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.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Georgia Offensive Player Interviews

UGA Sports Communications

Jake Fromm

On the team’s attitude to get ready for the Sugar Bowl

“I think guys are starting to dial in and get focused on this football game. It is New Orleans. We have been here for a couple of days and seen the city. We are getting ready to go out and get ready to show what we can do.”

On freshman quarterback Justin Fields and potentially transferring

“First, I want to be a good teammate. So any way I can help him, I definitely am. He and I personally have not talked about it. That has been more with him. But right now, I think both of us are not really worried about that. We are worried about this football game and how we can make this team the best that that it could be.”

On transferring to get more playing time

“I think every situation is unique in its own. It is different for different people and different families depending on what is going on and how everything is being assessed. You cannot just say that because one person wants to leave and go somewhere else that another wants to stay. Which one is right and which one is wrong? You can’t do that. You can’t put everyone in a box. I think it is unique. Everyone is going to do them, and for us, the only thing we can do is respect their decision.”

On the Texas defense and how their play style will affect their game plan

“We are not going to change much of what we do. We are going to set the tone and run the football. We are going to throw the ball and take our shots, and we will have guys make plays. We really are not changing a whole lot. Understanding what they are going to do helps with a few concepts here and there. But we are going to come out and play our football game.”

On Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray and Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa

“Those two guys balled out last night and played well for their teams. I thought they played good football. It was fun to watch.”

On playing in the Sugar Bowl as a lifetime Georgia fan

“I am extremely thankful and grateful. I am extremely blessed to be here, especially with these teammates. These are guys that I have worked extremely hard with. We have put a lot in together. It is a thankful moment, and I cannot wait to play one more with these boys.”

Terry Godwin

On his feelings about his final game as a senior

“It has been emotional but I know they must be pushed aside until after January 1. I am going to miss this group of guys and this organization. These past four years have been the best years of my life.”

On what type of legacy he wants to leave as a senior

“I want to leave behind one of the best Georgia football teams in history and leave a mark for the players to come.”

On what stands out about the Texas defense

“They have a lot of great athletes, are very physical, and do a great job at attacking the ball. We have to get out there and play Georgia ball.”

On if Texas resembles any SEC teams Georgia has played this year

“I would not compare them to any SEC team. I honestly would not compare them to any team we have played this year. They are fast, physical, and we will need to come out there ready to play.”

On the College Football Playoffs

“I think the committee put the best four teams in the playoffs. It is disappointing, but we have to concentrate on Georgia football and beating Texas.”

Elijah Holyfield

On the Texas defense

“They are a very athletic defense. Their secondary players tackle very well. They are a really fast defense, and I think they will be a good challenge for us. I am really excited for it.”

On fellow running back D’Andre Swift

“It is fun to play with a guy who is just as good as you and can do stuff you cannot do. You learn a lot from a guy like that. I try to figure out how I can get better from him. I think we complement each other really well.”

On being part of a running back by committee offense

“I feel like when you have two great backs, you have to play them both. It also allows each player to be able to play longer since you are splitting touches. I personally think it has helped me.”

On the outlook of the team for next year

Jake Fromm is going to improve even more, and next year he will be even better. Same thing with D’Andre Swift and same thing with me. We are all going to be very deadly next year.”

D’Andre Swift

On watching the College Football Playoffs

“It was good watching games, but we’re focused on Texas.”

On if Georgia was one of the best four teams in the nation

“Most definitely.”

On if he has faith in the Georgia offensive line

“Against anybody.”

On the Sugar Bowl experience

“It’s cool now, been able to have some fun. But as the days keep going, it is time to focus, we got a game to play.”

On what Georgia can prove in this game

“We don’t need to prove anything. Just keep doing what we are doing. People saw how we played last game. I do not think we need to prove anything. Just keep playing Georgia football. Everything will take care of itself.”

On what stands out about the Texas defense

“The d-line is real fast. They got the slant. They are pretty solid everywhere - defensive backs, safeties, tackle real well. Linebackers are fast.”

On his improvements this year from last year

“I think I am a more complete back. It comes with experience, playing more, understanding the system I am in more... just being more of a complete back.”

On what he wants to work on going into next year

“Get stronger, work on my pass game. I could always get better at that. Get faster, speed training, stuff like that.”

Andrew Thomas

On what changed after the LSU game and what fostered the turnaround from that point

“It was similar to last year when we lost to Auburn. As a team, we just changed our mindset and we had the room for error where we wanted it to be. So, we had our bye week, put in a lot of work to get better and be better.”

On the College Football Playoffs

“I watched the Bowl game yesterday. We were watching at the bowling alley. That game doesn’t have much to do with us so our focus is on Texas right now.”

On the Clemson-Notre Dame game in the College Football Playoffs

“Yes I saw somebody tweet something there. Guys are I guess not too happy with our position right now but we’re playing a great team and we have to get ready for Texas.”

On if it bothers the players to be asked ‘Will you be motivated for this game?’

“No. I really don’t understand why we’ve been getting that question. This is the Sugar Bowl, one of the best Bowls and we’re playing a really good team and this is our lead-in game going into the 2019 season.”

On if the two-quarterback situation is a divisive issue on the team

“No I definitely don’t think so. The whole team supports both quarterbacks, and we love both quarterbacks. We want both of them to be successful.”

On how aware he is of quarterback changes in the game

“In the game…actually I remember the first time Justin Fields came in. I hadn’t even noticed that he came in. I didn’t notice until I turned around and looked in the huddle because we were going no huddle at that time and didn’t really notice much of a difference.”

On if the team is actively trying to get Justin Fields out of the transfer portal and to remain at Georgia

“We really try not to focus on that. We support him and whatever decision he makes is best for him and his family but right now we’ve been practicing and working to get better.”

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Dawgs Continue Sugar Bowl Preparation

UGA Sports Communications

Fifth-ranked Georgia continued preparations for the Allstate Sugar Bowl with a two-hour practice in helmets, jerseys, shoulder pads and shorts here Saturday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

It was the second workout for the team after arriving Thursday. Along with practices, the team has visited a local children’ hospital, feasted on traditional barbecue and attended a New Orleans Pelicans game. There are plans to go bowling and hold two more practices before the New Year’s night matchup with 15th-ranked Texas.

Before practice Saturday morning, five Dawgs and outside linebackers coach Dan Lanning took part in a Sugar Bowl press conference for the defense. Senior Jonathan Ledbetter, juniors Tae Crowder, Tyrique McGhee and J.R. Reed along with sophomore Richard LeCounte discussed the upcoming game

“We’re really, really excited to be here, and I know that our staff and players have really enjoyed the hospitality of the Sugar Bowl,” said Lanning. “I know a lot of coaches and players get to go their whole career and don’t get an opportunity to play in this game. We’re fortunate enough to have a little bit of both -- some guys that have had some experience in this venue as well as some guys that haven’t. So I think we’ve really been impressed with the setup. Everything has been really first class. Obviously, our number one goal is here to come take care of business when it comes to the game. But everything surrounding the game has been a lot of fun for us as a staff and as players as we move forward.”

Ledbetter was asked on how he’s changed as a player and person during his Dawg career.

““I try to take it one day at a time and slow down,” said Ledbetter. “It’s the little things that start to matter more when you get older. You start to realize they have more input for the big things. If you do those things right, everything starts to fall into place. I learned that recently.”

Reed was asked about any connections he might have with the Longhorns as a native of Frisco, Texas.

“Anytime I get to play Texas or Oklahoma, in that area, I always get excited, said Reed. “I have a lot of friends that go to those two schools, and I always get excited to play those teams.”

On Sunday morning, five more Dawgs plus coordinator Jim Chaney will participate in a Sugar Bowl press conference for the offense before holding another practice.

Georgia Defensive Player Interviews

UGA Sports Communications

Jonathan Ledbetter

On how he’s changed as a person and a player

“I try to take it one day at a time and slow down. It’s the little things that start to matter more when you get older. You start to realize they have more input for the big things. If you do those right, everything starts to fall into place. I learned that recently.”

On Assistant Coach Dan Lanning

“Even last year, he came in and worked with us a whole bunch when we were doing our regular packages. I was playing outside linebacker, and he was coaching me and doing extra meetings – all types of stuff. He is a great guy and a hard worker. He and Coach Glenn Schumann are identical in their work ethic. They are always in a book, always studying something and eager to get more information and more knowledge about football. When you have coaches that are still knowledge-seeking, that sets the standard for your players. You then have players that have the same habits and do the same things.

On if your bowl really registers if you aren’t playing in the College Football Playoffs

“I have been on both sides. I am not going to lie – it is different when you are in the national championship from a player’s perspective because you feel like you are going toward something. But with Georgia, if we are in the game, we are going to play our hearts out and give it all we got. That is the cool thing about our team. It does not matter if we are in the national championship or we are in the Sugar Bowl or we are in any bowl. It does not matter because we are going to play. We are going to show up. We like to play good football games – it is what we do.”

On not worrying too much about the game, scoreboard, etc.

“The crazy part about it is, especially being in the SEC, you are going to play good football teams, and they are going to make big plays. It always goes back and forth. If you are really in a good football game, there are so many momentum swings. You just have to keep swinging. That is exactly what it is – you just have to keep throwing punches. Just how many punches you can take and throw is who stands on top in the end.”

On the Texas offense and quarterback Sam Ehlinger

“We need penetration. He is a great quarterback. He is mobile. He likes to run and lower his shoulder. He is not afraid of contact. He has some great receivers with some great size. DB’s have to be locked in and on the same page communicating with each other. I think if we go out and play our brand of football and execute and make sure we are on our toes… in these bowl games, scoring goes up a lot because of tackling so we have to make sure our special teams are tackling and running to the ball. Just have fun, ultimately. This is a good opportunity to be in a great bowl game – just to play with the boys one more time.”

J.R. Reed

On the biggest challenge on the defensive front

“Well, you just have to play the ball. Those guys do a great job catching the ball. They are going to make some catches. That is what they do. You cannot get down when they do that. You just have to keep going onto the next play. Playing the ball is the most important thing.”

On what schools he grew up rooting for in Texas

“As a Texas kid I just watched football. I would just kind of watch and cheer for whoever and cheer for certain players.”

On his transfer to Georgia

“I just believed in myself first off. I really depended on myself and realized the challenge. That is why I wanted to leave Tulsa because I realized the challenge of playing at UGA and believed that I could do it. I knew there was a new coaching staff, too. And when there is a new coaching staff, they always want to get new guys and guys they like in the games. So, I took advantage of that and made the best of a great opportunity for me.”

On the excitement to play a school from his home state

“Yes. Anytime I get to play Texas or Oklahoma, in that area, I always get excited. I have a lot of friends that go to those two schools, and I always get excited to play those teams.”

On the team’s motivation after being left out of the College Football Playoffs

“We are playing for the seniors. These guys have put in a lot of work over these last three or four years. Some of the guys are leaving early so they have put in three years of work. Really just playing for those guys. Also playing for the ‘G’ on your chest and having pride about playing in this game.”

On if this is a “message game” for Georgia

“I wouldn’t really call it a message game. It’s a big game being the Sugar Bowl and a New Year’s game but I wouldn’t call it a message game.”

Richard LeCounte III

On Texas’ wide receivers

“They are pretty good. From what I have seen on film, they are physical, big-bodied receivers. They remind you a lot of Mike Evans, who played for Texas A&M and the Buccaneers. They are a pretty good group, but I think we are still the best DB core in the nation, so we are going to go out there and show everybody what we can do.”

On the impact of losing Deandre Baker and his impact on the team

“I found out a little bit after you all found out. I am so proud of Dre and the things he did for this university. I saw something on the internet that he hasn’t been scored on in like 724 days or something like that. That is a major accomplishment. Some of the things he did on the field can’t be replaced. He really set the standard high, being the guy that he is and being a mentor to me and my fellow teammates. Since he was not practicing, he was there coaching us up on the sidelines, making sure we do everything that we need to do, because we are next up. His time is up, but he did everything that he could. We wish we could be playing in that playoff, but things didn’t go our way. He is here cheering us on, being a great role model and the great guy that he is, so I really appreciate that from him.”

On the young DBs stepping up to replace Deandre Baker

“That’s what these guys came here for. There is no adversity. We always knew that Dre was a senior and he was going to be able to leave, so we had our guys getting prepped all season to be able step up in this position and make these plays. It’s not something that shocks us or anything like that, because we knew that at some point we were going to have to answer the bell and be able to move forward. I think this is a great game to be able to show how we are doing.”

On playing defense for Coach Smart

“He has been a great guy to play for. He is very intense, something that you would want. I don’t have any regrets coming here. I know every day I am going to get my coach’s best, and that is all you can ask for. So, I have to personally ring the bell, show up every day and give my all. That is all that you can ask for from a coach.”

On being motivated for the Sugar Bowl

“We are amped up. We are going to play like this is any other game. We come out and give our all. That is what we do and that is what we practice for. We are going to come out and play just as hard as we have played any other game. There is no added incentives or things on our mind. We are just focused on playing Texas. Everything that has happened in the past is in the past, so we are geared up and ready to play this next game.”

