Offensive line misses three starters
By FLETCHER PAGE
ATHENS, Ga. — Midway through Georgia’s scrimmage Saturday, head coach Mark Richt entered the defensive huddle and told his players to keep dominating the offense.
He told his defenders not to feel sorry for the struggling offense. He told them not to get bored with the scrimmage.
“The defense definitely dominated the scrimmage,” Richt said. “Offensively, we may have gotten two first downs in the first half.”
As a light rain fell at Sanford Stadium, offensive gloom set in after a slow start.
There were several fumbles, a few the result of a poor exchange between center and quarterback. There were no touchdowns in the first half, and aside from a breakaway rush by Washaun Ealey and a 46-yard catch-and-run from Logan Gray, the offense remained stagnant.
“We never got into a great rhythm (Saturday) offensively,” said quarterback Aaron Murray, who finished 8-of-18 for 133 yards. “There were flashes but not very consistent.
“But, hey, there’s three more weeks to work at it.”
The defense took advantage of three missing starters along the offensive line. Center Ben Jones will have minor knee surgery after an injury during Tuesday’s scrimmage.
Tackle Cordy Glenn is out indefinitely with mononucleosis. A sprained ankle has slowed tackle Josh Davis. While all three are expected to be ready for the season opener, the absence was felt Saturday.
“Let’s face it, when Ben’s out, Cordy’s out and J.D.’s out, it’s not the same,” Richt said. “It’s not the same. You don’t want to sit there and make excuses, but it wasn’t the same.”
Cornerback Brandon Boykin led the defense with four tackles. Outside linebacker Justin Houston had a fumble recovery, resulting in a 33-yard touchdown run. Outside linebacker Darryl Gamble added three sacks.
“We capitalized on the offense’s mistakes a little bit better,” Boykin said. “We made plays when we had to, and we got stops on third downs and had a lot of turnovers.”
As red-zone and goal-line situations were put in play later in the scrimmage, Richt said the offense showed signs of improvement. But he tempered that statement by adding the defense still won each segment of play.
“Coach Richt even said something about the offense after practice,” Gray said. “(Offensive coordinator Mike) Bobo just reiterated. He said we still have three weeks left to get ready for the first game, so there is no reason to panic now. We just got to be more focused, and, whenever we have scrimmages or our next practice, we have to come out with enthusiasm and not be dragging. I think we may have been dragging just a little bit.”
Murray more comfortable
Despite the offense’s lackluster day, Murray said he felt more comfortable in Saturday’s scrimmage.
Although Murray had fewer completions and passing yards than he put up in the first scrimmage earlier in the week, the redshirt freshman did not compound the lack of production with foolish mistakes, Richt said.
“He did a good job (Saturday) of not doing something that would have cost enough even more problems, so that was good,” Richt said. “He made some nice plays. He made some very nice plays. We, just as an offense, didn’t make it where a true freshman or a redshirt freshman would feel comfortable. He did handle the pressure well in that he didn’t do foolish things.”
Murray did not throw a touchdown pass Saturday, but he didn’t throw an interception, either. In the first scrimmage Tuesday, Bobo labeled a pick thrown by Murray as a “bone-headed” mistake.
There were no bone-headed throws Saturday.
“I felt a lot better (Saturday),” Murray said.
“We might not have been executing, but I felt a lot better making my reads. I felt comfortable with knowing what I needed to do with the ball, things like that. I definitely felt better (Saturday) during the scrimmage.”
Taking a Gamble
Moving from inside linebacker this spring, Darryl Gamble has been the most productive outside linebacker in fall camp, Richt said.
The senior had three sacks Saturday and currently has the starting spot opposite Justin Houston firmly in hand.
Redshirt sophomore Cornelius Washington is Gamble’s chief competition for the starting spot.
“You know, I’m going to leave that up to (defensive coordinator Todd) Grantham to decide, but I don’t think there’s any question that both those guys will play a lot,” Richt said. “But Darryl has probably been the most productive outside linebacker in camp, just from my vantage point. Is he doing it exactly the way Coach Grantham wants? I don’t know.”
Many had pegged Washington as the starter early in camp because of his athletic ability and prototypical look and size. But Gamble’s experience has helped close the gap.
“Well, he’s definitely practicing hard,” Richt said. “He’s practicing hard. When it’s times to get in the competitive drills, these 11-on-11 scrimmages, he’s turning it up a notch. He’s been impressive. I think he’s enjoying it. He gets an opportunity as an outside linebacker to blitz, get matched up on running backs, which has been a mismatch because he’s a bigger man. He also gets a chance to put his hand in the ground in our nickel package and use his quickness against those tackles.”
After missing most of fall camp because of “academic issues,” cornerback Branden Smith participated in Saturday’s scrimmage.
Smith, who had two tackles, returned to practice Friday after being ruled as eligible to return to the team.
Despite the missed time, there weren’t any signs of rust.
“He missed a full week, and we conditioned through that week,” Boykin said. “He was able to keep his breath after missing time like that. I think he did a pretty good job.”