Thursday, October 31, 2019

Rodrigo Blankenship Named A 2019 NFF National Scholar-Athlete

Photo By Danny Bishop
UGA Sports Communications

Georgia senior place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship has been named one of the 12 recipients of the National Football Foundation (NFF) Scholar-Athlete Award for his combined academic success, football performance and exemplary leadership, according to an announcement from the NFF and the College Hall of Fame on Wednesday.

With Blankenship's selection, Georgia has now had a Southeastern Conference leading 14 NFF post-graduate scholars. In fact, the Dawgs rank sixth nationally in the category with their first kicker being honored since Robert Etter in 1966.

Each of the players honored win an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship and will be recognized at the 62nd NFF Annual Awards Dinner in New York City on Dec. 10. The honorees also comprise the list of finalists for the 2019 William V. Campbell Trophy, which recognizes an individual as the best scholar-athlete in the nation.

Blankenship is the only player from the SEC on the 12-man team and he is also the only special teams player on the squad. The 2018 Allstate American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Good Works Team member and 2019 CBS Sports/Athlon Midseason All-American is the first Dawg to garner the honor since quarterback Aaron Murray received the NFF award in 2013.

This marks only the second time in school history that Georgia has had an NFF Scholar Athlete as well as an Allstate AFCA Good Works Team member in the same year. In 2011, punter Drew Butler was included as a Scholar Athlete while tight end Aron White was on the Good Works Team.

The Dawgs have now had 14 players in school history to earn this honor. While this is the first in the Kirby Smart era, there have now been five in the 2000s: Blankenship, Murray, punter Drew Butler (2011), quarterback David Greene (2004) and offensive tackle Jon Stinchcomb (2002).

Etter in 1966 was the first Georgia winner. Tommy Lawhorne (1967), Billy Payne (1968), Tim Callaway (1969), Tommy Lyons (1970), Tom Nash (1971), Jeff Lewis (1977), Terry Hoage (1983) and Matt Stinchcomb (1998) are also Bulldogs who have been honored.

A former walk-on who was a member of the 2018 SEC Community Service Team and a 2018 UGA undergraduate degree winner, Blankenship has distinguished himself as exceptional both on and off the playing field.

Blankenship, a 6-1, 191-pound native of Marietta, is second in the league in scoring this year, averaging 9.4 points per game and has connected on 12-of-14 field goal attempts and all 30 of his PATs. The three-time 2019 SEC Special Teams Player of the Week has drilled three 50-yard field goals during his team’s 6-1 start and is the FBS active leader with a total of 65 made field goals.

A two-time Lou Groza Award semifinalist, Blankenship has connected on a school record 184 consecutive PATs, which ranks second in SEC history. Thanks in large part to his contribution, Georgia leads the nation with 275 PATs in a row dating back to 2014.

Blankenship’s journey has included kicking a game winner at Kentucky in 2016 as a redshirt freshman walk-on and drilling a 30 yarder to clinch the victory at No. 24 Notre Dame in 2017 before announcing to his teammates postgame that he had earned a scholarship.

Two of his more memorable moments in uniform were setting a Rose Bowl Game record with a 55-yard field goal during the double-overtime win over No. 2 Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff Semifinal and hitting a 51 yarder in overtime of the National Championship Game less than two weeks later versus No. 4 Alabama.

Blankenship graduated Cum Laude (3.71 GPA) in December 2018 with a degree in Digital and Broadcast Journalism. He is currently enrolled in a Journalism Master’s program and has a 3.65 GPA. The 2017 CoSIDA Academic All-District selection was a 2018 winner of the Billy Payne Award for graduating with at least a 3.0 GPA and being on the football team for four years.

Georgia’s 19th Allstate AFCA Good Works Team member since 1992 has been just as stellar in the community. He is a member of the UGA Athletic Association's Leadership Academy (L.E.A.D.) and has given his time to the following activities and many more: spokesperson for "No More," which is a public service announcement against domestic violence and sexual assault; visitation at Camp Sunshine, which is a camp that provides support programs for children with cancer and their families; volunteer for the "Empty Bowl" luncheon, which is a luncheon sponsored by the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia where hand-painted ceramic bowls done by the football players were part of a silent auction to raise funds for needy families; and volunteer for the Home Runs for Hometown Rivals, which is a softball game at UGA's Foley Field for Special Olympians.

The NFF's National Scholar-Athlete program, launched in 1959, is the first initiative in history to award scholar-athletes postgraduate scholarships for their combined athletic, academic and leadership abilities. This year's class members finds themselves in good company with past National Scholar-Athletes who include former Dawg All-American and past chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament, Billy Payne.

Each finalist will receive the postgraduate scholarship at the NFF Annual Awards Dinner on in New York City, and one of the 12 will be announced as the 30th recipient of the William V. Campbell Trophy. Named in honor of Bill Campbell, the award comes with a 25-pound bronze trophy and a $25,000 post-graduate scholarship. Matt Stinchcomb (1998) is the only Dawg to win the Campbell Trophy. A total distribution of $223,000 in scholarships will be awarded on Dec. 10.

Dawgs Earn Mid-Season All American Honors

UGA Sports Communications

Georgia’s football team has four players who have earned nine midseason All-America honors this season.

Junior left tackle Andrew Thomas was named a midseason All-American by Sporting News, CBS Sports, Athlon, and Associated Press. Senior place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship was included on the CBS Sports and Athlon midseason All-American squads.

Wide receiver George Pickens and outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari were also named to the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) Midseason Freshman All-American team.

Thomas, a native of Lithonia, has graded out at 87 percent. He has 25 “knockdown” blocks and surrendered only three pressures to junior quarterback Jake Fromm. Thomas has anchored a line that has the Dawgs ranked second in the Southeastern Conference at 237.1 yards per game.

Blankenship, a native of Marietta, has earned SEC Special Teams Player of the Week honors three times this year after scoring 66 points on 12-of-14 field goal attempts and all of his 30 PATs. His 9.4 points per game ranks second in the conference and he has three 50-yard field goals this year. Recently named one of the National Football Foundation’s Scholar Athletes, Blankenship owns the school record and is second in the SEC all-time with 184 consecutive PATs.

Pickens, a native of Hoover, Ala., leads the receiving corps with 23 catches for 318 yards and has added two touchdowns. He has helped give Fromm a 70.7 completion percentage in his first season with the Dawgs.

Ojulari, a native of Marietta, has started all seven games this season after redshirting in 2018. He leads the outside linebackers and is sixth overall with 20 tackles, including a team leading 3.5 sacks for loss of 25 yards. Ojulari also has the most quarterback pressures this year for the Dawgs with 24.

Wednesday Press Conference

UGA Sports Communications

The eighth-ranked Dawgs conducted a two-hour indoor practice Wednesday as the Southeastern Conference clash with Florida is only a few days away.
Georgia (6-1, 3-1 SEC) faces the Gators (7-1, 4-1 SEC) Saturday in Jacksonville at TIAA Bank Field. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m., ET, on CBS. Before practice, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart participated in the SEC Football Weekly Media Teleconference and provided an update on the Bulldogs. After practice, junior quarterback Jake Fromm and junior offensive tackle Andrew Thomas met with the media to discuss the upcoming contest with the Gators.

Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Statement

“We’re excited to play in a top 10 matchup down in Jacksonville against a really good Florida team. Any time you get to play in this kind of border war neutral site game is a special event. Our kids are excited and looking forward to it. This is a great opportunity, and we’re preparing to go and got two more practices before we finalize some walk- through stuff Friday and then head to Jacksonville.”

On the freshmen and their first experience in this setting in Jacksonville

“Those young kids I look at them as veterans. I always tell people that everybody talks about how many starters a team has back but by this time of year, everybody that has started has already played in a lot of big football games. Big games are big games. The more you play in them, the better experience you have and the more confidence you gain. I don’t think these kids nowadays coming out of high school are intimidated by those kind of environments so I know they will be ready to play.”

On the development of freshman linebacker Nolan Smith

“Nolan’s development has been great. He’s very intelligent. He’s one of the kids who comes in and meets extra. You can tell it matters to him. He wants to play well. He studies his opponent. He’s a very bright kid with an extremely high motor, and he’s continuing to get better every game.”

On the team’s identity at this stage in the season

“Resilient. Tough. Gritty. We’ve been in some really, really tough battles, especially fourth quarter battles with the Notre Dame game, the South Carolina game and the Kentucky game. All those games went down to the wire. We’ve shown some resiliency, we’ve shown no quit. The physical toughness and aggressive play that you want to have, I think our guys have shown that.”

On the development of the offensive line during the bye week

“Well, number one it seemed like it was the first time that everybody was healthy at the same time. We were very fortunate to get some good work done during the bye week and have everybody available to us across the offensive line outside of Justin Shaffer who has been injured. We were able to get a little more continuity and able to develop some of the younger kids and get them some more reps during that week. I was pleased with that. They’re excited for the opportunity to play against an elite front with quickness, speed, physicality, pass rush and high motor guys. They’re going to have to rise to the occasion because they’re going to go against one of the most productive fronts in the country.”

