Smart, players meet the media after Monday practice

Dogs, Hogs to face off in Fayetteville

The Georgia Bulldogs are four days away from kicking off a conference-only schedule on the road against Arkansas. The Dogs will face the Razorbacks in a game that kicks at 4 o’clock Saturday afternoon.

From Tray Littlefield, UGA Sports Communications…

University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart and several Bulldog student-athletes offered the following comments on Monday.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement …

"It’s game week. I am excited to have game week, that is for sure. It has been a long time coming and there have been a lot of things that have happened and transpired since we were on the field last for a competitive game. I know our guys are excited. We saw a lot of excitement out Saturday and Friday when we started to work on our Arkansas prep. Our players are excited, I am excited, our coaches are excited. There are a lot of new faces that are going to get their first opportunity to compete at the SEC level. We are excited to do that, going against a very good friend of mine in Coach Sam Pittman, who did just an unbelievable job while he was here. He and his wife, Jamie, meant so much to the community here in Athens and for so many of our kids. He helped build the foundation of what we have now. I am extremely happy for him for this opportunity he has gotten. I know he always had a special place in his heart for Arkansas, and he got this opportunity to go back.

“He’s got two really good coordinators on his staff. I know Barry [Odom] obviously from the SEC meetings and the SEC experience, him being in the SEC East. Barry is a good friend and a really good football coach. He did a great job at Missouri. His defense has always created a lot of problems. Then, obviously, Coach [Kendal] Briles is a really good football coach, and you have seen what he’s been able to do historically with offensives in terms of numbers. He does a great job. He presents a lot of problems and issues because the pace at which they play and a quarterback that we all know. They have multiple guys that can play. It’s a little bit, for us, a guessing game who we will get to see at their quarterback position. With that, I’ll open it up.”

On the status of QB JT Daniels …

“We hope JT will be cleared by Saturday, officially.”

On the quarterback situation …

“I am excited about the guys who have competed. They have all done a good job. They have all taken reps. Stetson [Bennett], Carson [Beck], JT [Daniels] and D’Wan [Mathis] have all done a good job, and I am excited to see those guys go out and play.”

On COVID-19 operations for travel and game day …

“I don’t know that the actual traveling is going to change a whole lot. I think a lot of people are anticipating major changes. The biggest change is that everyone going on the trip will have been tested multiple, multiple times — three times in a game week — including possibly one the day of travel. So, that’s the most unique thing. They are trying to weed out anyone being in the travel party that would have COVID. Can you 100 percent do that? No. But we can come as accurate as possible, and that would be the goal. As far as actual travel, it’s not like we are going to be completely in a bubble. We are going to be on planes and buses, transporting the same way we typically do. We are just testing everybody in that party. I hope that answers your question, but there is not like a change in how we are traveling.”

On the impact Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman had at Georgia and if Smart shared any advice with him …

"The first part — we have talked probably more in the last month or two months of trying to play the season. Not just Sam and I, but coaches in general, the SEC coaches across the board. We have shared texts with guys that I am friends with and things like that. Sam — very similar — just how they are doing, what kind of camp they have had, what they have been able to do, really how you are managing a lot of the issues and problems we have dealt with.

“As far as what kind of mark he left on our program, I think that’s evidenced by the offensive lines we have had. He was a really good recruiter. He was a relationship-driven coach. His players just love him and they all enjoy playing for him. He created that family atmosphere. He and Jamie did not have kids of their own, but all the o-linemen were their kids and always have been. That came to fruition for me when we hired him from Arkansas, because every offensive lineman that he had coached there prior to coming back here he had a really special relationship with, and they tried to keep him there. We were lucky to get him. He certainly contributed to our success.”

On D’Wan Mathis' work throughout camp to put him in a position to play…

“D’Wan [Mathis] has done a great job. He has embraced every opportunity. He’s competed, he’s gotten better.  He is very talented with his feet. He understands what we are asking him to do. I think he’s done a great job preparing and so have Carson [Beck], Stetson [Bennett], and JT [Daniels]. They really all have done a good job preparing for this moment and I feel comfortable with all of those guys.”

On the issues of facing a staff that has such familiarity with the program…

“I don’t know that there are real issues, to be honest with you. I don’t put a huge premium on them having been part of our organization. I look at it as, they’re coaching their team and we’re coaching our team. There’s not a lot of trade secrets in football. You have to be able to block, you have to be able to tackle, you have to be able to communicate on the field.  We have a different offense than we had last year and a lot of the connection to our program was through the offensive side of the ball with Coach Pittman.  I’m not looking at it as those guys that were here last year being an issue for us there. They’re doing the best job they can to prepare their team and we’re doing the best job we can to prepare ours.  It usually boils down to what the players do on the grass, not what we do as coaches.”

On the preparation for crowd noise on the road…

“I don’t know that we have a complete grasp of that. We know what they’re allowed to use, in terms of decibels and we’ve practiced with that noise amount. We practice, from time to time, with music and other things on just to try to get used to and acclimated to those things.  We understand the rules of what you’re allowed to pump in, prior to a snap, but don’t know how to gauge what that number of people might actually be able to create. If you’re prepared for crowd noise and the levels that we’ve played at in the past, we feel comfortable that that preparation will cover what we are going to have in this situation.”

On the impact of this preseason on the wide receivers…

“I think they have gotten better as a group.  Any time you lose the juniors out early that we lost the previous year with Riley [Ridley] and Mecole [Hardman], you end up with a little bit of a hole.  We have tried to fill that with recruiting.  I certainly think that George [Pickens] had a good year last year and the players that were developing have developed to become better- Kearis [Jackson], Matt [Landers], and we have added some freshmen that have added to that.  We are getting better at the position and we continue to get better at each and every position. That’s one that we need to grow at and prepare for.”

On watching other teams start their seasons already and what he’s learned watching…

“It’s been a little awkward watching games and having not played one. It’s like having an open and then another open week and it’s like when are we going to play. We know the date is set, but it’s just unusual to have everyone start before you, maybe not NFL, but definitely in the college ranks to have a couple weeks. We have tried to use that to our advantage. We have taken clips from college game, pro games, and try to use the situations that the teams are in to try to educate our players and to be honest with you, they enjoy seeing that as opposed to just watching practice. The idea and thought of a game highlight and a game situation to learn from is certainly good for us to be able to do that.”

On seeing the potential of Coach Sam Pittman elevating from an offensive line coach to a head coach…

“He always had the traits of a head coach. Number 1- he’s a great leader, he’s a great person. He commands the respect of the room when he speaks. He can be very emotional and you don’t always find that with an offensive line coach because they’re usually a little rough around the edges and he wears his feelings on his sleeve. He is very open with his players and I think he lets them in more than most O-line coaches do. That relationship really stands.  I always thought when our offensive line would get up in front of the team and speak that they always talked about their relationship with Sam [Pittman] and how they felt about him, cared about him. He got the opportunity to go and a lot of our guys reached out-they were hurt by it, but not hurt like they were mad at him. They were very thankful for his opportunity but they were going to miss that relationship.”

On setting the tone before a tough stretch of games…

“Mainly, because it’s the first game, it’s your first opportunity to create your identity and figure out who your leaders are, figure out who we’re going to be on all three phases. You don’t define that moment until kids have some adversity or go out and get some butterflies. For so many of our kids, the bottom half of our roster, the younger half, freshmen and sophomores, for a lot of them, it will be their first opportunity to play in college football and in this atmosphere. I’m certainly excited for them, but we know this is one game of many we’ve got to play in a really tough road, but we’re focused on this one and this one only.”

On the players maintaining their composure during the game…

“Composure is always a key ingredient, and it’s always a concern of mine. I think those pregame opportunities and those scrimmage opportunities are your best chances to mimic something bad happening to a kid, maybe a late hit or something that is undisciplined that can cost you big in big games, which is why we’ve tried to show them clips of other people doing it. That doesn’t prevent us from doing it, that doesn’t prevent a young kid from making a mistake, but usually, composure is mimicked by maturity. The more mature you are, the better composure you can keep. We certainly hope our guys can do that.”

On the placekicker competition…

“As far as placekicking, it’s still not final. The kickoff duties, we’ve got a good competition going that’ll probably go all throughout this week.”

On any potential doubts of the season not taking place…

“I never lost optimism based on the decision they [Big Ten, Pac-12] made because I was going off of the information I was getting right here in the SEC from Ron [Courson] and the medical staff, Commissioner Sankey, they’ve been very open with their communication with us, and the optimism has always been there. I was always looking forward to it—didn’t know exactly when the date would be that we get to it, but I felt comfortable that we would get there.”

On senior wide receiver Demetris Robertson’s role this season…

“I’m excited for D-Rob. He’s a player that has improved throughout his time here. He came in and probably wasn’t as physical as he’d like to be, in terms of the SEC. He’s gotten faster, stronger, bigger—he’s able to do more things. He certainly understands our system. He’s a good leader. He helps on special teams. I’m excited to see what he does this year. I’m excited to see all those wideouts.”

On the impact of Jamie Newman opting out…

“With the rotation we had going, it didn’t impact us much as it would have had he been there the entire time. We had minicamp days one through 11 that he wasn’t able to go in throughout the first half of those, the later part was when he got there. We were able to give those reps to other guys and were probably fortunate that it happened when it happened in terms of trying to get a guy ready, because if it had gone up until this point or later, I can’t imagine where we’d be. But those reps would’ve been doled out between the other guys, so they certainly would’ve got more. It was a concern of ours when you start thinking about spring practice not being there, not being able to get the reps, but we’ve got to go with what we got and we’re excited about what we’ve got. We’ve got to do a good job because whoever it is is not going to be a guy that played in a lot of football games, especially at an SEC level. We’ve got to manage that and we’ve got to play to our strengths. That’s what I’m excited to see. I’m excited to see how these offensive players that got to play against Baylor go out and play with a new quarterback.”

On what characteristics of D’Wan Mathis' personality have helped him come back from his injury …

“He’s got great composure. He’s never been a real emotionally up or down guy, which I think is a pretty good trait at quarterback. You look across the four guys we’ve got—they’re very similar in [that] none of them get really high or really low. They’ve had good days and bad days out on the practice field where they’ve made and thrown bonehead interceptions, or took sacks and too many they couldn’t take. None of them have handled it the wrong way, and D’Wan [Mathis] is the same way. Going back to his surgery and his craniotomy—he’s been so resilient, earned the respect of so many people with the way he managed it and the way he came back from it. The way he worked last year—he’s been a model of consistency in terms of staying the course and continuing to work. A lot of the stuff has been out of his control. He hasn’t been able to control what the doctors said he could and couldn’t do.”

On George Pickens' progression since last season...

“He has a really good grasp on the overall, entire system. At times last year he was a guy you had to put in a certain place and really explain what to do. He understands a lot more now about the bigger picture—what route is the other guy running? What is the coverage? What does the coverage do to change my route? How do I affect the play? Am I primary on this play? Am I the secondary on this play? He has a better understanding of all of those things and that’s important to the rest of our offense. George [Pickens] is a talented player that can make us better in other ways than just catching the ball.”

On how they adjusted the recruiting strategy since recruits are no longer allowed on campus this season...

“I don’t know that it will adjust at all because we never fully expected to be able to. The only thing that is certain now is that it won’t happen before January. I never thought it would anyway. We were proceeding as if we were not going to get those kids here anyway. I think the reality is more kids realize now that they won’t get that opportunity, and they had hope they would—we certainly didn’t feel that.”

On how James Cook and Zamir White have filled the roles of D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien...

“It all started at the Baylor game. Unfortunately, James [Cook] didn’t make it long into that game before he got dinged up and got injured. Building up to that game there was a body of work of practices where he had done a tremendous job and Zamir [White] had a good game. They both have been really good leaders. The big thing for both of them is getting more conditioning, more stamina, ‘I’m going to play more snaps maybe than I have in the past. What is my role on third down?’ D’Andre [Swift] did a lot of the pick-ups, Brian Herrien did a lot of the pick-ups. Those guys get ample opportunity to go against us every day in practice where they get to see a lot of looks and work on pass-pro stuff.”

—Player Quotes —

#10 Kearis Jackson | R-Sophomore | WR

On what it’s like catching a ball from QB D’Wan Mathis…

“Just like catching a ball from any other quarterback. He has a powerful arm, has a great spin on the ball. Just during the offseason and being able to come up to the facilities sometimes it’s been great to make that connection with all the quarterbacks. I know this offseason we took it extra serious about getting the extra throws in, getting that chemistry right. This offseason, all the quarterbacks threw well, but D’Wan’s speed and stuff is very special for him to be able to have an arm and the speed as well. He will be a weapon.”

On why this game against Arkansas sets the tone for the season…

“Every game is going to be difficult from here on out. Of course this game is so important because it’s the first game and we get a chance to show our identity and show what Georgia football is going to be for this 2020 season. The guys in the building are excited. We’re ready to go out there and play. We have practice today. It’s just exciting to go back out after not knowing from the beginning of the year, not knowing if we were going to have a season. Now we can get ready to play our first game in a couple of days. It’s very exciting and we’re ready to go out there and ball.”

On how the team has adapted to the unusual conditions of this season…

“I feel that we’ve gotten better as a team just knowing all the assignments, knowing what we want to do, what we want out of this season. I know last year wasn’t the year we wanted to have, but now it’s time to make a statement, and I believe that every guy in that room has the ability to do that. I believe in every one of our guys in that room, I trust everyone, I have confidence in everybody. Anybody you put in the game they’re going to ball regardless. That’s how much confidence I have in them, and that’s a fun group to be in. In practice we’re just having fun. It’s just fun to be around those guys and know what we have out there and know what’s at stake.”

#32 Monty Rice | Senior | ILB

On if he notices differences during practice in regards to COVID-19…

“We’ve been tested frequently ever since we’ve gotten back. There hasn’t been much of a change from a practice standpoint, we’ve been doing the same thing.”

On how much he thinks the depth of the team will be relied on this season…

“It’s important that we make good decisions on the weekends outside of Butts-Mehre because we need everybody on the team. You never know when your name is going to be called. You need to be really smart with who you hang around and always make sure you’re wearing your mask.”

On his thoughts about the conversations they’ve been having on social justice…

“The University of Georgia athletic department has done a great job of making us feel comfortable and talking about it as a team. We’ve had meetings and it’s been an open mic for anybody who wants to talk about it and get their frustrations out. As long as we keep pushing a positive message going forward, we will continue to get better as a whole.”

On if it is important to use their platform…

“Without a doubt, if we didn’t push the Dawgs for Pups it wouldn’t have gotten funded like it did. It lets people know that we are more than just athletes. We’re not just football players, we’re student-athletes. We have regular lives too and we do other things as well.”

#11 Jermaine Johnson | Senior | OLB

On the throwback jerseys and what type of energy that brings to the program…

“For me, I was excited. I was very excited along with all my other teammates. At the same time, Coach [Kirby Smart] he had told us what we are wearing early on and everything like that so we can stay focused and not let that be a distraction. So we learned early on what we were wearing to get rid of the jitters and excitement and we can just focus on the game coming up soon.”

On what he thinks Arkansas will bring offensively with their new coaching staff…

“I’m aware that their offensive coordinator [Kendal Briles] came from Florida State and he likes to move fast, fast tempo with the offense. I believe Coach Smart has had us out there running fast to be ready for that. Aside from that, nothing too much in detail. We’ve just been conditioning getting ready for that fast tempo offense that they’re going to have.”

On going up against former teammate Rakeem Boyd and his relationship with him…

“I was just excited with the mere fact that I know what it took for both of us to get where we are. I was just excited to meet each other on this stage. I’ve talked to him before and after we left [Independence Community College]. Not a ton of contact or anything, especially around game day, trying to focus up and not really talk to the opponent. I’m just excited to play him because I know what it took for him to get where he is and for me to get where I am. So I’m just excited for us to compete on this stage.”

#55 Trey Hill | Junior | OL

On how challenging it has been going up against the UGA defense during practice/how it is helping the offense…

“It is very challenging [and] going up against those guys each and every day just makes us better, on offense and defense. Just running the ball and passing the ball—I don’t think you see anything better.”

On what stood out to him about Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman (former UGA offensive line coach) during the recruiting process...

“I respected just how family-oriented he was and his energy on and off the field. What you got on the field is what you got off the field. The way he takes care of his players and the love and support he gives them [stands out].”

On his observations of the offense this season as one of Georgia’s only offensive veterans…

“I think we’ve got a great group of guys. The ones and twos are deep, and they’re all a great players who are dedicated and are going to do what it takes to win.”

Tim Bryant

Tim Bryant hosts Classic City Today, 6-10 weekday mornings on 98.7FM & AM 1340 WGAU in Athens.

mobile apps

Everything you love about wsbradio.com and more! Tap on any of the buttons below to download our app.

amazon alexa

Enable our Skill today to listen live at home on your Alexa Devices!