Tae Crowder

On the Sugar Bowl

“The opportunity to play in any bowl is great but the chance to play in the Sugar Bowl is special. The experience is different, and you never know what is going to happen.”

On the team’s attitude going into this game

“We just want to keep performing the way we have in the second half of the season. We want to make a statement for the SEC and the reputation our conference carries.”

On how this year feels different from last year’s College Football Playoffs

“We are going to approach every game seriously no matter the circumstance. There is a different feeling, but this is still a big game. It is a statement game and very important to Georgia football.”

On the Texas offense

“Sam Ehlinger is an excellent quarterback with a solid running game behind him. It is not about the Texas offense though. We have to focus on ourselves and Georgia defense.”

On how to shut down the Texas offense

“We have to play together as a team, cut out little mistakes, and execute.”

Tyrique McGhee

On whether Texas is game planning differently with Deandre Baker out

“Honestly, I think they are just focused on their game plan just as much as we are. With Deandre Baker not being here, I think they believe a little bit. I don’t think there is any drop-off in our guys between Erick Stokes and Tyson Campbell at cornerback. We are confident in the cornerbacks doing their job and holding up.”

On Tyson Campbell’s preparation for the Sugar Bowl

“I think he is ready. For him to get those games under his belt early on in the season, regardless of the productivity or whatever happened, I think he is ready. Nothing beats experience, especially at this level. I think he got the little bit of experience that he needed, and he will be ready.”

On defensive meetings and practices being different without Mel Tucker

“It isn’t that much different. Here at Georgia, we have a standard. The coaches are around each other so much that they start to act like each other. You can’t even really tell the difference. They are still scheduled the same way. The only thing that we miss is his personality. He can have a whole room light up. But even Coach Lanning, Coach Schumann and Coach Smart running the meetings has been great.”

On the team’s motivation relative to last year’s semifinal game

“I think there is a standard here at Georgia. I do not think there is much of guys not getting motivated to play this game. As an athlete, any time you get on the field, you are going to try to get out there and compete. You are going to compete, especially against a historic university and athletic program like Texas. They have a lot of great players, especially on the offensive side of the ball. If you can’t get motivated to play against another opponent, you shouldn’t be out there on the field.”

On the opportunity for other players to step up with Deandre Baker out

“It gives them the opportunity to showcase their talent and what they can do, as well as what Deandre Baker has taught them. Baker is a great leader. He has taught them everything from little tools that they can use on the field. It gives guys like Tyson Campbell and Eric Stokes a platform for them to showcase their dominance on the field.”

Dan Lanning Interview

UGA Sports Communications

Dan Lanning

Opening Statement

"We're really, really excited to be here. I know that our staff and players have really enjoyed the hospitality of the Sugar Bowl. I know a lot of coaches and players get to go their whole career and don't get an opportunity to play in this game. We're fortunate enough to have a little bit of both -- some guys that have had some experience in this venue as well as some guys that haven't. So I think we've really been impressed with the setup. Everything has been really first class. Obviously, our number one goal is here to come take care of business when it comes to the game. But everything surrounding the game has been a lot of fun for us as a staff and as players as we move forward."

Can talk about how the dynamic, how it's been since Mel Tucker left for Colorado. And I know Kirby Smart has been working on the secondary. But, as far as play calling goes, how has that been going? How it will go for the ball game coming up?

"I think a lot of people put a lot more into that than is probably the actual case. We make a lot of decisions during the week before you ever get to the game. So, when you look at a specific situation in the game, a lot of those decisions have already been made. But I think the right answer is that everybody is going to be involved in that just like they have been all week. You know, a combination of Coach Smart, Coach Glenn Schumann, Coach Tray Scott, and myself are working really hard to put together a great plan and have a great plan for these guys. But, when we get into the game, a lot of times those decisions have already been made."

When did Kirby say, "Hey, we want you to go do the press conference in the big room?" And have you done a podium press conference before? What's going on with the play calling? How is that working out with the staff?

"We've been divvying stuff up as a staff. Everybody's kind of stepped up and done their part. The defense we run is the defense we run. And that's not necessarily going to change. But everybody's been involved in how those pieces will be divided. Everybody will be involved in the game just like they are for every one of our games. Coach Mel Tucker is, obviously, a phenomenal coach. We're all really, really excited for him and his opportunity. But just like, when he was here, a lot of those decisions were made before he stepped out on the field. Coach Smart and I talked about it a little bit about it yesterday coming up here, doing the podium experience. Definitely, my first Sugar Bowl podium experience and a little different than being at Park Hill South High School when I was assistant coach. But the football field is still 100 yards last time I checked. We're going to be okay when we step out on there."

Can you talk about the problems that the Texas receiving corps presents? And have you seen a receiving corps that has this amount of weapons this deep this season?

"Yeah. I think that's one of the things that's really, really exciting for our guys. Obviously, Texas is really talented at wideout. And, when you look at it on paper, what sticks out most is their size. They're big guys, can really stretch the field, and have connected on a lot of explosive plays this year. You talk about plays over 20 yards. They've had a lot of those. So for us it's a unique challenge. But I think that's something our players are really, really excited about. Obviously, Texas is a premiere program. They're a national brand. So this game for us is really exciting to go against a great opponent with those tools, with those weapons. I'm excited to see how our guys perform."

Are Lil‘J Humphrey and Collin Johnson comparable to anyone y'all played this year?

"Yeah. They're exceptional players. They're really, really talented guys. Immediately you turn on the film and they stick out. They create some matchup issues for our guys. So, for us, like I said, I think our guys are really excited. Our last game was the 1st. Our next game is the 1st. So having that much time to be able to prepare and watch film, those are two guys you definitely have to focus on. And we've done that."

What stands out about J.R. Reed? What makes him such a good player, and what has he done to your defense?

"He's kind of a veteran. Not kind of a veteran. He is a veteran. But he's way mature beyond his years, even though he's a little bit older guy in the room. He just has a calm and control when he steps on the field. I think our guys really trust him. Our defense really gravitates to him because he understands the communication. He understands all the pieces and elements of our defense and really does a great job getting our guys lined up when it comes to communication. And, obviously, he makes great plays."

How does knowing that Deandre Baker is not going to play in this game altered the preparation and game plan itself? And who then, if anyone, can fill that void?

"We have a lot of guys. We play a lot of personnel groups. We do a lot of different things with a lot of different players in our defense already. We've been fortunate enough to be in some situations this year where we've been able to play a lot of other players beyond Deandre when it comes to Tyson Campbell, Eric Stokes, Mark Webb that have played a lot of significant snaps for us. You don't replace Deandre Baker. He's a great player. We're really, really excited for him as he's moving forward, but we have a lot of guys that have gotten significant snaps this season. So I think that that piece, that transition will be smooth."

