Saturday was a fine time to be in Athens, what with the absolutely gorgeous spring weather and a chance to spend a couple of hours watching football at Sanford Stadium with my brothers and 46,000 other folks. Plus frisbee-catching dogs!
So, now to the main questions asked by Bulldog fans who couldn’t attend this year’s G-Day game, won 27-24 by the Red team (featuring the first-string offense) over the Black team (with the first-string defense):
First, how did Hutson Mason look? Very good. He completed 18 of 27 passes (almost all in the first half and including his first five) for 241 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions, continuing his trend this spring of strong play. (In fact, head coach Mark Richt said after the game that this was the worst of Mason’s three spring scrimmages — which I think qualifies as Dawg porn.) I liked the pace of Mason’s offense, which featured a lot of very quick passes.
What about Todd Gurley? He played more than I really expected, rushing six times for 32 yards and a touchdown, and gaining another 38 yards catching three passes. He didn’t appear to be really breaking a sweat and yet was still the best running back on the field, even if he did fumble crossing the goal line on one play, with the ball hitting the pylon, resulting in a touchback. Brendan Douglas and A.J. Turman also got some tough running yardage.
As for the revamping of the defense under an all-new staff led by Alabama-FSU import Jeremy Pruitt? Well, that’s still a very much a work in progress, as everyone involved admitted, but I liked the energy I saw out on the field and the fact that Pruitt was substituting liberally, with walk-ons Aaron Davis and Lucas Redd logging time with the first-string and acquitting themselves quite well. Basically, the pass rush looked awesome, particularly Leonard Floyd, despite the fact that all but one of the quarterbacks was in a no-contact jersey, and the linebackers also did a good job.
The secondary, the Achilles heel of last year’s Todd Grantham defense … well, it’s not really fair to judge because spring sensation J.J. Green and perennial should-be-great-if-only-he-was-healthy Tray Matthews didn’t get to play because of injury. Both the first- and second-string pass defenses gave up a lot of yardage, including a number of long balls, and drew a lot of flags — mostly for pass interference. Shaq Wiggins did have a notable pass breakup. But the biggest difference I saw from last year was they didn’t seem confused and their sins were a result of aggressive play.
The offense was expected to look better on this day, and it did. But the starting defense playing for the Blacks was much more effective in the second half, giving up 144 yards compared with 261 in the first half. Nothing to worry about unduly just yet.
The other most interesting storyline of the spring took an interesting turn Saturday, as redshirt-sophomore Faton Bauta (pronounced Fa-TONE Bow-tah), who had lost some ground to redshirt-freshman Brice Ramsey in the earlier scrimmages, had the more impressive day at G-Day by a large margin, completing 16 of 28 passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns in leading the Black team back from a 24-10 deficit early in the fourth quarter.
Ramsey, who started out on the Black offense and then moved over and played with the first-string Red offense in the second half, completed just two of 13 passes for 78 yards (a total skewed by a 46-yard completion) and one interception. Ramsey did show his strong arm a couple of times, but in general overthrew or underthrew his receivers. (True freshman early enrollee Jacob Park also played briefly at QB, not surprisingly with negligible results.)
Richt indicated that this was “just one day” in the competition between Bauta and Ramsey for the No. 2 job, but on this day Bauta — who chose to wear a regular jersey, allowing him to be hit — looked much more like the QB you’d want going in if Mason couldn’t play. Known primarily for his running ability (which he did show off a bit with six keepers for 35 yards), Batau was surprisingly good through the air, showing a stronger arm than expected, especially on a fourth-quarter drive in which he completed a 47-yarder to Kenneth Towns and then a 41-yard touchdown to Uriah LeMay on consecutive plays.
Other G-Day observations: Despite the swapping around amid the continuing search for the starting five — which saw John Theus play about half the game at his old right tackle position in addition to his more recent left-tackle spot — the offensive line had a decent day. … A lot of folks had to resort to their programs to figure out who was that kid wearing the No. 38 jersey for the Black team (clad in white) who snagged five receptions for an impressive 75 yards, including a very nice catch early in the second quarter where he had to go up and fight for the ball. It was redshirt-sophomore walk-on Clay Johnson. Spring standouts don’t always carry on into the fall, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him catching some balls during the regular season. For the Reds, Chris Conley looked great as usual, catching six passes for 124 yards and Michael Bennett had five catches for 47 yards, including a fine third-down snag in the second quarter where he had to stretch out for the ball. Reggie Davis also contributed three receptions for 66 yards. Fan favorite Jonathon Rumph had a very quiet G-Day with one reception for 7 yards, and dropped a couple of passes, including a third-down play when he was wide open. Fullback-turned-tight end Quayvon Hicks, who sometimes split wide Saturday, had one very nice catch on a 22-yarder.
Finally, some nonfootball notes from Saturday: The frisbee-catching dogs were the halftime entertainment and made probably the most impressive catches of the day. … Some strange “mascots” approximating a peanut, a peach and a drink cup came out on the field to play around with Hairy Dawg at one point. Let’s hope we never see them again. … And the athletic department folks experimented with the now-legal use of pre-recorded music between plays, in addition to their standard use in the pregame and timeouts. However, the folks in charge might want to note that fans were covering their ears and even plugging them with wadded up napkins, which might indicate the volume level needs to come down a notch. Or two. Or three.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg