January 10, 2022
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Lucas Oil Stadium
Postgame Press Conference
Georgia 33, Alabama 18
KIRBY SMART: Well, I would open with a lot of respect for the Alabama football team, the Alabama football program. I have an immense amount of respect for them, and they fought and battled and lost one of their best players in the game and continued to battle.
A lot of respect for Coach Saban, and he was very complimentary after the game.
But just Dawg Nation showing up here, the tremendous belief in this program, of our fan base. I mean, everywhere we went in Indianapolis we saw our people. Somebody told me it would be 60-40; it felt like 70-30.
I just hope they remember this feeling and understand they don't need to get spoiled, they need to stay hungry like these players.
Just so proud of our players. Somebody told me you're not playing for the 41 years that we haven't won a national title, you're playing for the men in the room, and that really touched me, because that's what it was all about was those guys in the room.
Q. I heard your reference there to some property destroyed in Indy tonight, which obviously goes back to Larry Munson. Can you talk about helping the fans, kind of referring to the fans? You just talked about how much you want to do it for the men in the locker room. Is there some satisfaction in doing that for these fans who followed this program for all those 41 years?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah. There's a lot of satisfaction doing that for them, but ultimately it's those guys in the room, the blood, sweat, and tears, and 200 something workouts and 160 something practices. I appreciate them so much.
Our support has been tremendous. When we go on the road, our fans have been absolutely incredible. I think about Lawrence Smith who's sitting there, I think about hugging Vince Dooley's neck after the game and I'm in tears and he's in tears. I got off the elevator the other night and I thought it was a sign when the elevator opened on the 15th floor and Vince Dooley was sitting on a bench locked out of his room. I thought, God put him there for me to see him the night before his game, and he was waiting on his key to come up to his room.
I just knew that meant something. It was a special, special win. It wouldn't have happened without these two guys sitting next to me and those men in that locker room. Just incredible, incredible connection and toughness. That was a tough game.
Q. What things did you concentrate on changing and improving from December to now against Alabama?
KIRBY SMART: Well, we practiced a lot more man-to-man. Lewis can tell you we probably simplified some things. Made it a little easier. Didn't want 1 to beat us, and we had some poor plays on him where we left him open.
But we wanted to affect Bryce, and we felt like if we could get off the field on 3rd down we'd be fresher and we'd have a chance to rush better. I thought Coach Lanning, Tray Scott, and Schumann did a tremendous job putting the plan together, but the players carried it out. We really focused on playing man-to-man and doing it better than they did it.
It was no scheme trick or anything else. These guys bought into that.
Q. If someone had told you five years ago that Stetson Bennett would lead you to a National Championship on offense, what would you have thought?
KIRBY SMART: I'd have thought, hell yeah, we won a National Championship. I'd have been pumped. Five years ago he was delivering passes like Baker Mayfield against the scout team. There's a lot of guys that saw him on that scout team make plays with his feet, his arm whip and decision making, and we were very impressed.
But again, to think that it would come this far from that National Championship he was a part of there to this one, man, what a story.
There's so many guys on this team that -- I want to single him out. William Poole, guys, this guy made a lot of plays tonight on the ball and he was not even playing three, four weeks ago. Jalen Carter, there's a lot of guys -- A. D. Mitchell, a lot of guys made plays. That's what this team has been, a collective group of people stepping up when they're needed.
Q. Stetson, you guys had fallen behind 18-12 and you responded so quickly. Can you talk about that, four plays, 75-yard drive and just the aggression you attacked Alabama with?
STETSON BENNETT: Yeah, I mean, I knew that once I fumbled the ball I was not going to be the reason we lost this game. Coach Monk dialed up awesome play action. We had been running the ball a lot, and I think we went three straight play action and then one deep ball, then we got them to jump offsides because they'd been timing up the snap a lot.
But it's the thing that Coach Smart and the whole team has been preaching all year, resiliency, toughness, composure, connection.
I knew that those guys beside me had my back, and I had their back, too.
Q. Coach Smart, you talk often about this team, their resiliency and (indiscernible) just the third quarter there, they get the ball at the 20-yard line, they get a field goal but you find a way to come back.
