Fan expectations were low for Saturday’s G-Day game in Athens, what with some key spring story lines short-circuited by injuries to freshman tailback Keith Marshall and prospective two-way player Malcolm Mitchell. But in the end, as one of my brothers noted, it was the most enjoyable spring game we’ve seen in recent years thanks to some unexpected scoring by both the offenses and defenses.
The first half was typical for these intrasquad outings, as the Red team with the first-team offense went against the Black team with the first-team defense, resulting in a pretty even match that saw the Reds lead 10-3 at halftime.
However, with the coaches mixing it up more in the second half, the benches emptying and several players showing up on both teams, it got a lot more interesting than your typical G-Day, resulting in only a missed 2-point play preserving the Reds’ 32-31 win with less than a minute left on the clock.
I think probably the highlight of the game for me was Black team QB Christian LeMay hitting redshirt freshman tight end Jay Rome, who made a leaping, twisting catch and then a nice run for a 66-yard score with 59 seconds left. With Artie Lynch also having made a couple of nice catches for the Reds, it’s looking like the tight end position might be a team strength again this coming season.
There were other memorable plays, including a defensive score that came thanks to the officials being a bit more lax in blowing whistle-sacks on the quarterbacks than in some past G-Day games. So when linebacker Reuben Faloughi hit Black team QB Parker Welch, knocking the ball out, the refs didn’t blow the play dead and defensive lineman Ricky Lowe grabbed the ball in midair and rambled 62 yards for a touchdown.
But aside from the entertainment value of such moments — and just the sheer pleasure of watching any sort of UGA football Between the Hedges on a beautiful spring day — the main reason most of us were there was to get some sense of what sort of team the Bulldogs will field in 2012. And from that perspective, we walked away with a few tentative conclusions.
For one, LeMay continues to progress nicely into the prospective backup QB this year, what with plans for No. 2 signal caller Hutson Mason to take a redshirt year unless needed. Right on his first play, LeMay made a really nice fake before hitting Rantavious Wooten on a 27-yard pass. But LeMay, who’s only played two intrasquad games of football in the past two years, wasn’t as consistent as Aaron Murray or Mason, even though he had the day’s best numbers, with 7 of 10 passes completed for a touchdown and an interception. Going up against one of the best defenses in the country and spending much more time in the game than we’d been led to expect, Murray was a workmanlike 7 of 17 for 112 yards and a touchdown. Mason, who wound up playing for both teams, was a combined 9 of 12 for 133 yards and definitely provided the spark that got the Black offense back in the game.
We left Sanford Stadium certain of one thing: If anything happens to Murray, that redshirt will be quickly torn off Mason.
As for the running game, things were stacked heavily in favor of the Reds initially, with starter Ken Malcome and Isaiah Crowell alternating with about even results, the edge going to Malcome for a couple of tough, tackle-breaking scoring runs. Meanwhile, the Black team’s backfield was populated from deep in the depth chart, with mighty mite Brandon Harton and Kyle Karempelis carrying the ball with little success behind a struggling second-team offensive line. (That, ironically, led to the Black quarterbacks instead using their tailbacks as receivers on quick screen passes — which is how small but speedy tailbacks should be used, instead of trying in vain to run them up the middle. Harton ended up with six catches for 52 yards. Mike Bobo, please take note!).
Eventually, though, fullback-tailback Richard Samuel, who had been listed as doubtful because of a concussion earlier in the week, switched from the Reds to the Blacks (and to a No. 19 jersey instead of his usual 22) to inject some life into the Black running game, showing both power and speed on the outside. He finished with 43 yards and a touchdown on eight runs.
On defense, it was a bit of a surprise that Ramik Wilson’s name was called out so frequently by stadium announcer by Brook Whitmire. Wilson had quite a day, leading the Reds with seven tackles (two for loss) and an interception that he returned 19 yards. Alec Ogletree also had a nice interception and 28-yard return on a sailing pass lofted by wide receiver Michael Bennett, but you expect that of him. Chase Vasser had a good day for the Blacks, making five tackles and deflecting a pass. Big John Jenkins batted down another pass for the Blacks.
At wide receiver, redshirt-freshman speedster Justin Scott-Wesley showed indications he’ll be a factor this fall, leading the Red team with three catches for 46 yards. Tavarres King caught a couple, including a 33-yard touchdown pass from Murray. And the Black team’s Michael Erdman made a really nice snag on a long gainer from Mason.
And for those who enjoy big hits, Sanders Commings unleashed one when he caught Marlon Brown not looking, decking the senior receiver to the crowd’s obvious delight.
All in all, a lovely day to be in Athens, as local radio legend H. Randolph Holder used to say.
OTHER G-DAY NOTES
Among the “millionaires club” of Dawgs alums hanging out on the sideline were A.J. Green and Matt Stafford. … The lettermen’s flag football game before the regular spring game was fun, as usual, with the spirited participants including Garrison Hearst (who’s developed into quite the receiver), Tyson Browning (still making great moves), Joey Hester (who made some impressive throws), Andre “Pulpwood” Smith, Amp Arnold, Michael Cooper, Kentrell Curry (whose name sideline “announcer” Bobby Poss never could master) and Fred Munzenmaier. Just for the record, the Reds won that game as well, 28-12. … The official UGA 2012 spirit T-shirt, as chosen by the student body, was unveiled. This year’s design, by fan Christopher Sweat of Patterson, features distressed “Sick ‘Em” lettering over a print of Uga’s eyes. It’s available at the UGA Bookstore or through Georgiadogs.com.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg