The consensus seems to be that the Black team’s 23-17 win over the Red team in Saturday’s G-Day game in Athens was an “upset.”
After all, the Reds featured the Bulldogs’ star-studded first-string offense, which returns almost all its starters from last season’s record-setting unit, while the Blacks had the first-string defense, which is having to rebuild after losing most of its starters.
But while a case definitely can be made that the Red offense underperformed in Saturday’s intrasquad game before a record crowd of 45,113 on a beautiful spring day at Sanford Stadium, it’s only fair to note that they weren’t at full strength, with their top receivers not playing due to injury, quarterback Aaron Murray only playing about two quarters’ worth, and the “Gurshall” tailback tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall barely in the game, with Gurley having only four carries for 25 yards and Marshall six carries for 6 yards. (J.J. Green led the Reds with eight rushes for 27 yards.)
Meanwhile, the Blacks, led by second-string quarterback Hutson Mason, benefited from having the day’s standout performance by a receiver in junior-college transfer Jonathan Rumph’s four receptions for 98 yards, including two touchdown catches, and also in having the stronger backup QB in Parker Welch, who in passing was four of eight for 103 yards, including a pretty 47-yard touchdown strike to Rumph, while Murray’s primary backup on the Reds was Christian LeMay, who had another terrible day, going 0-for-6 through the air with an interception.
Still, the big story of the day was the starting defense, playing for the Blacks. Most observers kind of expected the rest of the game to go like Saturday’s opening drive, in which Murray led the Red offense on a five-play, 75-yard scoring drive, but the Black defense then notched four straight three-and-outs before giving up a Marshall Morgan field goal and then another touchdown in the final minute of the first half when Murray showed off the Dogs’ quick-strike scoring capability, completing passes to Rhett McGowan and Justin Scott-Wesley for a 17-7 halftime lead. The Blacks’ lone first-half score was a 20-yard TD pass from Mason to Rumph, Georgia’s tallest receiver at 6-foot-5.
In the second half, however, with LeMay and true freshman Brice Ramsey at the controls much of the time in place of Murray, the Black defense definitely had the upper hand, and the Reds were completely shut out. (Ramsey, who’s expected to redshirt, did at least get the chance to show off a strong passing arm on a couple of plays.)
Meanwhile, the Black offense, which initially had little success running with Brandon Harton, fared better in the second half as Kyle Karempelis darted for 89 yards on 13 carries (with one fumble) and a trio of backup placekickers converted three field goals.
One of the problems offensively for both teams was the number of “sacks” (nine), though that’s a bit misleading in that officials were blowing the whistle to stop the play if a quarterback was touched and, as offensive coordinator/Red team coach Mike Bobo noted, in several of those instances the QB simply held on to the ball too long.
The quick whistles also stymied a bunch of quarterback keepers. Even so, it wasn’t a great day for either the first- or second-string offensive lines, particularly in run-blocking. (There was a bit of team-switching during the game, with John Theus, who spent the day continuing his experimental stay at left tackle, among those playing in both red and white jerseys.)
Both starting quarterbacks got off to slow starts but ultimately both looked pretty good, with Murray going 12-of-18 for 200 yards and two touchdowns and Mason ending up 16-of-27 for 191 yards , a touchdown and an interception. There were some nice catches made and some passes dropped on both sides.
Overall, the starting defense for the Blacks, including the front, looked pretty impressive and freshman linebacker Reggie Carter continued to make a case for playing time, notching an interception (his third in three spring scrimmages) in addition to seven tackles, and another frosh, Reggie Wilkerson, looked solid at cornerback, stepping in for projected starter Sheldon Dawson, who was held out with a hamstring problem. Spring star Tray Matthews looked good in the secondary and Josh Harvey-Clemons looked sharp alternating between safety and nickel back.
The best defensive play probably came late in the game when Murray and Marshall were re-inserted into the Red lineup to try and convert a fourth-and-1 on a pitch out, but the Black defense held.
Overall, the closeness of the score (a hallmark of these first-string vs. first string games) made it a fairly entertaining G-Day for fans, despite the numerous drives that ended in punts (which were not returned).
And, hey, it was Georgia football Between the Hedges — always something worth cheering.
The halftime entertainment included a contest between a couple of fans in which former Dawgs helped out, with Blair Walsh kicking, Eric Zeier throwing and — best of all — former center Ben Jones kicking a couple of PATs! … The big screen on the scoreboard also featured a music video for the song “Dawg Bite” by David Richt (son of) and Colt Ford that included Georgia’s grinning head coach joining in a couple of choreographed moves. As I told my daughter, fathers will do anything for their kids. … As usual, there were problems with both the game clock and the officials’ microphones, both of which are recurring problems at Sanford Stadium. Isn’t it about time those issues were addressed? Also, looking ahead to the coming season, let’s hope the athletic association finally does something about providing fans with free Wi-Fi service inside the stadium.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg