ATHENS — The “Projected G-Day” Game kicked off soon after the “Virtual G-Day” Game finished on Saturday, but this one was not predetermined or real in any form or fashion.
No one could have ever guessed what would happen in a game that was never played at Sanford Stadium with no fans in attendance.
One would imagine (and in fact, did imagine) a game like this would be filled with big plays, broken assignments, and unpredictable moments.
The coronavirus pandemic has limited us to replays or sports fiction, and this is an attempt at the latter.
Kirby Smart didn’t coach either team, and one can only guess what his comments would have been, so that’s what we did.
Matt Luke was coaching the Red Team from the sideline with Todd Monken up in the box in this fictitious matchup. Dan Lanning was coaching the Black Team with Glenn Schumann’s watchful eye above.
The Black Team, made up of the first team defense and second team offense, got on the scoreboard first in this imaginary contest.
Safety Richard LeCounte gave QB Jamie Newman a rude introduction to Sanford Stadium by intercepting Newman’s fourth pass of the game and returning it 66 yards for a touchdown.
Newman and the Red Team had opened the game with a pair of first downs that would have many ready to crown new OC Todd Monken king.
Matt Landers reeled in a 12-yard pass on third-and-8 after a pair of Zamir White runs netted just 2 yards on first and second down.
Jordan Davis wrapped White up for no gain on the first play of the scrimmage, and Malik Herring made the tackle on White’s second carry after 2 yards.
Newman found George Pickens to convert the opening first down of the game, but it came at a cost.
Pickens skied high to make a one-handed catch at the Black Team 48-yard line but paid a price. Cornerback D.J. Daniel hit Pickens high and Lewis Cine went low, knocking UGA’s No. 1 receiver out of the game.
The Georgia Radio Network would have reported Pickens had the wind knocked out of him and could have returned, but he was held out for precautionary reasons.
The Black Team offense didn’t have much more success in the opening quarter.
D’Wan Mathis was also picked off on his first series when Zion Logue tipped a pass at the line of scrimmage that Mathis’ former roommate, Tyrique Stevenson, came down with over Trey Blount.
Demetris Robertson turned in the most explosive play of the quarter on the ensuing series for the Red Team, taking a jet sweep 37 yards.
Robertson, his hamstring no longer an issue, put a move on Nolan Smith in the backfield and raced Eric Stokes down the sideline before the cornerback finally bumped him out of bounds.
That drive stalled at the Black Team’s 33-yard line when Monty Rice put a fumble-inducing hit on John Fitzpatrick after the lanky tight end caught a short pass from Newman over the middle. Mark Webb was tackled after returning the fumble 8 yards, a frustrated Newman putting a helmet-to-helmet hit on him.
The Black Team extended it’s lead to 14-0 on Carson Beck’s 37-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Bush.
Beck made the throw off play-action, stepping back and lofting a fade over Bush’s right shoulder. Bush, a 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore coming off sports hernia surgery last season, had gotten a step on Ameer Speed.
Quarterback Stetson Bennett saw his first action for the Red Team on the ensuing drive.
Bennett’s 24-yard pass to a leaping Landers kept the drive alive after an Azeez Ojulari sack made it third-and-16.
Landers, 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, out-leaped Stokes on what looked more like a jump ball than a forward pass. Bennett was under pressure from Jermaine Johnson when he lofted the pass up.
Bennett connected on his next two passes more impressively, delivering a 12-yard strike to Kearis Jackson on a slant route, and then finding James Cook in the flats. Cook turned that catch into a 21-yard gain down to the Black Team’s 12-yard line, slipping the tackle attempt of Nakobe Dean before Travon Walker chased him down in pursuit.
White carried for 7 yards down to the 5-yard line on first down, following the lead block of Jamaree Salyer.
But Robert Beal nearly intercepted the second pass attempt, and Julian Rochester knocked the third down attempt at the line.
It forced the Red Team to settle for a field goal that cut the Black Team’s lead to 14-3 as the squads headed to halftime.
Smart, who would have been interviewed at halftime of this projected G-Day Game, would have said: “I like how the guys competed, but we were way too sloppy. It’s obvious we’ve got a whole lot of work to do on the offensive line, and there were some broken assignments out there in the secondary that you all might not have seen that could have led to more big plays if the quarterbacks had time to throw. We’re going to need our guys in the secondary more aware or it will cost them.”
The Black Team got the ball first in the second half and went to work, Mathis finding freshman Justin Robinson in the seam for a 16-yard gain. Robinson took a shot from Divaad Wilson as he was making the catch, but he somehow held on to the ball.
