ATHENS — Kirby Smart said there were no major injuries in the G-Day Game and he liked the effort and spirit of his players.,
rBut — and it was a big qualifier — he made this Georgia football team has a long way to go if it’s to win the elusive national championship the program has been chasing since 1980.
JT Daniels passed for 324 yards with 3 touchdowns to a skeleton receiving crew in the First-Team Offense (Red Team) 28-23 win over the First-Team Defense (Black Team), but Smart noted the obvious shortcakes.
There were deficiencies up front on offense and on the back defensively, and plenty remains to be determined outside at receiver.
The line is far from settled, and left tackle Xavier Truss showed why with two motion penalties late after right tackle Warren McClendon got beat for a sack by Nolan Smith early.
“If we’re gonna be a good team, we have to protect the quarterback, and we have to be able to run the football,” Smart said in his Zoom press conference after the G-Day Game.
“That’s one of the areas we have to make our largest leaps to get to where we want to go next season.”
Smart is impressed with second-year offensive guard Tate Ratledge, who has put the work in to get stronger in the weight room and assignment-sound on the field. Ratledge earned a start at right guard, supplanting veteran Jamaree Salyer who missed parts of spring.
The overall result was not what Smart wanted to see.
“There were times today that four-man rush got pressure and guys got pushed back into (Daniels),” Smart said. “We’re not where we need to be in the offensive line.
“It’s all up for grabs. We’ll review the tape and see how they did.”
Smart qualified the secondary’s performance by pointing out how spring games are designed to air out the football and test defensive backs in ways they would not normally see in a a regular football game.
No doubt, UGA quarterbacks had 87 pass attempts compared to just 42 run plays.
Still, it was obvious Georgia needs more answers and depth at the cornerback positions as well as the Star position.
West Virginia transfer Tykee Smith is on the way and would be favored to win the starting job at that position in fall camp.
Second-year cornerback Jalen Kimber had a pass break-up and appeared to get his hands on Daniels for a sack, but the other corners did not look so sticky.
“We’ve got to grow and get better,” said Smart, who along with new secondary coach Jahmile Addae and senior analyst Will Muschamp is providing intense training to defensive backs.
“We’ve got good players, we have to coach them up and get them ready to play at a high level. They’ll get challenged, obviously in our opener and in our conference play.
“The teams we have to play next year, there’s some teams that can sling the ball.”
And the Bulldogs have to find some answers in coverage, to the extent it seems a forgone conclusion they will add another cornerback via the transfer portal.
“At corner we’ve got to find guys that are comfortable to make plays down the field,” Smart said, “and make plays with their backs to the ball.”
Smart recognizes how the game has changed to favor the offense, which explains why he hired Todd Monken after the 2019 season to install some Air Raid principles into what could best be described as a Pro-Style Spread Offense attack.
“This game is about skill,” Smart said. “If you have skill on the perimeter, it’s hard to stop people. I don’t care who your corners are or how good you are, you’re not shutting people down anymore.”
Georgia has recruited heavily at receiver the past few cycles, and it’s a good thing.
Previously unheralded freshman recruit Adonai Mitchell was the man of the hour, pulling down 7 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown on the 13 times Daniels threw the ball in his direction. Mitchell is the last man standing at the “X,” where George Pickens (ACL), Jermaine Burton (hyper-extended knee) and Justin Robinson (knee) all lined up before him.
Smart praised how far Mitchell has come in such a short time, but this is not a player who will be confused for Pickens, or even Burton.
The competition will be back on for playing time and targets once Burton, Robinson, Dominick Blaylock and Marcus Rosemy return from their injuries.
“I know we have a lot fo wideouts, it will be a really good competition come fall when we’re at 100 percent health at the wide receiver position,” Smart said. “Because some of the guys that got all these opportunities this spring have really stepped up.”