Andrew Thomas, Junior, Offensive Lineman 

On getting ready for the game this weekend

“We have prepared a lot for the Florida defense. They wreak havoc, that is what we call it. They get a lot of sacks, a lot of turnovers, we just have to be ready.”

On Florida’s pass rush

“All those guys from Florida they are very fast and athletic. I think we will be prepared we have been working really hard this week. The defensive line has been helping us get ready for those guys.”

On Jake Fromm's confidence level after the past few games

“I don't think Jake's confidence level has changed. Jake always stays level headed regardless if we are playing really well or if we are not. I think that’s what makes him a great leader because he stays the same all the time.”

Jake Fromm, Junior, Quarterback 

On the offense

“I think we have had a really good two to three weeks of practice since the South Carolina game. We have just been looking at ourselves and getting better. We’ve worked on different things and just being cleaner as an offense. The physicality of what we are trying to do and executing certain plays. I think we are ready. I think we can go out and show what we have been working on.”

On his performance the last couple of games

“I mean the South Carolina game we were fighting. They did a really good job. They had a great game plan for us. They played really well that day. The Kentucky game, I think is a complete outlier game. It was soaking wet. As far as the offense, I know for me we are just ready to go out and play football.”

On his teammate graduate wide receiver Lawrence Cager

“It will be huge for the offense to have him back. He’s another big guy, another big target right there on the outside. He brings a lot of juice to the offense. He is a big-time guy.”

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Tuesday Press Conference

UGA Sports Communications

The Dawgs continued their preparations for their Saturday contest against Florida in Jacksonville with a two-hour practice on Tuesday afternoon.

Coach Kirby Smart, along with a pair of Georgia defenders, redshirt sophomore Eric Stokes and junior Monty Rice, fielded questions from the media after practice. Excerpts from their sessions follow:

Coach Kirby Smart:

Opening Statement

‘’It was good to get back out there yesterday and get some guys back. Guys were able to practice and pushed and did a good job. Had a light practice yesterday and then got after it pretty good today. Got a little bit of weather, so we were able to practice in the rain for awhile, which was good. It was not a heavy downpour, more of a light deal. Got to do some good-on-good, got to work on some third downs, some red-area stuff. Got some guys back, so that was helpful, and I thought the guys had really good energy, which you would expect this week. So there was some good competitive periods out there. We’re a little ahead of schedule for a normal week, which helps us get more time to fix some things.’’

Who exactly did you get back at practice?

‘’Yeah, Lawrence Cager has been out there practicing, Tyson Campbell has been out there practicing, Travon Walker has been out there practicing.’’

What does it add to a rivalry like this when there are also implications in the SEC East race?

‘’That’s what makes it a rivalry, you know. You’ve got so much at stake. I really don’t think that it would matter if it was about the SEC East or not. It’s Georgia-Florida, so that in itself carries a lot of weight. The game, the history, the tradition, the fact that you have a Hall of Fame for the game alone, and players can be remembered for their performances in that game alone is pretty big. The SEC East weighs heavily in this game, but I wouldn’t say that it determines it all the time.’’

Is there anything about this game that stands out to you, having played and coached in it?

‘’Probably the most unique thing is that it (crowd) is split 50-50. It’s weird. You have a weird feeling in there sometimes. It’s so different. I call it a pro mentality because there’s no, like, student section chanting for you or against you when you come out for warmups. It’s not like that. The atmosphere in pre-game is very different. It’s a very different feel because when you go out for pre-game at a road game, it’s like enemy territory. When you go out at your place, you’re in friendly confines, but there’s a lot of more energy and buzz. It seems like at this game — the times I played in it and coached in it — it’s more flat in warmups and then, all of a sudden, boom, you come out for the game and everybody’s in their seats. They come in at the same time, as opposed to being in there early.’’

Does the fact that coach Charlton Warren coached at Florida last year mean anything at all to this game?

‘’I don’t think it means a lot. I think the history that our staff has from years in the West, going against Dan Mullen. I mean, he probably watches countless films of times we’ve gone against each other, and we do the same, as far as schemes and things like that. Personnel, I think obviously there’s personnel there that he knows or he’s gone against. Sometimes that can be beneficial, sometimes it’s not because you don’t know how matchups are gonna work. How the left guard, right guard, center, the left receiver, right receiver, tight end are gonna match up on certain guys. He’s seen more of them because he’s seen them every day in practice. It’s very similar to (former OC Jim) Chaney. I don’t know how much that helps or hurts.’’

The NCAA announced today that it will allow college athletes to be paid. How do you think that’s going to affect college football?

‘’To be honest with you, I don’t know. I’m not smart enough to know and understand how it’s going to affect the future. I do trust the hands that it’s in, and the committee that’s been formed to look into it, and I think they’ll do a tremendous job. It looks like to me that they would come up with a proposal somewhere around January 2021, maybe, and that still seems like a long way off in my mind. But we’ll have to prepare, and whatever they decide to go with, we’ll deal with it. I don’t have enough information to form a complete opinion on it, to understand it completely. Our biggest concern, as coaches across the country, is it going to be an even playing field. The biggest concern, from state to state, is not being balanced. If it comes out balanced state to state, then we’re all playing on the same playing field.’’

From a recruiting standpoint, what does it say about the matchup of these two teams that there are a lot of guys on each roster considering both teams?

‘’It says we recruit against them a lot. It seems like every player that’s on their roster, we were at least in contact with. They’ve still got guys playing that were recruited under the other staff. Most of ours were under ours. But I think both places recruit probably 80 percent of these kids overlapped, and they were probably in the final four teams. It makes a player probably want to win more, if you almost went there, and there’s also the overlap in that they recruit our state and we recruit their state. They’ve got quite a few Georgia kids and we’ve got quite a few Florida kids. Those kids want to win, obviously, because they’ve gotta go home and live and be seen in their communities. Anytime there’s a border rivalry, it makes it that much more. We just have a lot of those.’’

With Tyson Campbell and Lawrence Cager practicing, does that mean they’ve been green lighted to play in the game?

‘’They’ve been cleared to play, but we’ve got to find out if they’re ready to play. If they’re practicing, they’re cleared. Cleared doesn’t say, ‘that guy’s ready to play’ and that’ll be determined by how they practice, and what they’re able to do and not do, what kind of shape they are, how much they can sustain. Those are all important factors that we have to factor in to how much they play, and if they’re able to play.’’

What’s your relationship with Dan Mullen been like since he got to Florida?

‘’I sit by him at every SEC meeting because ‘F’ and ‘G’ are alphabetized, side by side. So we get to sit and talk about things. When a topic comes up about, you know, whatever the conversation is, whether it’s some recruiting thing, some rules thing, we’re always sharing ideas. Everybody looks at it like, ‘how does it affect you?,’ ‘How does it affect me?’ ‘How does it affect him?’ We’re both the only SEC schools in our state, so sometimes we agree on certain things. I don’t get to see Dan a whole lot, even when he’s at the lake and I’m there. We’re both spending time with our families.’’

What’s your lasting memory of the 1997 win over Florida?

‘’To be honest with you, we didn’t win a lot of big games, so that was the highlight of our time here. That was a big game, it was a big upset. Probably the highlight for me, or the biggest memory, was walking out after the game, showered and cleaned up, and my mom was there. She was born and raised in Florida, almost went to the University of Florida. She’s from Plant City, so it meant a lot to her, and getting to see her was probably the best part of it.’’

How has Eric Stokes progressed since he’s been at Georgia?

‘’It’s a hard question to answer. Eric works as hard as anybody on our team. He’s very intelligent. He takes notes in the meetings, he understands things. He has made himself into a good player. I say that because it wasn’t natural for him. He didn’t grow up playing corner. He was a talented athlete. He was fast, he was a running back. He was a raw guy who has developed and gotten better through hard work and habits. With his length and his speed, the sky’s the limit for him. But at the same time, you have to understand that our guys haven’t had the chance to play a lot of guys, when you think about it. The rain, a young quarterback, whatever the reasons, we haven’t had a lot of opportunities. We’re gonna get ‘em in this game because they (Florida) have good wideouts, good quarterback, good scheme. So there’s gonna be opportunities. When you click on that tape, from LSU and Auburn games, there are NFL matchups all over the field. This corner against this wideout. This corner against this wideout. Well, the games in the SEC, they’re not gonna change week to week. They’re going to boil down to who can win in some one-on-one matchup, and he will get his opportunities.’’

Eric Stokes, Redshirt Sophomore, Defensive Back

On Florida's group of receivers...

“Florida has a great group of seniors. I know each and every one of them can do something different. This could be a real big key for us as [defensive backs]. I know [Florida] can rotate and all of them can move and show something different."

On ways Georgia’s defense has prepared to face Florida receivers…

“We’ve just got to prepare for each one of Florida’s receivers. We have to embrace the challenge and prepare to handle everything. I know, personally, this week I’ve just been trying to run extra at practice, because I know their guys are going to be fresh and will keep rotating. I’m just doing it for myself to get in extra conditioning with the time I’ve got [outside of practice].”

On how much credit he gives former defensive coordinator Mel Tucker for where he is now as a player...

