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November 5, 2018

Kirby Smart

Athens, Georgia

KIRBY SMART: I'd like to also congratulate Matt, who is a close friend, still his close friend and played together with Matt here and what a great honor bestowed to him and certainly deserves it. He's having a bright career with the SEC Network, and what a great honor it is to have him representing the University of Georgia Hall of Fame. So appreciate that, and honor to him.

Open up, we're moving on to Auburn, who we got tremendous respect for. Gus does a great job with them in practice. Obviously it's the first time in a long time, probably ever, that we've played them three times, in what really amounts to a calendar year. And these guys got a good football team. When you look at them defensively, they're loaded up front. They've got a lot of big guys. They've got a lot of players who play a lot of snaps. I mean they're experienced across the board.

On their defensive unit, it seems like every guy has been there for three years and played a significant role. And then offensively, I think every time you play one of Gus's offenses, it's time consuming. It's frustrating. He does a lot of misdirections. They come right at you and hit you in the mouth like they did last year. They've got really good skill players to take shots with, and they do a great job on special teams, always have. So it'll be a tremendous challenge for our guys, as they move on from the Kentucky game into this game, and I know our players and our coaches have a lot of respect for the way Auburn plays the game.

I'll open it up with a couple of the injury stuff. Mecole, I think, will be fine. He had an ankle. Probably could have come back in the game. He should be fine today to practice. Lamont had a hyperextension. He's going to be limited today, but we think he'll be fine. We'll see how he progresses the next couple of days. Ben continues to progress. Thought he could have played if he had to in the last game. So we hope he continues to get better. I think that's all of them. If not, I'm sure you guys will ask.

Q. Kirby, I guess due to the uniqueness that you touched on, I mean normally you all would be trying to avenge a loss to Auburn, but you did that a month later last year. Is there still motivation from last November's game or how do you kind of move that or do you even need motivation in a series that's been this close after 120 something meetings?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, it's a rivalry game. I mean so many of our kids recruited by them and so many vice versa. It's always a rivalry game, and I think that a big part of that is being at your best when your best is needed. And that's the challenge for our guys. We're playing at home, at night, in our stadium, which I think is really important to our fans, important to our players to protect our home turf, and we want to put our best effort forward. And certainly going to have to with the challenge they present, because they've got a lot of good football players.

Q. Coach, I've seen you mad before. I don't think I've seen you any madder than you were Saturday night when you guys failed to get in on first and goal again. I know that's something you guys are trying to address and you'll really need to address against this team. What's your conclusions to this point that you're seeing there that the physical toughness is not there or play calling?
KIRBY SMART: I really don't think it's that. I think we worked really hard on it last week and that's probably the most frustrating thing is that we didn't overcome the obstacles we had previously. And it has nothing to really do with play calling. It's not the maddest I've ever been. I was more disappointed in some of the organizational things, not necessarily what we did. Just the way we went about it, and we'll continue to work on it and get better at it.

Q. Kirby, what was the extent of the celebration for winning the East, and how much will you get into the team about not looking at that other team in Alabama?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, that's not a case for us. I mean obviously the locker room, guys were fired up. Guys were excited. I mean I think anytime you play another Top 10 team and you have a big win, it's something to get excited about. These guys worked really hard for a long time. So being able to enjoy that moment and that big game for the trip home, and then Sunday we move on. And it's onto Auburn, who's got a really good football team. They get your attention the minute you turn the tape on because they've got experienced quarterback. He's got an elite arm. They've got a lot of really good wideouts. They're talented, fast, extremely fast. And they've got a defense that's been there forever. So I mean there's not anybody on our team that's going to be worrying about anything but Auburn because that's the next task at hand. That's what we have to be focused on. Our goal is to play the next team, whoever the next team is, and we don't try to have real big highs and no real lows. We want to stay right neutral in the middle.

Q. Along those same lines, does the experience last year of clinching the East about the same time and knowing there are other important games ahead on the schedule help with the guys who have been through that?
KIRBY SMART: I don't know if that helps. I think the focus what helps is playing well, and your play is reflected by your behaviors which are your actions in practice. And it all boils back down to that. We can make it psychological all we want, but at the end of the day it's how you work during the week, what are your behaviors in practice, and your behaviors lead to playing better, and that's what we're trying to do right now is play better.

Q. Kirby, since the bye week seems like you guys have gotten back to more of what you did last year in terms of running the ball. What was maybe said? What did you guys do on that bye week to refocus and play well these last two games?
KIRBY SMART: We just worked on things we weren't doing well. That was a big part of it. I didn't think we were running the ball well before that either. I mean we had some success before that and we had to improve. We've had a lot of young players that are trying to grow up, and they still need to grow up, and we got some guys out there that have played a lot of football that they have to continue to play better. But there was no magic potion. The off week we just work and we tried to work on points of emphasis for each unit.

