Monday, January 3, 2022

Monday Interview - Coach Smart

Opening Statement:

Indianapolis has been the spot of a lot of national championships I've been able to watch growing up, and excited to play in such a great venue. And sounds like we're fortunate we're not playing outside based on the weather that I'm hearing about. 

Our guys are excited and being excited to work and really take another shot and go play these guys. And got a lot of respect for Alabama and Coach Saban and everything they've been able to do. And we know that we've got to play one of our best games and our guys are excited for the opportunity.

What is it about the leadership skills of great linebackers, I'm talking about Nakobe in your case, but are you aware of Will Anderson Jr., and they play similar roles for these two teams. Could you expand on that topic?

I think that position is a position that ties the front to the back. And when you're in the middle kind of it takes extreme toughness to play at that position. And you've got to have some coverage skills. You've got to understand the defense inside and out. You certainly can become a very good leader. 

If you had a quarterback on defense, I think it would be at the linebacker position because they make so many calls. And Will, certainly, does that. He's an exceptional rusher, twitchy, plays so hard, high motor, physical toughness. A lot of the same things you can say about Nakobe, although they play different positions.

Could you talk about the dynamics of playing an opponent two times in close proximity? I think you were part of that with Alabama and LSU and certainly in a game of this magnitude. And second part, if you could touch on this, you alluded after the game, talking about Alabama had a five- or six-hour start getting ready for this game. I think you've been on both ends of that as well. Is that a true advantage, even those few hours can make a difference?

I don't know that it makes a huge difference when there's a normal space between the game. We played in a unique situation the last time we played them with the Rose Bowl turnaround, the national championship was extremely short. And with the Rose Bowl not changing their date it made for a West Coast flight that was a really, really, really quick turnaround. We actually played the earlier game in that scenario. And they played the later game. But the turnaround was quicker. 

This turnaround is a little different because of the amount of time in between them. I was just referencing that we finished a little bit later and didn't get home until the next day. But when you're playing a rematch game, I think a lot can go into it in terms of you've got to be careful because you've got things and games in your breakdown that might change this game in terms of we didn't have the SEC Championship game, obviously, in our breakdown, then the playoff game. And what tendencies changed, what matchups we're looking for, who is in, who is out. There's a lot of things that go into it. 

But at the end of the day, you're really not as worried about what they're doing; you're worried about what you're doing and how well you can do that is the most important part.

Your guys responded well to the tough loss against Alabama. Is it harder to have the same edge coming off a game where everything went right, or is given that everything is on the line, is that an issue at all?

You're saying coming off of playing well? How does that affect this game?

Because they were coming off a loss that they had maybe more of an edge wanting to prove something that they were as good as they showed earlier in the year.

We're focused on playing them and this game is irrelevant of the game we just played. And it's really separate from the SEC Championship, other than obviously will be using that tape to look at matchups and look at tendencies and things. 

But we're certainly -- we've worked really hard the last, whatever, 30 days at getting better at us. And it was never about Michigan or Alabama or Cincinnati. It was about us. It doesn't change on who your opponent is. You try to scheme to find matchups. But at the end of the day we've been trying to get our players better regardless of who we were going to play.

Just double-check on Brock Bowers, you touched on him. He dinged his shoulder a little bit a couple of weeks ago. Any further word on him?

He's good. He was good in the game. That same shoulder has bothered him all year, to be honest. It's not like it's something new that just came up. It bothers him from time to time at practice. It happens to a lot of our players, to be honest with you. I had it when I played. It's something you have to just deal with and in the offseason we'll get a look at it, see if it needs to be repaired surgically or whether or not it's something that he can rehab and continue to strengthen the muscles around it. But he's a football player. It's not going to go away in season. A lot of our guys are dealing with that.

Question about the dynamic that Alabama occupies, the mental space it occupies in the heads of either you, your coaching staff, your players, the Crimson Tide has taken on a bogeyman quality for Georgia in that they're the benchmark to which often this program is compared but also one that seems to always get the best of your team. How do you handle that mental dynamic whether you're preparing your athletes to play them for a second time in such a short time span?

First off, what is the bogeyman? What did you reference it as?

I said Alabama is a bogeyman to Georgia football.

I don't know exactly what that is, so it's hard for me to answer that question, other than they've also been a problem and a thorn for any team they've played besides ours. We have that in common with a lot of teams they've played, they have a really good football team, really good coach, really good program. 

It starts with really good football players. And they've done a good job recruiting those. And the I think when you look at the skill set of some of the guys they've had come through there, and I know myself, just looking at the last two or three times we've played them, I think somebody said either six or seven first-round wideouts have all played. And that skill set is pretty unique. I don't think there's any team in the country that's had, however many it's been, the run they've had on those. And it makes -- you've got to play well. You've got to play well in the red area. You've got to play well situational football. You can't turn the ball over and expect to beat good football teams. Those are things that we have done when we played them. We turned it over. And we can't do that. 

