ATHENS, Ga. — The melancholy months between the national championship game and Week 1 of the next regular season are dark days for football fans. That’s why spring games on campus draw so much hype and attention. There’s still a long way to go for Kirby Smart and his staff at Georgia to finalize a roster and depth chart, but a few hours in April went a long way toward giving us some information.
Here are 10 things we learned about the UGA football team at G-Day:
10. While It Wasn’t 93K, 66,000 Was Impressive
We knew that the 2017 crowd wouldn’t be quite as massive as the 2016 version, what we didn’t know was exactly how many UGA fans would show up. Approximately 66,000 is the answer, and in Year 2 under Kirby Smart, the program has to feel pretty good about that showing. The crowd was treated to a perfect weather day in Athens, and an impressive performance from the two guys they all came to see, Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm. While I’m not sure Fromm’s performance warrants a true quarterback controversy, the freshman played very well and had to leave the 66K in attendance feeling really good about the future at the QB position.
9. The Kicking Game Was A Little Rough
Rodrigo Blankenship has gotten more coverage and conversation than your average non-scholarship kicker gets at most SEC programs. In part because of the fact that he’s a non-scholarship kicker, in some measures because he wears funny goggles, and to a large degree because he is good. Saturday he wasn’t great, however. Blankenship missed an extra point, two field goals, and had another short field goal go in off the left upright. The last thing you want is for your kicker to be a story, but unfortunately due to all of the factors listed above, and his G-Day performance, the kicker is a story. Silver lining: The extra point he missed led to a game-winning field goal on the other end, as Blankenship was the kicker for both teams. So he won and lost at G-Day.
8. Chubb And Michel Didn’t Get Much Work
If the offensive line is the biggest question mark heading into 2017, the running game is the smallest one. With these two future NFL running backs returning to the offense, there is no question that UGA has one of the top backfields in the country. Kirby Smart seems to know this, as these two didn’t get much run in the spring game. Chubb had one catch on a quick screen pass; Michel had one rush for 4 yards. No use risking an injury to one of these two, and it seems that was the mentality at G-Day.
7. Mecole Hardman Is Going To Get A Chance To Play All Over The Field
The sophomore from Bowman, GA is officially listed as an “Athlete” on the team roster, and that is exactly what he looked like on G-Day. Hardman only made three catches on the day, but even the 5-yard out route he hauled in was impressive. He also fielded a couple of punts and kickoffs as well. His one negative play came on a wonderful throw from Fromm, where the freshman QB made an anticipatory throw to the corner of the end zone, leaving Hardman perfectly open. Sadly Hardman let the pass slip through his hands. Aside from that play however, Hardman looked every bit the athlete Kirby Smart hopes he can be for this team.
6. The TEs Are A Talented Group As Well
Coming into the spring game there was some talk that the best overall receiver on the team was sophomore tight end Isaac Nauta. And while that still may be true, another sophomore, Charlie Woerner, may have had the play of the day. Woerner caught a pass from Eason over the middle that should have gone for 10-15 yards. But he bounced off two would-be tacklers and found himself in the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown. Between the good showing for the WRs, what you know you have in the backfield, and these young tight ends, this offense has a chance to be much improved in 2017.
5. There Will Be Plenty Of Weapons At WR
Among the biggest question leading into the fall was the worry that Eason wouldn’t have any playmakers on the outside to catch the ball. That is much less of a concern after the performance of the wideouts at G-Day. Freshman JJ Holloman was the biggest surprise with three catches for 77 yards and a TD. Javon Wims also showed big-play potential with a number of long receptions. Between Holloman, Wims, Terry Godwin and Tyler Simmons, it looks like Eason will have plenty of athletes at WR.
4. The Defensive Front 7 Was What You’d Expect
This is the positive side of the offensive line struggling, because they struggled in part due to the play of this veteran defensive group. UGA has the best group of linebackers returning in the SEC with Roquan Smith, Davin Bellamy, Lorenzo Carter and Natrez Patrick all back for 2017. This unit should be the strength of the team. They looked fast and athletic on Saturday against the first-team offense, and while Eason had some success down the field against the secondary, the run game was non-existent thanks to the play of the front 7.
3. The O-Line Was Still Shaky
Everything in a spring game can be interpreted in two directions, since both the successful player and the player that came up short play for the same team. So when you see that the first-team offensive line gives up five sacks, you can choose to be frustrated that this unit still seems to need lots of work, or you can be optimistic about the first-team pass rush. The telling issue for me with the performance of the offensive line on G-Day was the penalties. A few holding calls, a hands to the face, a false start, and this group looks eerily similar to the unit that frustrated UGA fans all season in 2016. It’s also worth noting that in a real game the run/pass balance would be much more equal and keep the defense guessing a little more. The fact that the first-team offense threw the ball twice as much as it ran made rushing the passer a little easier.
2. Jacob Eason Is, And Should Be, The Starting QB
While Fromm was impressive in his first outing, Eason was solid as well. Like was written with Fromm, spring game stats don’t tell the whole story, so when you read that Eason was 16 for 36 with an interception, don’t freak out. The sophomore from Lake Stevens, WA showed improvement on his touch down the field and he did a nice job throwing on the run a few times as the pocket collapsed. The best moments for Eason were two deep passes, one to Javon Wims for 47 yards, the other was a play where he had to break the pocket and find Terry Godwin. There was some inaccuracy and an interception that he threw, but overall Eason looked sharp and ready.
1. Jake Fromm Can Play
We’ve been hearing about the freshman QB from Warner Robins all spring, and Saturday we finally got to see him in action. He did not disappoint. While spring game stats are to be taken lightly, it was nice to see Fromm complete 14 of 23 attempts and throw two TDs. The most impressive part of his day however, was leading a scoring drive with under three minutes to go in the fourth quarter, which lead to a 25-22 win for the Red Team. Wins, stats, touchdowns, etc. may all seem trivial in an exhibition game, but for a freshman to look this poised the first time we saw him was very impressive.