ATHENS — I don’t say something like this often so consider this a special day, or at least inordinate — I’m looking forward to Georgia’s G-Day game.
Generally, I’m not a big fan of spring games. I’ve always thought it’d be great if they did like the NFL in preseason camps and allowed regional teams that don’t play each other in the regular season to get together for a “friendly” in April. How awesome would a little spring tilt between Clemson and Georgia be? Coaches could have an agreement about how much they play the first, second and third units; schools could sell tickets and concessions and donate proceeds to worthy charities; and fans would flock to watch.
But that’s La-La Land. Not going to happen. So we’re left with the tried-and-true tradition of the color-coded intrasquad game. You know, Red vs. Black, Crimson vs. White, Blue vs. Orange, etc.
One change that deserves a tip of the cap to coach Kirby Smart and his young regime is that Georgia’s Red & Black theme this year will be truly a red-clad team versus a black-clad team. It always annoyed me in the past when the red team would be wearing red jerseys and the black team would be wearing white jerseys. Invariably, the postgame stat sheet would list the teams as Red and White and the on-field officials would refer to the one side as “White Team.” This year, they’re breaking out the rarely used and sometimes-controversial black jerseys. (Will it still be a jinx if the black team loses?)
But I digress. That’s not why I’m eyeing this year’s game with more anticipation than usual. For once, I’m hoping it provides some clarity.
Now it’s not my intention to use this space to complain about media access. Personally, I think fans should be rooting for us correspondents to be able to see as much of practice as possible. That is what we’re supposed to be, after all, the eyes and ears for our readership, which are generally fans of the team. But the reality is we haven’t actually seen much in the way of meaningful practice time this spring.
One day, back at the end of Week 1, Smart did allow us 30 minutes of observation time during the competitive portion of practice (when the Bulldogs scrimmage 11-on-11). But more often it has been like what we got this past Saturday at Sanford Stadium — eight minutes of observation time during position drills. All we can really ascertain during such periods is who is out there, who’s not, who’s injured and maybe a brief glimpse of the depth chart pecking order, at least for that slice of time.
But as for generating a reasonably objective judgment about how Such-and-Such is faring or how So-and-So is doing, there is simply not much to go on. I probably get asked more than anything, “how are the quarterbacks looking?” and is “Jake Fromm giving Jacob Eason a run for his money?” The truth is, beyond what I see from them during pass-skeleton drills — which is they both look pretty good throwing the ball to uncovered receivers — I can’t say for certain.
They don’t even share scrimmage statistics with us anymore, even though members of UGA’s sports communication staff are there recording them for the coaching staff. So we’re left to tell you what Kirby says he saw, which I shared this past Saturday. But one can never be sure how much of what the coach tells us is motivationally tinged.
In other words, is Fromm really pushing Eason that much at quarterback, or is he just trying to keep competitive pressure on the incumbent starter? Is Georgia’s defense actually being complacent or is Smart trying to make sure what should be a very talented unit in 2017 doesn’t get a big head?
As always, the truth is probably somewhere in between. Of course, like all journalists, we have sources that try to keep us in the loop as far as what actually transpired. But again, that’s just another set of lenses through which the truth is being filtered.
Based on some of that information, indications are that the offense genuinely outperformed the defense in the first scrimmage at Sanford Stadium this past Saturday. But it also sounds like the gap between Eason and Fromm may be a little more pronounced than Smart would have us believe. Word is that Eason was extremely sharp in the actual 11-on-11 scrimmage work while Fromm struggled a little more. And that’s probably to be expected, given the disparity in experience.
Meanwhile, sophomore Brian Herrien had a good day running the football (how good we can’t be sure without stats). But it also should be noted that Nick Chubb and Sony Michel barely broke a sweat in terms of the amount of actual work they got.
It sounds like there might have been some legitimate concerns defensively on this day in particular. The positive is Georgia’s revamped offensive line is getting some push. The negative is the Bulldogs’ front seven isn’t dominating like it ought to. That’s something that should improve naturally when tackle Trent Thompson (shoulder) and Roquan Smith (pectoral muscle) get back.
Apparently, Georgia actually had a very good day kicking the football, though none of the kicks were executed under “live” conditions. Rodrigo Blankenship apparently made a couple of lengthy field goals and indications are punter Marshall Long may have a hard time winning his job back from walk-on Cameron Nizialek.
Those observations parallel what Smart offered in his post-practice briefing Saturday back at the Butts-Mehre football complex. But it all just makes G-Day (April 22, 2 p.m. ET, SEC Network) more compelling.
That will be at least one opportunity to see these guys actually go full speed against each other in a competitive and somewhat charged environment. I don’t expect to see a whole lot of Chubb or Michel that day, or Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter for that matter. But the first quarter or so should feature a lot of Eason and Fromm, and that in itself will be worth the cost of admission (which is free, by the way).
Meanwhile, I’m hearing that several of Notre Dame’s practices are fully open to media viewing. Maybe I’ll head up to South Bend, Ind., for an early look. Not sure I’ll come back with any state secrets.