But as far as the mental capacity, mental mindset of our guys, they're excited. They earned another opportunity to go play a really good football team. Now we've got a really good football team. Our guys are physical, excited and looking forward to this opportunity on the biggest stage there is.

You guys didn't get much pressure on Bryce Young in the first meeting. What can you do to change that and how important a dynamic is that in this game?

It's really important. They did a good job -- number one, he did a good job of moving around in the pocket, of creating time. He's really way more illusive than people give him credit for. Extremely good athlete. Has elite spatial awareness. He knows where people are, where his people are, where he's protected, where he's going with the ball beforehand. And it wasn't for a lack of trying. And we brought a lot of different pressures. They did a good job picking those pressures up. 

And at the end of the day, there's four or five guys that are one-on-one up there. Somebody's got to win one-on-one. And a lot of times you're better at pressure when you're not on the field as long and you're winning some third downs. We had some really critical third-down losses that, hey, they didn't beat us. We busted. And you can't do that, not and beat a good football team. You're giving them extra snaps every time that happens, and you can't do that.

Wanted to ask you, I think one of the remarkable things about these two programs is that obviously you recruit a lot of good players, but so many to the point where I think people will ask, wow, if you want to play early, wouldn't it be better to go someplace else because there are so many good players on these rosters. How do you sell in recruiting even if you don't play right away, this is still the best place for you to be surrounded by these other great players?

Because the truly great players understand that no NFL scout or general manager or head coach has called me and said how much time did Roquan Smith, how much did Nakobe Dean play as a freshman. That's not what they care about. They care about the intangibles, size-speed criteria, leadership skills, how good a football player are they in year three. That's what they want. They start evaluating those guys really hard in year three. You want to be the best player you can be in three years. 

Where do you go to do that? You go where you can compete against really good people in practice. You get millions more snaps in practice than you do in a game. So you want to go against the best, where does the best pass rusher want to go? Against the best tackles. Where does the best tackle want to go? Against the best pass rushers. Where am I going to develop the best? Where have they proven that they can take me from a really talented player to a disciplined team-buy-in, NFL-type offense and defense and special teams and they can grow? 

The kids looking for that, they can find that at these programs. So it's an easier decision than you think, because it's not just about playing early. I've seen a lot of guys play early and not get better and not grow, not have the same nutrition, the same strength staff. And they might not leave as good as they would have, but they played early. I've seen some guys get inpatient here and there and leave and have regret over leaving because if they had stayed they would have been a better football player for staying.

Obvious storyline is Kirby Smart versus Nick Saban. I know the players on the field decide it, but this is your sixth year building this program. I guess this would be your fifth straight top-10 finish. Do you embrace that, or is it something that you prefer to downplay? And in terms of just how fluid is it in game -- I think we've seen you lead at halftime in three out of these previous four matchups. It looks like a chess match from the outside. How true would that be?

It's been games of momentum. They've done a good job at momentum in the second half. Each game has been different. And it will never be about he and I. I know he won't make it that and I won't make it that, because that's for you guys to do that. 

It's about the players. It's about those guys making plays and putting them in a position to be successful and the guys that, the players that make the meaningful plays, the plays that are conversions -- the red areas, the turnovers or not turnovers, the explosive plays that determines the outcomes of games, not he and I.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Post Game Notes

Dawgs Return To The CFP And Headed To National Championship Game: Tonight Georgia made its second appearance in the College Football Playoff, again as a No. 3 seed, and beat 2nd seed Michigan 34-11. The MVPs were seniors Stetson Bennett (offense: 21-for-31, 307 yards, 3 TDs; 3 rushes, 32 yards) and Derion Kendrick (Defense: 2 INTs, 5 tackles) The first time in the CFP came when the 2017 SEC Champions outlasted No. 2 seed Oklahoma 54-48 in double overtime in the Rose Bowl Game. Then, it fell to No. 4 seed Alabama 26-23 in overtime in the National Championship Game in Atlanta.

Up next, Georgia will face No. 1 seed Alabama (13-1) in the 2022 National Championship Game on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis. UA won the 2021 SEC Championship over #1 UGA 41-24 in Atlanta on Dec. 4. UA leads the all-time series 42-25-4 and has won the last seven meetings with four of those during the Kirby Smart era.

Staunch Defensive Effort To Advance To CFP National Championship Game: Georgia entered as the national leader in Scoring Defense at 9.5 ppg while UM was averaging 37.7 ppg, and the Dawgs won 34-11. UM tallied 325 yards on 63 plays. Georgia leads the nation in Red Zone Defense, and UM was just 1-for-3 including a fourth down stop at the UGA 6 in the fourth quarter. Opponents have made 28 trips this year and 12 times have come away with no points. UM got its lone TD with 4:25 left in the contest, trailing 34-3.

