Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Dawgs Open Home SEC Play With 82-63 Win Over Vanderbilt

UGA Sports Communictions

The University of Georgia men’s basketball team beat the Vanderbilt Commodores 82-63 on Wednesday night in the SEC home opener at Stegeman Coliseum.

Sophomore Rayshaun Hammonds was the lead scorer of the night accumulating 19 points. Senior Derek Ogbeide (15) and sophomore Teshaun Hightower (11) posted impressive point totals as well. The SEC leader in rebounds and blocks, sophomore Nicolas Claxton, posted his seventh double-digit boards game (12) of the season, while tallying five blocks.

"The last thing I wanted was a group of guys not confident,” said Georgia head coach Tom Crean. “That was going to be the key especially after Saturday's game. We needed to look at the film, and it needed to pierce guys a little bit. This is not the character or mentality that we want to play with. We came out in practice to build confidence, and they did that. What I was proud of was that we didn't take any trips off on the defensive end. We got beat on the dribble a couple times, but to hold this team to 24 percent from three, 33 percent overall, and get thirty-nine deflections, that's good defense. That's the maturity that we have to have.”

Georgia (9-5, 1-1) started the night with a jam from Ogbeide to put the Dawgs on the board. Both teams exchanged baskets in the first five minutes but Georgia maintained the lead. A pair of free throws from Claxon brought Georgia into double-digits, 10-6, at 14:51.

Both teams traded baskets, with Vanderbilt (9-5, 0-2) taking the lead at 12:25. The back and forth continued until the two-minute mark when a three from freshman Ignas Sargiunas inked the Georgia lead at 33-31. Claxton added a free throw and the Commodores sank two of their own to head into the half trailing Georgia 34-33.

Within 15 seconds of coming back to the court, Hammond sunk a three to bring the score to 37-33. Vanderbilt answered with back-to-back scores to notch the game, before Ogbeide recaptured the lead. The Commodores tied it again at 39-all for the eighth and final time of the game. Again, Ogbeide layup brought Georgia over the tie margin, which ultimately didn’t change for the rest of the game.

Two free throws from Hammonds ignited a 12-0 run comprised of four Dawgs to build the Georgia lead to 74-57 with 4:08 left to play. Crump added two free throws to notch the largest lead of the night of 21 points at 81-61 with less than a minute left. The Commodores finished off the scoring with two free throws in the last 30 seconds as Georgia sealed its home conference opener 82-63.

Coach Tom Crean

On the crowd…

"The crowd was fantastic. We had 2700 students, which is 700 over the allotment on the first night back on a Wednesday night. That's just phenomenal, and I can't thank them enough. And everyone else, 9400 fans, and this is the only game not sold-out. They made a difference. They were excited. There was a buzz in here, and it was great. There's no doubt in my mind if we build a crowd this way, it will make such a difference for our team, our program, and our future. It makes such a difference in every possession right now, and we appreciate it.

On the defense...

"We got three stops in a row, seven times. That's a real big barometer for winning. We track that all the time here. When you get to the end of the game, and you add up the amount of times we got three stops in a row, when you got 7 or more, it's hard to lose. I think that played into it, we got some deflections, and we held them to one shot. Again, the crowd helped jack us up, and that was a huge part of it."

Rayshaun Hammonds

On his play in the second half and what was important to his play...

"My teammates, and the coaching staff. I was keeping a positive vibe with the whole team. Just keeping my head in the game, let it come to me, just don't rush it. Just giving me confidence the whole game."

On building momentum...

"Just talking to the team, just being positive with each other, and the whole team coming together really. We all talked to each other, the players on the bench talk to each other, the players on the court talk to each other."

On frustration after the Tennessee loss and first half of game...

"I can say the Tennessee game, the whole team was frustrated. I was frustrated because we played bad. And the first half I think I let it linger in my head, but I just sat on the bench and just thought about it, and let it go. The second half I just came out with a positive attitude."

Nicolas Claxton

On how important the game tonight was...

"It was a great win for us. I know it helped us a lot coming back home in front of our fans. I think we had like 2,700 students there supporting us, so you know that was huge. It was huge getting this first SEC win under our belt. And we will be ready to go to Auburn Saturday."

On the coaches...

"I just want to give credit to Coach Amir and the GA's and the coaching staff, they did a great job with the scouting with Vanderbilt.”

The Dawgs travel to take on the Auburn Tigers Saturday, January 12 at 4 p.m. on ESPN2.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Dawgs Have National Leading Three FWAA Freshman All-Americans

UGA Sports Communications

The Georgia football team had a national leading three players named to the 2018 Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) Freshman All-America Team.

True freshmen Jordan Davis (defensive lineman) and Cade Mays (offensive lineman) and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Isaiah Wilson gave the Dawgs three selections, which equals the total number of combined players from other Southeastern Conference teams.

Georgia has now had at least one Freshman All-American for three straight years. Its trio is the most for the program since Knowshon Moreno, Trenton Sturdivant and Rennie Curran garnered honors in 2007.

Davis, a native of Charlotte, North Carolina, started four games and played in 11 in the middle of the Dawg defense. He finished with 25 tackles, including 1.5 sacks, and helped give the Georgia defense the country’s 15th-ranked Scoring Defense with opponents tallying 19.2 points per game.

Mays, a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, got the starting nod for seven games and also played in 11 games for a Dawg unit that averaged 37.9 points a game, which was 14th nationally. Mays and his fellow offensive linemen paved the way for D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield to each have 1,000-yard seasons.

Wilson, a native of Brooklyn, New York, started all 14 games at right tackle during his second year with the program. The 6-foot-7, 340-pound Wilson was a key component to Georgia’s rushing attack that averaged an SEC leading 238.8 yards a game, which ranked 16th nationally.

The 11-3 Dawgs advanced to the SEC Championship Game for the second consecutive year and earned a spot in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Lady Dawgs Signs Virginia Tech Transfer Shaniya Jones

UGA Sports Communications

Shaniya Jones, a freshman point guard from High Point, North Carolina, has decided to join the University of Georgia Lady Dawgs basketball program, head coach Joni Taylor announced on Monday.

Jones, who was a four-star guard in the 2018 class according to ESPNW, transfers to Georgia from Virginia Tech, where she played in five games this past fall. Jones will sit out the 2019 spring and fall semesters and will be eligible to play at the conclusion of the 2019 fall term as a sophomore.

“We are thrilled that Shaniya is joining the Lady Dawg family,”Taylor said. “We recruited her out of high school and have always known she is a special player. Shaniya is someone who can score at all three levels and will be a perfect fit with our program. We are excited to have her on campus and can’t wait to help her get acclimated this semester.”

Jones prepped at Wesleyan Christian Academy in High Point, North Carolina, where she helped her team win the state title in her senior season. She was a McDonald’s All-America nominee and two-time all-state selection during her high school career. In addition to earning a four-star rating from ESPNW, Jones was ranked as the No. 88 overall prospect in the 2018 class by the same site.

She is the latest addition to an already highly-touted 2019 class for Taylor and her staff. The Lady Dawgs inked five-star guard Chloe Chapman from Mitchellville, Maryland, five-star forward Javyn Nicholson from Lawrenceville, Georgia and four-star forward Jordan Isaacs from Alpharetta, Georgia earlier this fall.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Post-Game Press Conference

Kirby Smart

Opening Statement

I'll open with the City of New Orleans and Sugar Bowl staff. They do a tremendous job. Give our guys a lot of opportunities to grow. And so many people talk about the fact the bowl games don't mean as much anymore. Our players had an experience this week that they'll remember the rest of their lives. It's one of the best bowl games in the history of bowls.

And I know these guys aren't happy, nor am I, with the performance we had. We didn't come out and play the way we're capable of. But I certainly want to thank the people of New Orleans for hosting us.

I also want to congratulate Texas. Tom Herman did a great job with his team and his program. They've gotten better throughout the season. They played more physical than us, and it showed to me that they wanted it more than we did. And you've got to give them credit for that.

Also, I want to thank my seniors. We've got a group of seniors on this team that have ‑‑ they came in as 30‑something signees and it's down to about six or seven or eight guys that are actually playing now out of that senior class, and that's all that's left is that group.

And they bought into what this staff has wanted to do. They've led. They've done the hard things. And they've won a lot of football games, and they've helped turn this program the right direction. We've just got to find a way to finish it and do it the right way, and we'll do that moving forward. Thank you.

Did it necessarily surprise you how physical they were on both sides of the line of scrimmage tonight?

I wouldn't say it surprised me. They're league (Big 12) guys. People don't respect their league like we do, especially from a scoring standpoint. They do a great job in their league of up tempo, fast.

But when they have to play physical, they played physical. They did a good job of that. I thought their quarterback managed the game well with his quarterback run play. He really hurt us. We missed tackles and didn't finish on him defensively. And then we weren't really able to run the ball like we like to consistently and give Texas credit. They did a good job stopping that.

Do you think that the not getting into the Playoff thing overtook the focus from this game?

I think that would be easy to say, but I certainly don't think that when you go to a meeting that's what you're thinking about. You're thinking about Texas. When you're on the practice field, you're thinking about Texas. We're prepared for Texas.

We prepared for Texas for a long time. That would be an easy excuse to use. I'm not touching that because it has nothing to do. We had an opponent to play, a good football team in which our team was focused on ready to play.

I think in the world of social media it's easy to say things. But 15, 20 years ago you didn't know what kids were thinking because they didn't have the ability to tweet it out or show it. Now, their thoughts change every ten seconds.

So just because they tweet something emotional during that time, that doesn't matter. It gives the other team motivation. But our team was motivated to play Texas. Texas outplayed us, outcompeted us. They outcoached us. They out physicaled us. They did a lot of things better than us, and I think you give Tom Herman a lot of credit.

Seemed like everything kind of steam rolled there. Jake Camarda's knee touching the ground and then fumbled at the 12‑yard line. Just seemed like everything that could go wrong went wrong that first quarter and got you in a tough hole.

It did. Those are things that we controlled. We controlled the snap. We controlled Jake's knee. And we control whether we possess ball or not because people try to take it from you. But those are all the things you have got to be resilient about and go our and overcome.

If you prepare right and you go out there and play your best football game, you don't have those errors. You've got to be able to overcome those sometimes. If you think about this year, we didn't have a start of a game similar to like that really all year. We've got to do a better job preparing our players for that and go out and execute.

It took you a little bit of time to get rolling. Was that Texas? Was that y'all, the receivers? Was it everything?

Well, it was tough. They did a really good job game planning for us. They had an entire month to do so. They were showing a lot of different looks. They were constantly mixing stuff up. Did a really good job with some eye violation stuff and showing you one thing one way and bringing it from the other.

But I think at the beginning they game planned really well. They showed us what that game plan was in the first couple drives, but we just couldn't make adjustments quick enough really to capitalize on that.

Coach, you've got a young roster. What do you hope your young players will take away from these last two games?

I hope they learn you better show up to play every game because the teams you're playing at the end of the year are all capable of topping you. We've played in some really incredible venues with the SEC championship and then the Allstate Sugar Bowl. And there's a lot of young players out there that are growing and getting better.

I hope this group buys in with really good leadership, especially the youth on the team, and grows into good leaders. We've got to have great leadership moving forward to get where we want to go. I think the guys leaving have set a legacy and set a standard.

Now we've got to raise that standard, and we've got to learn from the fact that when you go to play a game 30 days later, you got to be at your best. We didn't play our best game tonight, but you got to give Texas a lot of credit because they made it that way.

Divaad Wilson played tonight for the first time at Georgia and played a lot.

He did.

How did y'all get him ready for that, and what were the expectations coming in?

