Sunday, January 5, 2020

Dribble Dawgs Take Down Tigers

UGA Sports Communications

The Dawgs (10-3) broke the No. 9-ranked Memphis Tigers’ 10-game win streak Saturday afternoon in Memphis, Tenn., with a 65-62 victory over the Tigers.

For Georgia, the win marks the first road victory over a top-10 team since 2004 and the first win — home or away — over a top-10 team since 2011. It is also the first time that both the football team and the basketball team defeated a top ten opponent in the same week.

This was also the third-ever meeting between the two teams, with the last being in 1996. The Dawgs improve to 10-3 while the Tigers fall to 12-2.

In the fourth game in which the Dawgs pulled out a win by four points or fewer, four Dawgs scored in double-figures. Freshman standout Sahvir Wheeler had another great performance off the bench with 10 points and seven assists. Graduate student Donnell Gresham, Jr., added another 12 points and was also Georgia’s second-leading rebounder with eight.

Freshman Anthony Edwards scored 13 points for the Dawgs while tallying five rebounds and four assists. Junior Rayshaun Hammonds finished the game with his fourth double-double of the season and sixth of his career, totaling 15 points and 12 rebounds.

““They earned this win,” Georgia head coach Tom Crean said. “They really did, because it wasn’t easy. We did not get a lot of trips to the foul line. We were in a situation where we just had to figure out ways to come back and get it done in the game… Memphis is a really good team. They are very deserving of their ranking. This is a huge road victory for us, and it was a team effort.”

The Dawgs pushed the pace to open what would be an exciting first half. To start, Georgia scored its first four field goals in the paint, including two consecutive driving baskets by Hammonds. This helped push the Dawgs to a 10-5 lead nearly four minutes into the matchup. While Memphis was able to grab the lead less than halfway through the half, Gresham knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to take the Georgia advantage (15-13).

By the 11:35 mark, however, neither team would hold a lead for long. It was a back-and-forth contest for the rest of the first half, as the teams traded leads 12 times and tied the game on six occasions.

Freshman Toumani Camara’s career-high two 3-pointers were pivotal in keeping the Dawgs on pace with the Tigers, and the teams headed to the locker rooms tied 37-all.

The last 20 minutes of the match-up featured an explosive defensive performance by Georgia. The Dawgs forced two shot-clock violations by the Tigers, the first of which Georgia maximized with a three-point basket by Gresham to tie the score yet again (54-54).

Overall, there would be 20 lead changes and 10 ties between the Dawgs and Tigers.

Wheeler proved to be an asset off the bench once more for the Dawgs. Georgia was able to retake the lead on numerous occasions thanks to the freshman, including with under two minutes to play when Wheeler drove up the middle for a jump-shot and 64-61 lead.

The Dawg defense did not allow the Tigers to score a field goal during the last 4:35 minutes of the game. A free throw by Gresham sealed Georgia’s 65-62 victory.

Georgia returns to the Stegeman Coliseum on Tuesday, January 7th, at 9 p.m. ET as the Dawgs take on the Kentucky Wildcats on ESPN.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Post Game Notes

UGA Sports Communications

Senior Class Ties Win Mark: With tonight’s 26-14 victory, the 2019 class ties the mark for most wins by a Dawg senior class with 44. They matched the 2005 group that went 44-9 with a pair of SEC titles. The 2019 class finishes with a 44-12 record, one SEC title, three consecutive SEC Eastern Division crowns and was the 2018 CFP Runner-Up. Also, Georgia notched its 12th win, making it only the fifth team to have at least 12 wins in a season in school history and the first since 2017 (13-2). The 2019 Dawgs finish the season 12-2 while Baylor dropped to 11-3.

Strong Effort By The Defense: Fifth-ranked Georgia held #7 Baylor to a season low 14 points in a 26-14 victory tonight. Georgia blanked the Bears in the first half, holding them to 97 yards of total offense (22-pass, 75-pass). Coming in tonight, the Bears were averaging 35.2 points a game and 431.2 yards a game. It was the fifth time this year that Georgia blanked an opponent in the first half and the first time since the road win over Auburn. The last first half shutout in a bowl game by the Dawgs was against Alabama in the 2018 CFP National Championship game when it led 13-0. The Bears finished with 295 yards of offense. 

Baylor opened the second half with an eight play, 75-yard scoring drive to cut it to 19-7. On their possession, the Bears went for it on 4th down and 4 from the UGA 46 and Charlie Brewer was sacked and fumbled as it was forced by RS-freshman Azzez Ojulari and recovered by Travon Walker. It led to a touchdown and a 26-7 Dawg lead. The Bears second TD came on another eight play, 75-yard drive with 4:10 left in the 3rd quarter to cut it to 26-14. Georgia’s leading tacklers tonight were DJ Daniel with a career-high eight while Ojulari and Lewis Cine had six. Ojulari finished with five stops, one sack and one forced fumble.

Georgia held 13 of its 14 opponents under 20 points this season.Before the 2019 SEC Championship Game, Georgia and Clemson were the only two teams in the FBS not to allow more than 20 points in a game. In the SEC Championship Game, top-ranked LSU registered a 37-10 win over the Dawgs as the Tigers came in ranked second nationally in Scoring Offense (48.7 ppg). In the CFP semifinal, Clemson beat #2 Ohio State 29-23.

A Look At The Offense: Junior QB Jake Fromm finished 20-for-30 for 250 yards and two TDs to lead the Dawgs to a 26-14 win over No. 7 Baylor, their 12th of the year. Georgia’s first scoring drive that resulted in a 24-yard field goal was setup by a flea-flicker as Fromm handed off to junior D’Andre Swift who tossed it back to Fromm, and it went for a 46-yard completion to George Pickens. The Dawgs tallied 380 yards of total offense (130-rush, 250 pass). The leading rusher was redshirt freshman Zamir ​White who had 92 yards on 18 carries, both career highs in his first start. 

Bowl Record Night For Pickens: Freshman George Pickens, who was named the Sugar Bowl Most Outstanding Player, registered a career-high 12 catches (tying a UGA bowl record) for 175 yards and 1 TD and that was most receptions by a Dawg since Michael Johnson had 13 versus Auburn in 2002 for 141 yards. In the first half, Pickens had 11 for 165 yards and one TD. Pickens’ 175 yards was the most by a Dawg in a game since 2012 when Tavarres King had 188 versus Kentucky. Pickens’ team-leading eighth TD catch, the most by a true freshman in the country, covered 27 yards with 12:28 left in the half for a 10-0 edge. Pickens previous career bests came versus South Carolina when he had seven catches for 98 yards. Pickens shares Georgia’s bowl record for catches with Hines Ward (154 yards in the 1998 Outback Bowl win over Wisconsin) Also, redshirt sophomore Matt Landers got his first career TD, a 16-yarder to make it 19-0 with 1:51 left in the first half. He had three catches for 25 yards.

Another Sugar Bowl Appearance: Georgia made its 11th all-time appearance in the Sugar Bowl, and the Dawgs are now 5-6). Georgia made its 23rd consecutive appearance in a bowl game, the second longest active streak in the country. Overall, Georgia improved to 32-21-3 in bowls.

Series History With The Bears: With tonight’s win, Georgia improves to 5-0 all-time against Baylor, winning in 1972, 1978, 1985 and 1989 in Athens plus now in New Orleans in the 2020 Sugar Bowl.

Another Win Over Top 10 Foe: With tonight’s win, Kirby Smart improved to 7-4 against top 10 teams during his tenure including 3-1 this season. His overall mark is 44-12 in this is fourth year at the helm.

Blankenship Tallies 8 Points: Graduate PK Rodrigo Blankenship finished with 8 points (2-FGs, 2-PAT) to give him 127 for this year (ranks 3rd best in single season at UGA) and already a school record 440 for his career. He made a 24-yarder for a 3-0 edge with 49 seconds left in the 1st quarter and then a 31-yarder for a 13-0 lead with 8:08 left in the first half. He already owns the school record for career points and ranks second in SEC history. In the first half, he finished 2-for-2 in field goals. He is now 27-for-33 on the season in field goals. Also of note, he set the SEC record for consecutive PATs made on his first PAT tonight and added one more as he now has 200.

