ATHENS -- In most cases, and especially this year, Georgia’s spring game is a showcase and a test for the young and unproven. By now, the veterans know that.
“I’m not even sure how much I’m gonna play,” said Todd Gurley, still a freshman academically, but his status as a star tailback settled after last season. “I’m hoping a good amount, but I’m kind of scared Bobo’s gonna sit me for a while.”
He was referring to offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who will coach one team Saturday, with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham leading the other one. While the two assistants might have a nice personal battle, both they, head coach Mark Richt and the staff will be keeping a closer eye on smaller facets of the game.
Here are the main points of emphasis for Georgia’s G-Day game, which kicks off at 1 p.m. at Sanford Stadium:
1. Performance of the defense
The teams will be split up such that the first-team defense will be taking on the first-team offense. Yes, the offense will be missing some key pieces -- starting receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Michael Bennett, guard Chris Burnette -- and players like Gurley and quarterback Aaron Murray might not play very long.
Still, it should be a decent, early gauge of how the overhauled defense is doing.
Inside linebacker Amarlo Herrera, one of the few returning starters, smiled wryly when asked how much stock should be put in how the defense does.
“We’ve been doing good all (spring),” Herrera said. “So I don’t expect anything less with everybody watching.”
While Bobo might pull the reins in on his troops, at least one of Grantham’s players think he’ll do the opposite.
“Right now I know Coach Grantham wants to shut the offense up,” outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “Soon as they make a big play (against the second or third-team defense) I think Coach Grantham is gonna send back in the ones. He wants everyone to make sure everyone knows the defense is still gonna be on point. I feel like he’s gonna want to prove we’re not gonna have a drop-off, and I think he’s gonna want to prove we’re still gonna be a competitive defense this year.”
2. Tray Matthews
The freshman safety has caused teammates and even coaches to gush with his play this spring. So now fans get to judge for themselves.
Matthews’ calling card this spring has been his hitting. He hit Justin Scott-Wesley so hard in week’s scrimmage that Murray joked that he thought the receiver was seriously injured.
But if Matthews is going to be a dependable starter at safety, he also has to show good coverage skills and good instincts. That bears watching in the game.
3. Josh Harvey-Clemons
After hardly playing as a freshman, Harvey-Clemons moves into a key role on the defense. He is set to play a hybrid safety-linebacker spot, and Grantham has vowed that Harvey-Clemons will be “one of the 11” starters.
Grantham might not want to play Harvey-Clemons too much at his new position, or at least show much of what he’ll be doing, in order to hide it from Clemson and other future opponents.
But at a minimum it will still be interesting to see how the tall and rangy Harvey-Clemons performs in an active role, rather than just running downfield on kickoff coverage.
4. Backup quarterbacks
Murray and top backup Hutson Mason might not play very much, and whether they succeed or struggle is immaterial. They’re set in their roles.
But the No. 3 job is still up the air. Christian LeMay has been given every chance to grab it, and this is another chance. But LeMay still hasn’t separated himself from walk-on Parker Welch.
Freshman Brice Ramsey, an early enrollee, has struggled in scrimmages. He’s not much of a factor because he’s expected to redshirt, but it will still be interesting to see how he performs at Sanford Stadium. And redshirt freshman Fauta Bauta, who has been battling tendinits, may not throw much, if at all.
So LeMay vs. Welch could be the most intriguing battle on G-Day.
“It’s a huge day for them,” Murray said. “They’re all trying to earn that spot and trying to be the guy that travels, too. That third spot’s pretty big. I think we take three or four quarterbacks to the game. You want to be able to travel to all the games, that’s always fun. Practices are great. Coach Bobo says practice shows a good amount, but scrimmages and G-Day really show all that you’ve learned and all the work that we’ve put in these last few weeks. They see what you’ve taken away from it and how you can produce on the field in more game-like situations.”
Mitchell, Bennett and freshman Tramel Terry are out with injuries. In their place several players will get a prime opportunity to show they deserve playing time.
It’s a big day for Blake Tibbs, a redshirt freshman, and Jonathan Rumph, a junior college transfer. Those two appear on the bubble in terms of being in the receiver rotation.
Rumph in particular needs to show he can be dependable. He has a lot of ability and at 6-foot-5 makes for an inviting target, but he also has drawn the ire of coaches occasionally for loafing. So Rumph needs to play hard, finish his routes and have a good day.