Well, we wanted him to play all year, and I give the kid a lot of credit. He's been frustrated, and he wanted to play. He had the ACL injury in the spring, and we thought he was going to be a really good player. And he was cleared somewhere around the Florida week. But you can't just get cleared and basically go out there and play.

It's similar to Ben Cleveland's injury. It's an injury where you've got to take some time to get over it. We thought with a 30‑day window that if we're going to get to where we want to go as a program, as a football team, we've got to get bigger at the nickel star. We've got to get more athletic and be able to play heavier guys, 200 pounds.

I can't say how he played. And Tyrique McGhee actually got injured during the game, so that's another guy out. So Divaad played hard, and he was excited to go over there and play.

There was a report that you benched a couple starters during practice during the week because of lack of effort. Can you comment on that? And, also, [Mecole] Hardman said he thought the energy level of a bunch of guys seemed to be down at the start of the game. Can you comment on that?

I didn't feel that way. I thought the energy level was really good at the start of the game. Guys were fired up. We sold playing to a standard and making a statement. We didn't do that. We were going to play for each other's back. And the guys that we wanted to go out there and play for were the guys that are seniors.

So we, obviously, didn't do that well. We didn't come out and start very fast. And like I said before you came in, I think, that we didn't have the kind of start that we had in most games. It was the exact opposite.

The beginning question was: Did I bench any starters? I thought our guys practiced really well leading up to the game since we came to the bowl site. We had a lot of starters injured. We had guys out. But there was nobody that got benched that was a starter.

Nonstarter?

No. If he's a nonstarter, how do you bench him? I certainly didn't feel that way. D'Andre Walker didn't play tonight, but D'Andre Walker has been injured.

We felt it was important to practice shorter and practice good on good. Because the looks you get from the scout team late in the year is not real good, and kids get lethargic and they get lazy and you get sloppy. So we did higher quality work with less quantity and got more competitive. So we had all our starters out there going against each other.

What do you think happened with D'Andre Swift at the beginning of the game? I've not seen him fumble like that in his time at Georgia.

It happens, guys. I mean, I don't know. You want to say that he was wanting to fumble? One of them, the guy literally stripped it out. It was a great strip. We pride ourselves ‑‑ we're one of the teams in the country we start half our practices with defensive players ripping at the ball of the offensive player. The kid ripped the ball out.

The second one, he put his helmet right on that ball. And that one, you almost say that was a weird hit. He spiked and hit him right on the ball. The ball shot out. The first one he got stripped out. Can't happen.

I know D'Andre is just as disappointed as everybody and we didn't play with the same energy level that we usually do.

And that's a lot of credit to Texas because they were in our backfield several times. They penetrated and moved quick. And we weren't able to handle the penetration. And when they're in your backfield, that's how they cause fumbles.

Jonathan Ledbetter

Jonathan, what will your legacy be at Georgia after this four years?

I think it's simple. You know, Georgia's heading a different direction than it was a couple years back. I can say I was a part of that group that laid the foundation for that. Obviously, you see the standards changing, despite today, tough loss. Played a good physical team.

But the culture of Georgia has become something greater than it ever was. I think it will continue to do that way beyond when I'm gone. But I was start of it, and that's big for me. I'm grateful to be that. I'm grateful that the school allowed me to be there and took a chance on me and picked me as a leader for this team and just to get the thing started off in the right way.

The fast pace of the Texas offense, you think y'all were pretty well prepared for that? And also Sam Ehlinger, the quarterback, he was kind of hard to contain and all. What would you say about both of those things?

We handled the tempo pretty well. He's a good quarterback. Can't take that away from him. He threw touchdowns, and he's good running. He's a running back that can throw the ball.

We didn't contain. We didn't have a level pass rush most of the time. And we didn't get him on the ground. When you don't do that, he makes plays.

Jake Fromm

With the running game, a lot of your offense is predicated on that success. What were they able to do to take that away from you guys, or was it something that maybe you guys weren't able to execute?

