Smart, Bulldogs prepare for road test against Auburn

- University of Georgia football coach Kirby Smart spoke on Monday about the challenge his team faces this upcoming Saturday on the road against the Auburn Tigers.

“Today we begin our preparation for what I think is a fantastic Auburn team. They are very physical upfront — offensive line and defensive line. They have a back that is playing at a really high level. They have a quarterback that has an extremely strong arm and does a nice job throwing the ball vertically down the field. I think (Defensive Coordinator) Kevin (Steele) has done a really good job defensively. I think the numbers show that. They are really physical upfront, and they do a great job. They have always been good on special teams under Gus (Malzahn) and they have a good all-around football team. Obviously, the environment to play over there I have been there a lot throughout my coaching career. They get loud in there and they do a really good job of creating an environment. They feed off of that. So, the challenges are in front of us. We will find out a lot about this team playing on the road. It’s a tough place to play against a really good football team.”

Auburn is trying to keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive on Saturday, while Georgia is attempting to stay undefeated as they begin the last stretch of the regular season.

On what it is like to play at Auburn and memorable games he has experienced there … 
“It’s the same challenge it is at most SEC places. It’s just a little bit louder, and they have a good team. The better the team is the tougher the place to play is. Their fans get loud, get rowdy — they are there pregame until the end and there have been some really loud moments playing in that stadium. I would not expect it to be any different on Saturday.” 

On if this is the toughest offensive line he has seen since Notre Dame … 
“By far. It is the combination of — it is not just the o-line, it is the quarterback who can put them in the right play, makes good decisions, has great arm talent and a back that you have to tackle. He is running wild on people. He will bounce out, he will hit it up inside. He runs with great toughness, physical. I have seen this kid grow for a long time. I watched him play all through high school. He has become a really good back, and they do a good job of using his strengths. The fullback does not get much credit. Chandler Cox does a great job blocking for him, and they have more speed at wide out this year than they have had in the past. I actually think they get to use it because of the quarterback — his strengths. So, the combination of that with a good offensive line — it is really a recipe for what Gus has been wanting, which I think indicates their offensive numbers.” 

On how Auburn’s vertical passing game compares to a few years back … 
“There are similarities for sure. I think Nick’s ability to run the ball, the quarterback run game, is a little bit different. Jarrett (Stidham) is a really good athlete. He can run it. They do not ask him to run it as much but he certainly can. He has done some things to pull the ball. They have a vertical passing game. They have always had a vertical passing game. It’s just a matter of having the right guy to throw it to them. They have that guy now. They do a great job of it.” 

 On punter Cameron Nizialek and his impact on the team … 
“His maturity — I mean the way in which he practices. He practices the right way. Those guys they interact, they help each other, they spend a lot of time together. He is very business like. He has a schedule he is set to each week — when he kicks, how much he kicks. I think a lot of those guys can take a lot from that and hopefully it rubs off on our younger kickers because we are going to have a hole to fill when he leaves.” 

On Auburn giving up sacks to Clemson and what has changed since then … 
“I think there is a little misnomer there with that because when you watch that game they are not the same team now that they were then. They are not the same offensive line now that they were then. Clemson certainly has some really elite rushers, and they got after them. It was also their quarterback’s first time playing at Auburn in a big game in a situation like that, so I don’t really go much off that. Clemson has their personnel and they play the way they play. We have our personnel and we play the way we play. They are not always the same. They did a tremendous job getting pressure. We need to get pressure to affect the quarterback, but you also have to cover the guys out there they have running the routes. They have some really fast guys out there running their routes, so the big thing is stopping the run and not giving up big plays.” 

On what he stresses to his defense when playing a balanced offense like Auburn’s … 
“Keeping the edges. Making sure that they run between the tackles and that you tackle well. At the end of the day, he can go where he wants to go with the ball. He has great speed. He gets out a lot of his runs. Last year against us he bounced out, he broke out and does a good job doing that. We keep him cut off on the backend — they know the defenses we are going to play. Gus has seen the defenses we play for seven to eight years it seems like. We know the run plays they are going to run. They are not going to reinvent the wheel. We have to go out there and play blocks, tackle the man with the ball and not give up big plays.”

On how he keeps his team grounded in the moment and if there has been any mention of winning the SEC East since Saturday … 
“We have not really gotten together as a team since Saturday. All of that broke out afterward. We have team meetings and things today, but that has not been a major concern for us. Our concern has always been on the next opponent, and this is really where we are now.” 

On what keeps the team grounded … 
“I think the messaging that we create and pass down through the staff and through the leaders in the group. Just talking to them so that they relay the message to the rest of the team has been the best, most effective way to get the point across. To have those guys do it and not just do it ourselves because when they do it they take ownership in it. We had them write some things down and then pass that out and let the players see it. It is easier to write it down sometimes than to say it through a kid that is not used to getting in front of the team. We have tried different tactics. Ultimately, it boils down to preparation week-by-week, and we will continue to do that this week.” 

On if Javon Wims’ development at wide receiver and the trust that the coaching staff has in him … 
“You earn trust, and he has earned the ability to catch the ball, protect the ball and go up and get the ball. He has worked really hard to improve. He continues to improve with his blocking, his physicality. He has to continue to improve on every part of his game, but he has done a nice job. Ultimately, he has given Jake (Fromm) a comfort zone that he has a go-to guy. Terry (Godwin) has done a good job with that as well. The wideouts — we talked earlier in the year — they have to catch the ball that is thrown to them. They have to take advantage of the opportunities these backs give them. At the end of the day, some of the looks they get are based on the backs, and they have to catch the ball. Those two guys have done that.”

On the progress of Jake Fromm … 
“From the beginning of the year, he has done well in decision making. I think playing in that Notre Dame environment was really good for him because that was one of the tougher environments. Early in the Tennessee game was that way. He continues to improve each day, and this will be another tough environment. He has to make good decisions. He has to execute the plan. He has to be able to give the playmakers the ball. As long as he does those things and makes good decisions, we are a pretty good football team because we can complement defense, special teams and offense, but he has to continue to do that.”

On how Natrez Patrick has handled the last few weeks … 
“His discipline is being handled internally like it always is. He has been practicing with us the last couple of weeks. He will continue to practice with us and that competition will continue to go on.” 

On being 9-0 and how his experience at Alabama has helped him … 
“I think the experience does help. I think a veteran team that has had it happen before usually manages it better than a team for the first time. Sometimes it can work in reverse where you come to expect that and you get comfortable with that and you don’t respect it. Our kids have taken ownership. They have really tried to own the burden of this by preparing the right way. We try to manage it as coaches. You don’t want to belabor the point but they get it. They know they are getting ready to go play a really good team, and they know where we are as a team, so I think all those things help.” 

On Jake Fromm’s preparedness to handle being the starting quarterback as a true freshman…
“I think the high school programs across the country have come so far.  They throw so much. They do so much competitive 7-on-7. He grew up in a system where his coach went and met with every college coach in the country because he wanted to learn.  It wasn’t like he was not comfortable passing the ball, checking runs, and doing things.  That complexity of high school football and development of high school football has allowed him to come in more prepared, as well as other quarterbacks across the country.  They come in more prepared to do it."

On Jake Fromm’s personality and maturity as a freshman…
“That’s just his personality.  He’s been that way his whole life. He’s got a lot of intangibles. He’s a good leader.  He’s not afraid of competition.  He played baseball.  Kids that grew up playing multiple sports like that, they’ve just been around it.  He’s not intimidated by the moment. That comes a lot from his upbringing and just his competitive nature.”

On the similarities between Georgia and Auburn, especially offensively…
“I think similarities help and that you get to practice against each other some.  You get to look and go against each other.  You have to be really careful how you manage that and how much you do good-on-good, but it helps the likeness of the two.  There are similarities defensively as well. That part is good.  On how it hurts you, I don’t really know that it does.  I think at the end of the day they run their plays, we run our plays, it boils down to who’s going to make the play on the ball when they throw it deep.  Same way for them- who’s going to make the tackle in the open field, who’s not going to turn the ball over, and who is going to play well on special teams.  Those are things that we are going to try to focus on and get better at to prepare for the game. It’s not going to be a magic dust that you sprinkle on.  It’s not going to come down to where the game is played.  It’s going to boil down to the players making plays and we have to do a good job to put them in the situation that they can do that.  That they can execute and perform well.”

On whether he knows the play call prior to the snap- a run or a pass…
“We know based on the look, but (Jake Fromm) could decide to do different based on what he sees.  That’s why it’s really important the person in that position understands the gravity of which it could affect the game.  That’s true all across college football. They have the same option.  They have a quarterback that decides whether to hand it off or run it on most plays. That’s the age of football we live in. It’s nothing new.  It’s been that way for quite a while. You just want a trigger man that makes good decisions and understands the game, has instincts.” 

