Kirby Smart, Bulldogs preview season-opener against Appalachian State

Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and defensive back Deangelo Gibbs (8) during the Bulldogs' session on the Woodruff Practice Fields in Athens, Ga., on Monday, July 31, 2017. (Photo by Steven Colquitt)

ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, previewed the team’s season-opener against Appalachian State with media members on Monday. Georgia kicks off the 2017 campaign this Saturday at 6:15 p.m. ET inside Sanford Stadium.

Smart and the Bulldogs offered the following comments on Monday.

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening comments … 

“Thanks for coming out guys. We are really excited. We got started on Friday on these guys. It (Appalachian State) is a very culture, history-rich program. They have done a tremendous job in their transition into what I call major college football. Coach (Scott) Satterfield I have known for a while. He does a super job with his team. I think the first thing that jumps out on the screen is their speed — they have a lot of speed, especially on the defensive front. They create some different kinds of mismatches.

We are excited about the opportunity. We are looking forward to a  great game. We need all the fans to come out for the 4 p.m. Dawg Walk. We certainly need everybody there and need a lot of crowd noise. We are excited about where the team is right now. A lot of these guys are itching and getting ready to play. Good news is we have four or five practices to clean some things up and we worked Saturday on these guys as well. I know the players are excited. They respect Appalachian State, the history of the program, the teams they played last year they played really well and they do a tremendous job. The Sun Belt Conference as a whole, to me, has gotten better and better each year and these guys are leaders of that conference. With that I will open it up.”

On if Appalachian State likes to shorten the game … 

“I think anytime you play an opponent they have their strategies — different games they have done different things. They have gone hurry-up at times and sometimes that’s what people want to do to try to tempo you. Other games they have been more methodical. They run the ball; they run the ball really well. Their offensive line is tough and nasty. They do a great job with their zone schemes. They are really quick, fast guys. They have a great back, so with that thought, if they can run the ball then it allows the clock to run, but they are playing to their strength, which so far has been their defense. They have seven returning starters on defense that the first thing you see when you turn tape on is ‘wow’ because they can fly on defense. I knew it last year when I was watching the Tennessee team play them, because I had to watch that side of the ball. It was incredible. So, they play to their strengths and sometimes they play to shorten it and sometimes they don’t, but they do a great job of managing the game.”

On Appalachian State’s 2007 win against Michigan and what it did for college football …

“I remember the game. I remember the blocked kick. No. 1 it helped them recruit probably on a little bit more, I would not say nationally, but even more than just regionally. They were able to go out and get players from Florida because of that game. It gave them great exposure. There were a lot of great players in that game for App State, just like this team here has. They have some really talented guys who are fast. Those guys — this is the opportunity of a lifetime for them. You have to understand that their want and desire cannot be more than your want and desire. That is really what this game comes down is who can get off the block and who can block, and they do those things well.”

On the status of senior DB Malkom Parrish and what the Georgia secondary will look like … 

“Still not determined yet. We are fighting to get Malkom back. Do not know if he is going to make it back or not, but we are trying to get him back for this game, and the starting secondary will probably be determined throughout the week based on that and a couple of other guys who are in good position battles. So, it will be close, probably a game-time decision at some of those spots in the secondary.”

On who he has decided on at place kicker and the depth of the special teams as a whole … 

“We definitely have more depth on special teams. I think there has been a much greater emphasis on the competition. So, if a guy is a two here and a one here, who is going to beat who out by what they do in practice to earn that kick off job, that return job, that hold-up job – whatever your job is. Those guys have competed really hard and I think the depth of the numbers on our team have probably helped more in that area than anywhere on the team. I just hope it comes to fruition Saturday night because a lot of those freshmen have to go out and make plays in their first college football game. I think back to last year’s game in the (Georgia) Dome there were some freshmen (Isaac) Nauta and Riley (Ridley) and guys who had to go play on special teams who never played a snap. You always wonder how they are going to respond in those moments, but they have gotten in a lot of work on those. To your PAT, field-goal kicking question, that has not been determined yet. We think it will be decided here shortly though.”

On Appalachian State quarterback Taylor Lamb and how much he relies on WR Darrynton Evans and RB Jalin Moore … 

“He does a great job. No. 1 he is a lot better athlete than you give him credit for. They run a lot of zone read schemes. They have the ability to run option, which he has done. He can take ball, pull it and make plays. Every game you see he has made yards with his legs, whether that is by scramble or that is by design runs  — he does a great job on both of those things. He puts them in the right play. He sees looks and puts them in certain plays they want to be in. He knows the looks that are right for the different plays and that makes it hard as a coordinator to defend when Coach (Mel) Tucker is calling it and he is saying ‘Ok, I want to be in this,’ and the quarterback puts them in a perfect play for that — that can be frustrating, but you have to be patient, you have to be smart, you have to contain him. He is a fourth-year quarterback. I think anytime you are playing a guy like that he is not going to make many mistakes.”

