While G-Day provided an entertaining and competitive contest between the Red and Black teams Saturday, Georgia fans looking to gauge where the Dawgs stand overall and whether any areas show marked improvement from last season ended up with a mixed verdict.
Both starting quarterbacks had their highs and lows, with the Black team’s Jacob Eason getting off to the slower start, no doubt in part because he was going up against the first-string defense while the Red’s Jake Fromm faced the second-stringers.
Eason’s recurring tendency to overthrow showed up early on, but he came on strong in the second half and wound up with more yards passing, though Fromm had the higher completion percentage. Eason also threw 1 bad interception, but he seemed much more comfortable with the long ball than he did last year. (Third-string QB Sam Vaughn got into the game briefly for both teams.)
Both Eason and Fromm seemed to benefit from rolling out of the pocket (which they didn’t do enough), and Fromm, the true freshman, looked extremely poised for his first time playing before a crowd in Sanford Stadium (albeit in an intrasquad game).
But I saw nothing to indicate Eason will lose the starting job any time soon, though Fromm showed a lot of promise and I’d feel pretty confident seeing him come in to spell Eason.
A pleasant surprise was the overall play of the receivers, with veterans and freshmen alike impressing with some nifty catches in the pass-happy offense both sides employed.
The Black’s Terry Godwin was the leading receiver, catching 5 balls for 130 yards. Javon Wims also had a good day for the Black team (4 for 96, including a terrific catch on a 47-yarder).
After a rough start, sophomore Tyler Simmons caught 5 passes for 114 yards to lead the Red, including a 70-yard scoring catch that should have been an interception. Also on the Red team, true freshman J.J. Holloman made an impressive debut, with a 42-yard touchdown catch, and defensive-back-turned-receiver Mecole Hardman looked good, particularly on a fourth-and-12 38-yarder he snagged.
Tight end Charlie Woerner had the best yards-after-catch of the day on a 36-yard TD reception for the Black on which he broke a tackle and rambled into the end zone.
Amid all the passing, however, the running game was largely missing in action. That was partly by design, with the coaching staff aiming to get a good, long look at the passing game while star running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel were only nominally involved. (Each caught a pass; Michel had 1 short run, Chubb had none.)
As coach Kirby Smart said after the game, “Obviously, we didn’t run the ball like you want to, but to be honest with you, it wasn’t part of the game plan. We wanted to see if we could throw the ball some, move the ball around.”
Red team tailback Elijah Holyfield looked good in spurts (and a hard-running walk-on named Prather Hudson made the most of his opportunities for the same team), but the Black’s rushing game, primarily Brian Herrien, was stymied most of the day by a lack of room to run.
Which brings up the biggest disappointment of G-Day, and a sign that the spring reports of an offensive rebirth for Jim Chaney’s troops might have been slightly overblown: Despite having the first-string offensive line, the Black squad couldn’t open many holes for Herrien, and Eason spent most of the day throwing off-balance under heavy pressure, as was the case last season.
The Black’s offensive line also gave up 5 whistle-sacks (the QBs, wearing white jerseys, weren’t allowed to be hit), though on a couple of those Eason deserves some of the blame for not evading the rush or getting rid of the ball. (Fromm was sacked twice.)
As Smart noted to Chuck Dowdle in a postgame radio interview, the OL still needs to do a better job of creating a pocket the quarterback can feel comfortable staying in.
Generally, the first-string defense had a better day than the first-string offense, shutting down the running game despite not having Trent Thompson and Roquan Smith (who didn’t participate in spring drills). If there was anything to complain about defensively, it was the surprising number of long passes that were completed by both quarterbacks. There’s room for improvement in the secondary.
As for the promised freshening of the offensive schemes, there was little of that evident (though that’s to be expected in a spring scrimmage). There was indeed much more of a downfield vertical passing game (for both teams), but Eason, in particular, had limited success throwing to his running backs, with quite a few of those passes hitting the turf as he hurried throws. That’s definitely an area in which he needs to improve.
Red zone offensive woes continued, resulting in too many field goal attempts. Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship, playing for both teams, had an up-and-down day, going 4-for-6 on field-goal attempts (including the game-winner for the Red squad) and looking pretty good on kickoffs, but bouncing 1 PAT off an upright (as he did on 1 of his field-goal misses).
Punter Cameron Nizialek, an Ivy League graduate transfer, also pulled duty for both teams, averaging 36.5 yards for the Black team and 40.5 for the Red. (Both punt and kickoff returns were whistled dead as soon as a defender got near the man with the ball.)
As for the subject of much of the discussion in the weeks leading up to G-Day, Smart didn’t get another 93k to match last year’s debut crowd. Not even close.
Just how many folks did show up is open to debate: Official attendance at the free-admission game announced by UGA was 66,133, which would rank as the second-largest G-Day crowd ever. However, quite a few observers thought the actual number of bodies in the stadium (with the lower level not quite full and the upper level mostly empty) looked about 10,000 to 15,000 less than the official figure.
Either way, still not a bad showing for what was essentially the Dawgs’ 15th practice of the spring.
All in all, it was a pretty typical spring game, with plenty of strengths and weaknesses to keep fan discussions lively over the summer.
(If there’s something you want to discuss, or you have a question, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with me on Facebook or via Twitter. And don’t forget to check out past entries of the Junkyard Blawg.)