Photo: Craig Cappy
Georgia Red team's Derrick Lott (85) gets past White's Kolton Houston (75), a Buford grad, to get to quarterback Aaron Murray for a safety during Saturday's G-Day spring game in Athens.
ATHENS — In hopes of boosting morale and excitement, Georgia used a draft system for the first time this spring to split the rosters for its annual G-Day football game.
While scoring and crisp execution were sacrificed, the players and coaches seemed pleased with the outcome. On a sunny and breezy afternoon, the Black team, behind quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Christian LeMay, won 18-11 in front of a G-Day record crowd of 43,117. The winners feasted on steak and lobsters, while the Red team, led by running backs Caleb King, a GAC grad, and Carlton Thomas settled for beanie weenies.
“We made some great plays on offense and our running game was outstanding,” said Murray, who was 12-for-17 for 122 yards and a touchdown. “I think we moved the ball really well today. We all felt positive about who we are, what we are about and what we can do this fall.”
One star of the game was defensive tackle Kwame Geathers, who made two tackles for a loss, a forced fumble and finished with four tackles for the game.
“Not only has he made people double team him, which frees up a linebacker, that’s the main job of a noseguard,” Richt said. “He’s come through the line and made some plays on his own, and you need that.”
Geathers benefitted from the first-string offensive line being split between the Black and Red teams. He played against center Ben Jones and left guard Kenarious Gates.
“You make one mistake and he’ll capitalize,” Gates said.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has already considered a lineup of Geathers and incoming recruit John Jenkins, which would mean about 700 pounds combined.
“That’s a big load,” Gates said. “(Opponents) do not want to see it. They do not want to see it.”
Coach Mark Richt said Geathers could have been motivated this spring by the thought of losing his job to Jenkins, which has been speculated by many.
“I’m sure that lit a fire under him to a certain degree,” Richt said. “That’s what competition does.”
This is the first year the teams were determined by a player draft, which took place early last week. Previously, the No. 1 offense played the No. 2 defense, and the No. 2 offense against the No. 1 defense.
“I think the draft brought a lot of excitement to the game,” Jones said.
“It was interesting to try something different, and I think it worked out well. It got the guys excited a bit more.”
The game started slow with a Thomas fumble, and a Murray sack in his own end zone by defensive end Derrick Lott. But in the second half, speedster Branden Smith, who primarily plays cornerback, turned a swing pass from Murray into a 28-yard touchdown for the Black team.
Thomas, who fumbled twice in the first half, answered that score with a 5-yard touchdown with 6:59 left in the fourth quarter.
Backup quarterback Hutson Mason, who played on the Red team, was 9-for-16 for 109 yards and an interception.
Richt said the coaches plan to continue to use Smith on offense in the regular season. Since Smith and running back recruit Isaiah Crowell both plan to wear No. 1, Richt said the only rule is they can’t be on the field at the same time.
Richt said he wasn’t sure how excited Grantham was at the sight of Smith playing offense, but Grantham said all the coaches were happy because Smith scored.
The second half began with most of the team’s regular offensive playmakers moving the ball for the Black team. On the Smith scoring drive, Murray went to tight end Orson Charles, who finished with four catches for 41 yards. While Charles shared the spring Offensive MVP award with Murray, Richt said Charles was his pick. He pointed to Charles’ overall work ethic including being the first player to finish practice sprints.
“He’s a very legitimate receiver,” Richt said. “The thing I love most about Orson is how hard he practices every day. How serious he is about winning. The last guy I can remember giving that kind of play every day was (Davey) Pollack. I see that attitude and effort and relentlessness to be great.”