ATHENS, Ga. — In fairness, we’re only talking practice. So everything that follows is relative.
With the start of the 2017 season still 133 days away, Georgia held its annual G-Day spring football game on a chamber-of-commerce April Saturday afternoon.
Enthusiasm was, shall we say, more modest.
A year after Georgia’s promotional department waged a full-frontal campaign to draw 93,000 fans to a scrimmage and boost enthusiasm for new coach Kirby Smart, there was a natural reversion to the mean on Saturday. Frankly, 8-5 seasons will do that to a fan base.
Or maybe there were a lot more Ludacris fans in the house last spring.
It could be generously argued that at its brief peak maybe half of Sanford Stadium was filled Saturday, though the “official” estimate from the school came in at a comically precise 66,183. Sean Spicer may have been in charge of the count.
As fictionally inflated as that was, there were still a lot of people for a scrimmage.
“Any chance you get 66,000 for a practice, it’s exciting,” said Smart. “Overall, pleased with the day and excited about the growth of our team.”
Billed in some quarters as a showdown between incumbent quarterback Eason and highly regarded newcomer Jake Fromm, the offensive show was a bit of a letdown. Not that anyone would expect much of the playbook to be unveiled – especially without a mothballed running game and star backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel only making cameos – but the same old vanilla that was served up Saturday was uncomfortably reminiscent of last year’s production that coordinator Jim Chaney admitted was “disappointing.”
Anyone expecting to see signs of improvement left unsatisfied – especially the vast majority who left in the first half before the stats started building up. Despite practice reports throughout spring that the offense was ahead of the defense, that was not profoundly obvious on Saturday.
“We probably put more limitations on the defense,” Smart said. “We don’t want to show everything we’ve got.”
Eason, facing the first-team defense all game, looked about the same as he did last season when threw for 2,430 yards, 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
He displayed a growing rapport with receivers Terry Gidwin and Javon Wims. His impressive dimensions still show flashes of brilliance on occasional deep passes that find the target, but he didn’t exactly elevate the first-team offense to a higher plane on Saturday. His drives still had a habit of stalling as the field got shorter.
He threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns but completed only 16 of 36 passes with an interception.
“Jacob understands our offense better,” Smart said. “But you can’t judge him just on today. He makes some electric throws, but the next play he makes a bad read and throws an interception.”
Fromm, who threw for 3,910 yards and 41 touchdowns as a senior at Houston County, had his own flashes that might prompt some people to suggest a quarterback controversy that doesn’t exist. Squaring off for the Red team with all of the second-teamers on the field, Fromm “won” the day’s optics much the same way Eason did a year ago.
He completed 14 of 23 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns, also leading the game-winning field goal drive at the end of a 25-22 Red victory.
“He manages the pocket well,” Smart said of his studious back-up quarterback. “He still has that deer-in-the-headlight look when somebody comes free in that pocket and he still wants to hold the ball. If we’d have been live today he would have gotten stroked a few times.”
There were a few offensive names that generated a little buzz – Mecole Hardman, Jeremiah Holloman, Elijah Holyfield, Tyler Simmons and Charlie Woerner made notable plays that showed promise. Despite Smart’s admission that the Bulldogs lack a “go-to, dominant guy at wideout,” the receiving corps in general showed the potential to compliment what Georgia hopes will be a powerful running back this fall.
“What you saw today was the best we’ve done,” Smart said of the receivers.
Bulldogs fans will expect more next season.
Once the rest of a marquee signing class and the withheld veterans are added to the mix this fall, nothing short of an Southeastern Conference East title against a manageable schedule will extend the enthusiasm that came with Smart’s arrival last year.
Nobody wants to try to spin another precipitous decline in attendance for the 2018 spring game should things not improve this season.
As one G-Day fan told the Athens Banner-Herald on Saturday, “93,000 is nice; 10-2 is better.”