Sophomore punter/holder Jake Camarda converted a fake field goal on 4th-and-2, rushing four yards for a first down. On the next play, Zamir White scored from 13 yards out to make it 26-7 following the PAT. It was Georgia’s first successful fake field goal since the 2016 Liberty Bowl win over TCU when holder Brice Ramsey scampered 11 yards for a first down.

Points off Turnovers: Georgia forced three turnovers and it led to seven points. The first one was an interception by junior Richard LeCounte. He returned it to the UGA 26. It did not lead to any points. In the 3rd quarter, Azeez Ojulari had a strip sack and it was recovered by Travon Walker. It led to a TD. LeCounte notched his second pick late in the 4th quarter to tie a Georgia bowl record and allow the Dawgs to go into the victory formation. LeCounte has five picks for his career and four this year. The Bears came in tonight +14 in turnover margin this year while Georgia was even.

For Starters & Game Captains: Junior QB Jake Fromm leads the team now with 42 consecutive starts. Redshirt freshman right guard Warren Ericson and redshirt freshman tailback Zamir White made their first career starts. On defense junior DT Devonte Wyatt made his first career start. Fromm, D’Andre Swift along with junior Monty Rice and graduate Charlie Woerner served as the game captains.

Pups Show Out In Sugar Bowl

UGA Sports Communications

Powered by stout defense and a career game from freshman wide receiver George Pickens, the fifth-ranked Dawgs (12-2, 7-1 SEC) closed the 2019 season with a 26-14 victory over the seventh-ranked Baylor Bears (11-3, 8-1 Big 12) in the 86th Allstate Sugar Bowl Wednesday evening before 55,211 spectators at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and an ESPN primetime television audience.

Georgia’s victory improved its overall bowl record to 32-21-3, including its fifth victory in the Sugar Bowl. Additionally, the Dawgs’ senior class tied the mark for most wins by a class with 44, matching the record set by the 2005 class.

Junior quarterback Jake Fromm led the Georgia offense, finishing 20-for-30 with 250 yards and two touchdowns. Pickens, named the Sugar Bowl Most Outstanding Player, tallied 12 catches for 175 yards and a touchdown, with 165 of those coming in the first half. On the ground, redshirt freshman tailback Zamir White amassed 92 yards rushing on 18 carries. For the evening, the Dawgs offense posted 380 yards and finished 4-for-4 in the red zone.

With his performance, Pickens became the first Dawg receiver with at least 10 catches since Isaiah McKenzie against Missouri in 2016, while his 175 yards were the most since Tavarres King notched 188 against Kentucky in 2012.

On the defensive front, junior cornerback DJ Daniel led with eight tackles, followed by freshman safety Lewis Cine with six. Junior safety Richard LeCounte added to his team lead with two interceptions, finishing with four for the season. The Dawgs defense allowed 295 yards with six tackles for loss, in addition to stopping each of Baylor’s three fourth-down attempts.

Following a pair of Georgia punts to begin the game, the Dawgs defense posted the game’s first highlight as LeCounte grabbed a deflected Baylor pass at the Georgia 18-yard line with one hand for his first interception of the game. Later in the quarter, a 40-yard flea flicker from Fromm to Pickens led to the evening’s first points as senior place kicker Rodrigo Blankenship connected from 24 yards out.

On Georgia’s next possession, Fromm efficiently moved the offense on an 8-play, 85-yard scoring drive, capped off by a 27-yard strike to Pickens at the 12:28 mark of the second quarter. After a Bears punt, the BulldoDawgs once again reached the red zone, capitalizing with a 31-yard Blankenship field goal, the final of his illustrious career.

Nearing the end of the half, Fromm tacked on another score as he found redshirt sophomore wide receiver Matt Landers for his first career touchdown on a 16-yard pass, followed by a failed two-point conversion attempt to set the halftime score at 19-0. The first half shutout was the fifth by the Georgia defense this season.

In the third quarter, Baylor came out energized as three catches from wide receiver Denzel Mims helped put the Bears on the scoreboard with a 12-yard touchdown, following up a 40-yard completion by Mims earlier in the 8-play, 75-yard drive.

The Bears crossed into Georgia territory on their ensuing drive, but on fourth down, redshirt freshman linebacker Azeez Ojulari forced a fumble by quarterback Charlie Brewer that was recovered by freshman defensive lineman Travon Walker at the Baylor 47-yard line. Along with his forced fumble, Ojulari finished with five tackles and one sack.

