Arts & CultureFlag Football

How ‘Bout Them Dawgs? And That Vaccine?

Keep that mask on just a little while longer, Kirby. Credit: Tony Walsh / UGA Athletics

It’s been difficult to be hopeful over the past year because *gestures around.* But with spring has come a sliver of hope. It seems the worst stages of the pandemic are wrapping up, and we’re close to returning to something approximating what we remember as normal.

I’ve received both doses of The Jab and have emerged from my yearlong hibernation. I recently sat on an outdoor patio at a Mexican restaurant and ate unlimited chips and salsa. Never again will I take unlimited chips and salsa for granted. Gorging myself on chips and salsa to the point that it ruined my entree was something I used to do as a matter of course. But because of the last year, what used to be normal felt extraordinary, at least for a moment.

This brings me to G-Day. Georgia football’s annual spring scrimmage is not something that stirs a whole lot of passion in me. But with the pandemic beginning to fade and the possibility of a normal football season without the specter of COVID, I found myself interested in G-Day.

It helps that the Dawgs look good as hell, too.

The Red Team (first-team offense, second-team defense) defeated the Black Team (second-team offense, first-team defense) 28-23 last Saturday at Sanford Stadium. But things such as scores and stats are irrelevant when evaluating G-Day, or at least much less relevant than who lines up beside whom.

Least notably but most importantly, JT Daniels has been locked into the starting quarterback job all spring, which is a welcome change over last year, when we started three different players under center. With a full spring under his belt, Daniels has become a team leader and developed relationships with receivers in a way that wasn’t possible last season, when he entered as a third-stringer. 

Daniels continued to showcase his talent at G-Day with 324 passing yards and three touchdowns. But redshirt freshman Carson Beck—who started for the Black Team, marking him as the likely No. 2 quarterback—also showed out with 236 yards and two touchdowns. True freshman QB Brock Vandagriff showed some promise in limited snaps.

In total, Georgia’s quarterbacks threw the ball 87 times in a pass-happy G-Day game. And while I expect the 2021 Dawgs to pass more, don’t be fooled into thinking this is suddenly an Air Raid team. G-Day is a glorified practice, and the passing numbers are a reflection of Kirby Smart’s belief that the receivers and defensive backs need more reps.

This may be the most stacked group of receivers at Georgia in a long while, but it needs experience. For one, the best receiver on the team, George Pickens, will miss most if not all next season with a knee injury. No. 2 receiver Jermaine Burton also went down this spring with an injury of his own, but will be good to go this season.

Those absences paved the way for a breakout performance from freshman wideout Adonai Mitchell, who came to Georgia rated as a three-star prospect. With Pickens and Burton out, Mitchell made a connection with Daniels, and the freshmen picked up 105 yards on seven catches, including a touchdown. Rising sophomore tight end Darnell Washington also continued to display his tremendous promise with four catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, including a 51-yarder.

While Daniels and his receivers represent the biggest upgrade over what we had at the start of last season, the secondary represents the biggest downgrade. Gone are Eric Stokes, Tyson Campbell and Richard LeCounte. In their place is a cadre of uber-talented but inexperienced defensive backs. Based on G-Day, the first-team secondary as of now appears to be Jalen Kimber and Ameer Speed at cornerback, Latavious Brini at star/nickel and Christopher Smith and Lewis Cine at safety.

Expect that lineup to change between now and the Clemson game, though. All-American Tykee Smith, a transfer from West Virginia, arrives in May and is likely to slot in at star. Kelee Ringo could also make a move at corner, now that he is close to full fitness after a shoulder injury sidelined him for the entirety of his freshman season.

Now I look forward to the return to normalcy that is me not giving a crap about watching G-Day next spring, by which time, hopefully, this pandemic is behind us, and the Dawgs are national champions.