“I give him a lot of credit. He was the one who took a chance on the three-star speeder that a lot of people just looked at as a track guy. He looked at me as a football player."

Monty Rice, Junior, Inside Linebacker

On what he sees in Florida’s offense...

“I think Florida throws the ball a lot more than last year. Their quarterback Kyle Trask puts the ball where it needs to be to be able to make plays. Florida has great receivers. They’re all fast, and they’ve got three good running backs— Dameon Pierce, Lamical Perine and Malik Davis.”

On the threat Florida tight end Kyle Pitts poses for Georgia’s linebacker group...

“He’s a great player. He makes a lot of plays. I think he has the most targets probably in the nation for a tight end. In order for Florida to win, they’re going to have to get him the ball for him to make plays. We’ve just got to play our coverage and do what we’re supposed to.”

Monday, October 28, 2019

Monday Press Conference

UGA Sports Communications

University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, along with several players, previewed Saturday’s game against Florida. The Dawgs and Gators kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET in Jacksonville, Fla.

On Monday, Coach Smart and student-athletes offered the following comments.

Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement …

“With that I'll open it up on Florida. Got a lot of respect for their team. I think Dan Mullen does a great job, number one, developing quarterbacks, but he's done a really good job this year with Kyle Trask that came in as the backup. They've become really explosive. They've got as deep a group of wide receivers as I've seen anywhere from top to bottom. They’ve got six, seven, eight guys playing wide receiver that are really good players. An elite tight end, one of the best in the country. And their defense with Todd Grantham, is really aggressive, as seen through all the pressure and sacks they've got. Really good corners out there on the island. They're playing at a high level. And they play special teams as good as anybody we've played. You can tell the commitment is there. They've got starters scattered all across their special teams, so across the board it'll be a great challenge. It always is when you play these guys, and played Dan's teams for a long time. They're well coached, and they're always physical. So we're looking forward to the challenge, and we started getting ready last week for them. Hoping to get some guys back from injuries today. Some recovered over the weekend. Some were able to go Thursday before we broke, and hoping to continue to get some guys back healthy.”

On if Florida is blitzing as much defensively …

“When I say pressures, I'm talking about the pressure of the quarterback, not necessarily bringing more than four. They do a great job of rushing with their four guys, and allows them to do more coverage wise. They've got some alternative pressures and different looks, kind of like we do defensively, where it might look like pressure, but it's not. It's called simulated pressure. But they don't have to do that as much because of the four guys they got rushing, especially the two guys on the edge are really elite when it comes to pass rush. So they do a really good job of that, and those guys get after the passer as good as anybody in the country. It's obvious with their statistics.”

On the Georgia-Florida game staying in Jacksonville …

“Yeah, first, the misnomer there is that I don't want the game in Jacksonville. That's not a case for me. I loved playing there. It's one of my best memories ever as a player being able to do that. I think the landscape of college football is such now that your home and homes are so valuable as you go out and try to find other teams to play. When you play these other teams that we're playing out in the future, you got a home and home, so you got one less home game. The team that's used a bye to come play you, you're going to have one less home game, so now, with us every other year it may be two less. So it makes it tougher in that perspective. But I also think the financial significance of this game and also the historical significance of this game weighed in the factors, and administration felt like that was the best thing to do, and I'm 100 percent on board with it. I'm a team player, and I always said, once the decision is made, it's made. It's a two-year commitment. We'll continue to see where it's going in college football. I think as you look across the board, you see more and more kids committing on these official visit weekends when they go to a home game, and they're really important weekends. We just have one less shot at those. That's the toughest thing.”

On the chess match of going against Dan Mullen …

“It's a chess match every time you go against somebody, but it boils down a lot more to players than it does Xs and Os. He always has a very physical football team. They believe, and they have a commitment to the run game. They always seem like they have downhill, low-center-of-gravity backs. Very similar to what he has now he had at Mississippi State. Big, physical offensive line. He never abandons the run. He's always going to be able to run the ball. He always has a quarterback that can run the ball especially whether it's short yardages or packages with Emory [Jones] coming in for them. And he's got as good of wideout group that he's ever had that I can remember. And he's using those guys' skill sets. He highlights those wideouts he has because he has so many. I don't know how to better say it than to say that he has a complete offensive package right now with what he has, so he has the ability to use all those guys. And he's doing a good job. They're doing a good job offensively.”

On the importance of the secondary in this game …

“The secondary, I mean, everything is going to be important because you have to say the front is important to affect the quarterback. The front's got to control the run game. You have to be able to pressure the quarterback and affect him, but every time you do that you gotta be able to cover on the back. It never changes. You have to be able to cover people man to man to be able to play these teams. You got to. If you can't do that, it makes it harder on you to even be able to think about pressuring. So they do a good job.

As far as Tyson Campbell, he practiced last week, didn't go as much Thursday as he did Wednesday. We had to back him down a little bit. But he was able to practice a couple days last week. I think Wednesday was the last day he went full and was able to do everything, but then Thursday we cut him back some. We'll see where he is at today.”

On how the wide receivers can help Georgia’s offense become more explosive …

“Yeah. Jake's relationship is probably better with these guys. He's spent more time with them, if you think about it. It's not about the relationship as much as it is the ability to win one-on-one, win in space. We call them 50/50 balls or back shoulders, whatever it may be. We have to win more battles when it comes to that, because people in our league are going to play you a certain type of way. So you have to be able to win those. I don't think it's relationship driven or rep driven. I would say continuity of the same guys in the game has kind of been all over the place because every receiver has missed some game in some way, shape or form. But we continue to work on those and we're going to keep working on them today.”

On the injury status of Travon Walker and Lawrence Cager …

“Travon? Yeah, he's back out today practicing. Supposed to be full go, ready to go. We're expecting to get him back. Cager is expected to be able to practice today. To what extent, he was able to run routes and do some stuff Thursday, and thought he looked good doing that. So we're expecting to hopefully get him back, but I won't know more until we see practice today.”

On what stands out on film on what can be done offensively …

“Yeah. I think there's no doubt -- first of all, we look every week, but bye weeks we look at everybody in the country and say, okay, what are they doing, what are they doing, what's been successful, what tools are they using, what positions are they putting their best players in, how are you utilizing your playmakers to try to get them the ball. We're always evolving in regards to that. That's no different.

As far as what our guys are doing and being able to put them in a good situation, yeah, I think we've been able to put a lot of our backs in good situations to be able to win and do things. I think, again, at wideout it's tough because there's not been a corps group that's been there every game and been able to do it. Cager is the one guy you can make a case that's made some plays when he's been available and made some plays on 50/50 balls. We've gotta be able to do that, because of the way people play us, and we're going to have to continue to do that.”

On if recruiting for the home team of the Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville will alleviate some concern…

“What do you think those other teams are going to do with that? I'm petitioning right now, if you're Alabama and you're Tennessee, are you going to help Florida and Georgia out? I don't think they're going to go for that. But we'll see how it goes. I mean I'm all for it. You know what I mean, if it can help us. But I just don't know how realistic that is.”

On what having both teams being ranked in the Top-10 does for the Georgia-Florida rivalry and the SEC… 

“I think every week in the SEC you're getting a matchup like this. It seems like for the next two or three weeks it just seems to continue to happen, because you have really good football teams in our league. I think when you strap it on in our league, you better come ready to play because week in, week out you're going to have to play in big-time matchups.

I mean it's the way it should be when you look at the SEC East. Georgia and Florida have been pretty dominant in the East picture for a while, and this game has always had some bearing on who goes to Atlanta. And I think both teams are good, and I think it's what college football is all about.”

On comparing Florida quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask… 

“They don't run a lot of different things. Feleipe Franks was really good at extending playing and creating a little more with his feet. I mean I wouldn't say he's a runner, but he could run. Same thing with Kyle Trask. He's a big, physical guy, and when he decides to run, you don't stop him for minimal gains on designed quarterback runs. I think that he's gotten the confidence of the receivers and the ability to throw the ball. When he came in the game at Kentucky, you saw it right away. He's a natural passer. He brings value to the rest of their team because of his ability to throw the ball. He makes them harder to defend because all of their weapons are -- their best, best players, their weapons are perimeter players. And you look at what he's done, he makes you defend all 53 yards, and he's a good quarterback. He's tough to defend.”

On his comfort level with quarterback Jake Fromm’s experience and ability to make decisions in pressure situations…

“Yeah. Jake's played well in those kind of situations when you're talking about having a team with really good rushers, but a lot of that is contingent on those two tackles blocking those two guys. They don't just rush those two guys on the edge. They do games. Todd Grantham does a good job of mixing things up, keeps you balanced. He plays different coverages when he plays a quarterback that's not a scrambler or a runner per se. It allows you defensively to play certain guys certain ways. People play Jake different than they play a guy that takes off running with the ball. So it makes it a little different. Jake does a good job handling that. I think that'll be one of the key matchups in the game is how does their pass rush affect our offensive line, especially in passing situations.”

