just like Saturday I was proud of Kearis [Jackson]. He fielded three balls that would have rolled for 20 more yards, and we lost ground on punt return. What they will never show is he gained 20 yards by fielding the punt on the bounce. He did it three times, and we dropped—no telling how far in punt return rankings, but I was extremely pleased that he did it. The stats can lie. We haven't played a team the caliber of Alabama in terms of their specialists. They have really good return game, like extremely good, like so good people don't even kick them the ball."

On whether or not Georgia will try up-tempo offense against Alabama like Ole Miss did ...

"I don't know that all that's true. It's not who we are. It's not the team that we are. It's certainly who Lane [Kiffin] is. He's done that and has been successful doing that where he's been even when he was at Alabama, but he's kind of wholesale and done that. It's not all tempo; it's a lot of tempo and keeping you off balance and trying to you, but everybody does that now. It's not a team that says, 'Oh, we're not going to go tempo at a time.' I would just say that Ole Miss does it more frequently, and they probably did it even more frequently the other night to try to keep Alabama off balance. It helps when you get a couple first downs in a row and wear the defense down. Where you get in trouble with Alabama is when you can't sustain the dive, and you go three-and-out or four-and-out or five-and-out. You can't wear them down. If you're able to drop the ball and convert third downs, which Ole Miss did, your defense gets winded."

 On what Georgia's defense needs to do to stop Alabama's high powered offense ...

"Well, I don't know. I'm excited to go see. I've always loved the challenge, and we've got a good defense. We've got a good offense. The game will come down to a lot more than just those two units, I can assure you that. It'll boil down to how our offense and their defense play and the special teams, but I'm excited to see it. I know our guys are excited about the challenge. I'm sure, offensively, it's the same for them. They've heard about our defense and our defense has heard about their offense, so it's a great opportunity for both units to go out and compete and go play, but I'm excited to see it. It's going to boil down to the line of scrimmage, like it always does. They have success running it, and they'll have a great play-action game. If they don't, you try to make them one-dimensional, and that's hard to do against Alabama."

On developing an elite defense at Georgia ...

“We have really good players but we haven’t played anyone of Alabama’s caliber, that’s that powerful on offense. We’ve played some good teams but not what they are. So, you know, the defense is, a lot of times they’re always trying to play catch up in terms of what the offense is doing they get dictated to them. What’s going on, and we have a lot of guys back. So that’s allowed us to play to a level of consistency in terms of last year and this year outside of probably the LSU game, but every week is a, is a new battle.”

On COVID-19 test results across the SEC ...

"There's really no way to tell. The biggest thing is you're one day away, one test away, one situation away from a possible situation like Florida's. We've been very fortunate. I think Ron [Courson] and the medical staff has done a great job for us. Ron sends me an article or an NFL reference and we post for our players to see, but we feel like our players are doing a good job, but I'll be honest with you—when they're not here at the facility, I don't always know what they're doing. The biggest concern we have is post-game, Sunday, and then they're back into a routine Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. But you're one exposure, one outbreak away from losing some guys, so we've been very fortunate so far, but we don't have our test results back even from this week."

On what he has learned from his team in the first three weeks and how it can help against Alabama on Saturday ...

"Well, I feel like we are growing up on offense before our eyes. It can be a painful growth process. It's one of those—you go through some tough times with pups. I remember the last year when Mel [Tucker] was here we were going through that defensively, and that was—it's easy for me to get impatient. Now, we are reaping the rewards of a lot of those kids that were playing the, and they were young—, [Eric] Stokes, Richard [LeCounte]—all of those guys were young. They have a little more experience now, and we're going through that a little bit on offense. I am watching the maturation process with that. I am not pleased with where we are, but I am pleased with the progress we have made."

On if Ole Miss' performance against Alabama gives him confidence Georgia can do the same ...

"I am not into comparisons Chip, to be honest with you. We are not Ole Miss. We don't run the same offense. I think Ole Miss did a tremendous job, and I think if you watch Ole Miss' tape and you actually watched the previous two games, there is a lot Ole Miss did that other teams did. It's a copycat profession. It's a copycat league. Lane [Kiffin] does a really good job scheming things. He understands what defenses are trying to do especially that defense. He was able to take advantage of those things with a really athletic quarterback. A lot of it had to do with tempo. You create sloppy play when you go tempo. That is no offense to Ole Miss, that's no offense to Alabama. I see it with us. If somebody goes tempo it gets really sloppy. At times, offensively, we have gone tempo and it gets really sloppy. I think you just have to be aware that that can happen, and you have to what you can do and do what your team and your quarterback allows you do to."

On if Alabama started trend of fast-paced offenses and Nick Saban's change in offensive philosophy ...

"I don't know. I feel like a lot of teams have opened up things prior to Alabama doing it. I think Alabama has always played to their strengths offensively. If the strength was Mark Ingram or Derrick Henry, then they did. I think recently their strength has been wideouts, and when you have the core of wideouts they had had, then it's easy to have that philosophy when you have a first-round quarterback in Tua [Tagovailoa]. So, I feel like it shifted before two years ago. It kind of came about the time that they beat us in the national championship game with the group of wideouts they had, and the quarterback, who is an exceptional thrower in Tua. It was a great combination and they run with it. They have gone further and further with it. Steve Sarkisian has been a big part of that, too." 

On lessons learned from Saban ...

"Focus on the task at hand. I thought he was always a master of that, of not really having the highs and lows, the emotional spells of a coach, and was focused on what's important now."

On Alabama's offense line ...

"They're just massive. Even as good of offensive lines as we've had, and you throw Andrew [Thomas], Isaiah [Wilson], and Solomon [Kindley] for us, those guys were big people, but these guys. They have a guard bigger than Soli. They've got tackles that are bigger than Andrew and Isaiah in a lot of ways. It's just a big group. They can swallow you up. They can move you; they can mash you. [Alex] Leatherwood played against us in the National Championship Game. He came in and played, and I thought he played really well in that game for a freshman. They've got experience. It's certainly a really good group of veteran offensive line guys that help them be successful offensively."

On Jaylen Waddle ...

"He is as dynamic and electric as I have seen. He touches the ball—you can see it on tape—it pops off and it's really not just special teams. They find ways all over the field to get him the ball. They move him around. They motion him. They give him touches, every way you can. Shame on them if they don't because he is electric when he touches the ball. He is just a really, really good football player. He is tough. He runs the ball tough. He is physical. There are a lot of challenges there for us with him. He creates a lot of issues."

On returning to Tuscaloosa for the first time as Georgia's coach since leaving ...

"The challenges to going back are playing a really good football team in a tough atmosphere. They will have as many as they can have and it will be as loud as they can possibly make it. In terms of going back, I don't think I've been back since I've been the head coach at Georgia. I don't think I've been back any. I don't really remember." 

On how Alabama has been able to succeed on offense ...

"What's made them succeed well is players. They've got really good players. Sark [Steve Sarkisian] does a great job of implementing the system that the kids can execute. It's based on really hard guys to cover outside. They've got one of, probably the best backs in the country if not one of the best backs in the country. Najee [Harris] runs the ball really hard, and they are massive upfront. So, offensively, they are not built like some of these teams that go tempo the whole time and go hurry-up the whole time. They can go up-tempo and they do tempo well, but they are really big, they can take shots down the field with explosive wideouts they have. They make you defend the entire field. 

"I think college football as a whole is more offensive because the rules lend it to be that way in terms of allowing — you can have linemen a little further down field in college, so the RPO game gets to be big. You can do tempo in college football at a lot higher rate. Tempo hasn't been successful in the NFL because you get your quarterback hit and, to be honest with you, a lot of those NFL teams their linemen aren't built to go tempo. They are not built to go 70, I mean 100 plays a game, and go really fast. A lot of the teams that have the most success statistically are tempo teams in college football. I think that has a lot to do with the success and the numbers you are seeing. Alabama capitalizes on a great system with a really good scheme and really good players."

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