They were very physical up front. That's one obstacle you have to climb over. And the next thing they were slanting this way and that way, shooting multiple gaps. And we just had a tough time trying to figure out which way they're moving and trying to cut guys out of gaps. It was tough.

And we just didn't really do a good job of being physical up front, and it kind of hurt us not being able to return the football.

Do you feel like you guys were able to flush away the loss in Atlanta before coming here? And the other part of it is, can you guys bounce back from this during an off‑season?

First part, no. I don't think it bothered us. We flushed it. We went back to work. We realized what had gotten us to this point, and that's going to work, that's grinding, and really going hard at practice. And I thought leading up to this game, we practiced really well and had a lot of good things in. Just didn't play well today.

Can you just turn the page from this during an off‑season going into next year?

Absolutely. We're definitely going to do that. Myself, a couple other of these leaders, we're going to step up, and we're going to have a great off‑season, come back better than ever. And I'm fired up for it and can't wait for it.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Kirby Smart Pre-Game Press Conference

UGA Sports Communications

Kirby Smart

I'd like to open with a special thanks to the City of New Orleans. Our team has thoroughly enjoyed our time here. Weather has not been perfect, I would say that. But we certainly have had a great time. Our kids have commented on several of the events.

The Allstate Sugar Bowl has been gracious in taking really good care of us. I know my family has enjoyed it and our staff and athletic department have thoroughly enjoyed being here. It's one of the first class bowls in the country, always has been. And Georgia has great tradition and history here with the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to wish Coach Mark Richt a happy retirement. He's meant a lot to me in my career, hired me, and has been very thorough and helpful in my career and has been a big beneficiary to the University of Georgia. Has given so much back to the University of Georgia and been such a good man and leader of this institution. We wish him well in his retirement.

Also, Ben Watson whose 15 year career in the NFL is coming to an end. And he's such a great representative. He spoke to our team last year in one of the most compelling talks that we've ever had. And we hope to get him back a lot more now that he's got some more free time coming up after this season. So I'm excited about those guys.

So as we look at Texas and this opportunity our team has, I think the opportunity in front of our team is as grand as there is, as there can be, because for our guys they're looking at it as an opportunity to play to a standard, to make a statement, to play to the excellence that we try to create at the University of Georgia. They've got an opportunity to do that against one of the top programs in the country.

The guy that just walked out of here, Tom Herman, I've had immense respect for, for a long time. Saw what he did first hand at Ohio State with the offense. That led to Houston where he had an unbelievable coaching career, did a great job. And now he is turning Texas around. I know the standard that he has. I know the way they practice. I know the leadership qualities he has, and I know the recruiting base he has. So we know we're up against a very, very, very respectable opponent who does a great job on both sides of the ball and special teams. So our kids acknowledge that.

The last I guess 30 days, 31 days, whatever it's been since our last game, have been wild and crazy because there's been a lot of action, in all of college football but especially with the University of Georgia. And we're really excited to get back out on the field and play a game.

You've got two physical receivers in J.J. Holloman and Riley Ridley. That said, how have they been able to prepare you in defending Texas tall receivers Lil'Jordan Humphrey, 6'4", and 6'6" Collin Johnson? Have they been able to give the secondary the looks they needed in practice to defend two guys like that?

"I don't know if you'll actually know that until the game because those two receivers for Texas are as big and as physical as we've faced all year. They do a great job of mixing those guys up and moving them around and creating matchups for them.

They've got a lot of secondaries in the Big 12 who have pressed them. They've got guys who played off of them. Those wideouts are elite wideouts, and they're not just elite because of their ability to catch. They're physical. They block. They're tough.

We've faced some big wideouts a couple times at LSU. We've faced some wideouts of good size in our offense but none quite like these two. So this dynamic will be unique, and we tried to simulate that but not necessarily with just Riley and J.J. We've had Matt Landers and Tommy Bush who were good size wise, maybe not the bulk as those two, but we've been able to get some good matchups and some good contests out there with those guys."

