ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia’s defense spent most of the 2008 season hearing about how bad they were playing. The words hurt, but it was hard to argue with the results. They had hardly reached the standard to which they expect to be held.
So this spring brought a new attitude, linebacker Rennie Curran said. The defense has played with a chip on its shoulder, a goal to be reached and a mission to put the memories of last season’s failures far behind them. It showed during a dominant defensive performance Saturday that saw just 16 points scored in Georgia’s annual G-Day game.
“All the guys came out and played hard, played consistent, and I felt like we really made strides in terms of our discipline, not making those penalties and all that,” Curran said. “So it was a good day overall.”
Coach Mark Richt was impressed by the performance, too.
Never miss a local story.
Georgia’s defenders kept the offense out of the end zone throughout the game until Carlton Thomas scored on a 20-yard run with just 1:08 left in the fourth quarter. Although the game time was reduced from 15-minute quarters to 10, the two offenses combined for just 329 total yards, while the defense had 10 combined sacks and Bryan Evans secured the game’s only turnover — an interception of a Zach Mettenberger pass.
“The defense took this game very seriously and was excited about continuing the edge they had established this spring,” Richt said. “I saw a lot of good, clean tackling and not many mistakes in the perimeter. I didn’t see any busts that would make you nervous.”
It was an important step for the defense’s mentality, Curran said, but it was just the spring game. The true test, he said, will be keeping the edge the players have developed this spring through the long offseason and into the fall. But so far, Curran feels like the fresh start has done the defense a world of good.
“We have a lot more confidence in knowing that no matter where we are on the field, we can get the job done, get off the field and get the offense the ball back,” Curran said.
Drop, drop, drop
As well as the defense played Saturday, there almost certainly would have been a few more points scored if Georgia’s receivers had done a better job holding on to the football.
“I thought each quarterback put the ball on the money most of the time,” Richt said. “It would have been nice to see the receivers hold on to it, and it would have been a lot more exciting for fans as well.”
Receivers dropped six passes in the game — several of which would have been for big gains. Aron White dropped two passes over the middle, and Israel Troupe had a grab close to the end zone that squirted out of his hands at the last second. Vernon Spellman, Caleb King and Zach Renner also had drops in the game.
It was a source of concern Saturday, but quarterback Joe Cox said the performance hasn’t been indicative of the job the receivers had done overall this spring.
“We haven’t had a problem with drops, so it was kind of surprising to see so many of them,” Cox said. “But it happens. This is just one of those things where you make a mistake, and you just try to not make it again. I’m still completely confident in the wide receivers we have, and I know they’ll use this day to work that much harder this summer to get ready for the season.”
On the sideline
Jeff Owens used a towel to rally the crowd during a few dull moments in the game. Demarcus Dobbs wore a protective boot and hobbled up and down the sideline with crutches tucked under his arms. Bruce Figgins (Shaw High) watched his depleted corps of tight ends haul in six of the 21 receptions in the game but never stepped on the field, himself.
More than two dozen Bulldogs missed Saturday’s G-Day game due to injuries, but by the time Richt sees his team again in August, that number shouldn’t be nearly as high.
“We’re short about 25 healthy bodies, and when our rookies and freshmen come in, by June there will be another 50 healthy guys running around, which will be a boost in and of itself,” Richt said.
Only wide receiver Kris Durham, who will undergo shoulder surgery next month, and offensive lineman Josh Davis, who had two shoulder surgeries this offseason, are expected to miss any of the regular season, Richt said.
Still, this spring proved to be only marginally useful in terms of defining roles in the fall because there were simply too many players on the sidelines to make a fair assessment.