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Following Saturday’s annual G-Day game at Sanford Stadium, a game in which a total of 73 passes were thrown and 38 completed, one can safely say the jury is still out on the new-look defense of new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
With the Red team, consisting of the first-team offense, outlasting the Black team, which fielded the current first-unit defense, by a 27-24 tally, was this simply a case of Georgia’s more experienced offense being able to exploit a still learning and somewhat young Bulldog defense?
Mark Richt thinks that was definitely the case of what 46,073 UGA fans witnessed on this picture-perfect, warm afternoon of football.
“I think the defense did fine,” said Richt. “I think the offense is ahead of the defense right now and it makes sense. The entire offensive staff is back, the entire system is back, many veterans who know exactly what to do. The only guy who didn’t know what to do going into the spring was Jacob Park (early freshman enrollee). So it’s a tremendous advantage for the offensive team to know what’s going on. Defensively,” said Richt, “everybody’s learning. Coach Pruitt knows the system of what he’s installing but he’s learning personnel, what can these guys do, what can’t they do. He wants to put guys in position to see what they can do. He wasn’t trying to win the day today, he was trying to put guys out there and evaluate where he is and I think our players obviously are just battling everything and trying to get comfortable with it.
“It’s going to take some time before we can sit here and say what our lineup is going to be,” Richt added. “Our defense has a lot of freshmen and junior college players coming in. In the secondary we have some younger players coming in with some ability who will give us a boost and fight for a starting job.”
Conversely, the Georgia offense showed it should go into summer camp clicking on all cylinders. Despite missing two of his top deep threats in Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley, rising senior quarterback Hutson Mason was pretty much on target all day, drilling 18-of-27 attempts for 241 yards and a touchdown. Meantime, redshirt sophomore Faton Bauta, quarterbacking the Blacks, took a big step toward becoming the Bulldogs’ No. 2 quarterback as he completed 16-of-28 attempts for 232 yards and two touchdowns. Bauta, opting again to take live hits from the defense, also used his legs to run for 35 yards on six carries. Redshirt freshman QB Brice Ramsey, under a heavy rush while seeing action for both teams, could complete just two of 13 total passes for 78 yards, with one interception. But while he didn’t have an accurate day, Ramsey did easily display the most powerful throwing arm of all the Bulldog signal-callers.
“I thought it went well,” said Mason. “Our biggest enemy was depth and throwing the ball deep. But as far as the intermediate routes and so on, I thought I did pretty well with them. It was hotter out there than we thought so running no-huddle with receivers was tough. The guys got gassed but it was good to see them push through it. I still feel like we left some deep balls out there.”
“We threw the ball a lot,” offered Bauta, “so I had to stay in the pocket more. We had good protection and the guys up front did a good job. I had my reads and my keys and I just played ball.”
“Mason did a nice job like he’s been doing all spring long,” said Richt, “finding the open targets and getting the right protection. I thought he stood in the pocket and delivered it well and bought some timc back there. Faton I think made a wise decision to go with the normal colored jersey and play live. He showed what he can do athletically, and I thought he did a very nice job. Brice struggled a little bit today with his accuracy,” said Richt. “He and Jacob Park (2-for-5, 27 yards, one interception) both threw a couple of balls that shouldn’t have been thrown, but that’s just the learning process that you go through as a young quarterback. But I think those guys are very talented. I’m not going to sit here and say what kind of pecking order we have; it was just one day. We have a couple of more days of practice. I thought the quarterback play overall was pretty good today,” Richt concluded.
Rushing-wise, All-America junior candidate Todd Gurley only carried the ball six times for 32 yards and a touchdown – about the workload that was expected from him in a spring game – while rising sophomore Brendan Douglas was the leading rusher on the day with 40 yards on 10 carries, and also a score. Redshirt freshman tailback A.J. Turman ran for 32 yards in nine trips and had a 1-yard scoring run.
Receiving-wise, senior Chris Conley had a big day for the Red team with six catches for 124 yards while also senior Michael Bennett snared five balls for 47 yards. Sophomore Reggie Davis totaled 66 yards on three receptions and had a 10-yard touchdown catch. For the Blacks, redshirt sophomore Clay Johnson stepped up with five catches for 75 yards.
Defensively, junior corner Sheldon Dawson led the Reds with six total tackles while sophomore Brendan Langley managed an interception on a deflected pass.
Senior safety Corey Moore paced the first-team Black defense with seven tackles. Coming in with six stops each were Lucas Redd, Amarlo Herrera and Leonard Floyd. Senior linebacker Herrera had two tackles-for-loss while junior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins also recorded two tackles-for-loss with each player being credited with a pair of quarterback sacks. Walk-on cornerback Aaron Davis had a pick and junior Tristan Askew also managed an interception.
“It went well,” said Floyd. “We got a lot of film for a lot of guys for the coaches to break down and give their feedback on
Tuesday. I think I did well overall but I can always do better. And I’ll just check the film to see what I can improve on.”
One thing that Pruitt can’t be pleased about – in addition to the passing yards his defensive units surrendered Saturday – was at least four pass interference penalties, with most all of them leading to scores. For the game, the Black team was penalized 10 times for 71 yards with the Reds being slapped five times for 48 yards.
For the record, the Reds jumped out to a 3-0 lead when Marshall Morgan drilled a 34-yard field goal in the final two minutes of the first quarter.
But the Black team then surged ahead early 7-3 in the second quarter when A.J. Turman capped a 75-yard drive by going over from the one-yard line. The Reds came right back and answered with their own 75-yard TD march, Mason passing to Reggie Davis 10 yards for the score. With the PAT kick the Red team was up 10-7 and the Reds would then boost their advantage to 17-7 at the half when Gurley capped an 80-yard drive by walking in from two yards out with 2:05 left until intermission.
Only score of the third quarter came with just 44 seconds remaining when Thomas Pritchard booted a 29-yard field goal to pull the Blacks within 17-10.
But Brendan Douglas then came back with a 1-yard scoring run just inside the final quarter to lift the Red team back up 24-10.
The Black team then notched its first touchdown of the second half when Bauta hit two deep passes, one for 47 yards to Kenneth Towns and the second being a 41-touchdown bomb to redshirt freshman Uriah LeMay. That made it 24-17, Reds, with 4:52 left.
With a 46-yard strike from Brice Ramsey to Davis, the Reds then increased the lead to 27-17 via a 30-yard field goal by Morgan.
Final score of the game then came with just 41 seconds left when Bauta hit a wide-open Turman in the left side of the end zone, from four yards out to enable the Blacks to draw within three at contest’s end.
The Black team was admittedly handicapped a bit on pass defense Saturday as two projected starters in the secondary, sophomores Tray Matthews and J.J. Green, sat out the game, Matthews with a hamstring injury and Green with a sprained ankle he sustained in last Saturday’s second spring scrimmage.
The Bulldogs will have two final practices this week to put the cap on spring drills and then it’s the off-season work, fall August camp and, hello, here come the Clemson Tigers between these same hedges on Aug. 30!