Tonight’s leading tackler was junior Nolan Smith with eight stops and a sack followed by 2021 Butkus Award winner junior Nakobe Dean with 7 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack and a forced fumble (recovered by Devonte Wyatt). Georgia forced a total of three turnovers but did not convert any into points. Dean and senior Robert Beal collected sacks in the first half as they lead the team with 6 and 5.5 this year. Overall, Georgia had four sacks to give them 45 this year.

Senior Derion Kendrick notched two interceptions and five tackles. He collected his 2nd INT to stop UM’s opening drive of the 2nd half, catching it in the endzone. The two INTs tied a Dawg bowl record held by seven others. Tonight was the first 2-INT game by a Dawg since Richard LeCounte versus Arkansas in 2020. Kendrick had a big CFP semifinal game while at Clemson versus Ohio State in a 2019 Fiesta Bowl win, tallying nine tackles and 2 PBU.

Bennett Leads Offense: Coming in tonight, the Dawgs were averaging 39.4 points per game and posted a 34-11 win over No. 2 Michigan who was allowing just 16.1 ppg. Georgia finished with 515 yards of total offense on 67 plays. At the half, Georgia had built a 27-3 lead on 330 yards of total offense on 36 plays.

Senior QB Stetson Bennett improved to 13-3 as a starter (10-1 this year). In the first half, he went 16-for-21 for 234 yards and 2 TDs to nine different receivers. He completed his first nine passes for 92 yards before his first incompletion. With 1:38 left in the first half, he connected for a 57-yard TD pass to Jermaine Burton that finished a 37-second drive in three plays covering 69 yards and made it 27-3. He completed a 39-yard TD pass to James Cook to make it 34-3 with 11:11 left in the game.

The leading receiver was freshman TE Brock Bowers (6 rec., 56 yards, 1 TD), and the leading rusher was senior Zamir White with 54 yards on 12 carries. Senior James Cook had 32 yards on six attempts, and he also had three catches for 99 yards.

Georgia took a 7-0 lead, driving 80 yards on seven plays in 4:11 to start the game. The drive was capped by a nine-yard TD pass from Bennett to Bowers. For Bowers, it was his school record 12th TD reception and his 50th overall catch, which also is a record for tight ends in a season. Georgia went up 14-0 after a halfback pass from Kenny McIntosh to AD Mitchell for 18 yards. It was the first TD pass by a running back since Thomas Brown to Joe Tereshinski (QB) for 9 yards against UF in 2005.

Orange Bowl History: Georgia made its fourth appearance in the Orange Bowl, and the first since 1960 when it blanked Missouri 14-0. The Dawgs are now 3-1 in Orange Bowls. Georgia’s first-ever bowl game was the 1942 Orange Bowl where the No. 20 Dawgs defeated No. 14 TCU 40-26 to cap a 9-1-1 season. Georgia made its 25 consecutive appearance in a bowl game tonight which is the nation’s longest active streak. Overall, the Dawgs have played in 58 bowl games and own a mark of 34-21-3. Georgia is now 2-1 versus Michigan with the other two meetings coming during the regular season in Ann Arbor in 1957 and 1965.

2021 Senior Class Ties Win Marks: Georgia’s senior class now improves to 44-8, and that ties for the most wins by a senior class, joining the 2005, 2018 and 2020 teams. Also, Georgia became only the third team in school history to win a record 13 games in a year, joining the 2002 and 2017 squads.

Summary of Specialists: Junior Jack Podlesny went 2-for-3 on field goals (good from 28 and 43 yards; missed 45) and 4-for-4 on PATs. He is 20-for-25 in FGs and 68-for-69 on PATs. Senior Jake Camarda had two punts (45.5 avg) and handled kickoffs.

Game Captains/Coin Toss: The captains were Jordan Davis, Nakobe Dean, Jamaree Salyer and Zamir White. Michigan won the toss and deferred until the 2nd half.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Signing Day Press Conference

Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Statement on Signing Day…

“I’m excited about these guys joining us. Another great group, very hard-working staff to bring this into one group. It’s still not over, as far as our guys will sign in February. I’m excited about this group. It’s been one of the funnest to recruit here. It was kind of a half-COVID recruiting class because they didn’t get to come to campus until June 1. Everybody came through—it was a wild time with everyone trying to come at the same time. Our staff did a tremendous job. Our recruiting staff did a tremendous job. Our administration helped. Our academic folks that meet with these kids, they come on visits. There was a span from June 1 to June 28, 29, where we spent every single day here with somebody here, so that was a big part of our signing class. It started before that on Zoom, it started before that in communication, talking. But physically seeing people, in front of them, it was certainly great to have these kids being able to come to campus like they did. I’m proud of the group. We feel like it’s spread out the way it should be dispersed that way. We hit some needs that we needed. A lot of great stats that I could read through, but you guys have all those. It’s really a well-rounded class in terms of multiple-sport athletes, high academic achievers, top-ranked guys, which I don’t really care about what they’re ranked. I care a whole lot more about how they play, and we’ve seen evidence of the guys that have played a big role on our team, some of those guys were not the guys we talked about on this day during their career and I think we know a lot about those guys. It’s a lot more about what’s inside you that matters the most.”