Q. Coach, I know that things can change based on the flow of the game, but after Saturday you were talking about Justin Fields and the plays that he made in the running game. I mean do you feel like there's a little bit more of a familiarity, more of like a sense of with Jake being the main guy, but being able to bring Justin in for that running ability? Do you feel like there's more of a rhythm between the two now or no?
KIRBY SMART: You know, I think that Justin doesn't have to come in just to run the ball. He's a talented quarterback. He's growing as a player. He's getting better. The more roles we give him to benefit our team, I think it helps us. He's also 230 pounds, too. So he presents a lot of issues for a defensive unit, and I know that from having to coach against guys like Justin. But he's a talented player that doesn't just have to come in the game and run the ball. And I think he and Jake work well together, and if they continue to do that, we'll use both of them where we see it beneficial.

Q. I know that the line situation has to be frustrating with the guys going down. But Isaiah has kind of been a steady guy there on the right side. In his first year how have you all evaluated the job that he's done so far?
KIRBY SMART: He's grown. He's getting better. I thought last year he got frustrated early and just kept working. Spent some time on the scout team, got better. He still is a work in progress, just like our team is. I mean there's things that he didn't do right Saturday. He plays physical. He's a big man. He's worked hard to get better. He's held up against some tough guys in pass pro. I think he takes pride in that. But he'll be the first to tell you that he didn't do some things right Saturday in the run game that he's gotta improve on and that he's going to play against some really good front guys this week, and when you don't step with the right foot, you don't take the right angle, you don't approach things the right way, these guys can expose you. So he'll keep working, and hopefully he'll keep getting better.

Q. Kind of sticking with the running game, I remember you spoke after the Middle Tennessee State game about Elijah Holyfield, but since then what's allowed him to mature as a runner throughout the season?
KIRBY SMART: Probably carries. He's always been mature. He's a very mature kid that he worked his tail off when nobody knew him because of the feature backs we had, and we all knew what a workhorse he was. He came down to the scout team and got to see him do it against some really good defense last year. So opportunity is probably what's presented itself to him.

Q. Kirby, with Holloman and just the amount of times he's been targeted the last couple of games and he had that really nice block on Edwards that sprung Swift on the touchdown. Is he, I don't know, maybe exceeding what you thought he could be, because obviously he's got a really prominent role here down the stretch?
KIRBY SMART: He works. I've said it before, he works really hard. He blocks really physical. Everything is important to him, all the details. He's on the punt return unit that's one of the better ones in the country. He takes pride in that. He's a backup on kickoff coverage, backup on punt team. He just works. So the guys that work and play physical and catch the ball when they get the opportunity. He's taken advantage of some opportunities he's been presented, in the Florida game. He took advantage of the opportunities he got last week. But he's not the only one in that room. There's a group of young men in that room that do a great job for our run game, for our special teams and then when we get an opportunity to throw it they're able to take advantage of it.

Q. Coach, if you could update Cade Mays and also comment on the young players that contributed at Kentucky?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah. Cade had a little bit of a stinger. He's probably going to be limited today. And we don't know how much further it will go. But we expect to get him back. And I know he's a tough kid and he'll push through it. But medically Ron and them are going to keep him out of some contact today. But, again, he's tough, competitive, a lot like the rest of our freshman class. He's working really hard, and those guys as a unit are getting better. It's not just the freshmen. I say freshmen. I'm talking about redshirt freshmen. But all those guys.

So don't think of it as last year's signing class. Look at it as a two-year span of guys that haven't had significant roles. I think those guys are growing up, getting better, and I said it after the game last week, some guys got in the game that hadn't been getting in the game, because we've gotta use them. They've got some attributes that we need, and I'm pleased with those guys' growth. I just hope the maturity allows them to handle, whether it's a little success, in the case of Channing or Adam or Brenton, or a little frustration in the case of somebody that's not playing as much as they want to. They just gotta keep getting better.

Q. It's hard not to notice what Todd Gurley and Nick and Sony are doing in the NFL right now. You've got Swift and Holyfield on your team right now. You've also recruited against Georgia in that regard. Can you just talk about what having that kind of legacy, what kind of value that is when you're going out recruiting running backs? And obviously you guys are committed to running the football.
KIRBY SMART: Yeah. I think it helps tremendously to have the guys, even the history of the Robert Edwards, Garrison Hearst, Terrell Davis, I mean Herschel, just back after back after back after back, and now it's probably more prominent than it's ever been because of the stage that Todd is on and what he's been able to do it and Nick and Sony's exposure last year through the National Championship game.

