Spring intrasquad college football games are give-and-take affairs.
You can credit Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs with all 57 points scored in Saturday’s G-Day game at Sanford Stadium, but every one of those points also was given up by Dawgs players, as the Reds beat the Blacks, 31-26
In other words, when Red team starting quarterback Carson Beck began the game with pinpoint passing on three straight scoring drives, he was showing some things that need to be worked on by the Dawgs’ first-string defense.
Ultimately, the team in red jerseys (featuring the No. 1 offense) edged the team in black jerseys (who had the No. 1 defense) by 5 points.
Overall, the first two quarters belonged to the offenses. A displeased Smart told ESPN’s Alyssa Lang at the break that he’d seen “not very much of a challenge from the defense.”
Both defenses were more effective in the second half, with the third quarter being scoreless and the only points in the fourth period coming on a defensive score and a game-ending TD pass. (Of course, it’s worth noting that a lot more reserves got into the game in the second half.)
“I thought it was a tale of two halves. We had a first half where we lit it up on offense and didn’t think we could stop anything defensively,” Georgia’s head coach said at his post-game press conference. “Then, flip that over in the second half. We couldn’t score any points.
“Obviously, we have to improve in both of those areas, but there were some positive things that came out of today, too. Some guys played well. I thought we did some good things on both sides of the ball. We have to continue to do that to get better.”
While the Dawgs’ QB derby won’t be decided officially until August, it’s safe to say that, as of G-Day, the starting job appears to be Beck’s to lose. He played the first half with the Red team and swapped back and forth in the second half. Showing confidence in the pocket, he completed 15 of 22 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown.
As my brother Tim noted, the main difference in the quarterbacks’ performances was that Beck seemed more decisive on his throws. He definitely knows the offense inside and out. And, added my other brother, Jonathan, “Beck throws perfect spiral passes.”
Brock Vandagriff, who started out with the Black team and then played some for the Reds in the second half, had his moments (including a 23-yard run), but he wasn’t quite as effective as Beck. Vandagriff was 13 of 25 passing, for 175 yards with 2 TDs and an interception.
Gunner Stockton, who played for the Black team, did score on a run, and he had some big pass completions, but generally wasn’t as smooth as the other two, completing 13 of 22 passes for 144 yards, with an interception.
Stockton also led the Black team down the field quickly late in the first half, thanks to a 54-yard completion to wide receiver Mekhi Mews that got the ball down to the 2. Unfortunately, they had to settle for a 30-yard field goal, and the Reds took a 24-19 lead into halftime.
Smart, who obviously wants to keep all his quarterbacks engaged and vested in the competition while the transfer portal is open, gave a generally positive assessment of all three. “I was really pleased with all three quarterbacks and what you saw today was some of what we’ve seen all spring,” he said at his postgame press conference. “We have three good quarterbacks who can make the throws and do a really good job, I was pleased with those guys.”
Smart said he thought “Brock used his legs several times to break out of there and take off running. Brock, unfortunately, had some guys drop the ball on him and I thought the balls were really well thrown and should’ve been caught, and he did a nice job in the pocket of making those throws.”
No matter who was behind center, the No. 1 offensive line did a great job in pass protection, and Mike Bobo’s offense looked pretty much like the one that Todd Monken ran last year, when Georgia won a second consecutive national championship. Passes still were thrown to the tight ends and running backs, there was a fair amount of pre-snap movement, a lot of different receivers were targeted, and the end-around was used for a score. Between the two offenses, 25 players caught passes.
Said Bowers of playing for Bobo: “It’s a lot of the same stuff, like a lot of the same terminology, with just a little twist here and there. It was an easy transition, and everyone loves playing for him out here. So, it’s been fun.”
As is usual in a Smart era G-Day game, the emphasis was on the passing game. That probably was just as well Saturday, as the Dawgs were missing several running backs because of injuries. For the day, Cash Jones was the leading rusher for the Red team, with 4 carries for 22 net yards. A gimpy Daijun Edwards did get 3 carries for 6 yards. On the Black side, freshman Roderick Robinson II ran the ball 11 times for 42 yards. The running game was key in one Black scoring drive, which was finished off by Stockton’s run around the end for a score.
The Black team finished with 346 yards of total offense to the Red team’s 288 yards.
Highlights of the game included superstar tight end Brock Bowers making a couple of his usual athletic catches (one of them for 39 yards) … a 12-yard pass from Vandagriff to Jackson Meeks that ended up as a 29-yard touchdown after he refused to go down and blockers pushed the pile into the end zone … a 37-yard Beck pass to a wide-open Ladd McConkey … shut-down coverage by Malaki Starks on a 3rd-down play that forced a field goal attempt … a nifty interception by Tykee Smith of a Vandagriff pass … a 21-yard pick-6 by Raylen Wilson of a Stockton pass … and the overall performance of redshirt sophomore Mews, who seemed to be making a case for playing time as he showed off his speed on a couple of kick returns that didn’t count (G-Day rules), as well as on the run after the catch that turned a short pass play into the previously mentioned 54-yarder.
Mews also caught the 10-yard TD pass from Vandagriff at game’s end, and was leading receiver Saturday, with 4 catches for 91 yards. Smart summed him up as “an explosive guy.”
Other standouts Saturday included wide receiver Arian Smith, who had 2 TDs — one on a run and another on a pass from Beck; early enrollee freshman tight end Lawson Luckie, who had 3 catches for 48 yards; and freshman defensive lineman Jordan Hall, who got his hands up to deflect a couple of passes.
On the other hand, poor Oscar Delp, who’s normally reliable, seemed to have a case of the yips Saturday, losing the ball in the sun on what could have been a big pass play, and dropping another one.
Special teams play was limited, since there was no rushing of or returning of kicks allowed, but Liam Badger had a 51-yard field goal and was 3-for-3 on extra points, while Jared Zirkel hit field goals of 42 and 30 yards and was 1 of 2 on PATs (a bad snap and hold nixed the missed one).
It was a glorious day for spring football in Athens, and, though stadium construction meant only half of Sanford could be used, it was an enthusiastic crowd.
The pup named Boom took over as mascot Uga XI in a pregame collaring ceremony, and shared the Dawghouse on the sideline with the retiring Que (Uga X).
Among the recent alums also on the sideline were Stetson Bennett, Nolan Smith and Kearis Jackson. And, during a first-half timeout, players from last year’s team who’ve moved on were recognized on the field, and got the chance to show off their new national championship rings.
Also, in a solemn moment, Beck and the Red team offense deliberately came out for the first play of the game one man short, and took a delay penalty, so that offensive guard Devin Willock and recruiting staff member Chandler LeCroy, who died in a tragic automobile accident in January, could be honored. That was a classy gesture.
The Dawgs and their fans will return to Sanford Stadium in 20 weeks, as Georgia opens the 2023 season by playing host to UT Martin.
LET ME HEAR FROM YOU!
I’ll dip into the Junkyard Mail next week, and I’d like to know what you thought about the G-Day game, and your thoughts on the coming season. Also, feel free to ask questions — or share your views on anything related to UGA athletics — by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.