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September 10, 2018

Kirby Smart

Athens, Georgia

COACH SMART: We usually talk about our team in these sessions, but I'd like to take a minute to kind of congratulate the university and President Morehead on the latest U.S. News and World Report of the 13th ranking in public institutions. I think that's pretty special.

We sell that hard in recruiting. And anytime you've got a Top 15 university, public institution, it sells itself. And that's something that we've been really proud of and I know the university's proud of that stat and continue to climb in those rankings each year.

So really proud of that and with that I'll move on to MTSU, Middle Tennessee. I've got a lot of respect for their coach, a guy I've known for a long time in this profession. He helped me at a very young age, learning how to recruit on the road. I traveled and recruited some when I was working for Coach Hatcher with Coach Stockstill.

He does a great job. Always had just tremendous respect for the job he's done. He's one of the longest tenured coaches at his school, in the country, having been there, I think, since either '06 or '07. And he does a tremendous job. A lot of respect for him.

His son's a quarterback. He's a really good football player. They beat three Power 5 schools in the last six or seven years. And they've got really good athletes, really good football team and our focus kind of turns to them.

Q. It's easy for fans and sports writers to say we want to see a team recover a team, follow and play an SEC opponent or Power 5 every single week. How do you feel about games like this (inaudible)?
COACH SMART: Yeah, I've got a lot of respect for these programs. I've got a lot of respect for student-athletes that play at these programs. I think games like these a lot of times are an opportunity for their programs to survive and stay alive and financially they're important to some of these programs.

So I have mixed emotions about it when it comes to that. Because I think when you look at the NFL and week in, week out, playing the caliber of opponents they're forced to play it forces parity on more people. And I've said before I've been in favor of, whether it's a nine-game SEC schedule, doesn't matter to me. It's not something that we shy away from.

I think it's good for the fan base to have better games, the home-and-home. I think those things are good for college football. But you have to look at it through two people's perspective and sometimes these programs wouldn't survive. I'm a big advocate for football in general and I think that they need these games to survive financially. Without them, some of these programs may not be able to survive.

Q. As you speak of the quarterback, a guy that's had back-to-back pretty good performances over the year here, as you kind of look at his passing ability and (indiscernible) predicate the offense on what he can do, how important is it to get more of a pass rush this week? And how would you evaluate your pass rush performance?
A. We're always looking to improve the pass rush. I think that you're never where you need to be, but that's an area we want to improve. Two things have to happen in pass rush: You have to cover him long enough to rush him; and you also have to stop the run to force them to pass the ball.

And we're a run/stop first team. That's what we pride ourselves on, which probably takes a little bit away from the pass rush, to be honest with you. So it's an area that I know since we've arrived we've been pretty good on defense here.

But if you'd say one thing you'd say we've been insufficient in pass rush. You don't get both worlds because you could be good at pass rush and not real good at run defense. So we pride ourselves on that, but it's something we really work on. I think it's really important for these guys not to give the quarterback a lot of time to sit back there because he's really good at it.

They also on the other hand know it's hard for them to block some of their guys every down in, down out so they get rid of the ball quick. You have to be careful how many times you overdo the rush because they have an incredible screen game, and the quarterback is a very good decision-maker. He knows where he's going with the ball. And they have really good skill players to get the ball to.

Q. What went through your mind Saturday when you guys had to insert Cade Mays there in the second half? And how did he grade out? And how is Andrew Thomas (indiscernible) ankle?
COACH SMART: Andrew Thomas is still ankle sprain. He'll be out for the day, hopefully be back for the game, but still not know, we'll see tomorrow. Today is rehab on it. I know he's been doing some stuff on the treadmill. Hopefully getting back.

Cade, I was excited for Cade as much as I was disappointed for Andrew because Cade's worked hard. He came in mid-year and worked really hard.

Biggest reaction I had was I'm glad we practiced the way we did. I'm glad that he has to go against really good players day in, day out so it's not unusual for him. And he did some good things when he went in. I think the overwhelming consent was when he went in that, like, just like took over. A lot had to do with the body blows that occurred before that. But he had some mistakes. He did some things that weren't real good but he did some good things, found positive in it, but also find area for improvement.

Q. Were you surprised that Cade Mays went in? I know you guys cross-trained and I think ultimately you leave it up to Sam that he was the first left tackle --
COACH SMART: Was I surprised? Was I surprised that he went in?

Q. Yeah.
COACH SMART: You don't think we talked about that? Don't think we met about that? There's no surprises when you're prepared. So for us that's been talked about long before things happen in the game. Sometimes in the game you make rash decisions and you don't make, in the heat of the moment, the right decision.

So we talk about that every game: This is the first this is, first this; what happens if he moves, two go down, who is third? You have to do it at every position because in a game things can happen fast. And no surprise that he went in. In.

That was a decision we all made as coaches based on how we practiced. You can't make that decision in the game. You gotta practice the players where they have an opportunity to play. And working at left tackle --

Q. You talked about your wide receivers, block on the perimeter (inaudible), the kid after the game the other day. In particular Tyler Simmons, had one really huge block. Is this the want to be able to do that, or something that comes natural for him, something he's had to learn?
COACH SMART: Well, I think physicality is a learned trait that he's learned over the course of time. First of all, he has stature and a body that's 200 pounds. He's physical. He's tough. I mean, basically we're not going to play you if you don't do that.

So the reward is I get to play in the game, catch the ball if I block. And he had two -- two really good blocks. Everybody saw the one (inaudible). But he knocked the guy to ground early in the game early as well. So he's proven to be a physical blocker. He catches the ball well. He's got good speed. Built like a running back. And if he continues to get better and practice better, he can be a really good player for us.

Q. With the constant changing and evolution of tackling and what's a healthy tackle and what's a nonflagged tackle, have you been forced to teach your players different ways to tackle over the last year or two?
COACH SMART: No. We really haven't. We've never taught them to lead with their head or aim or target for someone else's head. We certainly don't teach that.

We practice a lot thudding, which I call thud, when you wrap up without taking them to the ground. Coach Tucker says it all the time to the defensive guys; it's harder to thud than it is to tackle. When you can go tackle a guy during the game, it's usually easier than thudding. Thudding you have to hit him properly. You gotta wrap up without going to the ground, which is a safer more practiced way to tackle. It's sometimes harder on our guys in a practice to do the thud than it is to go physically tackle someone to the ground.

We always talk about aiming for midsection, aiming for the lower spot and not ever leading with the head. And those are things I know we've always taught, everywhere I've been we've taught. We didn't teach guys to target. That's important for the game so you don't lose guys.

Q. Beyond a victory, what are you looking to get out of this game and how much competition is there still within the team for (inaudible) positions?
COACH SMART: As much as ever. I mean, I've got my message set with the team today and it's really about that alone. It's not anything about who we play nor any disrespect for Middle Tennessee. It's totally about us and competing within practice.

We've got some really good competitions going on where guys are battling for playing time, guys battling for spots. And the best way to measure that is not against the scout team player, but a good-on-good situation, which every day, including today, we'll do good-on-good situations and try and find out where guys are and continue to earn playing time. I think the only way you develop your team towards the end goal, which is to be as good as you can possibly be by the end of the season is to improve during the season. And that's where I think we can separate ourselves because we can improve during the season. We have enough depth to go against each other and continue to improve and that's the end goal for us.

Q. Is this weekend's weather having any kind of impact on how you guys are practicing; do you have an eye on that? And separate question, have you had any conversations with Deondra Baker about his interception and ball placement at the one-yard line?
COACH SMART: First one with the weather, I've seen what's coming. Certainly my thoughts and prayers go out to the people in the South Carolina community and the area that may be hit by it. But right now we don't think it's going to affect us a lot other than wind possibly. And there's not a lot we can do to control that.

We'll continue to work on Middle Tennessee and getting ready for it. As far as Deondra, obviously I was disappointed that he would do that prior to crossing the goal line.

I think it's an effect of not having many opportunities to do that. He had almost the exact same situation in the spring game. And we went back and showed him that and said, hey, you're across the goal line and went across and handled the ball the right way, and he did. He'll get some extra practice doing it today.

Q. Can you take a look at Rodrigo's body of work, this point in the season, 15 touchbacks. Another big field goal in the first half. If I just look back at the last year, you had competition for the starting job. As you look at him now, can you speak on how much of a weapon or an asset he is on special teams?
COACH SMART: Yeah, he's been incredible, to be honest with you. I think our special teams staff does a tremendous job of making sure he's fresh. He does a tremendous job of taking care of his body. It's shown in the last two games with the power and drive consistently. Most guys wear out as the game goes on, maybe have to kick another kicker, or maybe don't kick him at all, he just continues to pound the ball and does a great job doing it.

He's a leader on our team. And he's awesome to work with. I mean, he's become a weapon. And we have to use him as such.

Q. Speaking of weather, can you talk about the heat at the South Carolina game, on the sideline in the sun and how the oxygen tank surfaced?
COACH SMART: I probably wouldn't be the best to talk about that, because I don't really even notice the heat as a coach because I'm not in pads and we're out there in it every day.

I certainly know some of our players, when we go visit with them on the sideline, are using the oxygen tanks. And I think Ron could talk to you more about that. I've been told it's more of a placebo effect and it actually is not -- it's mental more than anything. But we'll supply our players with everything we can to help them be at their best.

Q. Last year as you all start going on this run, it's kind of a little newer probably a little easier. This year when you start right where you are and have all validate that any different message or approach to guys?
COACH SMART: I don't think so. I really think the approach and the deal is that the pats on the back sometimes are not real. The pats on the back are all conditional. And we're not into conditional of, conditional improvement. We want to improve unconditionally, we want to be loved unconditionally. And the way you do that is by trusting and believing in your teammates and getting better. And we're going to try to sell this team today this week and every week on getting better, because we can't control all these outside forces. We can't control what other teams do. We can't control what people say. All we can control is how we work; and if the leaders buy into that message and understand that we have to get better to get where we want to go, then we usually can do that.

Q. I know you addressed this with Justin a little bit, but watching college football highlights, seems like the two quarterback thing has become the trend. Do you see that, looking into the future, where the teams are going to work two quarterbacks because of the injuries at a lot of these top schools?
COACH SMART: Yes, I think it's very important to have three quarterbacks on any roster, because when you don't have three, you're a play away all the time. And I think that's no better evidence than in the NFL because those guys usually carry three on the roster and they have emergency guys. But it's become more and more of a trend because I think, A, guys have left more often now. And, B, guys get injured, because they're spread and they're running more. So you've got to have to protect the quarterback and have the ability to have two quarterbacks that can play.

Q. After the game you were talking about how letting the air out of a defense, playing -- or just a team physically and those things. I wanted to ask, you talk about the standard school and all that stuff, does it kind of change, not necessarily change, but do you find it a little different when you're seeing your team do that, what it was able to do Saturday and other games, and your ability to coach as well, that you're able to call games, Dan's ability to call games, and also the players and kind of their attitude on the sideline, does it have like a ripple effect?
COACH SMART: I don't know. You're asking if there's momentum in being able to get a lead, I don't understand what you're asking.

Q. Does it change the way you guys coach? Obviously I know the message is still the same and you want -- but when you start to see your team do that, is it something that changes the way you guys are coaching the players and maybe switch gears?
COACH SMART: I don't think so. I certainly coach from the beginning whistle to the end whistle exactly the same all the time. I don't think the scoreboard matters. So if the scoreboard doesn't matter, why, if we're down 25, 30, whatever we're down at Ole' Miss, should I be coaching different than if we're up 25, 30 against somebody at home. I just don't see the difference in that, because I believe in what we tell the players, which is playing to that standard, and playing like the scoreboard is not there. So if you coach the same way, then the expectation for the player that goes in, whether you're up or down is exactly the same.

Q. You talk about Tyler Simmons and what a good blocker he is. What kind of improvements do you want to see Demetris Robertson make where he gets on the field maybe more earlier, and is that one of the areas that you would like to see improvement in?
COACH SMART: I don't know that Demetris didn't get on the field earlier. I thought Demetris played a good bit and will continue to. He's going to have to compete in practice. And we'll all want to play the best players here. And those guys are at the top of their game. We'll have a good rotation going. I think right now the wideout position, we've got good depth because we've got guys that can do different things a lot of guys that are really physical, maybe a fast guy, maybe a vertical threat guy. But at the end of the day, when you turn the tape on, the guys that get open are going to be the guys that play.

And South Carolina did a good job in press in pressing some of our guys. It was a good thing we could run the ball because they had hands on a lot of our wideouts and creating separation was really important.

Q. Do you hope to get Justin Fields' work on the game balance (inaudible) goal is to win the game?
COACH SMART: I think the important thing for Justin is that he continues to improve. He's worked hard, and we want him to continue to improve as a player. And that's what's going to make our team better. And that's what is important for his future to continue to do that. I would love to get him an opportunity to get into this game.

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