On the emphasis placed on defensive backs in this class…

“We don’t have enough DBs now. I don’t know what you would be referring to—I don’t know how many are in there, I get confused between what’s in and what’s not in, but we don’t have enough. We’re still lower than we’ve ever been in terms of defensive backs. We have more leaving than we have coming. We were already below, so if you have more leaving than you have coming, you’re actually net gain, so we’re still working on that defensive back position. It’s a position that’s been tough for us this year because we’ve not been able to play dime packages, we’ve not been able to do some of the things we’ve wanted to do, put six DBs on the field. I am really proud of the DBs in this class that we have, but we’re not anywhere near where we used to be. I think there are seven that have left since the last year, then you throw in the seniors, those core Georgia guys that have been here forever and they’re all finishing. When you add those seven plus four or five, that’s a one-year window of 14 to 15 guys. In my mind, we’re still short numbers of scholarship players.”

On the addition of Gunner Stockton…

“The recruitment of Gunner was really interesting because we’ve known, at least I’ve known, Gunner since he was a small kid. His dad hosted me at an official visit at Georgia Southern many years ago, so I’ve known his dad for a long time. My dad was the high school there was Gunner was a young, young kid. Tremendous athlete, tremendous character, I don’t know you could raise a finer young man in today’s day and age of all the attention-seeking people. He’s never done that. He’s stuck to his guns that he loves UGA. He wants to be here, and certainly, a major part of our class.”

On the quality of the defensive backs in this class…

“I don’t think you actually ever know what you have. You certainly feel great about them, but to tab anybody the next guy or the first guy to start, it’s hard. The length and the speed is what stood out the most. We missed some size in recent years. We like to have length; we like to have toughness. I like intelligence; I like ball skills. I think a lot of these qualities and traits show up. Your ability to play man-to-man—more in college football now than ever before, if you have a liability in coverage, it’s easier to find it. It used to be we were all up in a little phone booth, now we’re all out here, so your mistakes or your guys who can’t cover, it’s almost out of control. They spot it and they get you. I think this group, number one, has speed, they have man-to-man cover ability and they’re going to help us. There’s just not enough of them. What’s interesting is it used to be you couldn’t find O-linemen and D-linemen, and I still think they’re hard to find, but you’ve got these top-notch schools all saying DBs because there’s not enough of them to go around. The premier position is to go play wideout and we’ve got to find some guys that can cover those guys.”

On the wide receivers in this class…

“It starts with speed. You’ve got to have vertical speed down the field, and we feel like we’ve got some guys that can really stretch the field and do that. High character—you’ve got to be able to learn, buy into the offense, understand the splits, understand the route tree, understand the intricacies that go with playing the position. We’ve got a really good group there. I think each one of those guys that we bring on board brings a different attribute, whether it’s excellent speed, excellent size, quickness, toughness, all the things you look for. Wideout is another position where when you look across the board, we’re down. We were down all year, not just because of injury but because we had three or four leave, and now, we’re trying to replace those guys and catch up, and that’s tough to do. I like to have the numbers where we hit quota, and you’re finding out more and more now it’s easier to leave than it is to get them, so we’ve got to get some more guys there.”

On the offensive lineman in this recruiting class…

“I think it’s like everything. You have a group, a class of O-lineman. Any NFL general manager or scout will tell you, ‘OK, this class is loaded with this.’ Last year’s NFL Draft class had a lot of really good corners. We had two good corners go pretty high. We had corners go before, but that was a really big corner draft class. As you look across the country, the offensive line class now, I’m not talking about recruiting rankings like you referenced—I would refer to that because they are going to have a certain number of five stars and four stars that they’ve got to hit—but the pool of offensive lineman probably wasn’t as great as it’s been in years past in terms of quality depth at that position. Now if you go statistically, there is 100 four stars, 20 to 25 five stars. There may be the same number, but we’re talking about on our board we rank things completely different than stars and things like that. We rate them where we can rate them across classes. Compare a guy three classes ago to a guy in this class. There were probably not as many guys. I feel great about the guys we got. We have a couple guys with great size. We have a couple of guys with great upside, kids that we think are going to be really good players that maybe haven’t played football for a long time. I love the core group we got, and we have a good group here, a good nucleus here on campus that we feel good about in terms of offensive line.”

