G-DAY LOOK BACK … SOLID PLAY OF BENNETT AND MATHIS PROVIDES OPTIMISM AT QUARTERBACK

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G-DAY LOOK BACK … SOLID PLAY OF BENNETT AND MATHIS PROVIDES OPTIMISM AT QUARTERBACK

Stetson Bennett
Stetson Bennett

Having covered this team for 50-plus years, I’ve seen countless Georgia Bulldogs’ spring G-Day games. And certainly, watching the Bulldogs scrimmage themselves in the annual spring game isn’t always a good indication of what the Georgia football product will look like when the games count for real in the coming fall schedule.

For one thing, the entire team isn’t yet together. Take this spring, the Bulldogs had 14 early enrollees suiting out in the 2019 G-Day tilt, held on a cold, wet and windy day Easter weekend at Sanford Stadium, but what about those other 2019 signees — some 11 or 12 of them who also were among the leading prep players in the country — who will too be fighting for playing time when fall preseason camp arrives in August?

Likewise, as we all know, some Bulldogs who drew raves for their spring practice showings somehow fall by the wayside and simply don’t see the field much when it comes game time in September, October, November and December. Conversely, players who for one reason or another couldn’t climb the depth chart in April suddenly take their games to another performance level in preseason camp.

The point I’m making is that those 52,630 members of Bulldog Nation who defied the elements and sat in the stands at this year’s G-Day game (and even Kirby Smart said he kind of doubted he would have sat through the unseasonably cold conditions) really couldn’t take a whole lot away from a game that was won by the Red team by 22-17 over the Black team. At least not enough to precisely predict what the Bulldogs will be like in 2019.

D'wan Mathis
D’wan Mathis

Smart and his coaching staff kept the game pure vanilla and they had three quarterbacks — starter Jake Fromm and backups Stetson Bennett and D’Wan Mathis — combine to put the ball in the air 83 times. And at the same time, Georgia ran the football only a combined 32 times. You know, as well as I do, that’s not Georgia football. Not what we’ll all see starting August 31 at Vanderbilt when Fromm is handing the ball off to D’Andre Swift, Brian Herrien, James Cook and hopefully, a guy named Zamir White as the Bulldogs’ highly-touted offensive front takes control of the line of scrimmage and the Georgia offense pounds the opponent into submission.

And, too, there was no way to get a true gauge on a Bulldog defense that couldn’t hit the opposing quarterback during G-Day. Sure, there were seven total sacks registered in the game but many of those came when the defenders barely touched the QB. How many times would the quarterback have scrambled away from the pass rush — especially Bennett and Mathis — had this been a real football game? As Kirby commented after the game, “We didn’t have a lot of opportunity for havoc plays in this game.”

So clearly, what we all witnessed at G-Day wasn’t what the Vanderbilt Commodores will see on opening day, 2019.

But, I will say this. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more pure playing talent than what the Bulldogs displayed between the hedges on April 20. Smart and his assistant staff have stacked three of the nation’s top recruiting classes on top of each other and there’s talent and depth at every position on the field.
Jake Fromm is the man who makes the Bulldog attack go. The highly intelligent and sure-passing Fromm, who led Georgia to an SEC championship and the national title game in his freshman season and then sparked the Dawgs back to the SEC title game as a sophomore in 2018, should be better than ever as he directs the attack in his upcoming junior campaign. Indeed, don’t go by Fromm’s mediocre 14-of-29 for 116 yards with one pick-6 interception passing showing at G-Day. It doesn’t mean a thing.

But G-Day did possibly let us know that the backup quarterback situation is a little more solid than many folks first thought. Both redshirt sophomore transfer Bennett and true freshman Mathis did some good things. Bennett, the former Pierce County and Jones County (Miss.) Junior College quarterback who is in his second stint in Athens, played for both teams and completed a combined 12-of-23 attempts for 210 yards and a touchdown while seeing action for both the Blacks and Reds and the 6-foot-6 Mathis, whom you might say was a QB swap with Ohio State for Justin Fields, showed his exceptional foot speed while scrambling for a 20-yard gain, catching a 39-yard reverse pass for a touchdown from wideout Matt Landers and also nailing 15-of-28 passes for 113 yards.

Can this 2019 Bulldog bunch win a national championship this coming autumn? It’s certainly capable of doing so but whatever happens, it’s going to be a fun ride for Bulldog Nation. Can’t help but be, what with all the talent Kirby Smart has assembled on the UGA roster.

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Murray Poole is a 1965 graduate of the University of Georgia Journalism School. He served as sports editor of The Brunswick News for 40 years and has written for Bulldawg Illustrated the past 16 years. He has covered the Georgia Bulldogs for 53 years.