G-Day 2021: Five takeaways from UGA football's spring game
This was, relatively speaking, a mostly stress-free day for the UGA football team.
Sure, there were positions on the depth chart to be claimed and a winning side in the G-Day spring game — that would be the Red and the starting offense beating the Black and the starting defense 28-23 — but it was a Saturday where a star could have been born or maybe just a spring flash that doesn’t make much noise in the fall.
What this third scrimmage and 15th and final practice of the spring certainly was is a far cry from the pressure-packed season opener in a likely top five clash against Clemson on Sept. 4 in Charlotte. That should be the next time the Bulldogs will see thousands of fans in the stands.
The most important thing was Georgia left without any major injuries on a day when there was 684 passing yards and five touchdown passes.
“Just being able to sling the ball around today and have some fun,” wide receiver Kearis Jackson said.
There was by design only 20,524 fans on hand, which made it the smallest attended G-Day since 2008 when there were 19,874 and rain kept fans away. Last year’s event was scrapped entirely due to no pandemic and spring practices cancelled.
Hello Adonai Mitchell
George Pickens walked into Sanford Stadium wearing his No. 1 jersey without crutches with a backpack on and chatted with a referee. That was about as much action as the star wideout had on G-Day. His torn ACL injury this spring changed the complexion of the wide receiving corps.
By halftime a three-star freshman name Adonai Mitchell wearing No. 5 created plenty of buzz.
Mitchell, who teammates call AD, had five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown in the first half alone. He finished with 7 for 105 and the score, closing the spring with what coach Kirby Smart said were his best three practices.
“I thought all spring Adonai competed really well,” Smart said. “He's a competitor. He makes plays down the field. … He made plays during the spring and when you’ve got guys like that who step up, it’s almost a bonus. We lost George, which forced him to play more, but he picked it up fast. When Jermaine (Burton) went down he got even more reps.”
That 24-yard scoring strike from JT Daniels came when the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Missouri City, Texas native lined up on the left side He cruised past Jalen Kimber and reached out to snag the pass in the end zone with safety Lewis Cine closing.
Daniels targeted Mitchell on 4 of his first 12 throws.
“He’s got a real good understanding to get in and out of breaks, which makes a good case for him when he’s one-on-one,” Daniels said. “Being at the X position gives him a lot of one-on-one opportunities to win.”
The X position, lined up on one side as the lone receiver, is the same spot the Pickens vacated due to his injury.
Mitchell couldn’t make a grab early on a third-and-1 back shoulder catch with Ameer Speed covering. He caught a slant on his second catch for 23 yards.
Stetson Bennet later hit Mitchell in front of Cine for 23 yards and Mitchell went down to snag a pass in two-minute drive before half. He wasn’t perfect. He was called for a false start.
Mitchell played in 2019 at Cane Ridge High near Nashville when he had 40 catches for 795 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“AD has all the potential to be one of the best freshman receivers this year,” Jackson said. “He put on a showcase today but there’s room for improvement. …He’s very athletic. He just has natural talent. Once he learns the system, how to practice. …there’s no telling how good he can be.”
Besides what we’ve come to expect from Jackson — four catches for 50 yards including a 9-yard touchdown catch from Daniels — Demetris Robertson showed his speed on a late deep ball touchdown catch and finished with 4 catches for 88 yards.
Walk-on Steven Peterson, a former high school teammate of Justin Fields who transferred from Mercer had four catches for 60 yards.
The running backs had a big day in the passing game: James Cook with 6 catches for 61yards, Zamir White 6 for 50, Kendall Milton 5 for 31 and Daijun Edwards 5 for 24.
The good news is that the Bulldogs should have fourth other receivers available this fall that didn’t go Saturday: Jermaine Burton (hyperextended knee), Dominick Blaylock (ACL torn last August), Marcus Rosemy Jacksaint (dislocated ankle at Florida game) and Jackson Meeks (undisclosed).
“It’s going to be a really good competition come fall when we’re at 100 percent health at the wide receiver position,” Smart said. “Because some of these guys who got all these opportunities in spring have really stepped up.”
Inexperienced DBs get plenty of work
Eric Stokes and Mark Webb were on hand, but they and fellow cornerback Tyson Campbell aren’t walking out of that locker room door again to play in Sanford. They should hear their names called at the end of this month in the NFL draft.
West Virginia transfer Tykee Smith is on the way and is the favorite to start at the Star nickel back.
Redshirt sophomore Kimber and senior Speed started with the No. 1 defense at cornerback.
Speed went stride for stride with Mitchell on a deep ball late and broke up the pass but then lost his footing and was beat on a 59-yard touchdown from Daniels to Robertson.
“Some of the DBs got to make plays and then some of them we didn't make plays but that's always going to be the case in a spring game,” Smart said. “I was pleased with the effort and attitude of the guys with it, though."
The Bulldogs inexperienced defensive backs got plenty of work on a day Georgia quarterbacks combined to throw for 87 passes.
“We got to challenge those guys,” Smart said. “We’ll get to do that all summer in seven-on-seven. We’ve got to grow and get better and we’ve got good players, we’ve got to coach them up and get them ready to play at a high level. They’ll get challenged obviously in our opener and in conference play. The teams that we play next year, there’s some teams that can sling the ball.”
Kimber had two pass breaks ups including one on the sideline from Daniels but he was in coverage on a pass over the middle in the third quarter that went for 16 yards.