On having two signing periods, NIL deals, and the Playoff all at once…

“I don’t, I don’t have many thoughts really. A mess would probably be your words. It’s the world I live in. It’s not a mess to me, it’s just the world I live in. You better learn to deal with it and be on top of it. We’re all dealing with the same ‘mess,’ so who handles it better is everything. I focus on how we can do it better and not on how messy it is.”

On Chandler “C.J.” Smith…

“Character. He’s a high character young man that we actually recruited a long time and had an official visit set up with and then he ended up committing to Florida. After that, we kept in contact with him. I think he has a great set of parents—military-based, on time to everything. Academics are important to him. He’s really fast. A track guy. Has excellent hands. When you look at the skill positions, that’s the one trait you really don’t develop as much as a lot of other traits—just sheer speed.”

On recruiting to the STAR position versus corner or safety…

“If we thought a guy could be a STAR, then we could also say he’d be a really good corner or safety. It’s not that we recruit to the STAR position. Certainly, it is a position in and of itself. He’s on the field 80, 85 percent of the season, but we don’t look at it that way. I look at it as you’re developing two positions when you’re here at any position. If you’re a guard, you’re developing as a center too. If you’re a tackle you might be developing as a guard or center. If you’re a back, you’re going to develop as a wideout because you play in space. If you’re a wideout, you’re going to develop as a slot. Everybody has two homes because we want to develop you where you become better and not specialize. The STAR position is a guy—we’ve had corners that have played STAR and we’ve had safeties that have played STAR.”

On Malaki Starks…

“I think Malaki has a bright future. He’s fast. Number one, he’s very intelligent. He’s high-character and you’re going to hear me repeat that over and over because that matters way more than what reputation they’re coming in with.”

On the importance of persistence in recruiting…

“It’s always the cause. I wouldn’t say that just this class has been persistence. It’s every class. It’s consistency in messaging. It’s consistency in communication. It’s the number one overall quality that I want to be known for in recruiting: consistency in performance, consistency in messaging, continuity of our staff and program. We won out a lot on that because a lot of folks by default had things change, and we didn’t have a lot of change. We were able to continue developing a relationship with people even if they were committed somewhere else because you never know what’s going to happen.”

Opening Statement on the Orange Bowl…

“We really haven’t focused on Michigan in terms of our preparation with the players, we have focused on us. We’ve been able to get a light practice in, I guess it was last Saturday, a heavier practice in yesterday. We’ve been able to get some conditioning and workouts in between as we’ve been recruiting. The players have been finishing up final exams; today is the last day of final exams so they’re finishing up those. They’ve had a hectic time getting ready for that. They’ve also had a little bit of off time, but as we turn the page towards Michigan, we as a staff have been working on them for several days now, preparing and getting things ready. We’ll start prepping the players for some of that here in the next couple days and we’ll batten down the hatches and start practicing heavier tomorrow for those guys.”

On the COVID-19 precautions with rising numbers…

“Ron Courson has had a heightened awareness in the recent weeks and days. We’ve got a large portion of our team that’s been vaccinated and continues to be diligent about that. We ask the guys that aren’t to be extra safe. We’ve taken some precautions around the building and to be smart. It’s certainly that time of year, we had a little bout with the flu there that made me concerned as well about COVID. Here in the last couple of days, we’ve been on top of it and our guys are understanding that we have to be safe and cannot lose anybody at this time. Ron and his staff have been incredible.”

On Coach Muschamp and Coach Schumann defensive coordinator clarification …

“The clarification is both Will Muschamp and Glenn Schumann will be co-coordinators. Dan Lanning has done a tremendous job here, he is by far and away one of the most loyal, hardworking guys that I’ve been around. He’s bright, energetic, a good teacher. He’ll do wonderful things at Oregon. I’m so happy for him that he got an opportunity for a job like that. He had had several interviews, several opportunities that he wasn’t interested in, some that he was, and it was one he thought was a great opportunity. I’m glad that he’s staying on with us to help us finish this thing out. He’s done a great job.”

On the physicality of Michigan…

“Great running game, great backs. Three really good backs, really physical. Just extremely physical at the point of attack. Two quarterbacks, one’s really athletic, the other is athletic and they use both of those guys. They’re doing a really good job. They keep you off-balance and they have great play-action game, great use of their tight ends. Defensively, they’ve come a long way from the Michigan I knew two or three years ago when we studied them in off-season when they had a lot of sacks and a lot of turnovers. Mike Macdonald has done a lot to change that and you can see they’re playing really, really hard, very sound on defense.”

On the team mentality following the SEC Championship loss…

“We haven’t done a lot. It’s really good to get them away, focus on finals, focus on their health, focus on other things they’ve got going on. To get somebody’s total focus, you can’t sustain that for four weeks, you can’t sustain that for three weeks. You want to build to a point of getting back to an in-season mode. I don’t think you can continue doing what you did in-season for three or four weeks because the game is too far away. We’ve taken a mental check to say what kind of physical and mental shape we’re in. Our guys are in a really good place. We’ve slowly have started to come back. The two practices we had, had high energy and they’ve done an awesome job, they’ve been great. It’s more about what they’re going to do from this point forward as we get into things the next couple of weeks.”

On the quarterback position…

“Yeah, I don’t know if I can answer all of those questions. There were like three of them in there. At the end of the day, I think we have four really good quarterbacks in our system. I really feel confident in four guys that can play quarterback for us. I continue to say and repeatedly say that all those guys are evaluated each and every day. Stetson did some really good things in the Alabama game. He made a couple bonehead plays as well, that he has not played and that he has not done in the past. Just like we reassessed every single position, just like I said after the game, we reassess everything by how you practice, what you do and everything you do. His feet have been a blessing for us. His ability to run, scramble, make things open, make plays with his feet have all been good. He made a couple poor decisions in the last game, but he is not the only one that did that. We will continue to evaluate it. I hope that answers it for you.”

On the Rose Bowl experience helping prepare for this year…

“There is a huge significance in every game. Just making sure that we are clear on that because I know there are people that think the bowl games don’t matter, but they matter. Certainly, being in the CFP heightens the attention to it and we have a really solid plan. I was able to be a part of that CFP process while at Alabama, was able to do it here and we feel really comfortable with the prep. We build up to a point, and then we have a Christmas break, and then we have a game week at the location. When we go to the location, we are honed in, we are focused, just like we would be for a bowl game. I think the intensity of the practice and the awareness of the situation of your leaders on your team is probably the biggest difference. People are really locked in and focused with an attention to detail, just like they should be for a bowl game. You don’t treat things differently, but our guys are aware of that and you prepare in a very similar fashion in terms of getting ready. Right now, we are actually trying to get our team better, get our twos and threes as many reps as possible because it is like an extra spring practice. I mean we will have 14-15 practices before we play and that is literally an extra spring practice.”

On keeping NFL Draft eligible players’ minds right…

“I think every year we go play we have a group of players that could potentially get drafted, I think you could agree with that. I think we have a group whether that be 16 or three, but we have a group. The distraction is only if you make it one. The best way to get drafted higher is to do what? Play well. I think the distractions outside of our building, they’re there year-round. The distractions of an agent or social media, that never changes, it only becomes greater and greater and greater as you move along throughout the season. These guys have been incredible on being focused on what they have to. I mean Michigan has guys that are going to get drafted, Alabama, Cincinnati, they all have good players or they wouldn’t be there. So, everybody is dealing with that, and how you manage it internally, I’m talking about within your skull session group, your leaders on your team. That is really a team that comes out ahead.”

On the historic defensive performance this season…

“I think it is week-to-week. I think it is really how your defense plays. Did our defense keep us in some guys where we didn’t have to shoot out? Sure. We did that some this year. We also had some where people scored. There were times at the Tennessee game it was looking like that. Certainty, the Alabama game would be one. A lot of that is based on what we did, meaning, ‘What did we do?’ We didn’t play this coverage right or we didn’t play that coverage right and when you don’t do those things, you give up big plays. When you give up big plays, you have to score points, so it is two-fold. It’s total complimentary football and the one thing we did really well this year was play complimentary football and we didn’t do that the last time out.”

On development of players like Javon Bullard and Kamari Lassiter…

“I don’t know how realistic. In my career, which is long being around bowl practices, I’ve probably been in a bowl game everywhere it seems I’ve been. You don’t see a kid go from like, ‘OK, he just had this magic switch, and he just took over.’ I’ve seen them grow and get better. We got some guys out there that I’m like, ‘Man, that guy has gotten a lot better. He is with the scouts working.’ But to say he is going to go play in this environment and take over, I think that is a little bit of a stretch. If injuries happen, yeah it could happen. But it’s hard when you say this kid has only been here almost six months, which is the case for some of the guys you mentioned, for them to leap frog and take over for somebody that has been playing in the system. It is not like you just have to play the guys in the system, no. You play the guy that gives you the best chance to win. That is what we do at every single position, you play the guy that gives you the best chance to win. When you do that, a lot of the times the youngest ones don’t have that opportunity. They haven’t been in enough battles to do that.”

Nakobe Dean, Junior, Inside Linebacker

On the defense against Alabama...

"For the most part, the defense, we had discussions on the team about how we are going to build off the game and the type of impact it had on us there. We look forward to having nothing but a positive impact, like Jake Camarda and Jordan Davis. Like we say, smelling salts, kind of woke us up a little bit. So, it's stuff like that and fighting to make us work harder."

