Arik Gilbert proves popular Red Zone target in G-Day Game, Kirby Smart impressed

041622 Athens: Georgia wide receiver Arik Gilbert (14) celebrates after scoring a touchdown with Georgia wide receivers Ladd McConkey (84) and Adonai Mitchell (5) during the G - Day game at Sanford Stadium Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Athens, Ga. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)

ATHENS — Georgia football fans have waited a long time to see Arik Gilbert in red and black, and the LSU transfer did not disappoint.

Gilbert had 3 catches for 49 yards and 2 touchdowns, and on the other two times he was targeted, he drew pass interference penalties.

Gilbert’s final reception, a 27-yarder in the fourth quarter, helped set up the game-winning field goal as the Black Team and the first-team offense beat the Red Team featuring the first-team defense 26-23.

ESPN commentator and former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy noted how the Bulldogs looked to use Gilbert in the annual G-Day Game on Saturday.

“They like that post to Arik Gilbert down here in the Red Zone,” McElroy noted. “We’ve seen it at least three times, once it’s resulted in a touchdown, twice it’s resulted in pass interference.”

Gilbert had seen his weight balloon up around 300 pounds after taking last season off to deal with personal issues.

But in rejoining daily team activities in January, Gilbert has worked himself back down near 265 pounds.

The fluidity and hands of the former 5-star prospect from Marietta is obvious.

“Clearly, Gilbert has answered the challenge that the coach staff has provided,” McElroy surmised. “I’m very optimistic he’ll be productive along with the other tight ends.”

Indeed, Gilbert also found a way to catch a low throw in the back of the end zone from Stetson Bennett.

Coach Kirby Smart, who downplayed the hype and expectations around Gilbert at the start of spring drills, conceded his effectiveness.

“He’s a big matchup guy,” Smart said during this third-quarter interview on ESPN2. “(Gilbert), Darnell (Washington), Brock (Bowers), those guys are big bodies, and tough to match up with.”

Bowers earned All-American honors and set a school record with 13 touchdown receptions.

Bowers, along with Washington, missed spring drills on account of injury, giving Gilbert more reps.

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