On if it’s even more important to win the turnover margin in a game like Georgia-Florida…

“Yeah, every game it's important, but you could argue the closer the games are from a standpoint of the teams matched the turnover even plays a bigger factor, because it's harder to overcome a minus one or minus two turnover margin if the games were evenly matched across the board. I really think special teams will be the same way. We've got to play a more complete game on special teams this game. It's very important, because you can tell they put as much emphasis on this as we do when you look across the board at who's playing on it.”

On if he was ever a Gator fan growing up or if he ever pulled for the Gators when he was a kid…

“No. I did go on an official visit there, and they recruited me out of high school, and I had a good visit there, but wasn't a Gator fan.”

On what makes Andrew Thomas special…

“I would say the number one thing is his intelligence. I mean, he's athletically as good as anybody you'll see. He's very sharp. He's very detailed. He has a plan. You don't find guys that are his size and speed and athleticism walking the streets, but you also don't find that combination of intelligence. They know what's going to happen before it happens. I think he prepares well for games and he sees things a little bit before they happen because of his experience. He was well coached in high school, and he's nothing but a stellar example of what a University of Georgia student-athlete should be.”

On Florida’s offense being a true test for the defense… 

“When they look at throwing the ball, physicality, ability to run the ball with the quarterback. There's not like there's an area that they're missing. You would say the offensive line is probably younger than it was last year having the draft pick, the guys they had, but those guys aren't rookies anymore. I look at it and say those guys have played almost a complete season now, and they're playing at a high level because their quarterback has been able to protect him and throw the ball. I mean when you got the wideouts they got out there sometimes, doesn't matter how long you protect because they get open pretty quick and they beat some man-to-man situations against good teams.”

On Stetson Bennett’s preparation and reps in practice… 

“If you say Jake Fromm gets 100 percent of the reps with the 1s, the number of reps that our 2s gets is somewhere around 60 or 70 percent of the same number that the 1s get. And during off weeks we try to get Stetson some with the 1s as well, situation where he can go in there and play and get some reps and get some help. I think what's going on in college football, it's just all over the place where people are playing with backups. You know it can happen. You gotta be prepared for it. It's something we talk about each week: What would we do differently? What does he do? What is he comfortable with in the game plan? And those are mapped out by the offensive staff to say these are feature things that we would do with this guy because you never know when you're going to be in that situation.”

On how defenses prepare for Georgia… 

“I wouldn't say wildly vary, but they're definitely not the same. When you look across the board, every team that's played us has done what they've done going into the game. It's not like they changed what they did going into the game. If it was Kentucky, they played their 3-4 front very similar to our defense. They played a lot of the same things. They didn't do something exotic or they didn't copy South Carolina. They did what Kentucky does. Kentucky does what they do. They did what they did the year before for a lot of extent of it. 

And then South Carolina played a lot more regular, meaning no extra DB in the game against a three-receiver set versus us, so they played regular against where most people would play nickel in those situations because they felt like their linebacker was stronger than their nickel was. So every game it's different. You go into the game saying, okay, how are they going to play us. Just like us, how are we going to play -- it's a matchup thing. How are we going to play when they're in this personnel grouping? Should we play it with this many DBs or this many DBs? And that's part of the chess match, but early in the game you figure that out, and then you've gotta be able to say, okay, what are our answers when they do that. Week to week it varies, but I would not say that it's widely varied.”

On how Jake Fromm has remained healthy and protecting himself… 

“I hope you're not jinxing us. He does a good job of protecting himself, meaning ball beats rush, meaning if I don't have that guy protected, I need to throw the ball. Some of what's going on is I don't know where I'm protected and I'm taking hits. Playing a lot of young quarterbacks in our league. A lot of guys are getting hit. Lot of different rushes, athletes. There's just so much going on with college football, aggressive, a rush, affect the quarterback, no concern for the run that quarterbacks are getting hit more where Jake is probably a little more experienced at, okay, I'm going to protect myself in this situation, but also, the O Line is there, and I think our O Line does a good job of pass protection. Now, they're going to face the ultimate test. I mean, these guys are as good as anybody in the country. But they do a good job with protection of getting the right guys. 

Now, can you lose a one-on-one, absolutely you can, but when you get the right guys with your five guys, it allows you to do more things with your back. Some teams do not release their back at all. They keep them in for protection. We would like to get our backs out, because they're really good at getting out and their ultimate goal of the defense is to make the back stay in, and if they can keep him in in protection, that's one less guy they gotta cover. So Jake's done a good job of protecting himself. Our O Line has done a tremendous job thus far of protecting the quarterback. And, yeah, you want Jake to be able to create something with his feet, and there's been some games that he's been successful doing that, and I think he's gotta be willing to do that when there's nothing else there.”

On what this game means to him being a native of South Georgia… 

“Well, I hate to say it, but they’re all rivalry games. When you make one more important than the other, it devalues the others. I mean this is a tremendous rivalry in all of college football. The fact that it's in a neutral site, in Jacksonville, which is closer to South Georgia. It's important to all Georgia fans. It's important to all Florida fans. It's one of the biggest rivalries in college football. So for me it's special because of where it's located, where the game is played and usually what the outcome determines.”

D’Andre Swift, Junior, Tail Back

On growing up in Philly and when he became aware of the intensity of this rivalry…

“I think I was in high school. I believe it was my sophomore year when I truly realized how intense it was. I noticed the atmosphere of the game and how seriously the coaches and players took this game.”

On how the offense improved over the bye week…

“We worked on a lot of things. We worked on third-down situations, being more explosive, winning the one-on-one match-ups. Everyone improved. Running backs, linebackers, wide receivers did a good job on getting open.”

On what it is like to play in this rivalry…

“It is amazing. It is one of the best ones that we have. The atmosphere is incredible with all the red and the blue. You walk out for pregame warmups and look in the stands and just think wow, this is crazy.”

J.R. Reed,Senior, Defensive Back 

On what makes Florida’s offense different than anything Georgia has seen/how Georgia plans to approach it on defense...

“They’re very explosive, and they’re operating under Dan Mullen’s offense. They do a lot of different things. They spread the ball around to a lot of different guys. We’ve just got to stop the explosive players.”

On his thoughts on how Kyle Trask has taken over at the QB position…

“He’s definitely not a backup type of guy. He’s a big player and can play strong. He’s not as athletic as Florida’s previous quarterback, but he’s a great player— you can see that on the field. He knows how to run the offense and can spread the ball around. [Dan] Mullen is doing a great job and letting [Trask] use his arm.”

On whether he thinks there’s a disadvantage for either team by playing in Jacksonville…

“I don’t think there’s a disadvantage. The stadium is split 50/50, and there’s just so much history. I love it and being able to go there and play. I really don’t care, as long as we get there, play, come home with the win and get ready for the next game."

Azeez Ojulari, Redshirt Freshman, Outside Linebacker

On Florida QB Kyle Trask...

"He came in and he's a game changer. He throws big passes, complete passes. He's a good player so we've got to come in ready."

On Florida's offense...

"I feel like they're very explosive. They've got good receivers that can make big plays. They've got a good offense, so we've got to stop that."

On Florida QB Emory Jones...

"We definitely have to prepare for him too. He's a dual threat, so he can run and he can throw. He can throw the ball well. We have to prepare for both quarterbacks, actually, so we'll prepare this week."

Solomon Kindley, Junior, Offensive Lineman

On that this game means to him being from Jacksonville…

“This game means a lot to me because growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, the type of scene it is and the type of environment I grew up in, it shows kids around the neighborhood, kids that came up from the same high school that came up in, they can do it no matter what; they can do it no matter what anybody tells them. Just stay focused and keep moving, you never know what you’ve got in your future. I really like to go back home and show the kids back home that I did it, so can you.”

On what this games means to the City of Jacksonville…

“It really shows that it’s not always the bad part of Jacksonville, it’s always something positive. The high school that I came from, we always have players go to college, play Division I ball, type of stuff. So like I said, it’s showing the kids that it’s possible. All you have to do is work.”

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Wednesday Press Conference

UGA Sports Communications

The 10th-ranked Dawgs conducted a two-hour practice Wednesday during the program’s second bye week this season.

Georgia (6-1, 3-1 SEC) faces the Florida Gators (7-1, 4-1 SEC) next Saturday, Nov. 2 in Jacksonville. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m., ET, on CBS.

Before practice, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart participated in the SEC Football Weekly Media Teleconference and provided an update on the Dawgs. Selected comments from Smart are below:

Opening Statement

“We started back yesterday, got some good work in. We’re working on future opponents the next two days before taking the weekend off for our players. It’s a chance for them to go back and spend time with their families and get back to work on Florida the beginning of next week.”

On his impressions of Florida quarterback Kyle Trask…

“He’s a good quarterback. He’s more athletic than you think he is. He does a good job running it, he’s got a good core of wide receivers, but to be honest I haven’t looked at them exclusively. We’re looking at them as well as some of the other teams we play. I think if you look across the board, they’ve got a really, really veteran receiver group, probably one of the best wide receivers if you include the tight end in that, probably in the country. And Kyle’s done a tremendous job coming in and taking over and not skipping a beat and Dan Mullen has always done a great job with his quarterbacks.”

