Following the 37-10 loss to LSU in the SEC Championship Game, Kirby Smart spoke to the media alongside J.R. Reed and Jake Fromm.
KIRBY SMART: I want to thank the SEC and really our fan base. I always start that way because what an incredible atmosphere. I always say that about this venue. It's awesome to play in. The crowd is incredible. I thought it was more Georgia initially the first half than it was LSU, and they were impactful.
Unfortunately, we just couldn't make enough plays tonight. I give LSU a ton of credit. That is a really good football team, and we knew that coming in. We were going to have to play well. We were going to have to make explosive plays. We were unable to do that. I am very proud of the way our players compete, and I am very proud of the leaders on this team who have continued to compete.
That's not what we thought was going to happen, and certainly disappointed, but it doesn't take away the fact we've been here three straight years, and I'm really proud of this senior class, who led us to a lot of victories.
Q. Kirby, with the player losses and injuries that you had this year, what does the scheme and sort of a microcosm of the season, what does it tell you in terms of offensive philosophy and whether you have to go in a different direction after this season?
KIRBY SMART: To be honest with you, I thought we had -- I mean, we didn't come out with a mentality of running the ball down your throat today. If you thought we tried to do that, that probably wasn't a good view on the game. We thought we had to score points to win the game.
You have an offense that's built around the players you have. So you take the players you have, and you use your strengths. With the players we have, we have certain strengths. We usually have good pass protection. We have a good offensive line. We've got good backs.
But our ability to run the ball has not been consistent this year, and people can say, well, Coach Smart wants to play man ball. Coach Smart wants to win, and we threw the ball 42 times. Now, you can say it was because we were behind, but we threw the ball early in the game, and we had some drops, we had some misses. It's not a matter of what is your offensive philosophy? It is what is the best way to win the game. I honestly think that's what we're trying to do.
Q. Jake, what was it like being -- you talked about just going into the game having injured receivers. You lost another one. You've got three of your first top five guys out. What was that situation like for you in the first half?
JAKE FROMM: It's kind of tough on us, but for us, it's a "next man up" mentality. I think the guys were ready. They understood the plan. It's just an opportunity for them to go out and make a couple of plays.
KIRBY SMART: I would also like to note there was two that went down. We lost Dom Blaylock and Kearis Jackson for the entire game. I don't make excuses. We've got to go make plays. But those were two of the five we had left.
Q. Jake, I just want to be sure because it seems like nothing this season offensively was ever fully in sync. You talked about that after games before the season. Were you fully healthy this season? I know you don't want to use anything as an excuse, but I was just curious.
JAKE FROMM: Yeah, I was fully healthy. I went in every week at 100 percent and ready to go help my team whatever way I could.
Q. J.R., just going against Joe Burrow, what he's able to do, I mean, from your vantage point, what made him be able to be so successful today against you guys?
J.R. REED: He's a great athlete, man. We had a lot of plays out there we were supposed to make, and he'd just squeeze out of it, gets out of it. He did a good job. We had a lot of guys on him, and he broke like three, four tackles. He extends a lot of plays.
Q. Jake, what was that like to have the pass dropped on Landers' play? I'm not asking you to point a finger on him, but just kind of the deflation that happened after that. Did you feel like that was a last-gasp situation for you guys?
JAKE FROMM: No, for us, it's always about fighting. Stuff happens in football. That's part of the game. There's a lot of ups and downs, especially in big games like this. There's a lot of ups and downs in it. You just kind of have to weather the storms at times and go and try to make the next play.
Q. Coach Smart, you were pretty much in this ball game going into that third quarter. Was that 70-yard pass that was thrown, was that kind of the back breaker in this game?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, that one was frustrating because we thought we had a really good call on it. We had pressure, and we had a guy come scot-free. He missed him, and I think we missed him again maybe on that same play. Hey, I thought that was the perfect call by our defensive coordinator, and they made a better play than we did a call, and sometimes players do that. You learn in coaching that good players make big-time plays, and that was an incredible play by Joe Burrow.
We brought six people. When you bring six people, you expect to get home. He made a helluva play. I give Joe Burrow credit, man. He is a phenomenal player.
Q. Kirby, just so I understand, it looked like early in the game you guys were only bringing two or three, and I could be completely wrong, but just the defensive philosophy early in the game, it looked like Burrow had just tons of time out there.
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, we had a three-man, a four-man, a five-man, and a six-man rush, and we try to change those things up. We did a lot of studies going into the game of ways to get incompletions because you're basically fighting for incompletions on them. We got pressured. We didn't finish. When we had three man rush, a lot of times he was able to hold the ball, but we had a lot of guys covering, and you're fighting. We got them to third and long on that opening drive and didn't off the field, then they ended up converting to a touchdown.
I give them a lot of credit. We had three-man, four-man, five-man rush, played seven DBs. We had a lot of different looks.
Q. Kirby, what was D'Andre Swift's real status at the start of the game?
KIRBY SMART: D'Andre Swift's real status was he practiced all week. He did everything we asked him to do. He said he was going to be able to play and thought he would be able to compete. He felt good in warmups, and he played. There was no -- I mean, as far as I know, he was fine. Towards the end of the game, we ended up holding him out once the outcome was decided, but he seemed fine to me.
Q. J.R., just to go back to what you were saying, I think that second touchdown, three man rush, I think Joe had 8.5 seconds before he threw that touchdown pass. How tough is it to cover guys for that long?
J.R. REED: It's a very tough thing to do, but I think it's our job to cover on the back end. So we've got to cover those guys. We've got to get the ball down, something we practice. We knew what the game plan was going in, and we've just got to do that.
Q. Kirby, what's the biggest thing about LSU's offense that just kind of took the SEC by storm this year? Is it the quarterback, the play calling, the running back, combination of all of it? What can you put your finger on?
KIRBY SMART: That's a great question. First of all, I've been in this league for a long time, and I don't know that I've seen the combination of things they've got. They've got an elite quarterback that's a really good athlete. They have a back that is a matchup guy. He can match up on anybody and go in. They've got really good wideouts, and they've got an experienced offensive line. So they go tempo, but they don't go tempo to just run the ball, they go tempo and take shots. They never change personnel. It's like 28 consecutive snaps with the same people on the field. So it does not allow you to substitute in the pattern that you want to.
So there's a combination of a lot of things, and it is scheme oriented, but it's a lot more than scheme. They have plays that they've run all year, that we've run all year. Our plays haven't looked like their plays because a lot of times we might not have the same guys doing those plays.
They've got a great group of wideouts combined with an extremely athletic quarterback, and it hit at the right time. I've got a lot of respect for what they're doing and who they're doing it with. They're hard to defend.
Q. Joe Burrow's numbers last year were pretty much identical to what Jake's were this year, and Jake's were better the first two years. He didn't become a different person, but clearly something changed. Do you feel like you're getting the most out of the talent you have, or do you think it's a recruiting issue that you need like they have? They have the same guys, but they're doing all this stuff.
KIRBY SMART: First off, I would say what you just said. The first two years, Jake's numbers were better. So the indicator of that was four wide receivers were on our sideline that were drafted that are playing in the NFL. So right now, I don't know if we have four wide receivers that are going to be playing in the NFL at this time next year.
And the loss of those wideouts, the vertical threat, has probably hurt our team. That's my responsibility, right, to replace them. That's my responsibility to replace them in recruiting, and we probably haven't done a good enough job of that.
Now, we had two or three out different games of the year, so we've not had a consistent group out there. Went out and grabbed some transfers we thought would help. A lot of those things fall on it. People can point at Jake, they can point at Coley, they can point at me.
I understand that. But at the end of the day, it's not about that. It's what can we do to win each game individually? There's a lot of plays they run that we run. You watch the tape closely, they run the exact same play we do. What's the difference right now? They have a lot more success with it. They have guys getting open one on one and catching the ball.
I don't know how many drops we had tonight, but I feel like we had to have had five or six that you could say should have probably been caught. And we would have been more explosive if that was the case. I don't mean that in disrespect. If we had really good wideouts, we're more explosive. I don't know. One is on the bench in the first half, one is in a wheelchair, and two or three are in the NFL that came out early. That's just tough.