On the types of challenges that RB Jalin Moore presents … 

“He is a very talented running back. When you watch, their scheme fits his style of running to a T. They do a great job of their zone scheme. They can reach anybody at any technique. They do a tremendous job. You can see their offensive line’s quickness and get-off to get people blocked. Now, the back makes them right a lot because he will wind it back, he will cut back and the ball could hit him anywhere. He runs with great pad level. He catches the ball out of the backfield really well. He is an SEC back, so he does a tremendous job and our guys obviously have to hit and tackle some pretty good backs on our team and that is what we challenged them with. This guy, just like the guys you go against in practice every day, so you have to go out there and hit him and wrap him up and knock him back. They have a great scheme for their back and their quarterback.”

On his history with the Lamb family … 

“Coach (Ray) Lamb and I go way back. He was very good to me when I was here as a player. He was the director of high school relations. I spoke the other night at the Touchdown Club of Athens and I think they were giving a throwback kind of award to Ray Lamb, who has been a tremendous person and asset for this state — a promoter of high school football, good friend of my dads. And then Bobby and Hal, with all they have done have been tremendous coaches winning state championships in the state, both Bobby at Furman and at Mercer. It’s a great family, great people and I am betting that Taylor is going to go into some kind of coaching himself whenever his career comes to a close. I know he will be a really successful one, so I know they are excited about this opportunity for him to come back to his home state and play at the University of Georgia.”

On Hurricane Harvey and its impact on the Houston, Texas area … 

“Yeah. It’s really sad. I have a good friend who is one of my best friends form high school that lives there with his family and kids and I have been in touch with him. We have recruited that area a lot. I had a lot of kids play at the University of Alabama from DeAndrew White to Mo Smith who were from that area, so our thoughts and prayers are with the city of Houston and the state of Texas. Some tough times. It does put in perspective what we are talking about here and what we are talking about today with the things going on.”

On if the coaching staff is doing anything different this year compared to last season’s opening game against North Carolina … 

“You have a checklist for your first game — things that could come up throughout the year. So, you go through that checklist. When you say something differently, the biggest thing for us is it is a different opponent, it is in a different venue, it’s in a different place, a little different time, so when you factor in all those things — weather conditions could be a little different than the Dome, so we are going through our checklist. We are executing everything we have done in the past to make sure we have every situation that could come up covered. As you well know, sometimes the unexpected can happen, so the biggest thing for us is being prepared for that.”

On the emerging right tackle position and the rest of the line heading into game week…

“Those guys continue to work hard.  I think the first game one of the biggest concerns you have as a coach is conditioning from the standpoint of how many guys can play every snap. Can those five guys be the guys that play every snap or do we need to plan on having a rotation built in, like we did last year.  We kind of had a rotation going at guard.  You can say the similar thing there at tackle.  It depends on the flow of the game and how things are going.  Both guys at tackle have different strengths; the three guards all have different strengths.  To be honest, this is a different kind of team, defensively.  They [App State] are as quick and as fast as we’ll play all year, believe it or not, they are.  They are not overly big, but they are unbelievably quick and they do some different things, scheme wise, than what you normally see.  I think it might fit one lineman better than another and we may see rotations in there.  As far as having it set, we haven’t determined it yet, a lot of it will come out in the next two days.”

On the plan with getting Jake Fromm game action….

“There is no set plan there.  Jacob Eason is our quarterback.  If the opportunity presents itself to play Jake Fromm, then we will do that.  If something happens to Jacob Eason, then obviously we will be ready to play Jake Fromm.  He has been working as our No. 2 quarterback, but it is not like we have a set, designed plan.  We have talked about that with him.  We will play our offense, run our offense, and if it presents itself, then it presents itself, but it is not something set in stone.”

On the value of Isaiah Wynn, especially in a position group with a lot of new starters…

“The biggest thing is leadership.  He is the one guy that is not afraid to demand and confront guys on the offensive line when things aren’t going well.  He will confront them.  He practices really hard.  He is extremely physical.  At the time when we didn’t have him it was frustrating.  He has been back and he has been a great leader.  He has been kind of the bell cow of that group.  We certainly expect him to play that way.  He has done it in his career here. He’s always played with the physical toughness you need to play with.  He’s always done that. “

On being comfortable starting season two compared to starting season one…

“It’s hard to measure.  I can’t quantify it for you by a number or a measure.  Certainly having played however many games it makes you much more comfortable coming into this season as opposed to the first one, but I don’t know exactly how much more.”

On sparking leadership in players….

“Hopefully we bring it out.  We have tried to make that very important.  That the leadership from within has much more value than the leadership from above.  I think they have bought into that and a lot of the guys are not afraid to do that.  It’s easy to do when you do things right yourself.  The guys that don’t practice hard or don’t do things exactly the right way, it’s much tougher on them to confront and demand. Roquan Smith is a guy that lays it out there everyday.  He gives a great effort, so he doesn’t mind challenging the guy next to him to do the same.  It’s the same way with Isaiah [Wynn].  The more guys you’ve got like that, the better team you can have.”