On the cause of the offense’s struggles…

“I think fifty percent of that would be conditions with the Kentucky game, it was the biggest struggle. It was just tough for anybody to palm a ball and throw a ball and effectively catch it. I mean, we had DB’s dropping balls all over the place out there, interceptions late. It was tough on both sides. So that’s fifty percent of it. When you go back to South Carolina, there’s a lot of passes in that game for a Georgia football team. There were a lot of opportunities to pass it. In those cases, some of it was route running, some of it was quarterback decision making, there’s a lot of things. But there was a lot of opportunities in the South Carolina game to throw it and some of that was a little bit of continuity and chemistry and some of it was accuracy and some of it was protections. So, it was a combination of things.”

On the sense of urgency to bounce back against a top-10 opponent…

“I think our whole team is looking at the opportunity to play a top-10 team in Jacksonville regardless of how we have played or what we have done offensively, defensively, or special teams. You’re always looking forward to playing a top-10 team that’s a really well coached, good football team. Our guys are preparing for just getting better right now. We’re ‘going to see the doctor’ as I call it because we’re trying to get better at everything we do, not just Florida. We’re working on Georgia more than anything these practices to try and get fundamentally better.”

On first meeting Tae Crowder and envisioning his role in the future…

“I had known Tae, he had come to camp for several years at the University of Alabama. He came over there and was a prospect so I had a relationship with him. He kind of grew up as a receiver and then morphed into a running back as he got bigger and bigger. Then when I got to Georgia, he was in the backfield with a loaded, star-studded cast. It was going to be tough to get on the field, I think he knew that and we challenged him to create a role for himself on special teams. He started to do that and he started to compete on special teams and do some things. You saw his athleticism, he’s got great ball skills and growing up a receiver, he was a good athlete. We just went to him and said ‘you’re over on the scout team running the ball, do you want to jump in there and take some linebacker reps?’ He did that and as he took them, he got more and more athletic. It took him a while to understand defensive football but he bought into that and he’s become tougher with his years on defense.”

On the positives and negatives or staff changes…

“The benefit is fresh ideas, fresh energy. In our case, we hired mostly from within. Even when you hire and promote from within, you usually go out and get somebody new to come at a different position; it may not be a coordinator position. So, they bring new ideas, new energy, new thoughts, new drills, that’s always a benefit to me is a fresh voice and changing things up, so that’s important. One of the tougher things would be familiarity for kids of understanding what that coordinator might want in certain situations and what their standards are. I think that’s important. I think changing coaches is good for them, it invigorates them and creates a new energy and they feel like they’ve got to go prove themselves over again. Sometimes that’s good but sometimes it’s tough because of relationships you form and kids miss certain coaches that were recruiting them and that’s always tough. There’s positives and negatives for both.

Eli Wolf, Senior, Tight End

On the tight ends blocking during the game...

“It means a lot when they trust us. We take pride in our position. We think we can get the job done. For them to say, hey this puts us in the best situation, it is a huge tribute to the guys in the tight end room. We are really excited about it.”

On what the coaches have been asking of the tight ends…

“We are doing whatever they ask us to do. Lately, it has been a lot of blocking. Especially, last week with the weather. When our number is called, we have to be there to make the play. I feel like earlier in the season we were doing that a lot, and we need to get back to that. Whatever they are asking us ,we are trying to do it at the highest level, and lately it has been protection in the run game.”

Tae Crowder, Senior, Linebacker

On the team playing better...

“I feel like we always come together as a team. We stick together, we push each other. We come back each week and go to work. We just have to help each other as a team and we grow from that.”

Brian Herrien, Senior, Running Back 

On the running game...

“I mean this is football. You cannot just run outside in every play. In the SEC, everybody is fast. Even the defensive line is fast, the tackles are fast enough to catch you running outside. But at the same time, the inside zone runs open up the outside zone runs and the outside zone runs open up the inside zone runs. I mean they complement each other. We just have to do it better.”

Monday, October 21, 2019

Reed Named Thorpe Award Semifinalist

A year after Deandre Baker brought Georgia’s first Paycom Jim Thorpe Award back to Athens, Dawg graduate safety J.R. Reed has been named a semifinalist to the honor given to the best defensive back in college football, according to an announcement from the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.

Reed, a native of Frisco, Texas, is one of 14 semifinalists for the award, including one of four from the Southeastern Conference. Georgia has now had a semifinalist for three straight years with Baker winning the 2018 award and Dominick Sanders earning a spot with the semifinalists in 2017.

The Thorpe Award is based on performance on the field, athletic ability and character. The semifinalists are selected by a screening committee.

Reed leads the Dawg defensive backfield and is third on the team with 34 stops this season, including two tackles for loss. He forced a fumble over the weekend that Georgia turned into their second touchdown versus Kentucky. Reed also collected a loose ball and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown earlier this season against Murray State.

Thanks in part to the contributions listed above as well as one interception, Reed has led the Dawgs to rank first in the SEC in Scoring Defense at 10.6 points/game (No. 4 nationally), Rushing Defense at 85.7 yards/game (No. 5 nationally) and Total Defense at 266.7 yards/game (No. 6 nationally).

Three finalists for the Thorpe Award are expected to be announced on November 25th. The winner is selected from the three finalists and will be announced at The Home Depot College Football Awards Presented by Gildan and broadcasted live on ESPN on December 12th. The Thorpe Award commemorative banquet will be held in Oklahoma City on February 4, 2020.

In 2018, Baker finished with 40 tackles in 13 games and had two picks that he returned for a combined 82 yards to win the Thorpe Award. He also added a forced fumble and a fumble return for the Dawgs.

Swift Named SEC Offensive Player Of The Week

Georgia junior tailback D’Andre Swift has been named the Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week for the third time in his career after his performance during the 21-0 win over Kentucky, according to a league announcement.

Swift also received SEC weekly honors after the Dawg victories over the No. 9 Wildcats and No. 24 Auburn last year. So far this year, Georgia has five weekly league awards with senior place-kicker Rodrigo Blankenship earning three and junior left tackle Andrew Thomas securing another.

Swift, a native of Philadelphia, Pa., carried the ball 21 times on a rainy night for 179 yards (8.5 average) and scored twice during the Dawgs’ victory over the Wildcats. His seventh career 100-yard rushing game was highlighted by a 39-yard scoring run in the third quarter that broke a 0-0 tie. Swift muscled his way into the end zone from three yards out late in the fourth quarter to clinch the 21-0 victory. He leads the SEC through seven games for the Dawgs with 107.7 yards/game average.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Post Game Quotes

UGA Sports Communications

Coach Kirby Smart 

On today’s game … 

“You have to be patient with those type of elements. You’re not just going to run the ball down their throats or throw it 30-40 times in those conditions. It was a field position game, and we needed to win field position. In the second half, we did that, along with running the ball.”

On catching passes in a driving rain … 

“Ask people who’ve done it. If you’ve done it, you know how tough it is. If you haven’t done it, you probably shouldn’t judge.”

On punter Jake Camarda … 

“He boomed some in tough conditions. The first thing was fielding the snap. He’s a tremendous athlete with good hand-eye. He caught it and he hit some big punts. That was a big difference in the field position battle.”

On being patient in the second half … 

“That’s how you win in those conditions. That’s important. We were talking to James Coley and the offensive staff on the headsets about being patient and keep running the ball. Trying to throw in those conditions, you can turn it over quickly. It’s not easy throwing. Anybody would struggle in those conditions.”

On Georgia’s offense … 

“Congrats to our offense on not turning the ball over. That was huge. Ball security has been great for our offense.”

On Kentucky’s quarterback … 

“Lynn Bowden is an extremely good athlete. He can run around and create and he gives teams fits.”

On bouncing back from a loss … 

“Our guys worked their tails off and were in great spirits. I thought D’Andre Swift talking to the team was great. Outside noise, whether it’s positive or negative, does not affect them. They are grinding and preparing. Our best football is ahead.”

On the open date … 

“We’ve got a tough lineup coming up the next few games. We’ll use the open date to continue to get better. We’ll work on fundamentals, blocking and tackling, and get the ball to the playmakers. I’m excited about our guys getting to work this week.”

Andrew Thomas, Junior, Offensive Lineman

On running the ball and wearing down on Kentucky’s defense ... 

“It felt pretty good. We knew it was going to be a hard game to throw the ball because of the conditions. We have a period in practice called team run where the defense knows we’re running the ball. That’s what it was and I think we played pretty well.”

On the running performance and D’Andre Swift… 

“We just kept chopping. In the first half, we didn’t run it as well as we might have. We might have bobbled a snap or had a penalty, but we kept chopping and we came out and ran the ball pretty well. D’Andre ran pretty well today.”

Richard LeCounte, Junior, Defensive Back

On the team’s confidence level... 

“We definitely feel like we’re on track. Everything that we want is still in front of us. When we come out there, if we’re playing ball as we should, I think it will go great.”

