ATHENS — Saturday at Sanford Stadium, you’ll see Georgia conduct what amounts to a practice game. 1s vs. 1s, 2s vs. 2s, some 2-minute situations, then turn loose the backups. That’s the way coach Kirby Smart likes it.
“Organized, competitive, hopefully a close game,” Smart said this week. “That’s what I’m looking for, not who we’re throwing the ball to in the end zone kind of stuff.”
That last sentence was a thinly veiled reference to South Carolina’s spring game last month, where coach Will Muschamp had a quarterback throw a pass to Steve Spurrier, clandestinely posted up in the end zone.
He dropped it.
Almost, HBC 😂 pic.twitter.com/rotSaC3VgR
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) March 31, 2018
You’ll see no such gimmicks from the Bulldogs at G-Day on Saturday, at least we’re left to think. Smart’s comments would have us believe it’ll be all work and evaluation this afternoon.
“I want to evaluate the players,” Smart said. “I want them to play in a big-time atmosphere. I think the more butterflies they have now the less butterflies they have the next time. So we’ve got a lot of guys who will be playing not for the first time but they’ll be playing significant roles for the first time. So the more experience they get the better. That’s my focus; that’s my intent. Now I want it to be enjoyable, I want it to be entertaining. I want the fans to want to come back. [But] I want to put out a good product.”
I’ve seen and covered lots of spring intrasquad games and I’m seen them conducted all sorts of different ways. Back in the day, the big tradition was to have “celebrities” coach the respective team. Invariably each would have some kind of elaborate trick play to unveil.
There was even a time when Georgia held a Lettermen vs. Team spring game. If I’m not mistaken, quarterback Preston Jones might’ve suffered an injury back in the 1980s when an alum accidentally fell into his legs as he rushed.
Nowadays, they’re mostly serious affairs where coaches are trying to determine a pecking order for fall camp. From that standpoint, these games are particularly important for the redshirts and backups from a year ago, and for the early enrollees, of course. The Bulldogs have nine, only seven of which you’ll see Saturday because 5-star running back Zamir White and cornerback Divaad Wilson are out with knee injuries.
“I would say it’s more important for them because we haven’t seen them,” Smart said of the early enrollees. “Every other kid we’ve seen at least dress out and go out there and be ready to play. Not all of our guys played last year but they had to go out there and prepare for it. These kids have not. We’re going to see what is their response. Do they go out there and … start doing their own thing or can they play within the system, make good decisions, execute and play at a high level?”
But it’s still a proceeding that coaches have to be careful with. You certainly don’t want to lose your star tailback to a knee injury or have a marquee inside linebacker break a collarbone in a spring game. You’ll be counting on those guys come September and October.
For that reason, I don’t think you’ll see tailback D’Andre Swift (groin) at all and much at all of receiver Terry Godwin (groin, knee). Sure, we all want a sneak peek at what’s to come in the fall, but we probably saw enough of those guys last fall to satisfy our appetites.
Of course, for fans it’s not all about football. For many, it’s just a chance to get back to campus and enjoy the tailgate and stadium experiences they so long for every fall.
You’ll notice some differences, but Sanford Stadium looks remarkably like it does in the fall. The field is in excellent shape and is painted to the nines. That’s a remarkable feat considering a giant crane has been on the south side most of the year.
To that end, they had to remove the south side hedges. They’d been replanted and you wouldn’t know any difference other than they’re not as tall and full as usual. But they cut them way back this time of year anyway.
And, of course, the west end remains a construction zone. The scoreboard is fully functional and we’re told will wow us inside the stadium. But it is completely encompassed in scaffolding on the Sanford Bridge side, and the stadium-side sidewalk is closed.
But you’re just starting to be able to see the concept of the Bulldogs locker room and recruiting lounge and the new entrance plaza area that’s been created as a result.
So there’s much to see and do Saturday. Georgia officials are encouraging folks to get here early — gates open at 1 p.m. — and to squeeze in tight to your neighbors as it’s general admission. The goal is to put about 82,000 butts in the seats to fulfill Smart’s request to pack it out.
I’ll be checking out the scene Saturday from my usual spot in Seat 100 of the Dan Magill Press Box. Brandon Adams and Jeff Sentell are all over town greeting fans and you’ll be able to hear from us on Facebook before kickoff. Adams and Sentell also will have their postgame show from the UGA Bookstore along with special guest analyst Jeb Blazevich, so be sure not to miss that.
See y’all Between the Hedges!