ATHENS -- Hutson Mason heaved the ball downfield, where a receiver hauled it in.
Linebacker Amarlo Herrera, his pass rush having just been stymied, smiled and threw his hands up at Mason, who playfully high-fived his teammate.
This was the moment that symbolized Georgia’s spring football game: These are two units in two very different places, and they had very different approaches Saturday.
The experienced, record-breaking offense, led by offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, played to win.
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“Bobo’s one of the most competitive people I know, so he’s always trying to win the game,” receiver Michael Bennett said. “He was telling us on that last drive, ‘Play like you’re down. Play like you’re down.’ We were trying to put up points as much as we could.”
The defense, however, in a period of transition under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, hardly cared about that.
“He was like, ‘Don’t look at the scoreboard,’ ” linebacker Ramik Wilson said of Pruitt. “ ‘Because we’re gonna play the same first quarter to fourth quarter. No matter what the score is, we’re gonna play the same.’ That was the message he was trying to get across.”
The difference in strategies played out that way on the scoreboard. The Red team, coached by Bobo and featuring the first-team offense, won 27-24, and it was only that close because of a late run.
The Black team, coached by Pruitt and featuring the first-team defense, didn’t seem all that down in the locker room afterwards, considering it all a part of a long-term plan.
“This was the opportunity to mix and match guys that haven’t really played together before and see if they could go out there and make calls together,” cornerback Damian Swann said. “(Pruitt) didn’t really pay attention to the Red defense because every series we came off the field, he was over there coaching. ... Throughout the whole game, he was coaching. And I think that’s gonna be good.”
Pruitt and Bobo did not meet with the media afterwards because they are scheduled to do so Tuesday, according to a team spokesman.
By the end, the stat sheet was fairly close. But the Red team dominated the first half, leading 17-7 and leaving 10 more points on the field with a fumble into the end zone and a long missed field goal.
Last year, then-defensive coordinator Todd Grantham delighted in his unit performing well on G-Day. This time around, Pruitt’s laissez-faire attitude toward winning was exemplified by personnel, as he rotated in walk-ons and subbed liberally.
“He wasn’t trying to win the day (Saturday),” head coach Mark Richt said of Pruitt. “He was trying to put guys out there and just evaluate where he is.”
Mason, preparing for his first full year as the starter, was in control. He passed for 241 yards and a touchdown and finished the spring with no interceptions in the three scrimmages. In the more interesting battle to be Mason’s top backup, Faton Bauta (232 passing yards, two touchdowns, one interception) came out ahead of Brice Ramsey (2-for-13 for 76 yards, one interception). But that competition will continue into August, at least.
Georgia’s secondary, the weak point of last year’s team, struggled again. But the defense did have some strong points, namely the pass rush.
Richt pointed out several times that the defense probably would have forced some turnovers if not for the rules preventing the quarterback to be hit.
Georgia’s linebackers -- Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson -- got into the backfield a lot in the early going. That was despite the defense not using any exotic blitzes.
“Those were just basic plays,” Floyd said. “Coach told us to get to the quarterback as much as possible.”
The game was also skewed a bit by Bobo going pass-heavy. There were a total of 73 pass attempts and just 46 rushes, with some of the rushes being quarterback scrambles.
“We really threw the ball a ton. It was tiring us out as receivers,” Bennett said, laughing.
The offense could afford to have a good time. It had a good day, even without a litany of players held out by injury, such as receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley, tight ends Jay Rome and Jordan Davis, and tailback Keith Marshall.
The defense, meanwhile, seemed satisfied that it improved as the game went on. That’s all part of the process.
“I think the offense is ahead of the defense right now, and it makes sense that it does,” Richt said. “The entire offensive staff is back, the entire system is back. Many of the veterans who know what to do.
“So (it’s a) tremendous advantage for the offensive team to know what’s going on. Defensively, everybody’s learning. Coach Pruitt knows the system and what he’s installing, but he’s learning personnel, what can these guys do, what can’t they do.”