Setting up with excellent field position, the Dawgs initially stalled at the Baylor 30-yard line, but a fake field goal allowed sophomore punter Jake Camarda to convert on fourth down with a 6-yard run. On the next play, White found the pylon for a 13-yard touchdown, increasing the margin to 26-7 Georgia at the 7:16 mark of the third quarter.

On the following drive, Baylor turned to junior running back Trestan Ebner, whose 42 yards and recovery of a goal line fumble helped the Bears cap off another 8-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard Brewer touchdown run. After a Georgia 3-and-out, Baylor once again crossed midfield to close the third quarter before electing to punt and strand the Dawgs at their 1-yard line. Despite reaching Baylor territory, a third-down sack forced Georgia to punt.

With the clock running down for Baylor, an injury to Brewer forced the Bears to enter freshman backup Jacob Zeno, but he was unable to convert on 4th-and-11 with five minutes remaining. On Baylor’s final possession, LeCounte notched his second pick, allowing Georgia to kneel out the clock.

Georgia will next take the field on Monday, September 7th for a matchup against Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Dawgs Hold First Sugar Bowl Practice

UGA Sports Communications

The Georgia football team practiced for 90 minutes in helmets and shorts at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Saturday. The Dawgs will face Baylor in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Wednesday, January 1st.

The Allstate Sugar Bowl will kick off at 8:45 p.m. EST and will be televised by ESPN.

Following Saturday’s practice, Georgia’s players were scheduled to attend the NBA game between the New Orleans Pelicans and the Indiana Pacers.

Also after the practice, several players were made available for interviews.

Eli Wolf, Senior, Tightend

“Baylor’s got a really good football team. We’ve got to keep preparing for them and we know we’ll have to play really well to beat them. We have a lot of respect for their players and coaches. It’s going to be a fight. … Jake Fromm has been super steady all year in an offense with a lot of changes, a lot of injuries. He’s been constant and confident for us. It’s huge having a leader like that who can take control of the offense and get everybody lined up in their assignments. He’s done a great job with that.”

Jake Camarda, Sophomore, Punter

“This is the Sugar Bowl and this is a big game for us. We’re going to come out and play the best we can. It’s still a game for this season, not next season. We’ll look to next year after this game. We have great guys on this team, and we’re looking forward to playing this game.”

Tyson Campbell, Sophomore, Defensive Back

J.R. Reed was a big brother of mine. He taught me a lot and I paid attention to everything he told me. He’s one of those guys who will forever be remembered at UGA, so I’m happy for him. Right now, we’re focusing on the guys who are here trying to win this game. We’ve got a lot of depth in the DB room. The guys here have prepared hard and are ready to play well. I’m not worried at all.”

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Signing Day Press Conference

UGA Sports Communications

University of Georgia football coach Kirby Smart talked with media regarding the 2020 early signing period and the upcoming Allstate Sugar Bowl against Baylor during a press conference on Wednesday.

Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement …

“I'll open with excited for an opportunity to play Baylor in the Sugar Bowl. I haven't gotten to address that other than the media teleconferences we had. We're four practices in, and we've got a lot of respect for this team. When you watch them on tape, they really play hard, toughness, competitive. I think Coach Matt Rhule does a tremendous job. The turnaround he's been able to do there is incredible. They've played in a lot of really tough games this year, got a lot of respect for their conference, having played Texas from their conference last year, and they do a fabulous job.

Our guys, we really just kind of started on them specifically today, but we've had three or four practices that were more fundamental based, and the coaches have been working towards getting ready for Baylor. So excited about the opportunity to play those guys, and I know our players are too.

Next thing would be Signing Day today, which is kind of a weird timing for everything because we've still got the February signing date coming up, but we were able to address a lot of our needs today. I really feel like, when you talk about wide receiver and you talk about offensive line, what we've got leaving and what we need on our roster, we were able to attack some of those areas and still have work left to be done hopefully in both those areas.

We've got a really good strong group. We've got some really strong academic kids, which matters a lot to me at this university, and some great competitors. A couple guys, I think four guys played for state championships. Two guys won state championships. I'm really excited about this class. It's not completely done yet, but obviously, a lot of the pieces are in place. With that, I'll open it up.”