Mathis gained 24 yards himself on a scramble two plays later, faking a handoff into the line on third-and-1 that appeared to fool everyone in the stadium except safety Christopher Smith, who made the touchdown-saving tackle.
Nate McBride came up big on the very next play when freshman running back Kendall Milton fumbled the exchange with Mathis, triggering a mad scramble that ended with McBride on the bottom of the pile.
Newman, just 3-of-8 passing in the first half for 46 yards, trotted back on the field for the Red Team appearing intent on making something happen with his team still down 14-3.
Newman found Fitzpatrick for an 18-yard gain to spark the drive. White kept the chains moving with an 11-yard run, his longest of the game, to get the ball to midfield.
The Red Team called timeout after it appeared on the verge of a delay of game penalty.
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as on the very next play Newman faked a handoff to White before stepping back and uncorking a 51-yard touchdown pass to Robertson.
The scoreboard remained frozen at 14-10 the remainder of the quarter, both teams going three-and-out on each of their next two offense series.
The Black Team, operating behind the second-team offensive line, began to find some rhythm with Beck under center and Kenny McIntosh in the backfield.
McIntosh took advantage of a gaping hole to race 45 yards on the longest run of the game, cutting off the hip of a Clay Webb block and into daylight before he was finally dragged down by freshmen Major Burns and Jalen Kimber.
The excitement on the Black Team’s sideline was short-lived. Two plays later, linebacker Quay Walker burst through the line and drilled McIntosh just one step after he had taken the handoff, forcing a fumble that Channing Tindall recovered.
Walker later explained that tailbacks who wear single digits give defenders an easier target to zero-in on.
The Red Team got the ball back and went to its two-minute offense. Newman found success on a series of quick passes that Jackson (12 yards), Robertson (14 yards) and Cook (18 yards) turned into more lengthy gains.
Facing a fourth-and-6 at the Black Team’s 24-yard line, Matt Luke called timeout for the Red Team.
What happened next was unreal (literally), center Trey Hill pulling off the “Fumblerooskie” by keeping the ball pinned between his legs after snapping it, then lumbering untouched into the end zone to put the Red Team on top 17-14.
The Black Team had one last hope to back up the guarantee Schumann made the day before on Twitter.
Just in case anyone was wondering… whatever team I was going to be on today for G-Day was going to be eating 🥩 for Dinner 🤷♂️ @CoachDanLanning …. In the meantime check out #VirtualGDay Instead!! @GeorgiaFootball #GoDawgs
— Glenn Schumann (@CoachSchuUGA) April 18, 2020
Beck fumbled the first snap before falling on it, the clock running down to 45 seconds before he could spike the ball at his own 18-yard line.
On second down, the Florida QB product hit Bush on a deep post that Stevenson nearly intercepted before Bush went down at the Red 48.
The clock was still running when Beck raced to the line and spiked the ball with 31 seconds left.
Beck’s next pass for Makiya Tongue was incomplete when Tyson Campbell leaped high alongside the redshirt freshman to knock it down at the 10-yard line.
On second down, Beck was sacked by Adam Anderson at his own 44-yard line, forcing the Red Team to use its final timeout with 16 seconds left.
The Red Team came back on the field with three receivers bunched to the right, and two stacked on the left.
Beck took the snap out of the shot gun and rolled to his right. The defensive backs, lined up 10 yards off the ball, turned to run with the four receivers running vertical routes, everyone anticipating the Hail Mary pass.
The fifth receiver, however, was Mathis, and he circled into the backfield as Beck flipped him the football behind the line of scrimmage on what appeared to be a jet sweep.
Mathis raced toward the left sideline, dodging Devonte Wyatt behind the line, before suddenly stopping and setting his feet to throw.
But instead of throwing the ball up for grabs in the end zone, Mathis drilled a throw back across the field to a wide-open Beck, who had run a wheel route. It was just one year ago that Landers had completed the same sort of pass to Mathis for a touchdown in the 2019 G-Day Game.
Beck caught the ball along the right sideline in stride at the 25-yard line and raced toward the goal line.
Beck stiff-armed one fellow Floridian, linebacker Rian Davis, at the 12, and then raced to the pylon where he leaped high and somersaulted over another, safety Latavious Brini, into the end zone for the 23-17 win.
Smart, interviewed after the game, would say, “I’m glad the kids competed and the fans had fun, but it just goes to show how much work we have to do with all the turnovers and explosive plays we gave up. I couldn’t have imagined that happening.”
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