With a fresh set of eyes on Sam Ehlinger, I wonder what did you see as to why this guy did not throw an interception for as long as he did?

"He appears as a guy that really has a great concept of their offense and what Coach Tom Herman and their staff are trying to get done. He's a good decision maker, and he's not careless with the ball. I think the threat that probably shows up to us on film is when there isn't something there, he has the ability to run with his feet and take off and create plays, which he's done a great job with all year. So he's not a bad decision maker. He doesn't make a lot of bad decisions, protects the ball which obviously always gives you a chance."

Now that you've been with Coach Smart for about a year or so, what do you feel like you've been able to learn from him with him being a former defensive coordinator and how would you describe him as coach?

"In coaching we all see ourselves as teachers, but Coach Smart is also a learner. If there's anybody he can absorb some knowledge from, soak up some information from even as a guy that's been as successful as he's been, he's looking for that opportunity to continue to learn and expand and adapt and change. I think that's what really makes guys like Coach Smart unique, is they're looking for opportunities to improve themselves. And when you work for a guy that's looking for an opportunity to improve, it really makes it easy as an assistant coach or a player to say, dang, I've got to get better, there's something I can work on. There's something I can improve and that's something that really sticks out to me about Coach Smart."

The departure of Roquan Smith left a big hole in the defense from last season. Can you talk about the way the linebacker group has developed, especially the guys on the inside?

"Yeah, I think that's interesting. When you look at inside linebacker, that was obviously something that everybody talked about before this season started. And he's obviously playing pretty well right now in the NFL as well so we knew what we had with when we had Roquan. It's really exciting. It's really been a combination of a lot of players playing on those inside positions. I think we have four guys that have over 200 snaps at inside linebacker which is pretty impressive. But they've continued to grow and play really well throughout the year, stepping up. And Coach Schumann obviously does a really, really good job with the development of those guys. So it's exciting to see him step up and not have a big drop-off at that position."

Did you have a chance to follow Tucker to Colorado as defensive coordinator? And also what are the chances that you might be Mel's replacement at Georgia?
"I don't really want to speak to that. Right now our focus is on this game. I have all the respect in the world for Mel Tucker. I love Mel Tucker. He's been a great mentor and friend in this business. But moving forward right now, our focus is on this game on the 1st."

Have you interviewed for the Georgia's defensive coordinator job or would that even be necessary?

"Our complete focus has been this game. And leading up to this game, we had our signing day. So I think opportunities and decisions will be made. There is a ton of interest. This is a Georgia defensive coordinator job. There's a ton of interest in that job. We're going to be able to attract a lot of great candidates for that position, and we have a lot of great people on staff and in house. Like I said, I think people are taking a piece of the pie stepping forward and moving this game and what it will look like has a play caller, signal call caller standpoint in this game. And then after the game, I think there will be some decisions made as to what that looks like moving forward."

One of the guys that stepped up in the middle has been Tae Crowder who has changed position from running back. Talk about his development.

"I think it's really interesting you talked about a guy named Roquan Smith earlier. Roquan played running back in high school as well. And Tae Crowder played running back. That always seems to be a really smooth transition for players that have good vision. They can play the running back position and then turn. And when we look for linebackers in our league and certainly like the Big 12, you're looking for guys that can run and Tae is one those guys that can run. And you don't create some of those same matchup issues that can happen on a backfield or a wide out, that he might have to match up with or a tight end that he might have to match up. So that's something Tae has done a really good job with this year."

How have you seen Monty Rice develop not just as a player but as a leader of that group?

"Monty has got a great personality. I don't know if everybody knows that who hasn't been around our program. He's a guy that's a lot of fun to be around, has a smile on his face, and works extremely hard at his craft. He's a smart guy, really intelligent ant he's a heavy hitter. When he puts his pads on, I think guys feel it. So it's exciting to see some of the things that Monty has been able to do this year and looking forward to the things he's going to do for this program for a long time to come."

As far as your own particular position group, I know D'Andre Walker has provided a ton of leadership in that standpoint but it's a young position. What were some of the challenges they faced this year, and how did they ultimately progress to your satisfaction?

"D'Andre's role obviously shifted from last year to this year. He's done a phenomenal job for us. I think we're really excited about the things D'Andre has done this year and how he's kind of a dynamic player from a standpoint. He's the guy that can set the edge and have heavy hands and play the run but also has the ability to rush the passer. He's done a great job with that. And Adam Anderson is a guy that has just continued to come along throughout the season, get a better concept of what we do defensively. And his athleticism really speaks for itself. He can run for days and it's always good whether you have guys who can run on the field. But we got some other guys like Brenton Cox, Azeez Ojulari, Walter Grant that have all done a really good job this season, helping us in a number of ways."

You talked earlier about the quarterback and his ability to run. When you think back to your team's game against LSU, Joe Burrow ran 13 times for 60 some yards. Do you see any similarities or comparison to what they do with their quarterback and LSU and Joe Burrow in that game?

"Offensively they're a lot different team than LSU. But, yeah, there's definitely some similarities between the two quarterbacks. They're both really good players. And both can hurt you with their feet if you don't do a good job being accountable for the quarterback. So I think that's something that we're prepared for. But as far as offenses go, they're two completely different offenses."

Ledbetter And Fromm Interview

UGA Sports Communications

Jonathan Ledbetter

On cornerback Deandre Baker decision to not play in the bowl game:

“I support my teammate 100 percent. He talked to us and he talked to his family. I’ve got to support him. He is just in a situation where he is really blessed right now and he is where he needs to be. I’m just happy that he talked to us about it and got our input and we support him.”

On the challenges of the secondary playing without Baker:

“The crazy thing about the secondary is you have to work as a unit, so it doesn’t matter who you put in that position. We have the athletes across the board to be successful. I think the communication is a factor and making sure everybody is on the same page when you’re in there. Our defense is scheme based so if you can fit into the scheme and communicate well and listen to the people in there with you then you will be fine. It will be a fun game.”

On missing the College Football Playoff and playing in the Sugar Bowl:

“I mean, this is the Sugar Bowl. I’ve never been in the Sugar Bowl and I’ve never been to New Orleans so I’m excited. I can’t speak for anyone else but myself, but I’m glad to be here. Just to have the opportunity to play in a bowl like this is special. It is special to Georgia and we want to finish off the season the right way.”

Jake Fromm

How ready are you to play Texas?

“We’re ready. Guys have gone to work. We’re excited to be here. It’s the Sugar Bowl. We’re here, we’re thankful to be here.”