On if he had interest in Mike Bobo and thoughts on the offensive coordinator position …

“Yeah, I talk to Mike often, and we're really good friends. But as far as any conversation about coming to coach at the University of Georgia, no. He and I conversed about what he was going to do when he was let go, but that was during the week of the LSU game. As far as any other changes or anything like that, that's decided after the bowl game, after we look back at the whole year. We're working really hard right now on Baylor, on giving our kids an opportunity to play, and that's really where our focus is.”

On the wide receiver signees …

“Yeah. I'm not allowed to comment on anyone but the guys that have the paperwork in, but really excited about those guys. We've been excited about Justin Robinson for a long time. Marcus Rosemy too. They both came to our camp over the summer and were as competitive of kids as you've seen out there in one-on-ones, and both of them had good senior years, and both of them won state championships. Arian's a kid who's got a lot of speed. It's pretty obvious he can run fast. He wants to be able to run track here, which we've been very open to and had success with Mecole doing that, so that was a big selling point for him. We had a lot of other kids join us today that we think are going to help us.”

On wide receiver signees Marcus Rosemy and Arian Smith …

“Yeah, I don't know if Arian would say he's South Florida. He's the Lakeland area, which to those kids is not really all the way down in South Florida. But I think Coach Cortez Hankton did a tremendous job with Marcus and his family. We've got great relationships at that high school. Jason Taylor is a coach there, a guy that I was with at the Dolphins, Coach Harriet and Coach Coley have had great relationships for a long time. Those relationships help, but ultimately Georgia sells those kids on coming here. When they come up on visits, when they come up and see the place, the academics, coming to camp the relationships that are formed have been big on commits. And those wideouts know that we have a need. They know they have an opportunity to play.”

On quarterback signee Carson Beck and conversations with Jake Fromm regarding coming back …

“Yeah, start with Carson. Excited as I can be. This guy's come to camp since maybe his ninth grade year to our place, has grown up and gotten better with each and every year. He came this summer, hung out with our guys. Can't say enough about Carson and his family, the competitive nature that's inside him. He's been a winner. He won a state championship last year at Mandarin, which has probably never been done before, I think at their school. So he led those guys to that and did a great job.

As far as any others, we're looking for all positions. We've got some spots left, and we're looking at every position out there to sign best available players. And at that second signing, quarterback is not out of question, but it's not necessarily something we have to do.

As far as Jake, we do with Jake exactly what we do with every player on our team. We bring him in. We talk to teams. I talk to general managers. I talk to organizations. We get information. We give those kids that information. This is a time when they're able to do that, and then when we get closer to the Bowl game, we put it away, and then we come back and revisit it, and we've done those things for Jake.”

On if he expects D’Andre Swift, James Cook, Brian Herrien and Prather Hudson to play in Sugar Bowl …

“All that is still to be determined. All those guys healthy right now. Swift is recovering from his injury, but he's out there practicing, and he's doing everything we ask.”

On if James Cook will receive any additional punishment and any other news on players not playing in the Sugar Bowl …

“With Cook, it will start with the internal discipline we have, and as far as anybody else, we're still gathering information as far as anything grade-wise, any of the stuff we would have, we're still gathering all of that from school.”

On running back signee Kendall Milton and if Carson Beck will join the team for bowl practice …

“Yeah, we're hoping to get Carson here for Bowl practice as soon as possible. Kendall, on the other hand, I think was attracted to the fact that he knew he had the potential of two guys leaving with Herrien being a graduate and being a senior, and then with the likelihood of Swift possibly coming out, he's sitting there going, you know what, there's an opportunity there. I think any time, when you look at it as a running back and you say they could be losing two guys, very similar to years past when we had Sony and Nick, you're always exploring those options, and we certainly felt that Kendall comes from a really strong family. Dell formed a great relationship with their family, and they came and visited all the schools across the Southeast and really liked what Georgia had to offer.

I'm super pleased to get him. He was one of our leaders in the class, and I'm excited about what he's going to bring to the table.”