Without Deandre Baker, how difficult has it been adjusting with a new look secondary this week and has Deandre contributed to any game prep?

"Deandre has done a great job from a leadership standpoint, confidence standpoint for those guys. As far as the difficulty of preparing for it, the difficulty comes tomorrow because he's not out there. The prep so far has not been difficult because he's not there; it's been concerning because you've got a little bit more unknown when he's not out there. You feel really comfortable the last however many games, three years, that Deandre is going to control his side of the field.

Now you've got not two new guys two guys that have experience they don't have the experience of Deandre Baker who get an opportunity to go out and play. And that's probably the most exciting thing, seeing those guys play."

We had a chance to ask Jim Chaney about this yesterday, kind of a whirlwind type thing with Stetson Bennett now rejoining your program. This is the first time we've had a chance to ask you about it. What did you guys see in that and bringing him back? And I know you guys tried to hold on to him before he left the first time. How excited are you to bring a guy like that back who you know so well?

"I'm very excited. I think any time you get a chance to bring someone in your program who is a proven commodity that you know what they stand for, you know how they practice each day, you know how they come to work, and you know his love for the University of Georgia here's a young man who grew up in state, had an opportunity to go to several universities, chose to come to Georgia as a walk on. Really played well. Earned a scholarship. Decided to go to a junior college, played well there. Led his team to a championship game.

Now he's got an opportunity to come back into a very similar system that he left, and I'm proud of the fact that we were able to get him to come back because he had other opportunities. And we're looking forward to working with him."

Could you update us on D'Andre Walker and Jordan Davis, their status for the game? And, two, when you said the team was going to play to make a statement, what is the statement? Is it that Georgia was one of the four best or another type of statement?

"I think any time you think standard and statement for us, it's really speaking to the fact that we want to play to our brand of football, to our level of competition.

Make no bones about it, they're representing their conference. We're representing our conference, and that's always a challenge, everybody plays the SEC with a chip on their shoulder. So we're coming to play to a standard and make a statement to ourselves that we are an elite program. We want to be considered that. We want to be in that conversation. And I think to do that, you've got to play to a standard. And that's our goal for our kids.

As far as the injuries, D'Andre Walker struggled a little bit. His groin has been bothering him, hasn't been able to go full speed. He'll be a game time decision, maybe situational, the route we're using.

And then Jordan Davis has kind of been the same. May be a situational player that he can play in certain situations. But to be honest, both these guys have struggled to get back 100%."

You mentioned about some wild and crazy times since the SEC Championship game. Can you tell about the level of how locked in your team is to this game? And is that hard to gauge for bowl teams?

"I don't think it's anything to do with the bowl game. I think it's week to week you would question as a head coach where are we from a standpoint of focus and concentration. I don't think you ever know that.

With that much time, it makes it a lot harder because you really don't really want them focused on the bowl game for 30 days. You want them focused on getting better for 20 25 of those days. They've got to concern themselves with final exams, decisions they have to make, so many other things going on.

We just want to coach and get better. The last, I would say, ten days we really focused on Texas, and our kids have understood that. They have understood the importance of that.

You want to grow that momentum into the game to the excitement of the game. 8:45 kickoff, nationally televised audience, only game going on. We want those kids ready to go play. We want to have good tempo when it comes to that.

I certainly have confidence in our kids' focus and concentration, they turn the tape on. They see Texas beating Oklahoma and get on top of Oklahoma in a championship game who is a team we have a full amount of respect for and understand the caliber of a team like Texas.

Most of our kids nowadays, they grew up and got recruited with those same kids from Texas. They went to all star games. They know every one of these players, and they know these guys are good football players. It's not about that for us. It's about how we play and how we control our standard."

Do you like the current targeting rule, or do you think it's too punitive and needs to be adjusted? How the hell do you coach tackling anymore?

"It's hard to coach tackling. It's hard to be argumentative with a rule that's meant to provide safety. When you look at it from a standpoint of: Does your child play football and how would you want your child coached in football, I certainly don't want anybody teaching my son to lead with a helmet or crown of a helmet.

I think the hardest part is the judgment of mid level targeting, where we're trying to go for the middle of a person and they move. And all of a sudden you end up with a targeting. That's the toughest thing, but that's part of the game. And you can't say well, I'm going to make it okay for this one but not okay for this one. So it's a fine line. It's really tough.

As long as it's making our sport safer because what I hate to see is injuries deter a sport that I think is really good for people. I think this sport teaches you so many life lessons that because it's got some injury and stuff in it, we've got to do a really good job of protecting our players on both sides of the fence.

But tackling is tough. In bowl games in particular we've talked really hard, showed examples every day of how tackling disappears during bowl games."

First of all, what have you learned as a coach in terms of how you get kids to rebound from disappointment? And then, also, is there anything in particular about this season that you think will help the players who are returning next year, next season?

"First thing, I think disappointment is a part of life. I think everybody in this room can say they've been disappointed at some time or another, they've been let down. But it actually makes, when you do things well, that much grander because if you just won all the time or you just had success all the time, you'd never feel the agony of that disappointment. So we have to embrace that in order to really enjoy the other side of it, which is what we do this for.

The comeback is what's you do this for. So this is our opportunity to go out and finish it and do it the right way, and we want to do that.

As far as what our players have learned from this season that might help them next year, I think the biggest thing is focus and concentration on every game. For us we played in a tough, hostile environment at LSU and we didn't play our best game. We didn't coach our best game, me in particular. So I think when you start with that, you've got to be at your best every single game because, in the end, they all matter, especially in the SEC. So whether it's that game, another game, you've got to continue to grow and get better, which I really feel like our team developed and got better throughout the year. And we've got to continue to do that next year."

What are you going to remember about this year's senior class? And what's going to be your message to them tomorrow night before you take the field?

"I think the biggest thing is they can leave a lasting legacy and what is your legacy going to be? They've got a chance to be the second or tied for the second winningest senior class to come out of this program, which is pretty amazing when you think about it. They've also got the beneficiary of more games than some of the past teams in the '80s. But it's pretty incredible what they've been able to do in a short time.

And I want them to think about how do you want to be remembered? What do you want people to say about you? You want them to say that you went out and laid everything on the line and competed as hard as you could because a lot of these seniors, this will be their last football game. And I want them to have a positive taste in their mouth, and I want them to be able to come back to the University of Georgia and be proud of the fact that they were able to win a New Year's Six bowl. And I think that's really important."

This is more question about the progression and evaluation of practices. But there's some things up in the air with Isaac Nauta and Luke Ford as they go forward. What type of things do you see from those other guys who maybe haven't gotten the opportunity to contribute this year and how they might be an asset going forward?

"First off, I think Charlie Woerner does a tremendous job. Charlie is one of the most athletic, physical blockers, especially for a guy that played every position in high school football defense, receiver, everything. He grew into a tight end body, and he's one of the toughest, hardest workers who never complains, never says a word in practice. He just works. He's gotten a lot better throughout his career and will continue to do so.

Throughout these bowl practices, John FitzPatrick has made a bunch of plays. He's had to do probably the toughest job on our team. He doubles as a tight end on the scout team. He's had to play some tackle on the scout team due to a number of injuries on the offensive line throughout the season. But he's grown and gotten better. I think when you put those two guys out there, they both have a chance to help us. And that's with the stuff we've got up in the air you mentioned."

Mel Tucker, defensive coordinator, now head coach at Colorado, will you be calling defensive sets in this game?

"We'll be doing it by committee as we talked about. We've got a group and a staff that work really hard together. Between Dan Lanning, Glenn Schumann, Tray Scott, myself, the GAs work really hard. Both Wendel Davis and Bakari Guice have done a great job of stepping up and helping from that standpoint.

We do it by committee most of the time anyway. Mel called the defenses for us. But between series, during the week game planning, it was done by committee because that's how you put a game plan together. But that's very similar to how it will be done in this game."

