As a fan experience, a glorious spring Saturday in Athens watching football at Sanford Stadium could hardly have been better. The Redcoat band played, some familiar names from the past took the field for the alumni flag football game before the annual G-Day scrimmage, and with 42,000 fans and ESPN on hand it was a bit more of an event than your usual spring game.
OK, it would have been nice to see some more points scored, and probably if the Dawgs’ receiving corps hadn’t been afflicted with a case of the dropsies, that would have happened. Joe Cox, Logan Gray and Aaron Murray all had some very nice passes end up among the day’s six drops. On at least a couple of those, it looked as if the receivers lost concentration or short-armed it because they were anticipating being hit. The drop near the goal line by Israel Troupe was particularly disappointing for the Black team, as Gray had delivered a perfectly thrown ball.
And despite the occasional spurt, the running game never really got on track until diminutive Carlton Thomas showed his stuff at the end, including the day’s lone touchdown. Actually, the running game didn’t really get many opportunities until the second half of the abbreviated game.
But at the same time, after the lows of last season it was encouraging to see Georgia’s defense having its way most of the day with an offense, even if it was ours. Both the first and second defenses pressured the quarterbacks all day, notching up 10 whistle sacks, with the notable efforts of Justin Houston at defensive end and Marcus Washington at middle linebacker being cause for celebration in the Bulldog Nation. I just hope their success, along with the negative-yardage plays recorded against Caleb King and some of the other backs, aren’t an indication that our offensive line isn’t going to be as good as expected.
Overall, the day was a success. For those, like my brothers and me, who got there mid-morning, the alumni game was a hoot (more on that below), and letting the Black team wear black jerseys opposite the Red team’s red was a nice touch (the quarterbacks wore the white road jerseys instead of their practice greens). I was glad (and I’m sure ESPN was, too) that Mark Richt decided to let them play 10-minute quarters in the second half after going for only 8-minute quarters in the first half.
The quarterbacks generally looked pretty good, though the drops had to be frustrating. They mostly kept the offense vanilla, except for a couple of Joe Cox razzle-dazzle plays in the first quarter. On the first play from scrimmage, a flea-flicker pitch back to Cox resulted in a long completion to A.J. Green. And later Caleb King threw a halfback pass back to Cox on a nice play that was negated by a flag for ineligible receiver. Logan Gray impressed a lot of folks with both his throwing (on the mark even when they weren’t caught) and his patience in the pocket. A lot of times young quarterbacks with his running ability tend to get impatient and try to improvise too much, but Gray was steady. Aaron Murray also showed flashes of what’s to come, particularly on a really nice roll-out for a long completion (which unfortunately was then fumbled by the receiver). Murray also had one batted down at the line, indicating perhaps he’ll be more comfortable moving than dropping straight back. Zach Mettenberger, who played behind Cox on the Red team, showed some arm strength but had a rougher day, with no completions and an interception. Still, he generally managed the offense well. If I had to bet on who’ll redshirt this season, though, I’d put my money on Mettenberger.
Since there were no kickoffs or punt returns, we didn’t get much of a look at the special teams. Blair Walsh, Jamie Lindley and Andrew Jensen (whose dad Kris, a former coworker of mine, was at the game on crutches) all made field goals. Considering no one was rushing the kicker, the punts were a bit of a disappointment, with projected starter Drew Butler averaging just 35.3 yards per kick.
Among notable plays of the day: Despite dropping two balls, tight end Aron White held on to three, including a really nice catch in the final quarter. When he jumped up holding the ball aloft, the crowd gave him a bit of an extra cheer and a grinning Cox slapped him on the helmet. … Black team tight end Derek Rich made a couple of impressive catches. … Caleb King did have a few nice runs, but he also got nailed in the backfield for a loss a couple of times. He didn’t seem as explosive as Thomas. … Shaun Chapas had a couple of impressive runs at fullback. … Bryan Evans made a good move on the ball in snagging the game’s lone interception. … Bacarri Rambo broke up one pass with a particularly hard hit. … A.J. Green was back to receive one punt, though there were no returns. Makes you wonder, though, if he’s being considered for punt return duty. And even though this was an intra-squad game, competitive juices still were flowing and Green and Black defender Brandon Boykin mixed it up at one point and had to be separated.
Also noted: Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno were on hand as assistant “coaches.” … Falcons backup D.J. Shockley was signing autographs down by the hedge. … New basketball coach Mark Fox drew a nice ovation when he was introduced on the field before the fourth quarter. … While the alumni flag football game featured a mix of players from the distant past (one of whom was seen with a cigar in his mouth) and more recent grads, the Red team seemed to grow over halftime and definitely had more of the younger players. Not surprisingly, they prevailed 20-6 in what was billed by Richt as the “first annual” game when he presented the trophy. The only real problem was the difficulty in determining who you were seeing on the field, as alum Bobby Poss’ colorful “play by play” from the sideline was sporadic and at times difficult to decipher. His heckling of some of the players was fun, though. A bit of additional commentary was supplied by former QBs Preston Ridlehuber and Andy Johnson. Among the old Dawgs playing in the game were Cory Phillips (who showed he still has a pretty strong arm), Russ Tanner (who caught a touchdown pass), placekickers Kim Braswell and Jim McCullough, Dick Conn (the former defensive back, who was one of the quarterbacks for the Black team), Joey Hester, Jiggy Smaha (who commented to Poss afterward, “I got in for two plays and I didn’t die”), Amp Arnold, Kenny Bailey, Garrison Hearst, Tyson Browning, Bert Jones (who made an interception) and Charlie Dean. A couple of the participants went down with injuries, but as Poss noted brightly, “He signed his waiver, so it’s OK.”