“A little inexperienced in the secondary … but there's no fear, in my mind,” Daniels said. “We made some really nice plays and they made some nice breakups today too.
"Each of them is fighting for their positions," Jackson said. "They know what’s at stake."
Freshman Lovasea Carroll, recruited as a running back, continued his spring introduction to cornerback when 6-foot-7, 260-pound Darnell Washington maneuvered past him and hauled in a pass from Carson Beck and bounced off walk-on Dan Jackson before Javon Bullard eventually brought him down after a 51-yard gain.
Kimber broke up a pass for Mitchell early in the third quarter.
“At defensive back it doesn’t change, it’s day to day,” Smart said. “We’ve got two safeties we feel like can play pretty good and are experienced. But at corner we’ve got to find guys that are pretty comfortable, can make plays down the field, and can make plays with their back to the ball.”
Beck continues strong spring but competition for No. 2 QB is ongoing
Daniels made just his second appearance before fans in Sanford Stadium and first since his splashy Bulldogs’ debut on Nov. 21 against Mississippi State when he threw for 401 yards and four touchdowns.
Beck was the No. 2 quarterback on this day with true freshman Brock Vandagriff going after him. Stetson Bennett was the fourth quarterback seen on the day going behind Daniels with the No. 1 offense.
“Top to bottom I really feel real good about all four of them,” Smart said. “I don’t know that we can say we’ve ever had four that you feel confident about.”
Beck certainly made a run for the backup job this spring.
On this day, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound redshirt freshman from Jacksonville completed 22 of 31 passes for 236 yards with two touchdowns and an interception,
He showed a quick release and connected on two touchdowns late on a 13-yard pass to Washington and 10 yards to Jaylen Johnson.
On the flip side, he overthrew Arian Smith and walk-on Dan Jackson came up with the interception.
“He had some good spring scrimmages,” Smart said of Beck. “He had some good outings out there in the spring. We thought he throws the ball really well. He had a really good practice Thursday in terms of command of the offense, making decisions, using the players around him. He’s got a really good pocket presence.”
Vandagriff, from Prince Avenue Christian, showed his dual-threat capability on a 13-yard run and completed 6 of 9 passes for 47 yards. He had a fumble when he couldn’t handle what seemed like a decent snap from Sedrick Van Pran-Granger.
Bennett was 3 of 3 for 58 yards in the first half, but a deep ball in the fourth quarter to Robertson was picked off by Cine on his other pass.
Bennett has been there. He has five starts under his belt in SEC play last season.
The sure thing exiting the spring is what we knew going in--that Daniels is the starter.
All he did after going 4-0 as a starter last season was go 28 of 41 for 324 yards with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions on this day.
“Now that we’re settled on one quarterback, now that we know who the man is going to be we can get that chemistry going,” Cook on 680 AM this week.
The good and not so good on offensive line
Nobody can say that Georgia doesn’t have plenty of talent in its offensive line room.
Consider on this day the second-team offensive line included three former five stars in left tackle Amarius Mims, right tackle Broderick Jones and Clay Webb at left guard.
The starting offensive line had its hands full with the starting defensive front seven that Daniels called “absolutely elite."
Defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt had a sack on the first drive of the first half and second of the second half.
“Jalen Carter and Devonte Wyatt were disruptive inside with some inside stunts that helped us,” Smart said. “Got quick pressure a couple of times, but for every positive, there's a flip side of that. We've got to protect better or we've got to tackle better."
Outside linebacker Nolan Smith went around right tackle Warren McClendon for another and later got a pressure getting around McClendon on a third-down incompletion.
Protecting Daniels better will be a focus in the months ahead.
“We still have to get better with the guys around him starting with the O-line holding up up front and protecting the quarterback,” Jackson said.
Senior Jamaree Salyer didn’t start but played extensively at both left tackle and left guard. He might have been “a little rusty,” after missing extensive practice time this spring, Smart said.
Redshirt freshman Tate Ratledge started at right guard and looks like a contender to start if not be a top sub.
“We’re not where we need to be with the offensive line,” Smart said. “If we’re going to be a good team, we’ve got to protect the quarterback and we’ve got to be able to run the ball. That’s one of the areas we’re going to have to take the largest leaps to get where we want to go.”
Checking on the newcomers
Tight end Brock Bowers from Napa, Calif, continued his strong spring.
He went up with two defenders on and made a catch over the middle for 25 yards. Later on the same first-half drive, he hauled in another and finished with two catches for 31 yards on 3 total targets.
Will we see the 6-foot-7, 330-pound Mims as a gadget offensive weapon like he was when he caught a pass on a two-point conversion that didn't bring points?
Five-star inside linebacker Smael Mondon dropped Milton for a short gain in the third quarter. The Paulding County product rang up five tackles.
Freshman Bullard led the Red team with six tackles, including five solo.
Cornerback Kelee Ringo, who didn't play last season. drew some “oohs” with a hard-hit on McConkey on a 7-yard catch in the final minute.
“He’s taken some shots this spring and gets backs up and keeps going,” Smart said of the redshirt freshman McConkey.
Overall, Smart summed up the spring this way: “We've had a tough, physical spring and 15 practices complete. Got a long way to go to get where we need to go. We've got to find some depth at some positions and we've got to get better at some other positions.”