The first-ever game on Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium will not be long remembered nor greatly celebrated. Not by anyone who wasn’t a Bulldogs freshman scoring a first career touchdown. That group, at least, numbered a gracious plenty.
Oh, if only they had gotten around to renaming the field after legendary coach and long-time athletic director Vince Dooley in a more timely manner. Like, say the spring. At least the G-Day game would have provided a better show.
On a Saturday too stinkin’ hot for football, against an opponent not even Dooley in his prime could make sound dangerous, let it be known that Georgia did show up. That was sufficient for a predictably mundane beating of Murray State, an FCS team fighting way out of its weight class. The score was 63-17 or something like that, I may have lost track.
The afternoon served as the long cool-down – not that one was needed – to the simple, dignified pregame ceremony in which Dooley was made a permanent part of the scenery here. It was all an anticlimax once Herschel Walker led the stadium in cheers before kickoff. That would have been hard to beat in a better game, one in which you could actually find the opponent on a map.
Other than a couple of nice splashes of sentiment, the most that can be taken from such an afternoon is that some of these young players we have heard so much about may actually be worth at least some of the palaver devoted to signing day.
Games like this are at best frosted glass windows to the future, serving to provide fuzzy, not completely accurate glimpses at what may be coming from a team that has turned recruiting into an art.
Two freshmen and a redshirt freshman who earned that designation the hard way found the end zone for the first time Saturday.
It may well have been worth sitting through this mismatch if only to watch Zamir White plow in for a 6-yard second-quarter touchdown. That represented another uplifting chapter to his story of perseverance, the first score following not one, but two, major knee surgeries.
Hard to know if White ever will be the otherworldly runner that was his destiny while in high school in North Carolina. But this day against Murray State, no one on the field gained more than his 72 yards. At least this game yielded that one very nice memento.
“To have what he’s been through and be able to score, I think it’s awesome,” Bulldogs quarterback Jake Fromm said. “He’s playing really tough right now, running the ball really, really strong. As an offense as a whole, we need to work on ball security but he’s playing tough. Hope he continues to do that.”
“To see him score and see him lead the team in rushing, I was happy for him,” running back D’Andre Swift said. Swift scored twice and added 67 yards to the Bulldogs’ 269 rushing yards.
To the question of who is going to catch the ball for the Bulldogs, a couple of freshman gave a fairly convincing answer Saturday.
George Pickens was an Auburn recruit who was spirited away to Georgia, amid much fanfare. Apparently for some good reason. On Saturday he led all Georgia receivers with four catches for 78 yards. One was a 15-yard scoring catch, one of five Georgia touchdowns in just the second quarter. The 6-foot-3 Pickens turned the shorter Murray State defenders inside-out and upside-down.
“Explosive,” Fromm said of Pickens. “He’s a big-time guy, a really good player, a really good kid. He needs to clean up some of the little things, some little details. He has tremendous potential.”
Pickens’ coach was also pleased with the production but could have done without the personal foul penalty he drew late in the game, when reacting to being shoved out of bounds. He threw the ball at the perpetrator and the official threw a flag. Imagine, a tempestuous wide receiver. Who has ever heard of such a thing?
Said Kirby Smart, “Pickens did some good things. He’s talented. He just needs to control his emotions. I love the kid and he plays with energy, but he needs to play within the realm of the discipline of our program. He’s got a lot of talent. I’m excited for his future.”
Also scoring, on a 25-yard reception in the fourth quarter, was freshman wideout Dominick Blaylock.
“We got a lot of young guys who can play. Good to see them go out there today and do that,” Swift said.
The Racers coach, Mitch Stewart, who played his high school ball in Newnan and collegiately at Valdosta State, had not returned to Georgia meekly. At mid-week he declared that his team would be “the harder-playing team that day.” Don’t know exactly whether to admire or snicker at such gallows confidence.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who believe they should have got recruited by a big school like that coming out of high school, so now it’s their opportunity to show that on a big stage, and it’s going to be a lot of fun watching our guys do that,” Stewart said.
However, as is almost always the case in these kind of hollow mismatches, there is one team that actually does possess the big-time recruits. And not coincidentally, it is the one that wins big, without apology.