On the depth at running back after Nick Chubb and Sony Michel…

“I think each guy brings something different.  Elijah [Holyfield] is a tough, downhill runner.  He does a really good job with the things he does.  He is going to be a special teams player for us too.  Brian [Herrien] is the same way.  Brian is more elusive, a little more space guy who can do some things in different packages for those guys.  D’Andre Swift has shown that he can do a lot of different things in camp.  I don’t think there is a clear pecking order for those three guys.  I certainly love the fact that they have bought in to the team concept and that it is not total number of carries, it’s making sure that the carries they get are effective.  They also have to play well on special teams.  That’s where when you find a 210-pound guy that can run, they are hard to block.”

On the response from the defense throughout the preseason…

“I don’t know what everyone is anticipating, the force that can be anticipated.  I thought last year we played okay on defense, we didn’t play great.  I think this year we need to play better.  We need to play with a little more demeanor and attitude.  I have seen some of that in camp.  I think they’ve done a good job of changing some things up.  We have tried to look at some things differently, that we can do in the red area, from giving people negative plays, and trying to be more aggressive.  I think they have worked on that, they’re showing flashes.  I think the big thing for us is how many guys can we play and be effective.  How deep can we go? After the first 11, that’s where it starts getting tougher and tougher on defense for us.  How many guys are going to be able to go out there and play winning football at every position? We would like to play a lot of guys because I think you can be a good defensive unit when you’re fresh.”

On wide receivers being core players on special teams…

“It’s not unusual, to be honest.  When you think about wide receivers you want them to have size, you want them to have speed.  What is the number one thing for special teams? Size and speed.  What they lack sometimes may be the toughness or the ability to tackle.  The group we have right now has proven they can help on that.  Jayson Stanley jumps out. He’s fast and he has good size.  He has not historically been an attacker because he didn’t play defense, but we work on those things with the receivers.  We get those guys in drills and we ask them to do it.  I think Mark Webb is a guy that can help on special teams.  [Michael] Chigbu has proven that he can do it as well and that he can stand out doing it.  Terry [Godwin] may end up being one of the returners.  If you put all of those guys in the room and say there are about 10 or 11. Tyler Simmons is another size and speed guy.  We’re excited about that unit from a special teams standpoint.  I’m expecting them to play really well.”

——

Graduate DB #35 Aaron Davis

On hype heading into season opener…

“We’ve been away from playing in a game for like a year now so guys are definitely ready to go out there and showcase their talents. Everybody is pumped and excited for this game, so we are ready for whatever opponent it is.”

On leadership on the defense…

“I think we really do it as a unit. It just really depends what you are looking for out of each player. I feel like I help guys in responsibility and heads up in pre-snap reads. We have a lot of leaders on defense so anybody can be out there to call someone out. We all want to be the best of our ability. We can’t slack for a minute, so if anyone slacks up then I challenge everybody to step up.”

——

Junior ILB #3 Roquan Smith

On the Appalachian State run game…

“They love to run the ball. That’s just what they do on offense. That’s what they did all last year, so you just have to expect that going into the game. We’re expecting them to run the ball.”

On the caliber of Appalachian State running back Jalin Moore…

“He’s an awesome back. He’s a one-cut downhill runner. I feel like the system he’s playing in is perfect for his style. He’s an awesome player…He could be playing in the SEC right now.”

On entering a second season with head coach Kirby Smart…

“Your first year of knowing anyone, it’s a big difference. You don’t know what they’re doing in situations. I feel like a year into his system, I know what he’s going to do in certain situations. It’s also a year that we’ve had to actually grow closer and bring a closer bond amongst each other. I just feel like it’s awesome  having that extra year with him, and going into the second year, the sky’s the limit.”

—–

Senior TE #83 Jeb Blazevich

On the Mountaineer defense…

“I think one of the best quality traits that they have is they just really want the ball. I think that’s the main thing. Somebody catches the ball, or somebody breaks out, you’re going to see 11 guys running to that ball on defense. Their quickness on the line, I’m filling in the gaps, I think that’s something we need to be aware of and definitely need to practice. Our scouts are giving us a good look this week.”

On the quickness of the Appalachian State team…

“That goes back to our team and the scout team being able to produce that look and I think they’ve been doing a great job so far. We need to continue to ramp it up this week, and that’s something once again we don’t see in practice every week. We see the big guys [at practice] that will try to go through you, but I think our scouts are doing a great job of trying to replicate as best they can to get us ready for Saturday.”

On Isaiah Wynn’s value to the offensive line…

“Regardless of his athleticism, his football knowledge, his football IQ, and what he can do on the field, I think the biggest thing he offers is he’s a leader. He’s the anchor of the offensive line. Guys respect him, we look up to him. We know that if he says go this way, we’re going to go that way. Having him back on the field to be able to not only lead us off the field into meetings and stuff, I think that’s the most valuable part.”

 

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