Quiet G-Day still shows off Georgia’s young-and-veteran depth

ATHENS — This wasn’t a particularly eventful G-Day, and that’s perfectly fine with Georgia.

The Bulldogs held their annual spring game Saturday at Sanford Stadium, a 20-20 tie between the Red team and Black team. Unlike a year ago, when the affair featured first-half fireworks and 51 total points, this one leaned toward the defenses until the offenses found sparks late.

“It’s just a glorified scrimmage, at the end of the day,” quarterback Carson Beck said. “It’s more for fun, come out here to Sanford and play for the fans.”

While the offenses moved the ball, there weren’t many eye-popping or cheer-inducing plays. In fact, the loudest the stadium roared was when former tight end Brock Bowers was honored at halftime (which included coach Kirby Smart bowing to the soon-to-be first rounder, considered the best tight end in Bulldogs history).

Smart’s evaluation of the afternoon:

“It was great weather today, a little windy, but considering the weather we’d practiced in, I thought the weather conditions were awesome. I thought our players handled it the right way. We went into it like a game, game-like situation. Next time we put on those uniforms, it’ll be for real and we’ll be playing (at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Aug. 31) against a really good opponent (Clemson). We want to find out where we are as a team and get a lot of guys reps. We’ve got guys who’ve gotten a lot of work, a lot of reps – fourth year, fifth year guys – and we’ve got like 40 guys who’re in their first year. The discrepancy between old and young is really great.

“I thought the defense played much better today than previous scrimmages in terms of energy and enthusiasm. We rushed the passer better today. Our offense probably didn’t have as a good a day as they’ve had in the scrimmages, but some of that was dictated by the terms with which we scrimmaged. ... Overall, I don’t evaluate things on today. For me, it was about the entire spring, 15 practices. I was very pleased with our health coming out of it.”

Georgia returns perhaps the nation’s best quarterback in Beck, but he wasn’t sharp early for the Red team Saturday. Beck had several overthrows and threw two interceptions, including one in which he didn’t see linebacker CJ Allen over the middle. It’s no concern; after all, Beck was unimpressive in the second half of last year’s game, then assembling a fantastic season months later.

But Beck still had several good throws, perhaps his best coming on the final possession when he fired a 39-yard dart down the field for Rara Thomas. He followed with a beautiful lob to leading receiver Dominic Lovett in the corner of the end zone for a game-tying score. With his team down seven and on its final chance, Beck was his best. That counts for a little something, even in this environment. (The Bulldogs opted to kick the extra point rather than attempt a game-deciding two-point conversation because they didn’t want to put a two-point play on tape, Smart said.)

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Overall, Beck finished 25-for-46 passing for 301 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He’ll enter the coming season a favorite for the Heisman Trophy and among the top candidates to go No. 1 overall in the 2025 NFL draft. “Obviously, I have expectations for myself, but I’d never listen to the expectations other people put on me,” Beck said. “I have very high expectations for myself, but there’s no weight on my shoulders from that. I know what I’m capable of and I know I have a team around me. It’s not all about me. It’s about the team and getting wins. Whatever I have to do to do that, I’m here for.”

Still, this is quite different from Beck’s situation a year ago at this time when he stepped out from Stetson Bennett IV’s shadow and wasn’t guaranteed the starting job.

“Immensely (different),” he said. “I mean, it’s way different. I’m a much different person. I’ve grown a lot from the person that I was last year. And it’s a different situation. Last year, I was competing for a spot in the spring game and now, coming back and being the guy and understanding what I need to do to be able to make this team move and go. But I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

The Bulldogs should be ecstatic with the defense. Both teams’ defenses looked fast and tough, constantly contesting on catches and making skill players battle for yards. Youngsters, such as defensive back KJ Bolden and linebackers Allen and Chris Cole, impressed at times.

Mykel Williams, now an edge rusher, had the play of the day by tipping and intercepting a Beck pass in the red zone (”I think that was my first time to tip one to myself,” he said). He also batted a third-down pass to open the second half. The early returns of his transition are encouraging as Georgia tries to maximize the former five-star recruit. “I’ve explained to him, if you’re going to have a really good year, you have to have a really good camp,” Smart said. “And he’s bought into that.”

Williams: “I feel like I played all right. There were definitely some plays I wish I had back, but I feel like I did all right.” He said he’s grown increasingly comfortable moving around the field and playing different roles based on the situation.

Wide receiver Dominic Lovett racked up 104 receiving yards and a touchdown, with Colbie Young adding 27 receiving yards and a touchdown.

Here are some of the highlights from Saturday:

-Backup quarterback Gunner Stockton hit receiver Anthony Evans III on a 54-yard completion down the sideline on the Black team’s first drive, which resulted in a touchdown. His best throw might’ve been a 32-yard dart to Nitro Tuggle late in the second half. He followed with a 26-yard touchdown pass to Sacovie White. Stockton showed nice zip on his throws and a willingness to challenge defenders. He looked comfortable as he steps into the No. 2 role – and potentially the starting job a year from now.

He finished 23-for-38 passing for 246 yards, a touchdown and an interception. White dropped a really nice touch pass on fourth down at game’s end that would’ve positioned the Black team to win. Stockton had several accurate throws in the immediate and deeper ranges.

