ATHENS — Georgia broke out the watermelon Saturday at Sanford Stadium. The “Watermelon Cuttin'” is one of the oldest traditions there is with regard to Bulldogs football. It goes back to the Vince Dooley days and signifies the end of preseason camp and the beginning of the season, per se.
The breaking of the watermelon, if you will, used to come at the end of two-a-days, but now they don’t have two-a-days anymore, thanks to new NCAA player safety regulations. Nevertheless, when Georgia breaks out the watermelon, it means the hard and uncomfortable work of toughening up a team and determining who will contribute in the coming season is pretty much done. So now the Bulldogs must shift from getting themselves ready to getting ready for somebody else.
It’s not a transition coach Kirby Smart is eager to make. The watermelons came out at the end of Georgia’s second full-scale scrimmage of the preseason Saturday at Sanford Stadium. It was the last truly competitive scrimmage of the year, from the standpoint of determining who will play and how much.
Some of those position battles will continue into the season. But, for the most part, you have to start getting 44 players ready to face another team and deciding which others will help on special teams.
The Bulldogs will conduct another scrimmage next Saturday, but that essentially will be a dress rehearsal for the season opener against Appalachian State, then just a week away. But Smart is not in a hurry to turn attention away from his team and onto an opponent.
“We feel like by the end of the week next week we’ll be able to start working on it,” Smart said Saturday of the game plan for Appalachian State. “I don’t believe in starting work on an opponent you’re going to play immediately because kids can get burned out on that. I’ve had a lot of history as an assistant coach where you do want more than a week, but you don’t want two weeks. So we’ll do some next week. We’ll start working on it.”
One thing the Bulldogs have working for them is both App State and Notre Dame, their Week 2 opponent, run spread-oriented offenses, so there should be come carryover there. Not as much is known about the Irish’s defense, under the first year of defensive coordinator Mike Elko. The good news is there are a lot of similarities in the 4-2-5 defense he brings from Wake Forest and the one Georgia utilizes itself. So there should be some familiarity there for the Bulldogs.
Smart says they’re not spending much time right now concerning themselves with either opponent, though you can be assured a good portion of Georgia’s battalion of support staff has been gathering as much intel as possible.
“There may or may not be similarities. In those two teams, App State and Notre Dame, there’s not a ton,” Smart said after the scrimmage Saturday. “On different sides of the ball it’s a different story, because obviously one’s offense is different than the other and one’s defense is a little different than the other.”
Pretty much everything has been settled on Georgia’s depth chart at this point. Well, everything until the unfortunate injury last week to starting cornerback Malkom Parrish. His loss for 2-4 weeks due to a broken foot has had a domino effect throughout the secondary.
For now, Aaron Davis has moved into Parrish’s cornerback position, and Tyrique McGhee, J.R. Reed and Deangelo Gibbs are jockeying to fill in at Davis’ previous spot at star, or nickelback. Whatever scenario prevails, Smart assured that “it’s not doomsday” and Parrish will soon be back and everything will go back to normal.
Until the next injury, of course. Such is football.
Some other questions that we’ve seen answered during this camp:
Who will start at left tackle?
That’ll be senior Isaiah Wynn. And it isn’t close, even though Wynn missed a week with an illness.
Which freshman will emerge on the offensive line?
That’d be Andrew Thomas — in a landslide. The Pace Academy graduate appears to be the player most likely to start at right tackle. But he’s also gotten reps at left guard and left tackle. He’ll play somewhere.
Will Jacob Eason be challenged as starting quarterback?
No. The question is who would be first in to relieve or replace Eason if he falters or is hurt. That’s freshman Jake Fromm, who has had a strong camp in his own right.
Who’s going to kick?
Smart effectively awarded the starting punter’s job to transfer Cameron Nizialek on Saturday, saying the fifth-year senior has distanced himself from sophomore Marshall Long, who appears still affected by his knee injury from last season. There’s less clarity at kicker, though Rodrigo Blankenship seems to be moving toward locking down the kickoff job while still leg-wrestling with transfer David Marvin over field-goal opportunities. The good news is the competition has them both performing well.
Who will emerge at wide receiver?
Terry Godwin has been the Bulldogs’ star of camp. He will play both the slot and at the outside positions to make room for Mecole Hardman, who also has been impressive in the slot. Michael Chigbu, Jayson Stanley, Riley Ridley and Javon Wims will assume primary roles. Ahkil Crumpton and freshmen J.J. Holloman and Mark Webb will try to work their way into the rotation.
Everything else is basically status quo for the Bulldogs. And that’s a good thing, as we’re now within two weeks of the opener against App State.
Time is of the essence, and the watermelon is ripe!