Kentucky Head Coach Mark Stoops 

Opening Statement… 

“Obviously, this is a difficult loss in a tough environment for us today. The weather was a big factor, but it was a very good football game. It came down to several plays that really made a difference. Give Georgia credit— D’Andre Swift is an impressive player. I just gave him a ‘congratulations’ after the game and wished him ‘goodbye,’ because he needs to go to the NFL. He’s an elite player. I’m proud of our guys. I thought we fought all night in a tough situation. We knew Georgia was going to respond the way they did, and I was proud of our guys. I promise you they left it all on the field. They played extremely hard, made some critical plays, but we made a few mistakes. That’s the difference in a game like this. You could boil it down, probably, to three or four plays that made a big difference. Starting with the punt, we talked about ball security, which Lynn Bowden did an incredible job of all night. He didn’t put one on the ground. We dropped a touchdown, so you’ve got a few plays out there that could’ve made it a very close game.”

On whether Stoops considered putting Sawyer Smith in at QB... 

"It was tough. I’m not going to withhold information from you guys— I’m very up front and try to be as honest as I can. He’s close, but it’s tough on a cold, rainy, miserable night to put him in, when he’s just barely getting close to being ready to play. He would go… He’d play if his arm was falling off, but I can’t do that to him again. It was a tough night and was going to be a tough grind, so we did what we felt was the best option was at that point.”

On what Kentucky’s defense was doing well to stop the run… 

"Stopping the run was a big challenge with them, as I mentioned all week. Georgia is big, they’re physical and their backs are electric. As you can tell tonight with some of the runs they made, they create some difficult formations. They do a nice job in the way they crack off some tight sets. They really get physical and block certain guys and bounce it to make it run on your corners… I thought our coaches had a really nice plan, and our guys really played hard up front/ We were precise on those little nuances of that type of fence.”

Lynn Bowden, Junior, Quarterback

On the conditions and the difficulty of throwing the ball… 

“It was wet, a little muddy and a little cold. You know, football weather. It was hard to throw the ball. I had to find the right grip on the ball.”

On the vibe between the first half and second half… 

“I felt like our game plan was pretty straight forward. We executed some of the plays and others we didn’t. We will just have to live with the results.”

Max Duffy, Junior, Punter

On what happened on the one bad punt… 

“I just shanked it. I was having a decent night before that, so it was just one of those things that I would like to take back and do over perfect. I think three were long and three were short in the same night, so that is how punting goes. I am disappointed because we were in the game at that point and if I flip the field there then it’s big for us. It is one of those risk and reward things. I wasn’t good enough tonight, but hopefully I can bounce back and get better.”

On how a play like that shows the value to your position… 

“It was huge. In a game like this, field position is always going to be huge. Jake Camarda did a great job tonight. I think he averaged 53 yards on six punts, so he was awesome. Unfortunately, I could not match him. Maybe that was the difference. It was big for us in the first half and then didn’t execute in the second half.”

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Dawgs Shutout Cats

UGA Sports Communications

The No.10-ranked Dawgs scored 21 second-half points on a rain-soaked Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium to beat the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday.

A pair of touchdowns from junior tailback D’Andre Swift and a third-quarter touchdown scamper from senior tailback Brian Herrien proved to be the difference for the Dawgs. Swift finished the day with 179 total yards.

Georgia improves to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the SEC ahead of its matchup against Florida on November 2nd in Jacksonville.

“You have to be patient with those type of elements,” head coach Kirby Smart said. “You’re not just going to run the ball down their throats or throw it 30-40 times in those conditions. It was a field position game, and we needed to win field position. In the second half, we did that, along with running the ball.”

The elements immediately impacted the opening quarter as both teams struggled to find momentum on offense. After each squad punted on their opening possessions, Kentucky entered Georgia territory with a 19-yard punt return, but their conversion attempt on 4th-and-2 was undone by a false start penalty and led to a punt.

The Dawgs appeared to have finally broken into Wildcat territory midway through the second half as Fromm scrambled to the Kentucky 49-yard line, but the spot was changed following a review. On the ensuing 4th-and-1 at midfield, Fromm’s sneak was stopped at the line and Kentucky took over on downs. On their following possession, the Dawgs again neared midfield with a pair of long runs, but a stalled offense led to a punt. For Georgia, it was the first scoreless half since a 10-0 loss at Alabama in 1991.

Kentucky opened the second half with the ball and proceeded to drive into Georgia’s side of the field, reaching the 27-yard line before a holding penalty coerced another punt. After a poor Wildcat punt set up the Dawgs in Kentucky territory, Swift immediately scored with a 39-yard touchdown run, putting Georgia ahead 7-0 at the 6:20 mark of the third quarter.

On the ensuing Wildcat possession, the Dawgs’ defense announced its arrival as senior safety J.R. Reed forced a fumble by Kentucky quarterback Lynn Bowden, Jr. that was recovered by junior safety Richard LeCounte at the Kentucky 31-yard line, the third recovery of his career. With an opportunity to assume control of the contest, Herrien scampered for an 8-yard touchdown run that capped off a 5-play, 31-yard drive and extended the lead to 14-0 with 1:54 to play in the third.

Needing a response, Kentucky got off to a strong start when senior kick returner Zach Johnson brought the kickoff back to the Georgia 40-yard line. A 21-yard Bowden rush placed the Wildcats in the red zone for the first time, but freshman running back Chris Rodriguez was unable to haul in a wide-open touchdown catch. After an incompletion, the Georgia front forced Bowden out of the pocket on fourth down and held the Wildcats out of the end zone.

Georgia opened the following drive deep in their own end, but a heavy emphasis on the run game brought the Dawgs back into the Wildcat red zone. Swift’s 3-yard touchdown run with just over six minutes to go put the final touches on Georgia’s 21-0 win.

Post Game Notes

UGA Sports Communications

Dawgs Blank Kentucky In Wet Battle On Homecoming: With a steady rain falling and temperatures in the low 50s all night, Georgia was able to score 21 points following a scoreless half and registered a shutout. It was the second shutout of the year (Arkansas State 55-0 on Sept. 14) and fourth in the Kirby Smart era. Before tonight, the last one in an SEC contest came in 2017, 44-0 over Tennessee in Knoxville. With tonight’s win, Georgia leads the UK series 59-12-2 including 10 straight over the Wildcats. Also, Georgia is 78-18-2 on Homecoming including 15-2-1 against the Wildcats. This was the first shutout of Kentucky since a 1981 Homecoming win (21-0).

Junior D’Andre Swift (21-for-179 yards, 2 TDs) finally ignited the crowd with a 39-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give the Dawgs a 7-0 lead. That was the only play of the drive, and it was the fastest drive of the season at 11 seconds. Georgia forced and recovered a fumble on the next series and then scored its second touchdown of the quarter at the 1:54 mark. Senior TB Brian Herrien ran this one in from 8 yards out. Swift added a second score on a 3-yard dive in the fourth quarter. Georgia and Kentucky combined for 178 yards, including 123 from the Dawgs, in the first half and finished the first two quarters at 0-0. This marks the first scoreless half in a Georgia game since 1991 when the Dawgs played at Alabama. The Dawgs went on to lose that contest 10-0.

Defense Continues To Shine: Georgia came into the game leading the SEC and sitting sixth nationally in Scoring Defense at 12.3 points/game. Tonight marked the Dawgs’ second shutout of the year after topping Arkansas State 55-0. The Dawg defense held Kentucky to 177 yards of total offense (160-rushing, 17-passing). The Wildcats had just two first downs on 21 plays in the first two quarters. Senior Tae Crowder, junior Richard LeCounte, sophomore Quay Walker and freshman Nakobe Dean tied for the team lead with six tackles apiece. Sophomore Jake Camarda punted the ball six times for an average of 52.8, including a long of 64.

Offense: The Dawgs concentrated in the running game with the wet conditions and finished with 235 yards on the ground in 43 carries (5.5 avg.). D’Andre Swift had 21 carries for 179 yards (8.5 avg.) and two touchdowns (seven on the year) to lead the Dawgs. He now has seven games with at least 100 yards rushing, including three 100-yard performances this year. This is the most rushing yards for the Dawgs since Swift went for 186 on 17 carries in the 2018 victory versus No. 24 Auburn. Junior QB Jake Fromm was limited to just 35 passing yards, going 9-of-12. He is now 29-6 as a starting quarterback.

Blankenship Boots It: Graduate PK Rodrigo Blankenship kicked three extra points. He has connected on a school record 184 consecutive PATs. The Dawgs lead the nation with a streak of 275 consecutive PATs dating back to 2014. Blankenship is now tied with Blair Walsh (2008-11) for second place in all-time career PATs made by a Dawg.

Points Off Turnovers: Georgia is +1 in turnover ratio this year. Graduate S J.R. Reed drilled Kentucky QB Lynn Bowden to force a fumble at the 4:30 mark on the UK 31 yard line in the third quarter and junior DB Richard LeCounte collected the loose ball. Brian Herrien scored on an 8-yard scamper on the next drive. The Dawgs have scored 30 points off nine turnovers while opponents have scored 21 points off eight Georgia miscues.

For Starters: Freshman WR George Pickens started his first game. Brian Herrien returned to action after missing last week with a back strain. Jake Fromm started his 35th straight to lead the offense while J.R. Reed now leads the defense with 36 in a row. Also of note, redshirt freshman DB Divaad Wilson made his second start of the year.

Homecoming King & Queen: Senior Wilkray Biboum who is from Norcross, Ga., and majoring in Nutritional Sciences was crowned the 2019 Homecoming king. Senior Chelsey Deranian who is from Grafton, Mass., and majoring in Early Childhood Education was crowned this year’s Homecoming queen.

Next Up: The Dawgs (6-1, 3-1 SEC) are off next Saturday before traveling to Jacksonville for the annual matchup with Florida (7-1, 4-1 SEC) on November 2nd. The game will be televised by CBS at 3:30 p.m.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

SEC Nation Coming To Athens

UGA Sports Communications

SEC Nation, one of the flagship shows on the SEC Network, will set up shop in Athens on Saturday, Oct. 12, just prior to the Georgia-South Carolina game which kicks off at 12 noon.

SEC Nation will be live on the air from 10 a.m. until noon with their set located at the Myers Quad on the UGA campus.

Hosts for the show will be Marty Smith, Marcus Spears, Tim Tebow & Paul Finebaum.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Dawgs Win, Take Series Lead

UGA Sports Communications

The third-ranked Dawgs used 33 unanswered points to run away from Tennessee in a 43-14 victory in front of 92,709 fans at Neyland Stadium and an ESPN nationally-televised audience on Saturday evening.

In their first game since defeating Notre Dame two weeks ago, the Dawgs (5-0, 2-0 SEC) overtook the Volunteers (1-4, 0-2 SEC) in the all-time series, 24-23-2, and picked up their 15th-consecutive win over a SEC East opponent.

Junior quarterback Jake Fromm turned in an outstanding performance, going 24-of-29 for 288 yards and two touchdowns. Senior tailback Brian Herrien led a balanced rushing attack with 11 carries for 88 yards with junior D’Andre Swift adding in 76 yards on 17 rushes. Swift led in receiving yards for the fifth time in his career with 72 yards, gaining 148 all-purpose yards. Overall, the offense amassed 526 yards for the game with an average of 7.5 yards per play.

The Dawg defense only allowed 104 yards from the Volunteers in the second half, with 70 of those coming on their final drive of the game. Junior safety Richard LeCounte and junior defensive back Mark Webb tied for the team lead with five tackles, while redshirt freshman linebacker Azeez Ojulari tallied two sacks.

“We knew they would come ready to play. They had a week off and they have a good football team,” said head coach Kirby Smart. “They came out and played physical, and so did we…Our kids came back and played hard. They came out in the second half and played a lot harder.”

After forcing Tennessee to punt on its opening possession, Georgia took nearly seven minutes off the clock with a methodical 12-play, 84-yard scoring drive that concluded with a 1-yard touchdown run from Swift. The sequence was highlighted by a 28-yard completion to junior wide receiver Demetris Robertson on 1st-and-20, moving the Dawgs into Volunteer territory. Swift’s score also marked the fourth time this season that Georgia has scored on its first offensive drive.

Tennessee then quickly responded with a 73-yard touchdown strike from freshman quarterback Brian Maurer to senior wide receiver Marquez Callaway, knotting the score at 7 apiece. Maurer’s first career touchdown was the longest play allowed by the Georgia defense this season.

On the next Georgia possession, Fromm and the offense once again used major plays to break into Tennessee territory, including a 44-yard pass to Swift and a 25-yard completion to graduate wide receiver Lawrence Cager. The momentum was slowed by the Volunteer defense, leading to a 50-yard field goal from senior place kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, his fifth career kick from beyond 50 yards and second this season (50 yards at Vanderbilt at Aug. 31). Blankenship remained perfect on the season with three field goals and four made PATs, extending Georgia’s team streak to 270 consecutive makes.

For the second consecutive possession, Tennessee responded to a Georgia score, efficiently moving down the field before Maurer found redshirt senior wide receiver Jauan Jennings for a 12-yard touchdown on the opening play of the second quarter, giving the Volunteers a 14-10 lead. Despite a career-long 40-yard run by Herrien, the Dawgs would again settle for a 34-yard Blankenship field goal, capping off an 8-play, 58-yard drive.

Following three consecutive stalled drives from both teams, the Dawgs set up at their own 40-yard line with four minutes remaining in the half. Georgia would take advantage of the field position with a 6-play, 60-yard drive that concluded with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Fromm to Cager. Looking to answer, Tennessee moved down the field in a two-minute drill, but came away empty when kicker Brent Cimaglia missed from 47 yards out.

Utilizing an extra possession to end the half, Georgia padded its lead with a 7-yard touchdown catch from freshman wide receiver George Pickens in the back of the end zone with nine seconds remaining to enter the locker room with a 26-14 lead. The 5-play, 70-yard drive only took 50 seconds and was bolstered by 42 yards from Swift.

After fruitless drives from both teams to start the half, Georgia added to its tally on its second possession as Blankenship notched his third field goal of the night, a 27-yard try that completed a 7-play, 43-yard drive. On the next drive, the Volunteers reached midfield, but a deep throw from Maurer was intercepted by LeCounte at the Georgia 22-yard line.

The Dawgs were unable to capitalize on the turnover as Swift was stopped on 4th-and-1 at the Tennessee 39-yard line. Following a Tennessee punt, Georgia steadily moved down the field on a game-sealing 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard Herrien touchdown run.

The Dawgs added another score with senior linebacker Tae Crowder’s 60-yard fumble recovery touchdown, resulting from a Maurer fumble on a blind side sack by redshirt sophomore cornerback Eric Stokes. On Tennessee’s final drive, the Volunteers were set up with 1st-and-goal at the 5-yard line, but a Bulldog goal line stand preserved the second half shutout.

“We took a punch there in the gut with the bomb, but they responded well,” said Smart. “They kept fighting and kept playing hard, created some turnovers in the second half.”

Post Game Notes

UGA Sports Communications

Dawgs Win, Take Series Lead, Extend Streak Versus SEC East: With Georgia’s 43-14 victory, the Dawgs now lead the all-time series 24-23-2 as it dates back to 1899. It marks the first time they broke a tie to take a series lead over UT since 1981 when it went up 9-8-2. Also, the Dawgs now have won 15 straight games over teams from the SEC’s Eastern Division dating back to 2016.

Fromm On Target: Junior QB Jake Fromm (24-for-29, 288 yards, 2 TDs) set the tone in the first half, completing 16-of-20 for 195 yards and 2 TDs as the Dawgs tallied 354 yards of total offense on 42 plays for a 26-14 edge. For the game, Georgia finished with 526 yards of total offense on 70 plays in the road win.

On the Dawgs first possession, Fromm directed a 12-play, 84-yard TD drive in 6:51 for a 7-0 edge. He went 4-for-4 for 59 yards. The 12 plays and 6:51 were the second longest for a TD this year. He ended up completing his first seven passes of the night. Fromm led a 6-play, 60-yard TD drive in 2:03 to put Georgia in front 20-14 with 1:59 left in the first half. Then with 59 seconds left in the half, he marched the Dawgs 70 yards down the field for another TD, going five plays in just 50 seconds for a 26-14 advantage.

The leading receivers were graduate Lawrence Cager (5-for-58 yards, 1 TD) and junior tailback D’Andre Swift (4-for-72 yards). Fromm completed passes to nine different Dawgs.

Defense: In the first half, Tennessee tallied 14 points and 239 yards of total offense (34-rushing, 205-passing) on 31 plays, and then UT was shut out in the second half, gaining just 104 yards on 31 plays to finish with 343 (70-rush, 273 pass). Georgia entered the game ranked 2nd in the SEC in Scoring Defense, allowing only 10 points per game. The Vols elected to take the ball after the winning the toss and were forced to punt after four plays and 15 yards. Georgia responded with a touchdown drive, going 84 yards on 12 plays in 6:51 for a 7-0 edge. UT answered with a 2-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 73-yard TD completion to Marquez Callaway, which marked the longest allowed by the defense this season. Down 10-7, the Vols went up 14-10 on a 10-play, 75-yard drive in 2:37 with 14:57 left. The Vols did not score the rest of the game as Georgia went on to take a 26-14 lead en route to the victory.

Blankenship Booms Another 50-Yarder, Tallies 13 Points: Graduate PK Rodrigo Blankenship made four PATs, nailed a 50-yard field goal in the first quarter, a 34-yarder in the 2nd quarter and a 27-yarder in the 3rd quarter for a total of 13 points. He is 11-for-11 in field goals this season. In his career, Blankenship is 5-for-6 from at least 50 yards including 2-for-2 this year. He made a 50-yarder at Vanderbilt this year too. For his career, Blankenship now has tallied 371 points including 64 field goals.

Swift & Herrien Lead Rushing Attack: Georgia tallied 159 yards on the ground in the first half and finished the game with 241 yards on 39 attempts (6.2 avg.). Junior D’Andre Swift has a team-high 17 carries for 72 yards and a TD. Senior Brian Herrien finished with 11 carries for 88 yards and a TD. Herrien had a career-long 40-yard rush in the 2nd quarter.

