Georgia head coach Kirby Smart gives an interview to a reporter after the conclusion of the second half of Georgia’s home opener against Murray State University in Sanford Stadium on Saturday, Sep. 7, 2019, in Athens, Georgia. The Bulldogs won 63-17. (Photo/Jason Born)

Kirby Smart met with the media on Monday ahead of Georgia’s game on Saturday against Arkansas State. He discussed Georgia’s rushing game and the strategies the team uses to prevent turnovers. He also provided injury updates on Isaiah Wilson, DJ Daniel and Julian Rochester.

Georgia’s rushing tradition

Reputations can be difficult to shake. Lucky for Georgia, its rushing attack is widely perceived in a positive light. ESPN didn’t include the Bulldogs in its top 10 list of “Running Back U” in July, but running back recruits are still paying attention to Georgia.

If junior D’Andre Swift leaves for the NFL after this season, Georgia will still have plenty of replacement options. James Cook will have two years of eligibility remaining and Zamir White and Kenny McIntosh have three years left. Kendall Milton, a five-star running back in the Class of 2020, is committed to the Bulldogs. Zach Evans, the No. 1 overall running back in the same class, is also considering coming to Georgia.

“I think the product of NFL players and running backs that we have has helped us recruit,” Smart said. “I think the No. 1 thing guys look for is: Will I get an opportunity, will I grow and develop, will they teach me a skillset that will allow me to play in the NFL? It’s more than just carrying the ball. Backs in the NFL, nowadays there’s less and less of that. They don’t carry the ball much. They catch it, and they play on special teams.”

As far as Georgia’s current crop of running backs, Smart consistently praises the team’s top four backs, Swift, Brian Herrien, Cook and White. Among all those players, Cook can sometimes be overlooked.

“[Cook is] very versatile,” Smart said. “He can line up in the backfield and run his own plays, he can get downhill power, he can bounce out to the outside, he can be a slot receiver, he can be a rocket guy and he can block. He does a lot of things. One of his best redeeming qualities is his toughness.”

Reducing turnovers

Against Murray State on Sept. 7, graduate transfer tight end Eli Wolf fumbled the ball away and backup quarterback Stetson Bennett threw an interception early in the second half.

Smart said turnovers can be unavoidable because the defender sometimes can just make a good play.

“They are part of the game,” Smart said. “[But] how do you prevent them? You emphasize it. You talk about ball security, you do everything you can to create those environments.”

On the other side of the ball, Georgia forced two turnovers against Murray State. Smart said the team has drills in practice where it works on forcing turnovers.

Injury updates

Smart said he doesn’t know when right tackle Isaiah Wilson will return from his leg injury. He is no longer in a boot, Smart said.

“He might be ready this week, I have no clue,” he said.

Smart also provided updates on junior transfer cornerback DJ Daniel and senior defensive lineman Julian Rochester. Daniel missed the Murray State game with a hamstring injury, while Rochester is fully cleared but hasn’t played in a game yet.

“[Rochester has] got to go out and earn playing time,” Smart said. “I don’t know if he’s 100% confident in himself right now."

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