Defense answers call

Rebuilt Bulldogs unit holds its own against Aaron Murray-led offense on G-Day

Updated: April 6, 2013, 7:13 PM ET
By David Ching | DawgNation

ATHENS, Ga. -- Mark Richt delivered his standard line after the annual G-Day scrimmage, noting that "it was a great day" in his postgame news conference.

How great a day depends on which coordinator you asked, as defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo served as Saturday's head coaches, with Grantham's Black team defeating Bobo's Red 23-17.

"I hope it's a wake-up call. We've got a lot of work to do," said Bobo, who had a first-team offense that returns 10 starters on his sideline Saturday. "You can't just flip a switch and say, 'Hey I'm ready to play' and step on the field on Saturday night in Clemson, S.C. [for the Aug. 31 season opener].

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsEarly enrollee Tray Matthews made four tackles in the spring game.

"It's hard for young kids when they're told over and over they're this and they're that and they're good, but you've got to put in the work. And our guys are working -- don't get me wrong -- but we could be a lot better than we are right now."

Meanwhile, Grantham had more reason to be pleased with the day's events. The Black team, featuring his starting defense, allowed the Aaron Murray-led offense to score in just five plays on the game's 75-yard opening drive -- capped by Murray's 16-yard touchdown pass to Justin Scott-Wesley -- but otherwise had a solid day.

After the opening touchdown, the Black defense forced a three-and-out on each of the next four possessions. Granted, tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall rushed just 10 times for 31 yards, but Murray was in for eight possessions and the Red offense mustered two touchdowns and a field goal on those drives. And then, once the reserves began to filter in more regularly, the Black outscored the Red 16-0 in the second half to overcome a 17-7 halftime deficit.

"The first drive, they got some points there and I thought there were some drives that were a little nervous and their eyes maybe weren't where they should be, but there were also some plays that they hadn't seen before," Grantham said. "But once we got into the normal flow of the game and the things that we've repped and it was things that they kind of knew, [they played well].

Murray finished the day 12-for-18 for 200 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which came at the end of a sharp, one-minute drive to complete the first half. The Black had cut the Red's lead to 10-7 when Hutson Mason hit Jonathon Rumph with a 20-yard touchdown pass with 58 seconds left in the half. But Murray and the Red answered back with lightning speed, driving 75 yards in four plays and using only 25 seconds of clock.

Murray hit Rhett McGowan with a 4-yard touchdown pass to conclude the drive.

"It was huge," Murray said of the drive. "That was great. We made some big plays and I think we're pretty good at that. We've shown that we're capable of being able to score pretty fast."

Aside from Grantham's starting defense, which totaled six sacks and one turnover, the day's biggest impression was likely made by Rumph. The 6-foot-5 junior college transfer had been something of a disappointment this spring, but hauled in four receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday. He caught a 47-yard touchdown pass from Parker Welch early in the third quarter to cut the Red's lead to 17-14.

Asked if it was Rumph's best day this spring, Murray replied, "Oh by far. He's had some sparks here and there throughout camp. The biggest thing for him is continuing to feel comfortable with the offense, learn the plays and then just go out there and be able to play fast. Today he did that. He looked very comfortable."

Rumph and Georgia's other 12 early enrollees were not available to speak to the media this spring, but many of them let their play speak for them on Saturday:

  • Safety Quincy Mauger was second on the Red team with eight tackles, a tackle for a loss and a pass breakup.
  • Defensive lineman Chris Mayes had six tackles and a sack for the Red.
  • Red linebacker Reggie Carter intercepted a Mason pass and totaled seven tackles.
  • Cornerback Reggie Wilkerson had three tackles, one of which was for a 10-yard loss, for the Black.
  • And safety Tray Matthews, who was the most talked-about early enrollee this spring, made four tackles in his Sanford Stadium debut.

    Welch and Mason combined to lead the Black on three field-goal drives in the second half to help it take the 23-17 lead late into the game. Safety Connor Norman helped seal that victory by doing what the Black defense was unable to do at the end of the first half: stop the Red's attempt at a two-minute drive.

    With 1:36 to play and the Red at its own 25-yard line, Norman intercepted a Christian LeMay pass at the Red 49 and returned it 22 yards, enabling the Black team to run out the clock.

    "Obviously that's a situation that we've got to continue to work because you don't want to give up touchdowns in that situation and we came in and talked about it at halftime," Grantham said. "Then, in the second half, the same situation came up. The difference was it was to win the game, and of course Connor got the pick and Ramik did a nice job of making the guy put air underneath it and really kind of sealed it there."

    Call it another lesson learned by a young Georgia defense that must replace 12 key players from a season ago. But the group insists it is making rapid progress -- and the players believe Saturday's performance provides more evidence in that regard.

    "We looked at it like [it was a statement] and we had to show everybody what we were about," said linebacker Amarlo Herrera, who finished with six tackles. "A lot of people came to see what we would do and how the defense was going to look."