Points off Turnovers: Junior DB Richard LeCounte notched his 1st interception of the year and second of his career. Georgia took over at the UGA 22, and it led to no points. In the fourth quarter, sophomore DB Eric Stokes delivered a sack and fumble and senior Tae Crowder scooped it up for a 60-yard fumble recovery for a TD. The Dawgs are now +4 in turnover margin and have scored 23 points off eight turnovers. It marked the 12th score by either the defense or special teams in the Kirby Smart era. Earlier this year, graduate J.R. Reed had a 14-yard fumble recovery for a TD against Murray State. LeCounte had a team-high five tackles along with junior Mark Webb.

For Starters: Junior Justin Shaffer made his first career start for the injured Solomon Kindley, getting the nod at left guard. Junior QB Jake Fromm started his 33rd straight to lead the offense while graduate J.R. Reed(S) now leads the defense with 34. Junior DJ Daniel made his second straight start at RC while junior Walter Grant made his first of the year at LB and ninth of his career. Sophomore N Jordan Davis left the game in the first series due to an ankle injury.

Captains: Senior Tyrique McGhee (RS), junior Andrew Thomas(LT) and redshirt freshman Azeez Ojulari (LB) served as the game captains. Ojulari is the first freshman to be named a team captain in the Kirby Smart era that began in 2016. Ojulari finished with three tackles, two sacks and two TFL.

Up Next: Georgia (5-0, 2-0 SEC) returns home to face South Carolina (2-3, 1-2 SEC) on Oct. 12 at noon on ESPN.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Dawgs Prepare For Tennessee

UGA Sports Communications

The Dawgs continued their preparations for their Saturday contest at Tennessee with a two-hour practice on Tuesday afternoon.

Head Coach Kirby Smart, along with a pair of Georgia defenders, juniors Mark Webb and Monty Rice, fielded questions from the media after practice. Excerpts from their sessions follow:

Coach Kirby Smart: 

Opening Statement

‘’We just finished up Tuesday’s practice a little bit ahead of schedule. We’re hoping to stay a little bit ahead, with the off week, getting a jump start on these guys. Had good energy today, enthusiasm. We went about half in, half out. It was hot outside and we’re playing at night, so we’re trying to get a little practice in the climate and a little bit inside as well. I thought the kids were really energized today and really pushed hard. We got a chance to do a lot of good on good because of the similarities in the offenses and defenses, so the players like going against each other a little better.’’

Is it a little bit of an advantage, to practice against yourself, which is something you don’t get to do all that often?

‘’They (Tennessee) get the same thing. I told the players. It’s like, our offense is not exactly like theirs, and our defense is not exactly like theirs. But there are similarities. So with that, you get some overlap, you’re able to run some plays that both teams run. We practice against each other every week anyway, so we see a lot of the same plays most of the time. But it does allow for you to go a little more of what I call ‘good on good’ and give the guys more competitive reps. But they’re in the same situation.’’

Four games into the season, what do you know about your team that you didn’t at the start of the year?

‘’That they’re resilient, that they respond. Our days that haven’t been great at practice, they’ve responded well to. And that’s usually the first sign that they’re the right kind of guys. And then adversity strikes, and they respond to that. We’re not easy on ‘em out there, we’re tough on ‘em. They embrace it. The older guys kind of lead with a message of ‘they’re pushing you because they want you to be great.’ And that’s usually the sign of a good team that can handle, number 1, adversity, and number 2, tough coaching.’’

What’s the next step for them now?

‘’I want to see them grow. I want us to improve. I mean, there are a lot of teams that will hit Game 5, 6 or 7 and they plateau. The teams that are best continue to get better. I don’t know what this team’s going to do in Games 5, 6 or 7; we’ve got to see. But I want to see them continue to grow and improve.’’

On the defensive side of the ball, what areas do you think they have improved, and where do you hope to see more improvement?

‘’You’re always trying to get better on defense. You’re trying to create ways to make negative plays, have new wrinkles, allow the guys to play fast, play more players. We’re trying to improve on our tackling. It’s not something we’ve been satisfied with. We get out of position and reach a lot of times. We’re not forcing the number of turnovers that we need to force in order to be a top defense. So there are a lot of things that we’re looking to improve on defensively. And our guys are pushing each day, trying to get better.’’

How has (punter) Jake Camarda responded during the open date, and are you sticking with him this week?

‘’Jake’s done a good job. He’s responded well. He continues to work really hard. We have punt period, when we measure his height, his distance, his hang, his direction kicking, how well he’s doing that. He gets lots of shots at it, as well as the other guys. We’ve rolled other guys in there with the ones, and we’ll see how it goes on Saturday.’’

Were you able to see Ohio State or Washington last weekend, with the two former Georgia quarterbacks playing?

‘’I watched the SEC games. I saw highlights of both those games. I watched most of the SEC games, which most of those were at night. (Regarding the two former UGA QBs) I’ll be honest with you. I haven’t seen them much. My focus is on Tennessee right now. I’m grinding on Tennessee.’’

Is there much difference in the two Tennessee quarterbacks and how you would defend them?

‘’There are several differences. One’s played a lot of ball and one hasn’t played as much. When you start looking at those two combinations, there are a lot of things. I mean, they might even have (WR) Jauan Jennings at quarterback. So there may be a lot of guys at quarterback.’’

Thoughts on the Fair Play to Pay Act that was passed Monday in California?

‘’I’m going to defer to the SEC on that. Our commissioner does a great job leading us in the right direction, and our president’s done a great job of being on the (NCAA) committee on name, image and likeness. They’ll be looking at all the different angles of it, seeing how it impacts college football.’’

Do you think it makes a team dangerous when their backs are to the wall, almost desperate for something good to happen?

‘’I think every team’s dangerous. When I watch college football every Saturday, every team is dangerous. You’re dealing with 18- to 22-year-olds, whose minds are not where your mind is. My mind is there 98 percent of the time, OK? Their mind is there probably five to 10 percent of the time. Every team is dangerous, starting with Tennessee.’’

You’ve said that you want Trey Hill to “strain a little longer” on the field…

‘’I want everybody to strain harder and longer. I want Jordan Davis to straight harder and longer. I want Trey Hill to. (What exactly does that mean?) When you strain on a play, when you block a guy, I want you to do it longer and harder. So, if you do it for four seconds, I want you to do it for five or six seconds. If you do it for seven, I want you to do it for eight or nine. I want you to do it until the echo of the whistle. That’s harder and longer, and that’s for every player on our team, not just Trey Hill. Jake Fromm? I want him to strain harder and longer to make it perfect.’’

Back to Trey Hill, you said he had high snaps when he first transitioned to center. How has he progressed?

‘’He still has high ones in practice. He has thousands of snaps out there. I don’t think you can be a thousand for a thousand. So he has to continue to improve on his snaps, and the pace of his snaps. But (knuckles rapping on dais) he’s done a good job so far. And to go into the environment he went into at Kentucky (last season), I thought it was an incredible job. But he needs to grow and continue to get better. He’s a guy, he’ll tell you. He needs fire and motivation under him because it’s come easy for him. He’s very talented, he’s athletic. Both his brothers will tell you. His dad will tell you. He needs a fire lit under him to motivate him sometimes because he’s athletic.’’

What was your recruiting pitch to (Knoxville native) Cade Mays?

‘’Opportunity. He’s a super talented guy that plays the game the right way, with toughness and passion. He had an opportunity. We were low on linemen and he knew he could come in and help us. Coach Pittman had a great relationship with him and he chose to come, obviously. The sell was the education at Georgia and the opportunity to play early.’’

Monty Rice, Junior, Inside Linebacker 

On the defense after bye week…

“We’re in a good spot but we can always continue to get better. There’s a lot of stuff that we can fix and if we can fix those things and keep getting better we can do some really good things.”

On the strengths and weaknesses of the defense…

“Our biggest strength is obviously the amount of people we have that can come in and play at the level we play at. The biggest weakness is that we need to communicate better and make sure everyone is on the same page.”

On the depth at the linebacker position…

“I think we’re set up really well. There are lots of people that can play at the linebacker position, Tae Crowder, Nakobe Dean, Channing Tindall. The younger guys are learning really fast so we have a lot of people ready to play.”

Mark Webb, Junior, Defensive Back

On what he remembers about Tennessee last year and what he expects from UT this weekend...

“It was a very physical game. That’s what I know for sure. Last year, we knew what we were getting ourselves into. This year, we know what we’re getting ourselves into again, we just know the feel of the game."

On what some of the defense’s strengths are…

"We’re starting to really come together and understand a lot of things about our defense every day that we may not have seen before. We’re starting to get to the ball more, something we try to hone in on. We’re trying to get more takeaways, something we haven’t really done. We try and get more and more every week. I feel like we haven’t arrived, but we kind of just started. We’ve still got a long way to go, a lot of thing to improve on."

On what it’s like going up against Dominick Blaylock [Fr. | Wr.] in practice, and what’s impressed him about the freshman...

"He’s very fast. He has a great understanding of the game. He really knows where to be, like passing concepts. He always knows where to be, so if you think you’ve got him guarded, he just moves somewhere else."