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Black team prevails in G-Day game

UGA Football: G-Day
Photo: Caitlyn Tam/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. – Freshman quarterback Justin Fields led the Black offense to a pair of touchdown drives and a 21-13 victory over the Red team in the annual G-Day intrasquad spring football game.

Today’s game was played before a crowd of 82,184 fans, the second-largest ever to witness a Georgia spring football game. ”First of all, what an awesome atmosphere,” said head coach Kirby Smart. ”I think we say that every year, but I certainly think that was an incredible atmosphere. I really just want to thank our fans for being out there that early. It was probably a little warmer than I anticipated, but I thought they were awesome. To see Sony (Michel) and Nick (Chubb) walk out before and to see the seniors honored for the season they had – I thought that was really cool and neat.”

Fields, an early enrollee this spring, finished the day with 207 passing yards on 18 completions and 33 attempts. His lone scoring pass came on a 15-yarder to redshirt freshman Matt Landers late in the third quarter, giving the Red squad a commanding 21-6 lead.

The Black squad opened scoring with a defensive tally, when senior Deandre Baker tipped a Jake Fromm pass, intercepted and returned it 32 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. Rodrigo Blankenship kicked two second-quarter field goals, from 41 and 35 yards, for the only Red scores in the first half.

Fields led the Black offense 70 yards in seven plays for a touchdown, a 2-yard plunge by Prather Hudson, to open the second half. The big play in the drive came when Fields connected with J.J. Holloman for 36 yards, converting a third-and-seven and putting the ball on the Red 2-yard line.

Fromm, who finished the game with 200 yards on 19-of-38 passing yards, completed scoring on the day with a 57-yard bomb to Riley Ridley with 1:42 left in the fourth quarter.

Defensively, sophomore linebacker Monty Rice led all tacklers with 14 total stops for the Red squad. Baker, Richard LeCounte, William Poole and KJ Smith all had interceptions.

”As far as the game, I thought there were parts of it that were sloppy,” Smart said. ”Some of that was by design. Everybody will ask me about the rushing yards and if we have a rushing problem. If you watched that game closely, you realize there was not an intent to rush the ball a bunch. We think we have the capabilities of doing that, but that is not the purpose of our Spring Game. It’s to throw the ball, catch the ball, gain confidence in our passing game. We will run it some. Our defense did a really good job of creating turnovers. Two of them were gifts, but we got more turnovers today than we had gotten really all spring. Some of the red guys started to bow their necks. I thought Monty (Rice) played good and did some good things defensively.”

G-Day represents the Bulldogs’ 15th and final session of the spring practice period. They’ll open the 2018 season on Sept. 1 at home against Austin Peay.

Postgame Quotes

Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening statement…
“That was an incredible atmosphere. I tell you, the new pathway that we had to go through, our walk was really neat. It was in a lot more shaded area. We thought there were tons of people there lining it and I know our players really enjoyed it. I really just want to thank our fans for being out there that early. It’s probably a little warmer than I anticipated but I thought they were awesome. Great crowd. To see Nick walk out, to see the seniors, honors, for the season they had, I thought that was really cool and neat. As far as the game, thought there were parts of it that were sloppy. Some of that game was by design. I know y’all will never leave it. Everybody will be asking me about rushing yards or do we have a rushing problem, but if you didn’t watch that game closely, you will realize there was not an intent to rush the ball a bunch, in which we think we have the capabilities of doing that; that’s not the purpose of our spring game. It’s to throw the ball, catch the ball and gain confidence in the passing game. Defense did a really good job of creating turnovers. Two of them were gifts but we got more turnovers today than we got really all spring. Some of the Red guys, I thought Monty played good and did some good things defensively. But I’m really proud of the way the guys competed all spring. They came out in a great atmosphere today. We had some young guys busted up left and right and I’m almost so glad they did because now we’re getting to teach from it, and when we go back, and we have to do it for real the next time, they will have a little less butterflies. Suited up and played in front of a crowd like that — there are butterflies involved in that. Let’s get those butterflies out of the way. I thought they did a good job with that. Stetson came in and had some productive drives. We think Stetson is a competitive kid, brings a little different mobility in there and get out of the pocket and moves around and hit some good throws.”

On why the crowds for G-Day are so much bigger now…
“I just think that people like Georgia Football. I mean, why, when you have an opportunity, on this nice spring day to come to Athens, I know I would be dying to come if I lived anywhere in the state or in a five-hour radius. Get out of the house, get the kids out of the house, come see who the new faces are. I think some of it’s recruiting but I think people enjoy football in Georgia and want to come watch it. I’m glad they do because the impact it has on recruiting, I can’t tell you how many recruits are out there going, oh my gosh, I can’t believe it, I can’t get over it. It’s the norm here. It’s the way it should be. We have a great fan base and they turn out for it and we try to put a good product out there for them to make it a good, entertaining game. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.”