On feeling shocked when reviewing game tape...

"I wouldn't say it’s shock, it's a lot of execution, a lot of long recoveries. Basically, we had to play better, we got out played that day. That's just the way it was."

On Michigan...

"For the most part, they seem like a really good team. They have good players; they are well coached. I’m just looking forward to the game and the opportunity to play them."

Lewis Cine, Junior, Defensive Back

On Coach Glenn Schumann and Coach Will Muschamp being masterminds of defense...

“I would say it's their years of experience, their years of coaching. Everything they have under their name in terms of where they've been and the people they've coached. It gives them credibility in how much they know. That's why I call them a mastermind and I personally have learned a lot from them."

On Coach Dan Lanning’s role in preparation for the game...

"I don't think his role is going to change. In my opinion, I think he is really going to soak in the last moment he has with us guys, the guys that he's coached and got to know who they are other than just football players. He's going to soak in that moment before he takes on the job at Oregon. Other than that, I don't think his role is going to change."

On who leads the defense and any changes that will be made in the next couple of weeks..

"Way before hearing about the Dan Lanning job, it wasn't just one man taking control of what's being said in the defensive meeting room. It was all of them. Whether it was Lanning coming up and talking, Glenn Schumann coming up and talking. They all took turns to talk about something different. Like I said again, we're not seeing anything new in that because Coach Schumann and Muschamp have gotten up and talked about different things.

James Cook, Senior, Running Back

On the opportunity to play in his hometown of Miami…

“For me to possibly play one of my last college football games in my hometown and from where I’m from is great. To be able to play in front of all those people is an honor.”

On emotions while preparing for the bowl game vs. Michigan…

“It’s a little bit of everything as we prepare for this game. We have a chip on our shoulder since the last time we were out there, we lost. We know what we have to do to improve, and we have another chance to go out there which is very special.”

On practicing for the bowl game vs. Michigan…

“We are focusing on us in practice right now, just getting after it. We are getting guys back in shape. Everybody is locked in and we are taking it one day at a time to get ready for this game.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Hall Of Famer Charley Trippi Celebrates 100th Birthday

By Loran Smith, NFF Correspondent

Charley Trippi, one of the most accomplished super stars in the history of American sports, turned 100 years old on Tuesday and was honored by his Georgia and Athens friends with a hundred-candle cake at his home, which is a little more than three miles from Sanford Stadium where he earned fame as a multi-talented football player.

Trippi has reaped high honor and gushing praise every day of his life from the time he could not afford football cleats in his hometown of Pittston, Pa. until today, where he is homebound and unable to get about after having raked leaves and cut his own grass well past his 98th birthday.

This is a man whom the legendary Jim Thorpe, a 1951 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, said was the "greatest football player I have ever seen."

Harry Gilmer, the great Alabama quarterback and a 1993 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, once noted that Trippi could play every position on the team and that he likely was the greatest player who ever lived.

"Was I impressed to see him blow out all the candles?" remarked Georgia football coach Kirby Smart, also in attendance. "Being such a great second effort athlete, he wouldn't stop until he blew them all out. I was really overwhelmed. If you know anything about his legend at Georgia, you know he was, perhaps, the greatest all around football player on our campus. Many historians and observers have said that and from reading about him, I understand why."

Trippi's story is as compelling as there has ever been in the history of football. The son of immigrant Sicilians, his father was a coal miner. The enterprising Trippi, via a Coca-Cola connection, had his own delivery route and made more money as a high school teenager with his Coca-Cola route than his coal mining father.

That came about because a former Georgia football letterman, Harold Ketron, had risen through the Coca-Cola ranks to become the bottler in Wilkes Barre, Pa., eight miles from Pittston. Ketron discovered Trippi and advised him that he would make sure that Trippi would receive a scholarship to the University of Georgia.

It is a story that has been oft repeated that Trippi's family could not afford to buy him football cleats but he punted so expertly in his street shoes that his coach Paul Shebby, got his young protégé a pair of football shoes.

One day in punt formation, the snapper sailed a snap over Trippi's head. He chased down the ball and weaved his way to a touchdown. The head turning touchdown run made Trippi a backfield star forever from Pittston to LaSalle Prep to UGA to the Chicago Cardinals of the National Football League.

Along the way, he was a prep star, All-American at Georgia and All-Pro for the Cardinals. He led Georgia to the national championship in 1946 and the Cardinals to the NFL title in 1947. He played in the old College All-Star game, owing to the war years, a record five times (four as a collegian and once as a pro).

He batted .344 in a partial season with the AA Atlanta Crackers in 1947 and could have become the first two-way professional athlete, but chose to stick with football. In addition to excelling against minor league players that one season, he competed against big leaguers in his military years.

