ATHENS, Ga. — Very few college programs can match the pomp and circumstance of an SEC spring game.
But in the end, it’s still just a glorified scrimmage — full of some sound, some fury, but ultimately signifying very little.
For Georgia’s spring fling on Saturday, the dress-rehearsal culmination of March/April practices, neither the Red group (first-team offense, led by QB Aaron Murray) nor Black squad (first-team defense, led by LB Josh Harvey-Clemons) wholly resembled the UGA juggernaut that came achingly close to beating Alabama in last December’s thrilling SEC championship.
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Nor did either squad bear the look of a presumptive national-title contender later this fall.
But that’s OK, for no team — hyped or not — ever won anything of substance in April. Although the Bulldogs deserve some type of gusto award for opening with Clemson and South Carolina in successive weeks, roughly five months from now.
Mini-soapbox stance aside, there were plenty of notable events from the Black’s 23-17 victory over the Red, which attracted a red-clad audience of 45,113 to Sanford Stadium.
Murray, who might have been a Round 1 pick in this month’s NFL draft instead of returning for his senior season, passed for 201 yards and two touchdowns. Team Black quarterback Hutson Mason threw for 191 yards and one touchdown. And his backfield mate, running back Kyle Karempelis, rushed for a game-high 89 yards on just 13 carries.
Plus, Harvey-Clemons, the face of a rebuilt defense that’s long on size and speed but short on tangible experience, was seemingly on hand for every pass breakup and/or tackle in the first half — even ones that were halted early by the officials’ conservative whistles.
But here’s where things get tricky for spring games: Unofficially, the Georgia radio network had the Black defense down for seven sacks during Murray’s time running the Red offense. And receiver Jonathan Rumph was credited (by Georgia radio) for four catches and 96 yards, while splitting time with the Red and Black offenses.
“I thought it was a great day,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “The guys played hard. I thought we looked like a a really well-conditioned football team. Overall, I really like how things are going this spring.”
For innocuous exhibitions like this, it’s hard to separate practice-like reality from applicable reality that translates to the season at hand. But with 34 seconds left in the second quarter, Murray executed three big-armed, lightning-fast passes to junior Rhett McGowan (33 yards), freshman Justin Scott-Wesley (37 yards) and McGowan again, a four-yard strike for a touchdown.
All told, it took Murray 21 seconds to cover 74 yards.
“I’m really proud with how we played,” Murray said. “It’s always tough going into the games when you’re not fully healthy or not game-planning for anyone, but I thought we played well offensively.”
1. The Red offense attempted an option pass early in the game, with Rantavious Wooten falling short of hitting tight end Arthur Lynch.
2. In the first quarter, (Black QB) Mason scrambled right and threw an ill-advised pass against the grain … and into the waiting arms of freshman linebacker Reggie Carter.
3. During the first quarter, Murray attempted a slow-developing play fake that fooled no one along the Black defensive line. If Murray wasn’t wearing a black jersey, four defenders might have gotten credit for a sack.
4. Team Black tight end Jay Rome bobbled, then booted an eminently catchable ball from Mason in the second quarter. It should have been a 20-yard touchdown. But no worries, for Rumph scored from the same distance two plays later.
Red Starters (Offense) QB Aaron Murray RB Todd Gurley TE Jack Loonam WR Chris Conley WR Rantavious Wooten TE Arthur Lynch OT John Theus OG Dallas Lee C David Andrews OG Kenarious Gates OT Xavier Ward
Black Starters (Defense) DE Garrison Smith DT Mike Thornton DE Sterling Bailey OLB Jordan Jenkins ILB Amarlo Herrera ILB Ramik Wilson OLB James DeLoach CB Reggie Wilkerson CB Damian Swann FS Connor Norman S Josh Harvey-Clemons