ATHENS - Georgia's first preseason scrimmage didn't seem to have any fireworks, other than on special teams. And for those seeking to divine a larger meaning, it would seem to be this good one:
The defense didn't do so bad.
“It was not a scoring fest, but I thought both groups did a nice job,” head coach Mark Richt said.
And yes, that meant both the veteran offense and the young defense. In fact, starting quarterback Hutson Mason, not seeming too excited afterwards, termed it "kind of a draw."
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There weren't any offensive individual stats that jumped off the page: No quarterbacks were credited with a touchdown or an interception. The leading rusher only had 52 yards, the leading receiver only four catches. The longest run was a 19-yarder by freshman tailback Nick Chubb.
But the secondary had a good day regardless, holding firm on third-and-long throughout the night, according to Richt.
"That was one of the better things that happened today, was the lack of big plays given up," Richt said.
The caution flags do need to be applied: The offense was missing a bunch of receivers, including Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Conley and Jonathon Rumph. In a real game, Todd Gurley will likely carry it more than seven times. Mason indicated that the offense held a bit back, not going for deep balls, focusing instead on methodical drives.
"The offense did some really good things, and then the defense did some really good things," Mason said. "I thought offensively we left some really good plays out there, some simple plays, some throws that on a daily basis we make. But then again we made some plays, some really hard plays."
That doesn't mean Mason isn't impressed with how the defense is playing under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt.
"You see a lot more team unity, I think you see a lot more discipline, I think you see a lot of guys hustling to the ball, and I think that's the improvement and the new defense you're gonna see this year," Mason said. "You're gonna see a defense with a lot more attitude and a lot more effort."
Pruitt is also holding true to his vow to play more defensive backs in passing situations, as opposed to Todd Grantham preferring to stay in his base defense, according to Mason. The quarterback also noticed an increased emphasis on trying to strip the ball, which resulted in a fumble in Saturday's scrimmage.
"Pruitt's got those guys doing a lot of things," tight end Jay Rome said. "I really see a lot of energy on the other side of the ball, and it's really a sight. I'm really glad to see what they're gonna be able to do in game-time situations."
Sterling Bailey, a junior defensive end, led the defense with eight tackles.
"We did some good things, and we lacked in certain areas, and we've gotta come back on Monday and work on them," Bailey said. "It is encouraging to see that even though we lost some players we had other players step up at their position, and continue to go out there and fight, and not let down."
The star of the night may have been on special teams: Freshman Isaiah McKenzie returned a kickoff for a touchdown during a drill. That only feeds the notion that McKenzie will have a big role on punt and kick returns.
Richt cautioned that McKenzie's kick return didn't come in live action, but rather thud. That didn't lesson the impression it gave Bulldog players.
"He caught it, waited for the kickoff return to get into position, and he just hit the gap and took it all the way," Bailey said.
But the 5-foot-7 McKenzie also made a big play on offense, hauling in a long pass from Brice Ramsey. It was the offense's longest completion of the night, according to Mason, who said the offense didn't try many downfield passes.
"I think everybody knows that he can be a special player and kind of change the dynamics and use special teams for us this year. And really change field position," Mason said. "He's definitely gonna have a shot, so it's gonna be interesting to see how he uses it. Because he is the most athletic guy. He's so small and jerky and quick out there, so you think you can wrap him up because he's so little. But a lot of times when he gets behind those guys you can't see him, so his smallness is in his favor sometimes."
Freshman tailbacks star too
The leading rusher wasn't Todd Gurley - in fact the Heisman candidate was only fourth in rushing yards, with 13 on five carries. It was freshman Nick Chubb who led the way with 52 yards on seven carries, while fellow freshman Sony Michel had 21 yards on five carries.
Mason broke them down this way: Chubb is a hard, downhill runner, while Michel is a bit more versatile, with good balance.
"We plan on using (Michel) in some different ways this year," Mason said. "They honestly remind me of Keith and Todd when they first got here. ... They complement each other real nice, and also complement Todd and Keith, so there's a lot of depth."
Rome plays, without a pickaxe
In a mild surprise, starting tight end Jay Rome suited up and played, hauling in three passes. Rome has been limited in preseason practice as he returns from foot surgery, but said after the scrimmage that he felt good enough to go.
Rome also shed more light on one the more curious sights of preseason camp: The fact he was swinging a pickaxe in a sandpit as part of a conditioning drill. Rome said receiver Charlie Hegedus also did the drill, which was aimed at having the plays work while they couldn't run.
"We definitely got some good work in," Rome said. "I felt just like I had practiced afterwards. We definitely burned some calories. I felt like I had gone through practice. Muscles were tense."
Rome said that as far as he knew strength coach Joe Tereshinski came up with the idea this week.
"I think he thought of it maybe in a dream or something. How can we torture the hurt guys today?" Rome said.
This and that
Mason said the offensive line used "a lot" of different combinations, rotating in about seven players on the first team. ...
Based on players who had missed practice this week, and those absent from the stat sheet, the following players also appeared to sit out the scrimmage: Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, inside linebacker Ramik Wilson, cornerback Shattle Fenteng and tight end Jordan Davis. ...
Just as in the spring game, backup quarterback Faton Bauta asked to play in a regular jersey, rather than a non-contact jersey. The reason is that in scrimmages a player in a black jersey (normal for quarterbacks) have plays automatically blown dead once they're touched. By wearing a regular jersey Bauta, the most mobile quarterback, could try to make plays out of the pocket.