“As he continues to get reps, we see what he’s capable of,” Beck said. “He has a great arm, great athleticism. As the mental side of the game grows, the sky is the limit for him.”

-As mentioned earlier, Beck wasn’t his best, especially on deep throws. He finally connected with Dominic Lovett on the third possession, hitting him for 34 yards to put Georgia inside the 10 (before Williams’ interception). Lovett also had a contested catch and dragged defenders with him inside the five. He caught four of six targets for 73 yards in the first half and appears poised for a big season as Georgia’s top wideout. He led all receivers with seven catches for 104 yards and a score.

“The spring for me, honestly, is about just getting better at something each day whether that’s catching, blocking, getting more into the playbook, conditioning,” Lovett said. “Anywhere they need me to be, I’m trying to learn that position so I can be more versatile out there on the field at all times.”

Receiver Dillon Bell on Lovett’s development: “Lovett is just so smooth with everything. He’s picking up (where he left off) last year and he’s just getting better and better. Reading the defenses more, especially with (receivers) coach (James) Coley coming in helping us out with all that. Reading defenses better for him to get open. I feel like a lot of that has shown, especially in spring practices and the game.”

-Receiver Colbie Young, a Miami transfer, snagged a Beck pass over the middle with Daylen Everette draped all over him. He also caught a 2-yard touchdown shortly before halftime. Young, who generated plenty of praise in South Florida, should be another helpful addition. Smart praised Young for his willingness to play special teams, too, and how it’s made him a tougher player.

-Trevor Etienne, Georgia’s Florida import at running back, showed his elusiveness and slipperiness on nearly every run. He sped down the sideline, outpacing defenders on one dash that was negated by a hold. He also had a 14-yard catch and run, reminding that he’s dangerous in the passing game, too. He had 57 total yards on seven touches.

Etienne looks like a legitimate weapon for offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. He could be facing a suspension following a recent DUI arrest, but whenever he takes the field, he gives Georgia a home-run threat at that position it lacked last year.

“He’s a good back,” Smart said. “He’s explosive. He’s quick in and out of the hole. He’s different than what we’ve had. I think the (D’Andre) Swift analogy is good, the (James) Cook analogy is good. He’s really taken a lot of personal pride in working on his protection. He had a nice pickup today. He’s learning the offense. The guy has been a good SEC player for two years. It’s not like he’s a freshman. He’s a really good player. He’s a really good kid. I’ve been proud of the way he’s handled everything since his (arrest).”

-Running back Andrew Paul had a 16-yard outside run and followed with a 1-yard score on the opening drive. He, Etienne and Roderick Robinson give Georgia a well-rounded trio of backs. “That’s what they’ve been showing all spring,” Williams said. “Quickness and the ability to make you miss in space.”

-Linebacker Jalon Walker had a nice pressure on Beck and flew around the field. He swatted Beck’s fourth-down pass on the Red team’s second-to-last possession. Georgia used him as both an edge rusher and linebacker. “It was fun,” Walker said. “That was our goal throughout the spring, to make sure I can be versatile and I think that goal was successful.”

-On the defense learning its identity, Walker said: “I think we’re still growing our identity. I know we’ll run fast and hit hard. That’s one of our core traits, toughness. We’re connected as well. But going out here today, having fun, flying around, our identity will be made up throughout the summer and going into our first game against Clemson.”

-Outside linebacker Gabe Harris Jr. showed excellent burst while breaking through the line and getting a tackle for loss on Robinson. Smart spoke highly of Harris’ production Saturday. He said Harris has shown “great effort and great toughness.”

-Bolden, a top-ranked defensive back from Buford, flashed on several plays. His most impressive came on third-and-short when he stonewalled Evans to prevent him from getting a first down near midfield. Bolden looks like an immediate-impact player. Remember, All-American safety Malaki Starks helped Georgia’s defense during his freshman season, so Bolden will be rewarded if the team thinks he’s ready early.

-Safety Dan Jackson tackled tight end Oscar Delp on an incompletion to the sideline. He had a pass breakup on Young in the second half. Jackson read the field well and played with good energy. He’ll be an important part of a reshaped secondary that lost Kamari Lassiter, Javon Bullard and Tykee Smith to the NFL.

Smart was a bit critical of the secondary. He wants to see the group attack the ball better downfield.

“We have a long way to go,” he said. “We lost some pretty good football players there. We’re thin. ... We got better in the secondary, but we’re not where we need to be in terms of being able to make plays on the ball downfield and affect the quarterback.”

-It was a quiet afternoon for tight ends (aside from Bowers’ applause). Starter Oscar Delp had one catch for six yards. Lawson Luckie had two catches for 20 yards (”He’s had a great spring,” Smart said of Luckie. “He’s shown great toughness, maturity, durability”). Freshman Jaden Reddell caught five passes for 23 yards.

-Allen’s pick on Beck was the notable play, but he simply looks the part of the next high-level linebacker in Athens. Watch for No. 3 next season.

-Cole jumped a Stockton pass and just missed hauling it in for a pick-six. It was among the more impressive plays Saturday.