KIRBY SMART: I'm sorry, I know you asked about resiliency and coming back. I thought you asked about the field goal, but I couldn't hear you.
Q. I was just asking about the third quarter, Stetson fumbles the ball, they get a field goal, but you bounce back. Talk about the resiliency you showed with that.
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, I guess you're saying after the fumble we did hold them to a field goal? I'm getting confused on the drive.
Our red zone defense has been incredible all year. I can't tell you how many times this guy has lined up and had to blitz, play somebody in man-to-man. We practice red zone defense a lot, don't we, and we were No. 1 in the country or maybe 2 or 3 in red zone defense because we've got some grown men up front that don't let you run it, we force you to throw it, and then we stop you throwing it.
Those red zone stops now, there were multiple times we had huge stops in the red zone, and our defensive staff did a tremendous job. We felt really confident going into the game that if we wouldn't give up explosives from 50 and 60, we get them tackled, even Kelee's play, he runs a guy down and tackles him, we are going to stop him in the red area, because they can't run it. They are going to have to throw it because they can't run it with our front in there.
Q. Wanted to ask about Jalen Carter. He makes the blocked field goal and then comes in and plays offense. What does it say that you have guys who are multipositional and able to do so much for this team?
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, it's just a credit to the toughness and really tenacity they have. I took him off kickoff returns. I wanted to be fresh rush passer and he was pissed at me. I thought he was going to beat me up over there when I told him he couldn't go on kickoff return, because he wanted to go on kickoff return. He had been playing defensive line, he had blocked the field goal, played on offense, and played fullback.
So he's a talented player, and the sky's the limit for him. He's got to figure out what his ceiling is and make sure he plays with great effort all the time.
Q. Stetson, I really wanted to know, all season long there's been people in your ear, maybe not in your flip phone but in your ear about how you shouldn't be a starting quarterback or how maybe this shouldn't be the season. I know it's meant a lot to have Kirby stand by you all season, but when you get to that point of both the fumble, the emotion that you feel there, you could see your face on the sideline, to then the tears that happened a little bit later during that pick six, was that sequence of events, did it feel cathartic or just emotionally where was your head at as you were going through that last 10 minutes of the game?
STETSON BENNETT: The fumble was not cathartic. The fumble, that was just football. There was no -- I put my head down and say, That's not going to be how we lose this game.
I mean, AD went up and made it. He ran a great route. He went up. Jermaine on the bench route -- we had ran that play in practice probably five or six times; we never (indiscernible) the bench route, because we were trying to hit the skinny route on the right.
And just the fact that Jermaine ran it, one, like he did, Kenny finishing his catch over there on the left, holding up in protection, just the whole drive, everybody doing their job, that's what this football team is.
That's what Lewis does every day for the defense as the leader over there. I love these guys.
Then the tears afterwards, that just hit me. I hadn't cried in, I don't know, years, but that just came over me. That's what -- when you put as much time as we do into this thing, blood, sweat, tears, it means something.
Q. For both players, how do you deal with the knowledge now that you will be regarded forever in a special place in Georgia history and among Georgia fans, much like the 1980 team?
LEWIS CINE: Well, for one, it's a great honor, of course, what the coaches through recruiting and everything have done for the program, and the goal is moving forward to stay hungry and not get complacent. That's the worst thing you can possibly do is get complacent.
Our goal is to continue on being -- chasing greatness in terms of how we practice, the things we do. The players, even younger, older guys, being great leaders.
I would say moving forward that's just -- we've just got to continue everything we did this year and just up it a level.
Q. Kirby, can you describe your emotions? That interception on the pick six happened pretty close to you on the sideline. Describe your emotions as you were watching it and then running down the sideline sort of chasing after Kelee; what was going through your mind there?
KIRBY SMART: The sad thing is I was screaming to get down, and that was the wrong play there. I saw the receiver coming behind him, and pessimistic thought or whatever, I was worried about the guy stripping the ball from behind.
Then I realized 11 wasn't going to catch Kelee. And once I realized check1 wasn't going to catch Kelee, I didn't want to get a holding call on Channing, and all I could think about was get down, get down, we can win this game, run the clock out.
If they don't have timeouts there, the play is to get down. But they did have three time-outs, so the probably could have got the ball back. So going up two scores was the right move, and probably a little prematurely I felt like we had won the National Championship, but we still had to get a stop because they could score, two point and get an onside. I was a little concerned with that.
It was ironic because the ball was in the air. All we've done this year is throw balls to our DBs. You can ask Lewis. We've thrown millions of balls because of playing the ball in the air, and when that ball was in the air I said, he's going to catch this thing and we're going to win this game, and he did.
Q. Stetson, a couple weeks ago in Athens you spoke about how much Georgia football means to so many people. You said you almost don't like to think about it because it becomes a little bit overwhelming. I'm wondering if you can articulate the feeling of delivering this type of special joy to so many really millions of people across the state by winning tonight.
STETSON BENNETT: Well, I mean, first of all, it was the defense who kept us in this game. While we were stumbling over our own feet the entire first half and then starting out in the second half. They won this game for us. We executed a few drives. We could have done so much better.
But we got the job done whenever we needed to.
It hadn't hit me yet. I guess it hit me a little bit on the sideline. But no, I can't articulate it. I'm not that smart.
KIRBY SMART: He is.
STETSON BENNETT: But it felt great.
Q. I imagine you envisioned this kind of night for the program. How did the reality that you just experienced out there postgame feel in terms of you mentioned hugging Vince and you're probably worn out by all the hugs you had, but I imagine it will be like that for a while.
KIRBY SMART: Yeah, you know, the feelings inside, the emotion I have for these players and these young men, I'm looking over here at these young men, J.D. and James and these guys waiting to go, I've never been around a group of players that really wanted it so bad and wouldn't be denied.
Remember, a lot of these guys decided to come back and they bought in, and we changed a lot of off-season things. We cut out the indoor and we went to the stadium. We did a lot of things. The toughness, brought a lot more toughness back.
I just can't say enough about the leaders. I'm so happy for the Georgia people. I'm happy for the people that get this for so many years they've been without it.
But I told the guys in the locker room, just take a picture of this, because I think back to the '80 championship picture and seeing all those players and the Frank Walkers and the Herschel Walkers and all these people that have reached out and said things. Our guys have accomplished that, something special, and as they say, they've become legendary, and I want that for them.
It's not for me, and I know it's for the Georgia people and all that, but it's really for these guys that have given so much, and I certainly appreciate what they've done.
Q. Stetson, I know that you as a Georgia guy for all your life, you kind of played it off that you're a football player now, not a fan. But how will you celebrate this when you get back to Athens and what's the first thing you're looking forward to doing?
STETSON BENNETT: Well, I think we might celebrate a little bit tonight here in Indy first.
KIRBY SMART: If we can ever get out of here.
STETSON BENNETT: But I haven't seen my family yet. I just want to go hug their -- they're the ones who have been in my corner the entire time, always supported me. That's what I'm looking forward to right now.
Q. Stetson, I wondered if you could go back to the start of the drive, the one that put you up eight before the pick six, and what your thought process was there with a one-point lead, what you were hoping to get accomplished there, how you hoped to accomplish it.
STETSON BENNETT: Well, I think we had, what, six minutes left. So the goal was to score a touchdown because in our minds, we figured they were going to go down and score, and we were preparing for that. We didn't think one point was enough.
But it was also to bleed the clock out while we're doing it. You saw our offensive line. We mashed on them on that drive. Coach Smart is over there doing this. We played Georgia football that drive. Running backs ran hard. We weren't going to be stopped on that drive I don't think. It felt great handing the ball off and watching those dudes lead us down the field.
KIRBY SMART: I want to close with this. I want to tell all you guys, I appreciate the coverage you've given us. I know at times you get frustrated, but we appreciate what you guys do. It's a blessing to be the head coach at University of Georgia, and the men on this team, a lot of them juniors and seniors, will be remembered for a long time. This is a special group.
Give them their due when you start talking about Jordan Davis, Zamir White, Nakobe Dean, James Cook, a special group that will be remembered for a long time. You know what, on that sideline tonight, I saw Richard LeCounte, D'Andre Swift, Nick Chubb came over to me. That was the group that was crying in the locker room, and this group made it right for them. Thank you guys, and go Dawgs.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports