THEY SAID IT
Following are comments from Georgia coaches and players at Tuesday’s weekly news conference previewing Saturday’s game between the No. 10-ranked Bulldogs (6-1, 4-1 SEC) and the No. 2-ranked Florida Gators (7-0, 6-0) at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.
COACH MARK RICHT
Opening statement . . .
“It’s Georgia-Florida. Looking forward to going to Jacksonville. It’s a big game for us and for them to decide who is going to take the lead in the SEC East. That’s what’s at stake. They’re an outstanding football team, obviously. They’re undefeated and No. 2 in the BCS and really have earned it the hard way, starting out the season at A&M and at Tennessee – two very tough places to play to start the season. I believe they got behind in both games and came back and won both. That kind of set the tone for their season. They’ve played outstanding defense. They are a very solid running football team, and their special teams have been off the chain, and that’s been their recipe for victory. They play tough, hard-nosed football and don’t turn the ball over much. They are No. 9 in the country in the turnover ratio, so that’s been their formula for success. Coach (Will) Muschamp has done a great job in year two.”
On Georgia’s running game the last two games . . .
“The defenses are definitely trying to gear to stop us in the running game on first and second down especially, maybe a little bit more. We were getting a lot more two-safety looks and a lot more one-safety looks on the early downs rushing the ball. We still need to run the ball better than we have been. Of course to say that against one of the best rush defenses in America, you may run for less yards than you are averaging and still have a heck of a day running the ball when you’re rushing the ball against a team like Florida. We definitely don’t want to abort the run by any means. We have to make sure that we run it well and run it to the point where they have some respect for it and it helps you reduce yardage on third down and helps you have some decent play action opportunities as well.”
On what it will take to beat the mighty Gators . .
“First of all, you’ve got to be just very fundamentally sound. We’ve got to block well and tackle well. We’ve got to be disciplined in our gaps and assignments, and we’ve got to do a good job of protecting the football. We can’t allow them to continue the trend of winning the turnover ratio. If they win that battle, it’s going to be tough to win the game. It’s been historically true in this match-up especially, so we’ve got to do a god job of that and do what we do best. We need to execute well. It’s certainly going to be a game that’s going to take one of our better efforts to have a chance to win it.”
On the importance of QB Aaron Murray’s play in this game . . .
“I think just about everybody’s quarterback has to play pretty good to win a game like this, but Aaron in particular. He’s just been so valuable to us to get us into the right play as many times as possible in games. We do give him options at the line of scrimmage to try to give us the best chance of success, so that’s huge for him, and I think that the way he studies the game and just historically he’s done a very good job of that at this point in his career. I think that he’s got to do a good job of just making decisions back there when he drops back and reads coverage. He’s got to stay with his progression and not try to go off the beaten path in any way. You know, there’s going to be some situations with a defense like this that somebody’s not going to be open or the protection may not be as good as you want, but how are you going to manage that? Are you going to manage it by throwing it away and not taking a sack, or do you have to take a sack, or are you going to wrap it up where the ball doesn’t come out? That’s really what it comes down to.”
On the possibility of assigning a special teams coordinator in the off season . . . .
“First of all, you can assign somebody within your staff to do it, or if you don’t, that means that if there’s no attrition, you’re going to fire somebody to hire a special teams coordinator. So, I don’t know if I’m interested in doing that, but I think one thing that I can do as head coach is at least spend time learning the kicking and punting fundamentals well enough to be their coach. Which right this minute I wouldn’t say that I have enough expertise to do that, but I think this off season it would be wise for me to do something like that because I am freed up enough to do that, and if that’s my contribution to special teams in the future, I think it’d be valuable. But we’ve had some pretty good punters and kickers over the years since I’ve been here. We’re not doing anything any differently than we’ve done before really. But,
On the importance of special teams play in this game . . .
“They (Florida) have done a very good job on their special teams, and there’s no doubt about that. But there are some people in the country who do a good on special teams and need a special teams coach, and there’s some that do it and split the responsibilities. Some people say they have a special teams coordinator, but he may just be coordinating the practice time, or he may be coordinating the meeting time. So there are a lot of people who have a special teams coordinator and he’s coordinating what happens, but he doesn’t necessarily coach every single team on every single kick. There are a lot of people that are still dividing up responsibilities, but they (Florida) are certainly outstanding at it this year.”
On Florida’s improvement from last year to this year . . .
“They played a lot of young guys last year. When you have eight returning starters on offense and nine returning starters on defense, that’s a lot of playing time. They got a lot of valuable experience and another year within Coach Muschamp’s way of doing things and strength and conditioning. So, they’re one year more experienced and one year just bigger, stronger and faster. We talked about this before, but year two in a lot of coaches’ tenures, there is a lot more of a big jump from year one to year two. Everybody has bought in and everybody understands what the coaches are looking for. In this particular case, they did play a very young football team last year, and there aren’t a lot of players that they lost.”
On the performance of the defense this season . . .
“We want to play championship defense, there’s no doubt about that. Part of that is being able to stop the run or at least slow it down and force people into some situations where they’ve got to throw the football and force them into situations where they can’t just comfortably do what they do. Whatever they do, we have to find out what they do and make them do something different, and we just haven’t been able to do that enough. So that’s been frustrating for everybody.”
On Jarvis Jones . . .
“He practiced yesterday, and we think he will be able to play in the game.”
On freshman offensive tackle John Theus . . .
“The thing about John now is that he’s played for seven games. That’s a lot of plays and a lot of them in the SEC, so he’s not quite just a pure rookie anymore. He’s been trying to protect some pretty good football players, so he just has a better gauge of what it’s all about. But he’s still a rookie. One year from now, he’ll be stronger and more experienced, and he’ll have a little bit more confidence in knowing what’s coming at him. So he’ll certainly be a better player a year from now than he is today but he’s a better player today than he was a month ago or six weeks ago.”
On motivation the team for this week’s game . . .
“Let’s think about it. Number one, we’re playing Florida. Number two, we’re playing for a shot to go to Atlanta. That’s huge. Even if we weren’t playing for that opportunity, it’s still a big game and a game that those guys like to play. It’s a game that there’s just so much tradition to it. People know about this game across the country, and it’s a game that people look forward to. People say it’s one of the better rivalry games in the country year after year, so players see that growing up in high school and they want to be part of that game.”
On Florida’s offensive changes under new coordinator Brent Pease . . .
“I think knowing that they have some veteran offensive lineman, and that (their running back Mike) Gillislee and their quarterback have some great run in them, I think they’ll diversify more in their passing game. But right now, by playing great specials, defense, and running the ball well without turning it over, it’s a very good formula for victory. It’s worked for them. I think Coach (Pease) is a very smart coach, and he understands as a coordinator that it’s not always what you might like to do best, but it’s what your players can do best. That’s what you have to evaluate year in and year out and play to the strengths of your personnel.”
QUARTERBACK AARON MURRAY
On keys to beating Florida . . .
“These games really have been decided by turnovers. So we have to do a good job offensively of making sure we protect the ball when we’re running and I do a good job of not carelessly throwing the ball for interceptions. But you can’t go into the game thinking about that too much. You have to go in there and react and have fun. If you are timid or you are scared as a quarterback making a throw, that’s when you’re going to be inaccurate and not give your guys a chance to make a play. So you have to go in there and know that and trust your fundamentals and trust everything you’ve done all week in practice and let it loose some game time.”
On difficulties of late running the football . . .
“We’re not going everything we can do. I think we’ve made some improvements. As an offense we need to get better in the running game because we do want to be balanced. We want to be balanced when it comes to running and passing and being able to use the play-action. We don’t want to get away from that. So we always want to establish the run. The key against Florida is establishing the running game early.”
On trying to win a ’signature game’ on the road . . .
“I just ignore it. I don’t even think about it really. It’s a team game. I’m not playing Florida or any top team myself. I’ve just got to go out there and execute and have fun and play ball. . . . I don’t care if they’re No. 2 or what. I just think it would be satisfying if we could go out there and win this game to be able to get to Atlanta. That’s the only I’m really worried about it.”
Reaction to Shawn Williams’ comments and what, if any, effect it might have in the locker room . . .
“I don’t think anyone is going to get upset at him or there will be a fight going on at practice today or anythng like that. We know we need to play harder, not just on defense, but everywhere. Offense, defense, special teams, all three facets. If we want to win this week we’ve got to play hard and be ready to go.”
LINEBACKER AMARLO HERRERA
On preparing for Florida . . .
“We’re working hard and getting after it in practice this week. We have more hitting and full contact periods every day, and we have more live periods for us to practice game time situations.”
On the atmosphere in the locker room . . .
“We’re all pumped up. It’s now or never for us. We have to get everything together and play a complete game for this week and for the rest of the season or else we won’t be able to accomplish our goals.”
On stopping the run against Florida . . .
“They’re a great rushing team. Obviously we’re going to have to stop the run, and we’re going to try and make them do what they don’t do a lot of, which is pass the ball. We’re going to try and give them a longer field. Anytime you give a team a longer field to work with, it’s harder to score. We have to do a better job of containing the quarterback and getting pressure on him.”
LINEBACKER CHRISTIAN ROBINSON
On preparing for Florida . . .
“Today is going to be a physical practice. We’re going to have a few extra periods of first team defense vs. first team offense. It’s going to be a very physical game and if we want to win we have to prepare that way. Emphasis will be on first and second down situations; that’s where they’re most successful. We want to stop the run and make them throw deep and try and be in the right place at the right time.”
On containing Florida QB Jeff Driskel . . .
“He’s definitely a running quarterback. He’s the second leading rusher on the team so he’s definitely a threat. It’s going to be all about containing him and taking away running lanes. We want to pressure him to make sure he feels like he doesn’t have time to find lanes and if we can do that then that will be a big help for us.”
On the atmosphere of the locker room…
“It’s the biggest game of the year for us so far, at this point. We have to try and keep our emotions in check because all of the fans are already down there getting ready for the game and we really have to just focus on what we have to do. We want to try and keep everybody positive because if we go in at halftime and things aren’t going the way you want them to, you have to be able to adjust and come back out and win the game.”