Everything Kirby Smart Had to Say During Press Conference Prior to Auburn

Brooks Austin

Opening statement …

“I am excited to be here. We have a big game this week. This is one of the most traditional rivalries in all of college football. I think any time you talk about Georgia-Auburn, you talk about rivalry. They’ve got a lot of kids from our state. They recruit our state hard. There are a lot of ties between the two universities — always has been. It’s been a big game. I never remember it being game two, that’s for sure, so that is very unique in that we will be playing them pretty early. I have a lot of respect for their coordinators — Coach [Kevin] Steele, Chad [Morris] — both really good. I think what Chad has done for their offense really shows on tape. The ability to use their skill and get their skill players the ball from different locations. You can see it showing up already, and they’ve done a great job of that.  

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Gus [Malzahn] and the organization he has put together. They have recruited well, they have really good players, top-10 team in the country, so it should be a great ball game, great atmosphere. I certainly wish we could have 93,000 there, but we won’t be able to do that, so we will do the best we can with the crowd we’ve got, and we will need them to be loud. I thought that Arkansas’ group was good and loud last week, and the atmosphere will be really good for that this week as well. So, we are excited for that. 

“I know you guys will want to ask the quarterback question, and you will want to ask it all week. All I can tell you is that we are going to continue to work with all the guys we’ve got to put the best guy in there to give us the best opportunity to win the football games. D’Wan [Mathis] did not play as bad as it seemed to some. I thought he did some good things watching the tape, and he had some unfortunate bad breaks that happened while he was in a quarterback. JT [Daniels] will be cleared, but I don’t know how much that changes the picture in terms of reps and development. We will be looking at everybody across the board. JT has got to be able to show us that he can function efficiently and do it with his knee being able to do it. We always thought he would be cleared by this time anyway, but those guys will all compete as well as Carson [Beck] will too and will continue to grow at the quarterback position. With that, I’ll open it up.” 

On what hurdles JT Daniels had to overcome medically and the performance of Stetson Bennett …  

“Well, Ron [Courson] would have to explain that in depth. You are looking for percentage, strength index, biodex, testing, girth, his knee being closer to the same size as the other one. They do a single-leg hop test, they measure his ability to move around on that knee compared to his other knee, and they have been looking for certain barometers to be able to hit that number, and he was able to do that. That’s very fortunate for him, but he still has to be able to go out there and prove to us that he can do it in the game-like situations and the practice-like situations. That’s not easy to do during the week at times. 

“I thought Stetson did a good job when he came in. He has played a lot of football. He had good composure, he handled the pocket well, he handled the protections well. Stetson has seen a lot of football in his time. The stuff he sees from our defense day-in and day-out, taking all the reps last year. He was very calm and poised. And D’Wan did a lot of good things, guys. It’s not his fault a play got called back for holding. It’s not his fault a guy missed a pick up on third down — and he almost turned that into a first down. He did a lot of good things early on there, and we just never could put good things back to back. Every drive he had came to a stop for some reason or another.” 

On D’Wan Mathis taking a big hit and if that dinged him up a little …  

“No. Actually it was the opposite. He was fired up. He was pumped. He loves the game, he loves the competitive nature. He doesn’t believe in getting down. He likes contact. I thought that was one of the highlights that he took that hit and that he kept going. I think what got me a little bit was the awareness the next time. He missed the yard marker the next time on third down when he had an opportunity to scramble for it and get the third down. That happens with a young quarterback. I remember a big game where Jake Fromm took off running on a third down and he slid before the first down on third down, and I was so upset with him. But a lot of guys they don’t have the awareness to know exactly where that is on the sideline, and he just missed it. It had nothing to do with the hit he took earlier. As a matter of fact, he was pumped about the hit. He’s been waiting two years to get hit, so he felt relieved.” 

On the evaluation of the running backs after game one… 

“It’s a combination of both [the running backs and blocking]. I thought there were a couple things. The first thing, to have a great run you have to have good box counts, you have to get hat on a hat, you have to make people miss. I think all of our backs have the ability to make people miss, but they have to do it at a higher level. We have to block much better on the second level on terms of our receivers, cut off blocking and turning a couple 10/12 yard runs into bigger runs. There were some missed opportunities there and we have to move up front a little better. At the end of the day, that’s what it takes to be able to run the ball. When you look across our league, I think you’ll see- you show me a team that’s running the ball really, really well and efficiently and it’s hard to do in our league. You have to be able to throw and catch the ball and you have to be able to score points. Historically, we’ve been able to run the ball at a good rate, compared to a lot of people in our league and we didn’t do that Saturday. There were some holes, some things there that backs didn’t necessarily miss. Sometimes the snap was bad. And if you have a bad snap and it gets you off direction, you can’t have that. It takes a cumulative effect of everybody doing their job, and if one guy is off — one receiver doesn’t cut off a safety and he turns what would be a 20-yard gain in to a five-yard gain. If the snap is off, you go back and look, there were a couple times the snap was just off key and it brings the quarterback off line and then it brings the running back off line. We have to do a better job blocking and running the ball. I do think we have some people to do that with.” 

On if any injuries occurred during the game and the status of senior outside linebacker Walter Grant… 

“As far as the injuries go, nobody is substantially injured. There are some bumps and bruises, really the same ones we had going into the game. Jermaine [Johnson] dinged his shoulder, I think he had to go out of the game for little bit, but he came back in and played and we think he’ll be fine. Kearis [Jackson] got dinged up on the hit there when he got hit pretty good but he stayed in for a couple more plays and came back. We don’t have anybody that we think is out. In terms of Walter [Grant], when we feel like he can contribute and help us out, he’ll be able to. He has to be able to help us out in all of the phases of the game to be able to play.” 

On changing the expectations at Georgia so that a 27-point win doesn’t feel like it sometimes… 

“I don’t know. I don’t really get into that. I just look at the performance. The expectation of fan base, the expectation of you guys (media), is not what I’m trying to please. I am trying to please these young men and I want them to be at their best. I want to do the best job for them as a staff. I want to put them in the best chance to be successful. That’s, to me, what we’re measured on- do we get the most out of these kids that we can and do we grow them? I’m really not into the perception or the outside world, what they think because it probably doesn’t matter at the end of the day. I’m worried about getting our team better. It’s never as good as it seems and it’s never as bad as it seems. And that was 100 percent evident watching that tape. The defense wasn’t as good as it seemed and the offense was not as bad as it seemed. We have to do a good job at doing better. That’s the only thing that matters.” 

On the Auburn game being played earlier in the season, regardless of the pandemic… 

“My support or disgruntle of it doesn’t matter. It is what it is. I don’t really care when we play who we play, it’s who we play that I care about. We have Auburn this week. I’m excited because I think they have a really good football team. Two months ago, three months ago, we didn’t even know if we were going to have this game, so I am certainly excited that we are and that our kids get the opportunity to play in an electric environment.“ 

On the importance of locking down the starting quarterback position… 

“It’s a lot more important how we play around him and how we support him because whoever’s able to do that the best and get the most of the people around them is going to be the guy who moves the ball and produces. At the end of the day, that’s what we want to do. If that’s one guy, two guys, we’re not putting ourselves in a pigeonhole, saying, ‘We can only have one quarterback.’ We’ve got to develop all of our quarterbacks. I know you all are looking at it in terms of Auburn, right now, who’s going to play, who’s the quarterback. We’re trying to look at our entire roster and say, ‘How are we going to be the best we can be in week two, three, four, five, six, down the line.’ There are some guys on our team that are going to be better down the line than maybe the guy in front of them, but the only way they’re going to get there is through playing, so there’s a big part of making that decision that goes into that. I’m not going to sit here and say we can’t play multiple guys, or it’s got to be one guy. I certainly think it’s easier when it’s one guy, in terms of continuity with your team and things like that. We’ve got to do what gives us the best chance to win. That’s what we’ll continue to do as coaches.” 

On the difficulty of evaluating quarterbacks during a game week… 

“I didn’t say we would juggle the game reps. I’m not ready to say we’re going to do that. We’re going to get the guys prepared. It gives us the best chance to win. There’s a lot of reps out there when you have ones, twos, and threes, and you’re able to get a lot of work. We’re going to get work, but we’re not going to have juggling if you don’t have enough reps to get guys in there with the ones and get reps. The reps they get development-wise will come with the twos and threes.” 

On Auburn quarterback Bo Nix… 

“He’s got a vertical passing game. He’s got a great arm. He makes really good decisions. I think the dink-and-dunk is the decision making he has, and it gives him the opportunity to not throw picks. Quarterbacks avoid picks because they don’t throw into situations that are adverse. He’s got a really good set of receivers when you talk about experience in the SEC with the guys they got at wideout. Those guys seem like they’ve been playing there forever. Seth’s [Williams] one of the best there is, [Eli] Stove’s been there forever, and we know how fast [Anthony] Schwartz is. They’ve got a lot of good wideouts, in terms of their skill set on offense. He’s got guys to protect him around it. He’s a coach’s son, has been around the game his whole life. He knows good decisions, and he’s a really good athlete. People don’t understand how good of a runner he is.” 

On the center position… 

“Offensive line is not a limelight position, but everybody writes a story about D’Wan and Stetson and don’t talk about the line very often. That’s been going on all camp. That’s not something we haven’t done. We think Trey [Hill] gives us a lot of flexibility at guard. We think Warren [Ericson] gives us flexibility at center, and the ability to play guard which you saw in the bowl game. He provides Trey some conditioning relief when you’re in a COVID year and you’re not quite in as good of shape as you normally are. Trey plays a really good guard. In a lot of ways, Trey can play guard and create more power than Warren can, in terms of strength and body weight. So, he’s able to relieve Ben [Cleveland] and [Justin] Shaffer, and give them a blow and not have a drop off at center. We’ll continue to work that route and play the guys that give us the best chance to win.” 

On Richard LeCounte encouraging him to get Stetson Bennett… 

“First of all, we didn’t sign Stetson initially. He was a walk-on. I never heard that story. I don’t remember that coming up. We watched Stetson a lot and thought a lot of him, and he had scholarship offers. He was what we call a ‘recruited walk-on.’ We recruited him and brought him on an official visit, and we wanted Stetson to come here and develop. He did a really good job that freshman year. He didn’t get a lot of competitive reps. He got scout team reps and did a great job. Maybe Richard’s taking credit for that, I don’t know, but I never remember Richard telling me to go after Stetson. It was more of Stetson was a really good football player that we wanted to join our team. He was a great academic student, so we knew he’d be able to get into Georgia. He did an awesome job while he was here. He just didn’t think in the spring with Justin [Fields] and Jake [Fromm] that he was going to get the opportunity he needed. That’s when he decided to go to Mississippi.” 

On his opinion on the special teams performance against Arkansas... 

“I will be honest with you, I wasn’t exactly ecstatic about the special teams. I thought we missed some opportunities there. We left some things out there that were there. We didn’t handle a couple situations well. We had to burn a timeout. I was not pleased with that. Now statistically, you can look at it and say, ‘Well, you are crazy because you did this, this, this.’ We have an experienced punter who punted the ball well, and some really competitive gunners that we worked all offseason on being a better ‘pin the team inside the 10.’ Those reps showed. We were very fortunate to have those reps show. The return game, I thought we left some out there. If we block a little better or maybe we return a little better we [would] score a touchdown on that. With a young offense, you’ve got to ignite it through special teams. We work really hard on that. We take a lot of pride in that. We were probably a little ahead of Arkansas in terms of the level of skill players that have out there. They are still in the process of recruiting guys and getting guys out there. We were probably better than them. But, if you look at Auburn—which I have all morning and afternoon yesterday—they have all their starters, all of their best players on special teams. It’s going to be a competitive war on special teams because they have really good special teams players.” 

On the takeaways from watching film of the defense and the ways they can improve... 

“Good question. The biggest thing is we had some mental-busts that they didn’t expose us on. Things that if you are sitting there and watching you are going, ‘Okay we didn’t do that right. We didn’t handle that well.’ Someone with better players will be able to expose us—mistakes that were made, communication errors. One side is playing one thing and the other side is playing another—we [were] not on the same page. Typically, those are early in the season mistakes, and they are one play away from [it] being a big play, which we saw the explosive play that happened. There certainly could have been more of those if guys were on the same page. It’s easy to highlight that. The great thing about this defense is they will listen to you. We tell them. We tell them, honestly. We say, ‘Hey, this guy is really good player, this guy is not a good player.’ When you are honest with players and you go in and tell them, ‘Hey this is not right and this right. This is doing it wrong. This is doing it right.’ They listen to you. I know a lot of people think because of the pick-six and the safety that it was all great—a lot was missed there. A lot of opportunities where we ended up one-on-one and if that one guy breaks a tackle—it’s a touchdown. We need two people there. We need three people there.” 

On George Pickens’ performance against Arkansas and his coaching strategy this week based on Pickens’ past performance versus Auburn... 

“No, I think we went through that last year. George [Pickens] is competitive by nature. He is a fiery-spirit guy. He has to play with composure. We talk about that with all of our players, not just George. It’s got to be the same this week. It can’t just mean more because it’s Auburn—it has to mean more because it’s the next game. I thought he played well in the game. He knows what he’s got to work on and continue to get better at. We point that out to him each day.” 

On his evaluation of the tight ends’ performance against Arkansas and Tre’ McKitty’s status... 

“I thought Darnell [Washington] did a good job for having the first-game jitters. He handled his assignments well. He’s got to continue to condition and get in better shape—be more of a physical presence in the blocking game. But, he’s a kid that is coming along really well. As far as Tre’ [McKitty], I will be able to tell you a lot more after today’s practice. I can’t say a lot right now because we haven’t seen him yet.” 

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