Wonder your thoughts on the two Playoff games the other day. Anything that you saw that further validated your opinion you should have been one of those teams taking part?

"I'll be honest with you, we were practicing and working during the Clemson - Notre Dame. So we finished somewhere around the third quarter. I didn't get to see hardly any of that. We came in as coaching staff and watched the tape.

I got to see some of the Alabama and Oklahoma game and certainly thought that both these teams were really powerful offensive football teams and played a good football game.

But our concern, as you well know, is with Texas. And everything that we'll be judged on is how we finish, and we want to finish the right way. And we want to play our best football game at the end of the year, which is tomorrow night."

You talked about Mark Richt at the top of the press conference. What did he mean to you on a personal level, and then, I guess, what do you recall when he kind of hired you in '05 or whatever?

"Mark has been great for my personal career because I got to meet what is now my wife during my time coming back to the University of Georgia. He gave me an opportunity to coach on the offensive side of the ball, which I've always said was a different perspective for me.

Neil Calloway was the offensive coordinator, and Mike Bobo was the quarterbacks coach. And they fought to hire me when there was a defensive position on the staff I didn't get hired for, Mark had enough confidence in me as a coach and recruiter to hire me as running backs coach. And it's one of the most valuable years of my career because it was the most different, and I wouldn't have had that opportunity were it not for him and his wife Katharyn. What they've done for the city of Athens and University of Georgia is incredible, and they're great people."

You touched on this a bit at the beginning of your opening statement. But how was the perception of Texas as a program maybe changed from where it was when Coach Tom Herman first took the job?

"That's a tough one because I don't really know where that perception was when he took the job. We didn't play him the time I was at Alabama, and we didn't really play him since I've been at Georgia. So we've kind of overland since he took over.

I think the national brand of Texas has stepped up with some of the bigger games they've been able to play in. I know from a recruiting standpoint we've gone head to head because he's come to Georgia and recruited nationally. He's come to Florida and recruited nationally. And we've gone to Texas. So we've had more times that we've actually crossed paths than I ever remember during my time at University of Alabama. So he's done a tremendous job from that standpoint.

They've never really gone anywhere from a standpoint of football players looking at football players. These kids look at things completely different than the men and women in this room including myself because they have a generation of going to play in all star games and having social media as a format in which they interact with these kids on other teams. They know these kids on other teams, and they know the caliber of football players. They see the track times in Texas. They see the all star games in Texas. They know there's high quality football players in the state of Texas."

With D'Andre Walker limited, who stands to benefit from additional playing time? And talk about the confidence you have in those individuals.

"Behind him we've got a group of freshmen that have all kind of played different roles throughout the year with Brenton Cox, Robert Beal. Azeez Ojulari getting an opportunity to work in that group, too, with the time we've had extended time we've had to practice getting him prepared.

And then you got to look at Malik Herring and other guys that play defensive end. It will be done by committee and hopeful to get the most and best out of those young players who are going to get an opportunity to play.

You talk about the importance of the extra practices. Who kind of stood out last year and took advantage of that extra time? Has it been one of the youngsters on your squad who has made the most of these extra opportunities this year?

"The first one that comes to mind would be Azeez Ojulari. We were going to work on us for five, six practices we call them camp practices where we would work on Texas a little bit. But Azeez is a kid that came out with an attitude of "I'm going to go play. I'm want to get better." He did a great job of that.

Channing Tindall and Quay Walker. I think the young O linemen really grew up. Y'all saw them most of the year in Cade Mays and Trey Hill. But those guys grew up a lot. I thought Tommy Bush and Matt Landers made strides as football players. So when you look across the board John FitzPatrick, I mentioned him earlier during bowl practices.

A lot of guys start to step to the forefront and get an opportunity to hear things a second and third time where they're not overwhelmed at the speed of the install. They start making some plays and you realize, hey, this guy is a really good football player. He's going to be able to help our team at some point.