On the message to the team this week having never lost to Auburn while at Georgia…
“Our message has always been that the past doesn’t affect the present and that message is still true.  What would any game in the past against Auburn have anything to do with this game? I don’t know that it does because I don’t think their team is anything like it was the last three years and I don’t think our team is anything like it was. The past doesn’t affect the present.  The present will affect the present. What we do in the present matters a lot.” 

On handling situations such as Terry Godwin’s fumble from Saturday against South Carolina…
“It’s very technical.  What did you do wrong? How can you do it better? How do you do it better next time? That’s the best thing that you can do with these kids is be technical.  What did I technically do wrong, not anything else.”

On the talent level of the defense after losing a starter and staying consistent defensively…
“It says that our coaches are getting guys prepared well.  I certainly think that we’ve had to play some guys that maybe, in the day and time might not have been ready, have had to step up to play.  They have good players in front of them. They have good players around them.  They understand the system. I think that’s always the case,  you want to do that.  We haven’t played great or really well at some spots, we’ve given up some plays because of guys being out.  At the end of the day they continue to improve and hopefully it will pay off or us later on, the fact that those young guys got to play.”

——

Graduate Punter #92 Cameron Nizialek
On teammate and place kicker Rodrigo Blankenship getting named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award…
“I saw the tweet and forwarded it to him. He had already seen it but it is great for him. He has been playing great this season and has really put in the time to improve his game. I’m excited for him.” 

On traveling and playing at Auburn…
“One of the reasons why I came to Georgia was to play in these big games at the big venues. I’m excited anytime to get out there and help the team.”

On strategy of punting…
“Usually when we are on the positive side of the 50-yard line, I’m going to try to drop it nose down so it creates back spin. If you hit it regular then there is a good chance it is going into the end zone. When you hit it nose down you don’t have to take anything off of it so you can hit it as hard as you want. It is the same motion."

Senior RB #1 Sony Michel
On the depth at the running back position…
“It’s huge. Like I said, it keeps guys fresh. Ultimately our goal is to wear down defenses, so four-to-five backs, you can wear down defenses that way. Guys are going to get tired on the other side of the ball. We don’t get tired, but we also have other guys that can step in and go from there.”

On sharing the ball with other Georgia running backs…
“Me personally, and I think I can speak for the rest of the backs on the team, we‘re not really into the personal accolades, those kind of things just come. So, sharing the load, being able to have other guys in there to challenge you, and push you, is the ultimate goal. And winning games. It’s fun when you’re winning games and not worried about rushing for such-and-such amount of yards and such-and-such touchdowns, the ultimate goal is to win games. That’s what all the guys, and myself included, are here for.”

On concentrating on Auburn…
"We know as a football team we are going to be playing a good football team. They’re going to give us their best and we’re going to give them our best. And we’ve got to prepare each week like it’s the last game. We can’t really look forward. When you look forward, you’re not really focused on the task at hand.”

On Jake Fromm…
“His preparation, the way he prepares is unbelievable. I think he’s making pretty good calls. Him and Coach Chaney, they practice that. Watch a lot of film, do a lot of studying, so I think he’s well-aware of what needs to do.”

Senior ILB #45 Reggie Carter
On what to expect from Auburn…
“A physical game. They run the ball well. They have a very physical offensive line. They have playmakers on both sides of the ball. Physical game, physical in the pocket, and a loud crowd.”

On Roquan Smith…
“During camp his freshman year, he didn’t know the playbook as well as a freshman, but he showed flashes of a whole bunch of athletic stuff he did, and I knew from there he was going to be a great player with his work ethic and his ability to learn and focus. He has speed, but Roquan is smart. He’s a student of the game. People don’t really know that, but he’s a student of the game. He’s always watching film, he’s always asking questions to get better.”

Senior N #97 John Atkins
On taking it one game at a time…
“Our leadership doesn’t let it get that far. Right now, our freshmen are undefeated. They haven’t lost a game. We’ve all been through the 8-5 seasons, and stuff like that. We talk them, and tell them it’s not over. We’ve still got to practice.”

On winning the SEC East…
“I always take it as it’s a blessing and a burden. It’s a blessing to win the east, but also a burden. You’ve got to show up every game, every week to show you should be in the east race.”

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