On what Matt Luke brings to his staff …

“We were really fortunate and excited to get him. The minute that I found out about Sam Pittman, he's the first guy that came to my mind and wanted to visit with, I've had a lot of respect for the job he's done, everywhere he's been from the years he was at Duke. He kind of came up under Coach David Cutcliffe and played for him and has been a good friend of mine for a long time. Got a lot of respect for what he does, how he does it. I've been in SEC meetings now with him for a while. Very sharp, very intelligent guy. That's kind of come to the realization on the road. When you go into home with him, he's got command. He's got presence. Kids like him. His team there, all the guys on their team loved him as a head coach. To do what he's done in the short amount of time he's done it is pretty remarkable because it was a tough timing situation.

So happy for Sam and Jamie and the opportunity they've gotten. He's come in, Matt's come in and put the Band-Aid on the bleeding and done a tremendous job and turned those three guys around pretty quick. We'll continue to recruit the others.”

On reflecting on the offense and the philosophy and scheme…

“Yes. We've looked at it. But we want to score points. I mean, you guys want a simple answer like it's just going to poof and happen. It's all philosophy. It's all the plays that are called and the play designs. It's not everything. There's a lot of things that go into having a successful offense, and we need to be better. I think everybody acknowledges that. And that's what we're working on really hard.”

On the impact of Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson declaring for the NFL on recruiting and the Sugar Bowl against Baylor… 

“Any time you lose two, one -- probably the first round pick, one potential first round pick, it's tough, right? Those kids have an opportunity to go do something they wanted to do all their lives, and we give them the information, and we let them make the best decision for them.

For us, it's not like this is something new. We've known this was the potential to happen with these two guys all year. We knew it as much as last year. So you're always trying to look ahead, plan ahead, develop players, develop your roster. Those guys have been out games, both of them, in the last two years, so we've had to play without them.

There will be challenges, absolutely, and there will also be opportunity. With opportunity, a lot of times guys get to answer the bell. We're going to get an opportunity to find out some other guys that can play the position. A lot of guys have been working really hard all year to develop that are going to get opportunities in this game.”

On the possibility of pursuing more quarterbacks for this class and the potential of graduate transfers… 

“Yeah, we don't ever take anything out of the realm. I mean, when we have graduate transfers in the past, that's like a constant study. We're looking at that for every position. Guys, it's simple. You want to make your roster as best as you can. That's our job as coaches. So we're in constant pursuit of every opportunity we have. There's nothing that's off limits in regards to recruiting or making your roster better.”

On the impact of the bowl performance for recruiting signing in the later signing period… 

“Yeah, maybe. They may look at it as an opportunity. But what's important for our university is that we go play the best football game we can and that we have a really positive attitude and outlook on it and we've had four great practices. Our kids have been tremendous in those four, and we've been really fast, physical, and fundamental, and we've been doing it quick.

But what those guys that you're talking about in the future are going to make their decision based on usually pertains to what opportunity they have to play, what our institution offers from an education standpoint. I don't think it's all based on the outcome of one game.”

On if previous comments of not bringing players to bowl games that are not engaged means if they're not playing in the game, they're not going to travel and if there has been a team-wide sentiment that what happened last year isn't going to happen again…

“No, I think we have good leaders on this team, though. A lot of guys have addressed the attitude and the practice habits and all those things. Like I just said, they've been really great. They've been awesome. They've handled that really well.

As far as going to the Bowl game or not, those two guys have been tremendous. They've been awesome. They let us know what they're going to do. They're working out. They're getting ready and preparing for the draft. We don't really have a decision to be made there.”

On getting a recruit out of California for Georgia for the first time since 2006 and if there’s an emphasis on getting more out-of-state players…

“It hasn't been an emphasis. It's been more of what are our needs and who can we get? We try to go out and evaluate and find the best character, football player, students -- all of those factors for us are important. Kendall certainly checks the box on all those, and he just happens to be from California. That's not a prerequisite. We want to get the best football players we can and student-athletes we can.”

On Ben Cleveland’s status …

“Cannot confirm that, no, because there's still things out there. So nothing's final yet.”

On how the entire signing class will shape out after the signing day in February… 

“Yeah, I can only comment on the ones that have signed today. That's all I'm allowed to comment on. I'm excited about the ones that signed today and looking forward to finishing off the class with another great class. I'm very pleased with what we brought in today, and I'm very pleased with what we've got coming forward in February, but I can't talk about it.”

On how many of Wednesday’s signees are expected to early enroll…

“I think we'll have six or seven mid-year enrollees, but some won't be here for bowl practice. Some have elected to play in the All-Star games. Some have to get their academic paperwork in to be able to enroll mid-year, and some will be here for the practices.”

On the team’s approach to the upcoming Sugar Bowl…

“I thought they approached it serious last year. We didn't play real well, but we had a bunch of young guys that got to play on defense. Offensively, we had turnovers, and when you have turnovers, you don't win football games. We've kind of gotten to that point. We're at a zero turnover margin, and they're at plus 14. So for the last four days, we've been banging that home. We can't have turnovers and win football games. Certainly excited to give our guys an opportunity. They've all embraced the challenge. That's what you do as a leader. You confront and demand and say this is how we're going to do it, and if you don't do it to the standard, then you don't play. All these kids have been great. They've done a good job of that.”

On his evaluation of the signees on the defensive line…

“Excited. I think those three guys, when you start looking across the country, defensive linemen are hard to find, 6 foot, 300-pound plus athletic guys. They don't grow on trees. You don't go pick them and grab them like they do DBs or finding wide receivers. They're hard to find, big, physical presence guys. We needed that. We're losing some core guys, and those three guys to me, they're as good of a group as you'll find in the country with three of them coming in together that we really need.”

On areas the staff still needs to focus on signing student-athletes…

“I would say O-line and receiver were the biggest areas we had to improve our roster, but you can't say that in a class because a class has all the parts, so if it's missing one part, then you could be deficient two years from now, three years from now, maybe next year. So I don't feel like we're going, oh, man, there's a major deficiency here. We've got a good, really balanced class. You could say linebacker, but we felt like it was not a need to have to go take a guy at inside backer because we had some young guys there.”

On having the opportunity to play freshmen in the SEC Championship game…

“I don't know how many of these guys look at that and acknowledge that. I don't know if that's really important to them because it's two fold. Yeah, they play a lot of freshmen. Everybody in the country plays a lot of freshmen because our rosters aren't as deep as they used to be. Also, sometimes they see that as that's another guy in front of me. So I don't know that that has bearing all the time other than we will give good football players opportunities to play. If you're good enough, you're old enough. You don't have to be a certain age. If you're good enough, you're old enough. We've always had that mantra around here. Lewis Cine had done some good things during the year. He played well when given the opportunity, and he did some good things in that game. He's one of our faster players, and he helps matchup-wise, and he's one of our best tacklers. So that was why he got the opportunity.”

On the activities the team will participate in for the Sugar Bowl…

“We don't get to pick the activities for the players. The Bowl picks a lot of that, and having been there a lot, a lot of them carry over their traditional activities.”

On what the team practice schedule will look like leading up to the Sugar Bowl…

“As far as us, we did a quality control last year when we got back of everything that, if we had to do it again, what would we do different? What can we do better? We took those sheets out, and we're looking at that. We made some changes, some subtle, some major, and I'm excited about the opportunity. That's why you do that when it's fresh on your mind right when you get back. We're very detail oriented of, would we stay there? Would we go there? Would we do this? Would we have this game or that game? Would we practice this way or this time? Look at all that and try to find the best available option. At the end of the day, it's really what kind of person are you inside. Like when you look at yourself in the mirror, can you accept that you did your best and you know you did your best, or do you feel like you did less than your best? That's what we're challenging the guys to do. That comes from inside.”

On the changes in the coaching staff and the landscape of coaching…

“I don't know that it's any different. We had somebody last year, right? He was at Colorado, and he was the defensive coordinator. To me, this is part of the profession. When you win football games and you win your division three years in a row, people get opportunities, and I am happy that Sam Pittman gets the opportunity. We've had other coaches on our staff get opportunities that have elected to stay, and that is a good thing. But for me, the next step is getting ready to play Baylor. It was signing the signing class today. Tomorrow it's getting our players ready to go play Baylor. The next step is a Monday practice for Baylor. So we're working on game prep for those guys. I don't really get into where this is compared to last year or the year before. It's next thing up. What's important now.”