Kirby Smart holds final bowl press conference

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Georgia head coach Kirby Smart met with the media one last time on Thursday before the Bulldogs take on TCU on Friday at noon in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Here are some excerpts from that session:

On the importance of the bowl:
“We all want to win, that’s purpose in playing it. Fun is spelled `w-i-n.’ … The one thing that I remember from my bowl games is whether we won or lost. So I do think that’s very important. But I also think it’s a development process for the young parts of your team, that you’re hoping are going to play in bowl games like this and bigger for the next three to four years. You want to grow those guys.”

On Georgia’s preparations for the AutoZone Liberty Bowl:
“I was very proud and honored to say in all my coaching career I don’t think we’ve ever had every kid arrive on time and be at the first opening team meeting. Usually not a fault of their own, some sort of travel issue or delay. But we had 100 percent attendance, everybody traveled on their own and got here in time for the team meeting Christmas night, which that was huge for me, because I would’ve bet our staff any amount of money we’d have somebody late traveling in. But it wasn’t the case. … We’ve challenged these kids for 11 days. I’ll be honest with you, I feel like we had 10 pretty good practices. We had one that I was a little disappointed in and I told them. If you have good practices, they usually indicate being able to play well. We have to go out and do it. We have to go out and execute. We have to go out and execute our game plan and do the little things well. We’re playing a very good opponent and we’re focusing on the process it takes to play well.”

On Georgia’s offense this season:
“We all can look at numbers and we all can look at statistics and they spell out that we weren’t as successful as we want to be or expect to be at the University of Georgia. There’s no hiding around that. … We have to challenge our players to play better, to execute better, to get more out of each player. There’s 11 guys out there, and if each executes to the best of his ability, I think we will have more success.”

On Georgia’s offensive line:
“Left side, we haven’t decided yet. I really think unless something crazy happens both kids will play. It’s not something we’ve said as definitive – this guy or that guy. They’ve been battling it out during the week. Tyler (Catalina) missed some time there that hurt him some. We’re going to go with how the guys are playing during the game. How do we match up at those positions? How does Dyshon (Sims) match up inside? That could change within the game as we watch it and see it go. Certainly they’re an athletic defensive front that’s very disruptive, can move, slant and rush really well. Very twitchy players.”

On Riley Ridley’s injury:
“He had an ankle that we’re checking on that looks like he’s got ligament damage in there. So he’s probably going to be out for this game. It happened at the second practice. He got rolled on up on from behind and didn’t see it coming, so it doesn’t look good for him. I hate it for him, because he’s a great kid, and he has had some really good bowl practices, coming into his own. He just needed time, and that’s what the bowl game has afforded him, and now it doesn’t look like he’ll be able to play. … We’ve got a core group of receivers that have all kind of depended on each other. It’s just Riley has been one of the more physical guys that we lose out on now.”

On the bowl system:
“I’m definitely a fan of the bowl system. You’ve got to think, where would they be if they didn’t have these opportunities? Where would some of these teams be? Where would some of these kids be? They would be at home. They wouldn’t be practicing. They wouldn’t be better and developing their skill set. It’s a time to do it when school’s not in. So I think it’s a great reward for guys who give so much of their time, so much of their effort. They get a goal to work towards. A lot of them, it may be their most positive memory of their student-athlete experience and some of these teams may only go to one bowl in four years. Taking that away, you may lose a team’s opportunity to ever go to a bowl game and get this experience. So I’m definitely in favor of that and especially if it helps our student-athletes.”

On his first season as a head coach:
“There have been a lot of firsts. It’s hard to simulate all the firsts – the first game, the first loss, the first win, the first experience with a game on a Sunday. There have been a lot of things to do for the first time. I feel much more comfortable having been through a full season. … I haven’t had much time to reflect. You have to do a good job of knowing where your team is, knowing the pulse of your team. How a team approaches a game as coach, that’s probably where I’ve grown the most.”

On tailbacks Sony Michel and Nick Chubb:
“For both of them to stay healthy throughout the season was key to help each other because both of their best years came when the other wasn’t available. They’ve been a 1-2 punch. We’re certainly excited about having them back. I think it shows a lot about the commitment to where the program’s headed that both guys chose to stay in school and come back and help us build something special. Both of them were very open to me about wanting to finish it the right way.”

On Maurice Smith:
“I knew Mo pretty well, having recruited him and being around him. He walked in and earned respect within days. He’s hard working and demanding at practice. The strength coaches told me several times that he stayed after practices and did more work. He believes in that. He’s earned respect with his work ethic. That’s who he is. He’s been a good asset for us.”

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