What do you expect from Sam Ehlinger’s game?

“We don’t really end up watching too much of the opposing offense, but today on the bus ride to Atlanta they had the Oklahoma-Texas game up on TV, so I kind of got to watch a little bit of Sam and how they play on offense and they play really well so I’m excited to see what he’s going to do in the game and kind of just hope that he doesn’t score too many points.”

What should the legacy of this year’s team be?

“We’re going to come out and fight and if we win a big football game it might show that we could have possibly been in the final four.”

Are you tired of hearing can you get over losing to Alabama?

“That’s past us. We confronted that that night and the following day. The guys have put it behind us. I’ve put it behind me. We’re here now. You can’t change anything that’s happened in the past. We’re excited and ready to play.”

Thursday, December 27, 2018

New Orleans Press Conference

UGA Sports Communications

Coach Smart

Opening Statement

“Thank you. Obviously, it's an honored tradition for Georgia to be in the Sugar Bowl. I know our team and our university are really excited to play one of the New Year's Six bowl games. Our players have really ramped up practice since we came back from Christmas break.

“We have got a really great matchup with Texas, one of the premier programs in the country. Got a lot of respect of Tom Herman and the job he's done. I'm glad we were able to tighten this thing and get a little closer to the game to get our team ready and prepared.

“If you think of the Sugar Bowl and you think of the history that Georgia has, I know a lot of our fan base is excited and a lot of friends I have that went to school at Georgia have said this is an awesome opportunity to come back to New Orleans and play in a great event. So we're excited to be here.”

Has there been any disappointment or any drop off from not making the playoffs?

“I don't think so. I think we addressed that right after the SEC Championship Game. We understand that we didn't control the parts that we had to control to make that game. And we've moved on past it. I mean, certainly, I think, when you think about the playoffs and the four top teams in the country, you want to be part of that. Every one of our players will tell you that.

“But we also know the hurdle that's in front of us in Texas, a team that has got a great tradition, really good football team. Play in a really good conference. So we have a standard that we play to regardless of who we play. And we know we're playing a really good opponent. And our players are excited for that opportunity. This is one of the best bowls in the country.”

Justin Fields was on the plane with you. Can you talk about his status? Also, just the trend in quarterbacks, for want of a better word, impatience about them wanting to start. Do you see this as an increasing trend in college football?

“I don't think it's just impatience of quarterbacks wanting to start. I think every kid on that plane wants to start if you ask them. They all want that opportunity. The unfortunate thing about quarterback is only one of them can start. So it's not like where we have six defensive backs or five defensive backs or four defensive linemen. It's a very unique situation. But Justin has practiced with us throughout the bowl. He has done a really good job of focusing on that and worrying about that.”

So he's in the game plan. He's the number one backup?

“He's our number two quarterback going into the game, absolutely.”

 Were any of your scholarship student athletes not able to make the trip with you?

“Everybody that practiced with us in bowl practice is with us.”

About Tom Herman

“He's a tremendous leader. First of all, he's a really good offensive coach. But he has gone out and gotten an exceptional defensive staff. They have been able to put a really good defense together. I think what he did at Houston, in and of itself, speaks for itself. And then he goes to Texas, and he has turned it around. He certainly has one of the premier programs to do that at, as far as recruiting to do, one of the best states to recruit in in the country. But he has done that well."

“When you are at a place like that, which I know we both share some common situations and we're one of the major universities in our state and our states are really good at supplying great football players. But you still have to go out and sign them, develop them, and become a good football team, which he has been able to do at Texas.”

Kirby, can you talk about Deandre Baker? Has he reconsidered at all playing in this game?

“Deandre Baker is not going to play in this game. He has decided not to play in the game. That was a decision that he came to somewhere around midweek. But he was very honest about it. He was very concerned about it."

“And we at the University of Georgia support him in his decision. It’s a tough decision, when you look at it. And he was forced to make it. He probably spoke prematurely when he was at the Thorpe Award. I think it was on his mind. But he met with his family about it. It was really important to him that he stay with the team. We support him as a coaching staff to stay around the team, be around the team. He wanted to come on this trip to help those other players, help the other corners. So it was a decision that he had to make.

“Look, across the country, there are a lot of guys that made that decision. And it really weighed heavy on that kid. He came to us and told us. And I told him we would support him, and he's here with us. He's part of our family. He came back after having a pretty good grade as a junior and decided to play, and he helped get us to this point. But he's not going to play in the game.”

Are we going to see Jordan Davis out there?

“Jordan was inside rehabbing, doing some things. He has had a little bit of a back issue. But he practiced some today. He continued to practice. I think he's going to be fine for the game.”

How much has Tyson Campbell done in practice?

“He has gotten a lot of reps. He's getting a lot of opportunities. And we know we're up against some really good wideouts. They got really big physical wideouts across the board. They do an exceptional job throwing the ball down the field. So we know those guys will get tested, and all the secondary will. So we will try to prepare them as much as we can."

“But we're excited to be here, guys. We got a great football program. We're an up and coming program when it comes to setting a standard. We want our kids to play to our standard. And that's our number one goal is to play our best game in this game.

Coach Cortez Hankton, wide receiver coach, what has he done for this group?

“I think he brings a wealth of experience at the position. He commands a lot of respect in that room. He has brought a lot of good ideas to our offense. I think he's really taken a wide receiver group that was really talented, and he has made them more productive. Our quarterback play has been good. Offensive coordinator has done a good job. But Coach Hankton has brought kind of a by committee job to the receivers' corps where it's not just one guy. But he has done a great job of doing that. I know he's from New Orleans, and I know he's excited to be coming home.”

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Dribble Dawgs Smash Tech

UGA Sports Communications

Never trailing in the contest the Dawgs men’s basketball team defeated in-state rival Georgia Tech, 70-59, Saturday afternoon at the McCamish Pavilion.

The Yellow Jackets (6-5) were threatening when they pulled the game within four at 57-53 with 1:44 remaining, however in the most opportune time junior guard Tyree Crump drained his second three of the game and senior forward Derek Ogbeide had a two-handed dunk from the baseline to thwart momentum. A three-point play by Tech put it at a six-point margin with under a minute, but Georgia (7-4) sealed the contest at the free throw line to mark the Dawgs’ fourth consecutive win in the Clean Old-Fashioned Hate rivalry.

“It’s great to be a part of this rivalry,” Georgia head coach Tom Crean said. “We knew they were a very good team and we knew they were not going to go away. I’m proud that we never lost the lead. There were certain things we had to do. We had to create turnovers. We didn’t do a great job of that, but the most important thing was winning the rebounding game, which we did by seven. We knew it was going to be tough to score due to their zone and their pace, and they do a good job in transition defense, but we were able to figure it out and our guys did an excellent job.”

A balanced scoring headed the Georgia attack as four Dawgs reached double digits. Sophomore Nicolas Claxton finished with a team-high 13 thanks to a dominant second half after a scoreless first half. Fellow sophomores Teshaun Hightower and Rayshaun Hammonds added 12 and 11, respectively, while Crump chipped in 10.

Additionally, Claxton created havoc with 13 rebounds, six assists and six blocks – all team-highs. The game marked his fifth double-double of the season. Ogbeide finished with eight points and nine rebounds, while Hammonds grabbed seven boards as well.

To get things going for the Dawgs, Claxton poked a ball out from behind of a Yellow Jacket for a Hightower steal and at the other end Claxton found a baseline-cutting Hammonds for the game’s first points. After Claxton picked up two quick fouls, senior forward E’Torrion Wilridge checked in and contributed instantly with a converted a reverse layup 6-4 and two blocks.

Later in the half, Georgia rallied off eight straight points including two Jordan Harris layups to go up 20-9. Coming off an official’s timeout shortly after, Hightower turned a steal into a fast-break layup and then Hammonds drained a three to make it a 13-0 run and the game’s largest lead at 25-9. The Yellow Jackets woke and narrowed their deficit to 29-19 at the half.

Seven unanswered points by Tech started the second half, closing the gap to three before Hightower stopped the streak with a three. Near the midpoint of the second half, Georgia went on a 6-0 run to send the game back up by double digits at 46-36. In the sequence, Claxton made his first bucket on the game on a put back, Wilridge made a contested layup and Harris added two free throws.

Georgia Tech fought it to a three-point margin with seven unanswered, making it 46-43 with about seven minutes left in regulation. Crump’s first three of the game upped the margin to six. After a Tech two points, Claxton responded with five. First, he soared for a big rebound and finished with a two-handed slam, and then he hit a three on a waning shot clock.

The Claxton three gave Georgia a nine-point cushion with 2:32 left. Down the stretch, Georgia responded to each GT push by outscoring the Yellow Jackets 14-12. From the line, Claxton was 4-of-4, Crump 2-of-2 to seal the win.

The Dawgs have a seven-day break for the holidays before they hit the hardwood again, a home game versus UMass at Stegeman Coliseum. The contest is schedule for Sunday, December 30th at 6 p.m. and will be aired on SEC Network.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Bulldogs Poised for National Stage in New Orleans

UGA Sports Communications

The fifth-ranked University of Georgia football team completed a two-hour practice in the William Porter Payne and Porter Otis Payne Indoor Athletic Facility on Friday in preparation for its 2018 Sugar Bowl finale.

Georgia’s opponent will be the 15th-ranked Texas Longhorns, who finished second in the Big-12 with the second-best rushing defense in the conference.

The Longhorns’ first defensive test will be the Georgia offensive line, a group that led the top Southeastern Conference rushing corps (251.6 yds/game) in 2018, even with four different alignments due to injury. Redshirt sophomore Solomon Kindley was locked in at left guard between sophomore Andrew Thomas and senior Lamont Gaillard.

“The Big-12 is a good conference, as well as the SEC,” Kindley said. “Texas likes to do a lot of movement, a lot of shifting back and forth. They’re a pretty good defense.”
The Texas defense will match up against the second-ranked scoring offense in the SEC in Georgia.

“What changes is how Coach Jim Chaney is going to call plays,” junior tight end Charlie Woerner said on Texas’ zone defense. “We’re not changing what we do. You can throw a few different plays in there to help us out.”

The history of the Sugar Bowl details Georgia’s success. The Sugar Bowl brought Georgia’s 1980 national championship with a team that included 2016 All-American Football Hall of Fame inductee Scott Woerner, the uncle of the current Dawg tight end.

Woerner, who made a significant impact in the Dawgs’ blocking attack throughout the season, looks forward to another opportunity for the Georgia team to play on a national stage.

“I think it’s awesome. I think one thing is the Sugar Bowl used to be one of the biggest bowl games. I don’t want people to think it’s not as big this year because it’s not on the road to the national championship...The Sugar Bowl is still one of the top-5 biggest bowls, one of the biggest bowls ever. That and the Rose Bowl. It’s still a huge bowl, and the team’s still very lucky and grateful to be able to play in it.”

Kindley views the Sugar Bowl as a platform to send a message indicating the expectations of the program in 2019.

“This game right here is to show the world what Georgia is going to have next year,” Kindley said. “We really have to give a statement to the whole world and to every college football team in the U.S that Georgia is nothing to mess with.”

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Dawgs Prepare For Texas

UGA Sports Communications

As the No. 5 University of Georgia football team conducted Thursday practice in preparation for a meeting with the No. 15 Texas Longhorns in the Sugar Bowl, the Dawgs also reveled in the success of a 2019 signing class.
After an 11-2 regular season and a second-straight SEC Championship appearance, the Dawgs are headed to the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, Louisiana in the New Year. The future is bright.
In New Orleans, senior Jonathan Ledbetter will play his last game in a Dawg uniform before joining outside linebacker D’Andre Walker and long snapper Nick Moore at the Reese’s Senior Bowl on January 26 in Mobile, Alabama.
At the Team Gala this year, Ledbetter was named a team captain, voted on by the players, and received the Vince Dooley Defensive Player of the Year honor alongside senior cornerback Deandre Baker and the Defensive Up-Front Award with Walker.
“It’s bittersweet, but I’m excited,” Ledbetter said. “I told my teammates, I’m passing the torch to them after this one. I’ve got one last pow-wow with them, and I’m going to give them all I’ve got. And then I have to worry about me, and they support me, and the coaches support us. It’s getting older; we’re growing up.”

Sophomore inside linebacker Monty Rice will join Ledbetter as a leader of the defensive attack at the Sugar Bowl. Despite battling injury this season, Rice tallied up the second-most tackles on the year, and will continue to pace a defensive front that finished 2018 ranked 15th nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 18.5 points per game.
“It’s the next game for me,” Rice said. “I’m motivated, we’re motivated. We want to beat them just as bad as we wanted to beat Alabama or Florida or anybody else.”

In the midst of the Sugar Bowl preparation, Georgia welcomed a 2019 signing class to the mix, a group littered with young talent that will make a difference in Athens as soon as January.
“I don’t try to convince them of anything,” Rice said on hosting the potential signees. “I just tell them how it is and how it’s going to be here. I tell them, ‘If you want to come play for a good coach with other good players around you, then come here. If not, this may not be the place for you.’”

The Sugar Bowl is slated for an 8:45 p.m. ET start time at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The contest will be aired on ESPN.

