Dawgs fans, let’s keep G-Day game in perspective

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Faton Bauta and Brice Ramsey throw during spring practice. (John Kelley / UGA)
Faton Bauta and Brice Ramsey throw during spring practice. (John Kelley / UGA)

Faton Bauta and Brice Ramsey throw during spring practice. (John Kelley / UGA)

Bulldogs fans are looking forward to Saturday’s G-Day spring game in hopes it will shed some light on what sort of team the Dawgs will have this fall.

That’s always the case, but in years like this one when there’s an open competition for the starting quarterback’s job, the fan interest ramps up considerably. And with Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta apparently battling neck and neck for the lead and Jacob Park still in the equation, it’s a pretty compelling storyline.

Just like the rest of you, I’m anxious to see how they look Saturday, but I think perhaps a little historical perspective is in order to keep our expectations in check.

I remember the chatter as fans left the 2010 G-Day game, convinced they’d just watched quarterback Zach Mettenberger win the starting job.

The G-Day battle between Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray was misleading. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

The G-Day battle between Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray was misleading. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

That was another of these three-quarterback battles, and on that particular day the big redshirt freshman from Oconee County was impressive, completing 6 of 10 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Aaron Murray, also a redshirt freshman, looked more tentative as he completed 9 of 18 passes for 96 yards and one interception. And odd man out Logan Gray completed 7 of 13 passes for 102 yards and one TD.

But those folks anointing Mettenberger the next season’s starter didn’t know Murray essentially already had won the job in the minds of Mark Richt and Mike Bobo. Or, of course, that Mettenberger soon would be gone from the team while Murray would go on to rewrite SEC passing records.

And then there’s another caveat about elevating G-Day beyond what it really is: a spring scrimmage with an audience.

Remember those loud, persistent critics who spent much of Murray’s tenure complaining that the most talented QB was on the bench? Invariably, those folks would cite Hutson Mason’s G-Day numbers to show he was the superior player.

Last year, during Mason’s solid but unspectacular time as starter, what did we hear from those folks? [Crickets]

Richt has already said he doesn’t expect to leave spring practice with a starting QB established, so as interesting as it will be to see how the battle goes Saturday, I doubt the outcome will be decisive.

That’s the way it goes with spring games. Frequently, the player who stands out at G-Day is strangely missing in action or, at least, not much of a factor come the fall. Like tailback Carlton Thomas, who provided the few bright spots in the defense-dominated 2009 spring game.

And don’t forget the 2013 G-Day performance by junior college transfer receiver Jonathon Rumph, who caught four passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns. Fans were hailing the 6-foot-5, 208-pound player as a star in the making, but Rumph only appeared in four games that season and, due to injuries, also missed much of his senior year, only showing flashes of the potential we’d seen at G-Day as he had big days against Kentucky and Charleston Southern.

None of this is to say that G-Day doesn’t matter. While it isn’t necessarily the most important of the three spring scrimmages in the minds of the coaching staff, it’s the one with the most game-like setting, thanks to the crowd of 40,000-something fans, so you’ve got to figure the players feel a bit more pressure. Seeing how they handle it provides some valuable insight.

So even though I know we won’t get any definitive answers out of G-Day this year, I’ll be there in the stands as usual looking to see what the Dawgs have got in several key areas.

When it comes to the quarterbacks, I want to see if the strong-armed Ramsey’s decision-making has improved and how the more mobile Bauta looks throwing the ball. I also want a look at Park, who has spent most of the spring playing with the third or second units but whom many have pegged as a comer.

Brendan Douglas likely will get a lot of carries in this year's  G-Day game. (John Kelley / UGA)

Brendan Douglas likely will get a lot of carries in this year’s
G-Day game. (John Kelley / UGA)

Also on offense, I’ll be anxious to see how the offensive line looks with a new center. At running back, I don’t expect to see much of Nick Chubb and, what with Sony Michel out and Keith Marshall limited at best, I’m not sure how valuable it will be seeing the fourth- and fifth-string tailbacks battling. But it’ll still be fun.

And I definitely want to see how Malcolm Mitchell and the rest of the receivers look. Is Justin Scott-Wesley back in form? And how about Isaiah McKenzie, who last year was an ace kick returner but was less reliable catching passes. Richt has spoken highly of his receiving this spring, so I want to see how he looks.

And while they usually keep things pretty vanilla at G-Day so as not to provide a scouting advantage, it will be interesting to see how much Brian Schottenheimer has tweaked the prolific offense he inherited from Bobo. Already, we’ve heard that his NFL roots are showing in his greater use of the tight ends which is something I’ve wanted to see for a long time.

I also want to see how the quarterbacks and offensive line handle the pressure of Jeremy Pruitt’s defensive front (which had 10 sacks in last week’s scrimmage). But since Trent Thompson, the incoming freshman widely expected to compete for a starting slot, isn’t on campus yet I’m not sure how much we’ll really be able to tell about the DL.

Among the linebackers, I’m particularly interested in seeing transfers Chuks Amaechi and Jake Ganus, who’ve been attracting quite a bit of attention in spring drills.

As for the secondary, I expect Pruitt will continue his game-to-game mix-and-match competition on into the season, but we at least will get a chance to gauge how the talent he has on hand at this point is progressing.

Mark Richt usually joins the Bulldogs broadcast crew for part of the G-Day game. (John Kelley / UGA)

Mark Richt usually joins the Bulldogs broadcast crew for part of the G-Day game. (John Kelley / UGA)

So, that’s what I’ll be focusing on Saturday.

However, the real reason for attending G-Day is that it’s our last opportunity to watch football Between the Hedges until September. And any time spent doing that is worthwhile!

Saturday’s schedule calls for the past lettermen’s flag football game (always fun) to get going at noon (which is when the stadium gates will open), with the intrasquad game at 2 p.m.

Admission to the game is free, but fans are encouraged to bring canned goods for the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia. Donations will be accepted at Gates 2, 4, 6 and 9.

If you can’t make it to Athens, the G-Day game will air on SEC Network-plus, which can be seen on tablets, smart phones and computers, with Dave Neal (play-by-play), Matt Stinchcomb (color analyst) and Maria Taylor (sideline). The game also will be broadcast on the Georgia Radio Network and GeorgiaDogs.com with Scott Howard (play-by-play), Eric Zeier (color analyst) and Chuck Dowdle (sideline). And, when he’s not on the field, Richt usually joins the broadcast crews for a little coach’s commentary on the game.

Got something you want to discuss concerning UGA athletics? Or a question you want me to tackle? Just email me at  junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

Junkyard Blawg mugBill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.

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