I once asked him if he thought he could have made it as a major league player, he grinned and said: "Based on my experience against them in the military, yes," he said. Why did he not attempt to do what Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders? "I never considered that," he explained. "I don't think that would have been fair to either team." Above all else, Charley Trippi was a team player.

He could have turned pro following the Oil Bowl game in 1945, but out of loyalty to his College Football Hall of Fame Coach, Wallace Butts, Trippi returned to campus for his final year of eligibility. In addition, he had an entrenched desire to earn a college degree which was very important to his parents who were grateful for his realizing the American dream of achieving an education.

In high school, he was, at 160 pounds, considered undersized, but after weight gain and a stunning prep season at LaSalle, every school, including Notre Dame and Ohio State gave him a dedicated rush for his commitment.

His old-school father, remembering what Harold Ketron had done for the family, reminded his son that he should keep his word to Ketron, who he had told he would enroll in Athens. The son agreed and never considered another collegiate offer.

His pro career, in which Trippi is the only member of the NFL Hall of Fame to have accumulated 1,000 yards as a runner, passer and receiver, brought about his election to this prestigious organization in 1968.

Before that, in 1959, Trippi was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. He became a generous supporter of the University of Georgia chapter and played in the chapter's annual golf outing and never missed the annual chapter dinner.

Anything he was asked to do to support the chapter became a given to the man who became as famous as the hedges which surround the playing field of Sanford Stadium.

Since 1960 when I first met him, Charley has always been a generous friend, never letting me pick up a check when we went out for a meal. I have interviewed him countless times with two poignant comments remaining indelible in my memory.

One, after more than 20 years of playing football, including ten years in the NFL, he had this response to why there were fewer concussions in his era: "It's simple, we led with our shoulder, not our head."

When I invited him, an athlete who would have scratched your very eyes out to achieve victory on the playing fields, to go quail hunting, he declined, saying: "I could never shoot anything as harmless as a little bird."

In his latent years, whenever I would stop by to see him, he was either cutting his grass with a rusting, old mower or raking leaves. He never became sedentary and was the classic example of what moderation can do for one's longevity. He never ate excessively and seldom ordered more than one drink at dinner. He never jogged or lifted weights—but his waist line never bulged.

An incident in his life that had resounding implications, is, perhaps, the least known episode in his life. In a game against San Francisco in 1954, an era when face guards were in their infancy, the 49ers John Henry Johnson blindsided Trippi as he was walking back to the huddle, slamming a forearm in Trippi's face that caused extensive damage and a long hospitalization.

As he was recuperating, a certain emissary showed up in Trippi's hospital room. This message was clear. John Henry Johnson could be taken care of—for good. Trippi said no. When I asked him about that, Charley though initially embittered by the cheapest of cheap shots said: "Can you imagine what that would have done to the game of football?" Johnson, knowing what might have been, later told an interviewer that he owed his life to Charley Trippi.

There are countless vignettes in Trippi's life and career that would make for an interesting book. While he recognized his enormous name value, no book has ever been written. My Trippi file is filled with notes and material that reflect that even with his superstar status, he had had an undercurrent of poignant modesty.

His sophomore year, Georgia won the national championship and included a victory over UCLA in the Rose Bowl—Trippi, gaining 113 yards on 24 carries; completing 5 of 10 passes for 83 yards; and being named the most valuable player. The Bulldogs, however, only scored one touchdown, a one-yard plunge by Frank Sinkwich (a 1954 College Football Hall of Fame inductee), who won the Heisman trophy that year. Sinkwich was hobbling about on two sprained ankles at the Rose Bowl, but Butts let him score the only TD of the game. "I thought that was appropriate," Trippi told me. "After all, it was Frank who led us to the Rose Bowl."

Trippi was not his old Heisman self on his milestone birthday with a few close friends on hand, including Georgia head coach, Kirby Smart and Lenn Chandler, president of the National Football Foundation Georgia Chapter, the nation's largest. Trippi can barely hear, and he can no longer go outside and rake leaves. But he was able to huff and puff and blow out the 100 candles on his birthday cake.

Those who know him, would expect nothing less from one of the greatest players in college football history. Some say, the greatest.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Lanning Taking Oregon Job

Dan Lanning will leave Georgia and become the head coach at Oregon, Kirby Smart issued the following statement.

“We are so happy for Dan and his family. He and Sauphia have been an important part of our Dawg family for the last four years, and we thank them for all they did for Georgia Football and the Athens community. Opportunities like this are a testament to a successful program. While he will coach with us for the upcoming College Football Playoff, we will move forward with Glenn Schumann and Will Muschamp as co-defensive coordinators. Dan and I are both looking forward to preparing for the CFP.”

Lanning's first game as head coach will be September 3, 2022 against Georgia in Mercedes Benz Stadium.