I think if you're a premier back in the country and you say I want to go somewhere that I can learn to play in a pro style, catch the ball in the back field. I also want to be able to protect so that I can increase my value, and I also want to have durability where I'm not going to be beat up when I come out of there, there's nowhere better to go. These guys recognize that, and that's why Dale's been able to recruit at a high level.

Q. Kirby, I know there are some times where time of possession isn't the most important thing. I guess like Spurrier's fun 'n' gun, what Bama is doing this year, but when you're playing Auburn and you're playing that fast tempo, how important -- I think you had the ball for like 39 minutes two years ago over here. How important is it to win that time of possession against Auburn to keep that offense off the field, because they wind up having really quick drives if they're stopped?
KIRBY SMART: I think it goes back and forth. I think it's a lot about what kind of team you are. If you got depth defensively and you think you can withstand those drives, the most important thing becomes can I get off the field on third down. And the Auburn teams have been different over the years, too. They've had really fast scoring ones. They've had some long, methodical teams that they go on long drives. It's a lot more important what we do than what they do, and we gotta go execute regardless of what they do. They've got some up-tempo stuff, and they do a really good job of it and you gotta go out execute them. You gotta go out and be able to play fast, and your kids gotta be able to line up. It's what everybody in college football works on now in the off season to get ready for.

Q. Follow up on some of the young guys who are having to play right now. Over your career and history as a coach, how does that kind of stack up, the amount of kids that are having to play that you're having to depend on right now?
KIRBY SMART: I don't know statistically. I can't tell you what the most I've ever had play and what the least I've ever had play. We've got a lot of them in our two-deep, and it's mainly because I think eight or nine of them came early, so that helped them get acclimated. That certainly had an effect with Cade and maybe Trey and those guys that came early. They got to get to work earlier.

But I can't tell you. I just know these guys are working hard, and you want to bring good players in your program, but it's not just getting them here. It's getting them bought into the principles and values and doing what the seniors want and then buying in and also learning and dealing with the frustration of being away from home. This group is starting to overcome a lot of that and get better as they get more and more experience.

Q. Coach, another one about a specific young player, Tyson Campbell. Seems like he's been getting a lot of those reps earlier than a lot of those guys. What specifically do you feel like he still needs to grow on at the position he's at right now?
KIRBY SMART: He's got a lot to work on. I mean Tyson is a benefactor of a little bit of lack of depth. He's a benefactor of playing a position that's not quite as complicated as some of the other freshmen are at. And he's talented. But he's grown up. He'll continue to grow up. When you play opposite Deandre Baker, you're going to get a lot of attention. And he continues to get a lot of those. And he's gotta continue to improve and work on a lot of things, whether it's tackling, eye control, doing his job, knowing the assignment of every play. Because out there sometimes you get away with maybe a wrong technique because you've got a guy manned. You can't get away with that when you're the linebacker that's gotta make the call, when you're the quarterback or the running back that's gotta protect. You can't do those things. And he can, and he's been able to grow, and he's gotta continue to improve, though.

Q. Coach, I know you've been across the line of scrimmage or coaching box, I guess, from Malzahn plenty of times. What has he done that's been a little bit different with his offenses? What does he bring -- and I guess the rest of this is he probably pretty much knows his offense by now; right?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I don't understand what you're asking. Like this year specifically or what are you talking about?

Q. Just over the years what are some of the principles that Auburn has consistently done well?
KIRBY SMART: Physical. Being able to run the ball. I mean people think it's all sideways, and when they've had elite backs, they've really run it well. When they've had elite quarterbacks, they've really run it well. They've got more wideouts now than I remember them having as far as vertical threats and guys that can run and throw the ball down the field and a quarterback that can get the ball to them.

Got a lot of respect for the job he does, and they've always created a lot of problems because of the tempo and because of the window dressing, and they do all that, but they still run the ball at you.

Q. Kirby, what's been the different for Nauta the last few weeks? Seems he's gotten more opportunities on the passing end.
KIRBY SMART: I really think it's just opportunities. It's just his number. It's not like we call a play and say this play is going to Nauta. I really think the two-minute drive at Florida opened up for him, and they played some coverages that were -- made it easy for him. It wasn't that he was out there beating somebody in coverage man to man. They didn't cover him on some. And then they played a soft zone where he got the ball.

And he did a good job the other day. He beat a guy across the space that was man to man. And I know Jake is very comfortable with those tight ends. And I think Isaac at the end of the day knows the offensive system better. He understands where coverages are. He knows what leverage to take, and he's taken advantage of some good opportunities.

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