Former Dawgs Geno Atkins & Todd Gurley Selected For 2019 Pro Bowl

UGA Sports Communications

Former Georgia football greats Todd Gurley and Geno Atkins have been selected to play in the 2019 Pro Bowl, the NFL announced Wednesday. This marks the third selection for Gurley and the seventh selection for Atkins.

The Pro Bowl will include AFC and NFC All-Stars from 29 different teams and 24 clubs. Players were selected by the consensus votes of fans, players, and coaches. Each group’s vote counted one-third toward determining the 86 Pro Bowl selections announced today.

The 2019 Pro Bowl will kick off at 3:00 PM ET on Sunday, January 27, in Orlando, Fla., and will be televised live on ESPN, ESPN Deportes, Disney XD and simulcast on ABC.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Signing Day Press Conference

UGA Sports Communications

Following a two-hour practice on the Woodruff Practice Fields Wednesday afternoon, head coach Kirby Smart met with media and discussed the University of Georgia’s 2019 signing class as well as previewed the upcoming Sugar Bowl against the Texas Longhorns.

Georgia signed a total of 20 recruits on Wednesday, the first day of the Early Signing Period. 

The Sugar Bowl will take place New Year’s Day at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. Kickoff is set for 8:45 p.m., ET, on ESPN.

Coach Kirby Smart

On practice and Georgia’s new signing class…

“Practice has been really good the last couple days. A lot of enthusiasm the first two days of the week. We did a lot of 3rd-downs, special teams, fundamentals, good-on-good, back-to-your-basics, and the guys really competed hard. We had some good competitions out there. We went ones on twos, twos on ones, ones on ones, twos on twos; we practiced a lot of guys. It was good to get the new guys – the new four guys out there competing a little bit. And then today, we introduced something called ‘Texas,’ and started implementing some of the game plan things while also still working on good-on-good and special teams. So, guys have been great, had good energy at practice. I’m pleased with the leadership and the enthusiasm out there.

“And then the signing class, which is unique to have that and practice going on – which is extremely tough management to deal with the two things at once – it was a good day for us. We got a lot of new Dawgs. You guys will have to tell me; I don’t know if we signed more this time than last time early, but it seemed like we signed a ton early last time, and it didn’t seem like we signed a bunch early this time. So we have a few spots left, and we still have some targets out there that we want to go after, but I think the totality of the class was it’s a good balance. You can obviously see we had to go after defensive linemen, because we need defensive linemen in our program. The good, big body types, and we’re pleased to get that done. Areas that we still have to work on, that we fell short on, are probably the defensive back, receiver and also probably some more offensive linemen, or another offensive lineman. So those are things we’re trying to add to this class to make it complete, but we’re excited about this group and very pleased with it.”

On freshman quarterback Justin Fields’ potential to transfer…

“I think he’s looking at his options. Let me say this about Justin: he’s working extremely hard. He’s competing; he’s in the meeting rooms. He’s still rolling with our twos. His information to us is ‘I’m looking at my options,’ which is what you do when you go into the portal. We all know he’s in, so that’s the extent of it, and that’s the conversation that we have had. But I am pleased with the work he’s put towards Texas and what he’s doing out there with us. He’s had a really good demeanor and good reps and good competition.”

On if Fields considering to transfer affects his role in the Sugar Bowl…

“We’re trying to figure out how to beat Texas. And we’re going to do everything we can do beat Texas. Whatever that instills for a game plan, he’s decided he wants to play in the Sugar Bowl, and I told him ‘Absolutely, I’d love for you to play in the Sugar Bowl. We want you there.' He’s come out to work and do that and support his teammates.”

On if Fields’ potential transfer coincided with new signee Dwan Mathis…

“That had an impact. Obviously we have to recruit quarterbacks every year. You have to keep quarterbacks in your quarterback room. As you know, we were deficient in quarterback in the last couple years – we only had two on scholarship last year. Ultimately, we’d like to have four scholarship quarterbacks in our program. That is really hard to do nowadays. It’s so volatile, and they leave so often. So, we’re always working off the number of hoping to be at four, but we were very fortunate to have that young man at camp. We communicated with him; he expressed interest, and the interest was mutual. I think he’s a really good player.”

On transferring becoming a prominent reality in the college game…

“I think it’s going to be a reality, not just quarterbacks, just kids in general. If you look at the transfer rate in high schools, every high school I go in, the coaches in Florida say it’s crazy here, a kid could go to any school he wants. Coaches in Georgia say it’s getting crazy here because kids can move and go to different places, so you hear the effect of that. I think the easier it is for a kid to transfer in high school, it’s easy for him to do in college as well. It’s going to be more who adjusts to it and who handles it well. I’m not one to sit here and say whether it’s right or wrong to do it. It’s our job as coaches to deal with it. It’s the landscape that we now face. I do wish there the timing was a little better. The toughest thing is guys making decisions to do that midseason. That’s really tough. Fortunately, we didn’t have that issue. I think the time is now when the season ends, the kids want to explore their options. That’s a lot cleaner than the fourth game of the year.”

On convincing Fields to stay from a coaching standpoint…

“I don’t think there is anything you can do from that standpoint. He is not foolish enough to fall victim to that. We have been very open and honest that we would like him to stay and we want to support him and all his endeavors here. We want to support the goals he came here to accomplish. He has worked really, really hard to accomplish those during the year. This kid competed his tail off all year and played a team role throughout the year. We are very pleased with what he has done for our team throughout the year.”

On how the Mathis situation came about…

“It is a mutual thing. For us it was immediate. I mean, you would not be a very good coach if you didn’t think this would happen all year. We were anticipating this as we looked across the country at quarterbacks. What you find tough is when you are talking in hypotheticals. So, yeah I might be interested coach, if this or if that, but that is hard to do in the middle of the season. I was very animated with our staff about continuing to recruit kids from across the country because we have a possible situation with one quarterback on scholarship. We try to keep relationships developed. The one with Mathis came really fast where there was mutual interest, he had come here to camp before and he jumped on board.”

On furthering your quarterback pool at Georgia…

“I mean we are always looking to improve our roster. If there is opportunity to get quarterbacks in here, we certainly want to do that. You look at what Jake has left, you look at the possibility of Justin staying, you look at the possibility of who we have signed and you are trying to stay around four, that is our goal.”

On adding a strong presence to the defensive side of the ball…

“We didn’t look at it like that was what we were trying to do. We got to the point where some of it was best available. We were going to take that best available player in some slots and certainly some of those guys we got at the end and are still hoping to get in the next couple of weeks, if we think they are an impact player we are probably going to take them regardless of the depth at that position. It wasn’t slanted to be heavy defense for any reason, there are still plenty offensive players on the board we want to get.”

