Georgia promises real game-day atmosphere for annual G-Day game

Georgia fans are likely to see a lot of quarterbacks play in Saturday's G-Day Game, some they'd seen before like JT Daniels (18)and Stetson Bennett (13), and others like Carson Beck (15), whom they have not. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)
Georgia fans are likely to see a lot of quarterbacks play in Saturday's G-Day Game, some they'd seen before like JT Daniels (18)and Stetson Bennett (13), and others like Carson Beck (15), whom they have not. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

Credit: UGA Sports

Credit: UGA Sports

ATHENS – There have been all kinds of derivations of G-Day over the years.

The annual spring instrasquad game reportedly started in the 1940s and, with the exception of World War II years of 1943 and ’45, has been conducted every year since, other than last year because of the pandemic.

Most often it has been a split-squad game, usually designating the No. 1 offense for one team and the No. 1 defense for the other and then filling in behind them best they could. Other times, they’ve appointed captains and had them draft players. In other years, they’ve had a squad of old lettermen face off against the current players.

Nowadays, it’s a little more showy but probably less competitive. In modern times, coaches are more concerned about getting out with their best players healthy and not giving early-season opponents any hints as to what what they might look like from a personnel or strategy standpoint.

That’s the sentiment most often displayed by current coach Kirby Smart, who intercepted his buddy Mike Bobo in the only G-Day game ever played at Clarke Central High School and returned it for a touchdown in 1996.

Former coach Ray Goff, who enrolled at UGA in 1973, participated in multiple formats as a player and coach.

“You chose up sides and you played the game,” Goff said of his day. “You played a real game. The winning team got to eat steak and the losers got beanie-weenie’s, and we really got after it. It was always fun. But football’s changed a lot since then. It’s all about dollars now.”

Orders within the athletic department are to, operationally at least, conduct the game in the same manner that was done during last year’s pandemic-altered season. A socially distanced crowd of 20,524 consisting mostly of donors who paid $10 each will watch the 2 p.m. game at Sanford Stadium. The game can be viewed via Internet streaming on ESPN-Plus or via the ESPN app.

Here are five things to be thinking about as Georgia enters moves into its ninth decade of playing the G-Day game:

Who plays quarterback?

The first one’s easy, and that’s saying something after the debacle that was last season with football’s most important position. Georgia heads into this spring with JT Daniels having a firm grasp on the No. 1 spot. The rising junior from Irvine, Calif., took over as the Bulldogs’ starter in Game 7 of 10 last season, and Smart has been uncharacteristically clear about Daniels’ status as QB1 this year.

What’s unknown is exactly how long offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Todd Monken might want to keep Daniels on the field. On one hand, the second-year starter needs as much work with his young receiving corps as possible. And it’s only his second game between the hedges before a live audience.

But the real interest is in who’s next. That really shouldn’t be that much of a mystery, as people inside the program know what a big deal it was for Stetson Bennett to decide to return for his fifth season of eligibility. Bennett very easily could have sought another situation where he’d be QB1. But even after starting five games for the Bulldogs last season, Bennett remained at UGA and gives them one of the more poised experienced backups in the SEC. Usually QB2 is pitted on the team opposite of QB1, so that could pit Bennett versus Daniels.

That said, fans always want to see the new guys. And for redshirt freshman Carson Beck and 5-star freshman signee Brock Vandagriff, this will be everybody’s first look. It’s likely they’ll see a lot of walk-ons Jackson Muschamp and Nathan Priestley as well.

Secondary options

Probably the most important development Saturday will be who plays where and how much in the secondary. Georgia lost five former starters from the secondary since the end of last season. And most of them happened to specialize in playing cornerback.

So all eyes will be on who lines up on the outside to replace NFL draft darlings Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell on the No. 1 defense. Indications are that likely will be senior Ameer Speed and redshirt freshman Jalen Kimber. Information has been in even shorter supply than usual with all practices to closed to media scrutiny and only Smart’s filtered view to go on. But the good news is Georgia has many options.

The Bulldogs have recruited DBs at a particularly high level the past couple of seasons. Kimber and 5-star signee Kelee Ringo of Saguaro, Ariz., are coming off redshirt seasons and should be better prepared as a result. Georgia won a huge recruiting battle this year for Nyland Green out of Newton County. And the Bulldogs are so stocked at running back that they’re even giving heralded signee Lovasea Carroll a look at corner.

Georgia will have a new starter at the Star position as well, but Latavious Brini seems to have a good handle on that after starting the Chick-fil-Peach Bowl. And West Virginia transfer Tykee Smith arrives in a month.

Receiver rotation

Injuries seem to attack one position sometimes, and that’s definitely the case at the X, or split end position. If it wasn’t enough to lose All-American George Pickens to a knee injury in the second week, Georgia subsequently saw Jermaine Burton go out with a minor knee extension. Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, Pickens’ backup as a freshman last year, already was out while recovering from last season’s ankle fracture.

Now it looks as if Justin Robinson will miss G-Day with an injury. An odds-on favorite to win the position, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound redshirt freshman from McDonough is now negotiating Achilles and knee issues. They’re said to be minor and won’t affect Robinson’s availability for the season.

But Georgia still goes about 18-deep at wideout, including walk-ons, so there will be representatives Saturday led by the always dependable Kearis Jackson and Demetris Robertson.

O-line observations

The debate over who will play left tackle has been vigorous debated not only in the media and within fan forums, but apparently also in Georgia’s coaching meetings. Clearly the Bulldogs want Xavier Truss, a 6-foot-7, 330-pound sophomore, to tighten his game and win the position outright. But he’s getting pushed by redshirt freshman Broderick Jones and 5-star early-enrollee Amarius Mims.

Late-spring reports were that Truss was starting to make big strides. And if offensive-line coach Matt Luke ultimately doesn’t like what he sees from that group, he can always move Jamaree Salyer back there.

But there’s clearly not a runaway favorite. And whoever ultimately wins out at left tackle will dictate how the rest of the line looks heading into the Sept. 4 opener against Clemson in Charlotte.

Red Cross unit

More than likely, the group on the sideline not participating likely will be as numerous as the players participating in the game. Having already lost Pickens, look for Smart and the Bulldogs to be quite protective of their verified stars.

Running back Kenny McIntosh (elbow) and linebacker Nakobe Dean (shoulder) have long been scratches. Now word is that dynamic sophomore tight end Darnell Washington might have to sit out with an undisclosed malady. Same for lineman Austin Blaske. Receiver Arian Smith’s availability is uncertain.

Meanwhile, though healthy, it’s not likely that senior running backs Zamir White or James Cook will get a ton a work.

Be sure to find a good roster where you can because the walk-on representation likely will be strong. As of early-evening Friday, those had yet to posted by UGA.

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