ATHENS — Kirby Smart sounds like a referee talking to 2 boxers before a big fight: He wants a good, tight game for Georgia’s spring game. He split up the teams pretty evenly, first-team offense on one side, first-team defense on the other, hoping it sets up a close, hotly-contested game.
And even if it isn’t, they’ll pretend it’s close anyway in the last 4 minutes. G-Day is, after all, still officially a practice.
But the fans and media will be interested in more than just the outcome of the game. Do you remember whether the Red or Black won last year? Probably not. Do you remember that Jacob Eason looked great? Yes, you do.
So here, in descending order, are the top 5 things worth focusing on Saturday at Sanford Stadium:
5. The kickers
There will be one main kicker and one main punter. It’s just not certain that either will be the starter once the preseason rolls around.
Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship would, under normal circumstances, be assured of retaining his job after a strong redshirt freshman season. But with his scholarship situation in flux, and with graduate transfer David Marvin arriving in August, Blankenship needs to keep kicking well. So while the game Saturday won’t matter too much, given his track record, Blankenship’s kicks will be closely-watched — especially the kickoffs.
It’s the reverse at punter, where the one who will be punting Saturday is the graduate transfer trying to grab the job from the incumbent. Cameron Nizialek, who transferred from Columbia, will be playing Saturday in front of the biggest crowd he’s played in. Marshall Long, who was okay as a freshman last year before hurting a kneecap, is due back this summer.
4. The young tailbacks
Brian Herrien and Elijah Holyfield have been getting a long look this spring, and both have had good moments. Herrien, coming off a surprising freshman season, has continued looking good. Holyfield, who hardly played last year, had a good scrimmage last Saturday.
Those 2 are trying hard to force their way onto the field. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are obviously entrenched, but with both being used more in the passing game, especially Michel, that could open up carries for the younger guys. And Herrien could get touches at receiver.
3. How fresh looking is the offense?
As part of offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s offseason effort to “freshen up” the offense, the team is using more run-pass options, giving the quarterback more ability to audible or change things before a play, and using more tailbacks and tight ends in the slot.
At least those are the main points that players have talked about. It’s possible more wrinkles are in effect that will be unveiled later, probably not on Saturday for Appalachian State and Notre Dame to see.
2. Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm
For all the talk of a supposed competition, something crazy would have to happen for Eason not to be the starter against Appalachian State. That doesn’t mean the performance of Georgia’s lone 2 scholarship quarterbacks isn’t worth watching.
It’s just different things about them.
Eason’s talents aren’t the question. But how much has he learned from last season? How well does he stand in the pocket, how comfortable is he commanding the offense, and is his overall throwing accuracy better?
Fromm, meanwhile, hasn’t been seen in person by the vast majority of the fan base. So this will be the first impression he leavers, and he likely will be judged on how talented he appears to be.
1. Is the offense really ahead of the defense?
That’s been the narrative this spring, with Smart saying the offense was pushing around the defense, especially in the running game. But with practices mostly closed, was that mainly a motivational ploy, instilling confidence in the offense and lighting a spark under the experienced defense?
The word has been that there was plenty of truth to what Smart said, that the offensive line really has improved. This will be a chance for the fan base to judge for itself.
Along with everything else.