On getting the #1 rated running back…

“We are excited about Kenny. Kenny gives us something that we don’t have. We have said all year we needed a 225, we thought we were missing that. Running back is a unique position. Look at what Swift did as a freshman. Look at what Chubb did as a freshman. Look at what Sony and Gurley and all these guys did as freshmen. It is a position where you can go out and sign really good players. We know we have the possibility of three guys leaving next year, If Holyfield stays. We are going to have an opportunity to go out and sign the best backs in the country next year. We have great backs coming back in our program and we have great young backs. Kenny is going to be a 220-pound guy, that is a bruiser and very athletic out of the backfield. I am excited about what he can do.”

On keeping the relationship open with QB Dawn Mathis…

“We liked his athleticism and his arm motion, he’s got a really strong whip. He can pop the ball. … There was a period of time where there wasn’t any communication, but it did fire back up quickly. But to be honest, there was a lot of communication with a lot of other quarterbacks across the country. When you talk about the University of Georgia and the potential to be the only scholarship guy besides Jake Fromm, there was communication with a lot of guys. But he was the one who seemed the most interested and we also liked the most and we thought he brought the most to the table for us.”

On tight end Ryland Goede…

“We’re excited about Ryland. He’s extremely tough, athletic. The guy makes a ton of plays, a really good baseball player, he’s talented. You know he’s injured as well which is tough because of the situation we’re in at tight end. That’s where I would be saying is the biggest concern because we’ve got Isaac Nauta sitting there, that we don’t know what he’s going to do yet, he hasn’t decided. … That’s the situation we want to be able to improve our roster, we’ve got to look within our roster and see if there’s anybody else that can play that position. But he’s a very talented player that we expect to be back for Fall and help us.”

On junior college signees when looking for immediate help like defensive line…

“We signed Jermaine Johnson, he’s the only defensive lineman from junior college but I don’t look at Jermaine as a defensive lineman, I look at him as a pass rusher. We certainly feel like we’ve dropped off in our speed on the edge from the Lorenzo’s and Davin’s and Leonard Floyd’s of the years. To be able to get Jeramine and Nolan Smith, I don’t know that there’s two better pass rushers in a signing class anywhere in the country when it comes to speed. Jermain can run. Nolan can run. These guys have to help us disrupt the quarterbacks, which we struggled with this year.”

On bringing in highly-rated inside linebackers and what the staff looks for in that position…

“The biggest issue at inside backer is we’re losing about 800 snaps; that a lot of snaps. So, who’s going to replace those 800 snaps. When you look at the two guys we signed, one has an ACL and one is probably going to have a shoulder surgery. So, when you add that up, we’re signing guys but they’re not going to be available immediately. Now, should they be back for the season, yea; but it’s tough first season off of an ACL. It’s hard. I’ve watch kids for years struggle with that. Nakobe Dean is coming in as the only healthy guy that’s able to practice right away and should be able to come in and compete. … The inside linebacker position is a unique position now where it’s you have to be extremely athletic. You have to be able to run and play in space and we think those guys can do that.”

On Nakobe Dean…

“He is really athletic. He is past athletic. He is intelligent. He is high character. You look at the intangibles this guy has. He has a great family. The first thing that his family said was, ’Safety. Academics. Football.’ They wanted him to go to a safe, good campus, wholesome campus. They know Georgia is that. They believe in Georgia. They know the program we have. They really bought into Athens. And then the academics, he wants to be an engineering student. Where better to be an engineering student than the University of Georgia, and our engineering department has done a tremendous job at carving out how he can do it. We just had a young man graduate, Jackson Harris, with an engineering degree. Nakobe is a kid that we would call him on the phone and he would say, 'Coach, I’m sorry I can’t talk tonight. I have to go work on my schoolwork. I have to maintain my 4.0.’ I mean how many kids are going to say that? He does that a lot. He buys into the intangibles and we are excited for what he brings to the table, like a lot of these guys.”

On Texas’ run defense and transitioning on a SEC offense…

“Their defense is really good and physical. I think people have misconstrued. All Todd Orlando was saying was they run the ball in that league too. Oklahoma ran the ball on us last year, and did a good job doing it. So, I don’t think he was saying that, ‘We don’t have the capacity to run the ball.’ He was saying that there are run teams in their conference that they have to play against, and you look across the board and they are right. They do have run-teams in that conference. There is a perception that the ball is thrown every single snap out there and that is not the case. There is a lot of spread plays, but they do run the ball. They are not in tight formations, but they do a tremendous job defensively. They have some really quick defensive linemen. We have studied and mirrored some of the things they do defensively, and we think Todd Orlando is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country.”

Early Signing Day Signees


Name                          Pos.     Ht.      Wt.      Hometown                 High School/JC           
Dominick Blaylock    WR,     6-1       195     Marietta, Ga.               Walton HS
Lewis Cine                  DB       6-1       185      Cedar Hill, Tex.          Trinity Christian HS
D.J. Daniel                  DB       6-1       185      Griffin, Ga.                 Georgia Military
Rian Davis                  LB       6-2       230      Apopka, Fla.               Wevika HS
Nakobe Dean              LB       6-0       220      Horn Lake, Miss.        Horn Lake HS
Ryland Goede             TE       6-6       240      Kennesaw, Ga.        Kennesaw Mountain HS
Jermaine Johnson       LB       6-5       240     Eden Prairie, Minn. Independence (Kan.) CC
Zion Logue                 DL       6-5       295      Lebanon, Tenn.           Lebanon HS
Trezman Marshall      LB       6-1       230      Homerville, Ga.          Clinch County HS
Dwan Mathis              QB       6-6       205     Belleville, Mich.         Oak Park HS
Warren McClendon    OL       6-4.5    320      Brunswick, Ga.           Brunswick HS
Kenny McIntosh         RB       6-1       210      Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.    University School
Tymon Mitchell         DL       6-3       315      Nashville, Tenn.        Franklin Rd. Academy
William Norton          DL       6-6       285      Memphis, Tenn.          Christian Brothers HS
Nolan Smith               LB       6-3       235      Savannah, Ga.             IMG Academy
Makiya Tongue          WR      6-2       210      Baton Rouge, La.       University Lab School
Xavier Truss               OL       6-7       330      Warwick, RI              Bishop Hendricken HS
Travon Walker           DL       6-5       290      Thomaston, Ga.          Upson-Lee HS
Tramel Walthour        DL       6-3       280      Hinesville, Ga.            Hutchinson C.C.
Clay Webb                  OL       6-3       290      Oxford, Ala.                Oxford HS