ATHENS, Ga. — The storyline for much of Georgia’s spring football practices was about the strides the offense had made and a degree of concern about if an experienced defense was resting on its laurels.
At Saturday’s G-Day spring game, those notions were turned on their head for a good portion of the intrasquad scrimmage in Sanford Stadium.
Quarterback Jacob Eason and the No. 1 offense were swarmed by the No. 1 defense. They held Eason and company out of the end zone until 1:30 left in the third quarter as Eason finally got going.
“I thought the defense really played hard,” coach Kirby Smart said. “Didn’t always tackle well. Got some balls thrown over their head, but they really competed and challenged each other maybe more than we had done earlier in the spring.”
Eason threw for 139 of his 311 passing yards in the fourth quarter on a day he completed 16 of 36 passes with two touchdowns and an interception.
With 2:31 to go Eason connected with Charlie Woerner for a 36-yard touchdown after the sophomore tight end bounced off a defender and headed into the end zone.
Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship missed the extra point for the Black, but he was kicking for both sides andbooted a 28-yard field goal for the Red with 1:03 to go. He was 4 of 6 on the day on field goals.
The big buzz of the day individually was created by freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who completed 14 of 23 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns.
The Red team (the one with the starting defense and Fromm) beat the Black team (the one with the starting offense and Eason) 25-22.
Outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter had a sack with 23 seconds to go, one of five for the Black team, to preserve the win.
“Steak and lobster, the No. 1 motivation,” a gleeful Carter said of the meal that goes to the winners. “We came out with a little bit extra motivation today. We had to get that. …We might have come out (this spring) and come out a little sluggish but we’re all fighting to get better and today I think we showed that.”
It was a toned-down G-Day (a year after Ludacris was the musical act) by last year’s standards when an SEC-record crowd of 93,000 was on hand. The estimated attendance this time was 66,133, which was still the second-largest in Bulldog spring game history.
The Black team offense with Eason got off to what the quarterback called “a little bit of a sluggish start,” going punt, field goal, interception, field goal, punt in their first five drives.
“It’s very hard to go against our defense and get in the red zone so they did what they were supposed to do,” said wide receiver Javon Wims, who had four catches for 96 yards.
Eason hit Jayson Stanley on a 33-yard touchdown pass in the corner of the end zone, beating Malkom Parrish, just two plays after Eason was inserted in the drive at the end of the third quarter.
“They had the momentum in the first half, making plays and firing off the ball,” Eason said. “We go out there in the third quarter and we score and we kind of had the momentum. We were able to go down there and make a couple of drives and score points.”
Smart summed up Eason’s spring this way: “I think Jacob understands our offense better. He knows our checks. He knows where to go with the ball. He understands when to put us in the right play and that part I’m pleased with.”
Fromm, the early enrollee from Houston County, gave fans a reason to be upbeat about the future at the position when he connected with early enrollee Jeremiah “J.J.” Holloman (3 catches, 77 yards) on the second drive on a deep ball of 42 yards for a touchdown and then hit him again on the next drive for 19 yards on a nifty catch by Holloman.
Fromm late in the scrimmage hooked up with sophomore Tyler Simmons, who hauled in a pass and took it 70 yards for a touchdown, beating a walk-on defensive back.
“He understands the game, he knows where he wants to go with the ball,” Smart said. “He sees people open. Early in the game, he came out firing the ball and made some good hitch throws and a couple of receivers broke some tackles for him.”
Take stock of the performance of the offense remembering this: top tailback Nick Chubb did not get a carry and Sony Michel got one for four yards with under seven minutes to play.
Chubb had one catch for nine yards while the leading rusher on the day was walk-on Parther Hudson, who had 45 yards on seven carries for the Red.
“Obviously, we didn’t run the ball like we want to, but to be honest with you, that wasn’t part of the game plan,” Smart said. “We wanted to see if we could throw the ball some, move it around. I would have liked to run it better with the one offense, which we didn’t do. We have to improve on that and be better at it.”
Simmons had five catches for 114 yards and a touchdown for the Red and Terry Godwin had five for 130 for the Black.
“It was exciting to see some balls down the field,” Smart said. “That’s why you get 66,000 people here. They want to see the ball thrown, they want to see the ball caught. We wanted to give it to them.”