On his quarterbacks and receivers today…
“Sloppy at times, drops. I thought both quarterbacks, their receivers had some drops but we’re trying to gain confidence. We are trying to get those guys to get through those drops, push through those. It was big for Jayson Stanley to get some confidence catching the ball. He caught some and dropped some. Obviously Elijah had some. Several guys had a few of those. But that’s good for our DBs, getting the ball thrown over them. It’s really competitive out there and I enjoyed watching those guys compete. I thought both quarterbacks managed the huddle, that’s what I look or is what are they calling, are they calling the right signal, are they fixing guys that are broke, are they saying the right thing in the huddle and are they being positive when something bad happens. Elijah drops the ball, I’m mad at him, frustrated with him, but Jake — get the next one. It takes that to get a young player to go where you want him to go, I thought he and Justin did a good job of that.”

On the receivers who are entering their second year…
“What I saw most of spring ball. Every time I talk to y’all, I talk about the receivers being a little ahead and that showed really from the standpoint of those developing guys. I think Tyler Simmons this spring has managed a lot of strides and I think it comes from confidence in special teams. JJ has taken strides. It’s like those two guys, Matt Landers is a little bit — and I’ll throw Jayson in that. Jayson is not youthful like them but he gained confidence through special teams. So those wide outs gained confidence all spring and that was very typical of what happened in practice a lot of times. They are hungry. They want to play, so they go to get in front of me, Terry and Riley, what do I got to do. I got to go compete and catch the ball. I thought the guys did a good job of being competitive and doing that and they are probably a little bit ahead — our DBs are a little more drained.”

On replacing leadership…
“Yeah, you never stop with leadership. I mean, we lost a huge void, but it will never — even if we didn’t lose a huge void, we would be trying to replace leadership. Any time you have, you can lose leadership. These kids have embraced it. We are not where we need to be from a leadership standpoint. If you said, are we there? We are not even close. We have to develop that in May, summer, conditioning. We have to push the envelope with how are we going to get guys to confront and demand other guys. We are not where we need to be and you know what, we have to learn from some examples that other guys set because those other guys are remarkable when it comes to leadership. It made our job as coaches easier.”

On what the team’s goals were coming into the spring…
“We are targeting special teams, and getting special teams to not be complacent. We thought we were really good last year. We developed some more receivers that can play on teams for us. Next thing, defense, we wanted to make more negative plays and give more tackles for loss and we put some things in that we worked on in other practices, not today. Offensively we want to be more efficient with our RPOs. We want to have a little bit more package of plays than we showed today. We felt like we accomplished that, not necessarily today, but throughout spring, we were able to do that. The biggest thing that we didn’t do this spring is find out who we are and who are our leaders and I’m not sure we know exactly who those leaders are yet. We know who they are supposed to be, but are they willing to assume the role, because it’s going to be forced on them.”

On the performance by quarterback Justin Fields…
“He’s gotten better. He’s more comfortable with the offense. To be honest I never felt like he was like behind with the offense from day one. I mean, he’s done such a good job coming in and learning. It’s not like it’s been a growth process. He’s gotten more confident. He’s able to move around the pocket and create some things when things break down.

I think that you all were sitting here last year; said a lot of same things we’re saying right now, because the other guy was throwing against the 2 defense and he was throwing it pretty good. And Jake was in there throwing against the 1 defense, which at that time was really good. So it’s a lot of similarities between those two situations. I thought, like I said, both quarterbacks managed things really well and I learned a lot more about them being able to handle things on the field, with a crowd present and with a shot clock, coaching other players today, which I liked.”

On some leaders who have stepped up…
“I’ll say that there are guys — Ledbetter is really pushing, Terry is trying to be vocal when he gets an opportunity. We need more guys to step up and they are just not comfortable in that role and we have to manufacture. Lamont is trying to do some things. Andrew Thomas, a lot more guys on offense, that are close to what we want, than we do on defense.

#11 Sophomore QB Jake Fromm

On the difference between this year’s team and last year’s team…
“A lot of guys are still big, physical and running around making plays everywhere. I think guys are stepping up doing a good job, it’s very similar to last year’s team.”

On going against the first string defense all spring…
“The secondary played really well today and kind of kept us on our toes. They took away a lot of the deep stuff that we normally do, but I thought they played well and got after us a little bit. In practice we’ve gashed them and got some big plays on them during practice and today they definitely played a lot better and didn’t allow us to do that. So we tip our hat off to the defense.”

#4 Junior WR Mecole Hardman

On the competition this spring…
“Competition is key and we thrive off competition as players, and definitely other guys are trying to play and get some playing time this season.”

On the experience of the receivers…
“We have a lot of experience coming back. We have a lot of work to do and we are going to get better as it goes on and that’s our goal, to continue to get better.”

#53 Senior C Lamont Gaillard

On evaluating performance in the run game…
“[We] just [wanted] to come out and be physical and protect the quarterback. We’re going to move on to prepare and do better.”

On the defensive pressure the Black team applied…
“It’s disappointing, but it’s the thing with practice. Everybody’s coming out on their first day of really playing on the field, so you just have to come and get your nerves out of the way. Come next game, we’ll be alright.”

#15 Senior OLB D’Andre Walker

On the defensive pressure against the Red team offense…
“I feel like we as a whole did rush pretty well. We stayed in front of the quarterback a lot, and then towards the end it did kind of get sloppy. We’ve just got to go back to it and work on it in the offseason.”

On the defensive line…
“I feel like every day in practice, we’ve just got to keep bringing more energy and effort. We’ve got to get more depth at the d-line position as well, but like [coach Kirby Smart] said, it is a lot of improvement all around on the defense.”

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