(*Check out Macon.com for full coverage of G-Day)
Georgia's defense spent most of the 2008 season hearing about how bad they had played. The words hurt, but it was hard to argue with the results. They had hardly reached the standard to which they expect to be held.
So this spring brought a new attitude, linebacker Rennie Curran said. The defense has played with a chip on its shoulder, a goal to be reached and a mission to put the memories of last season's failures far behind them. It showed during a dominant defensive performance Saturday that saw just 16 points scored in Georgia's annual G-Day game.
"All the guys came out and played hard, played consistent, and I felt like we really made strides in terms of our discipline, not making those penalties and all that," Curran said. "So it was a good day overall."
Head coach Mark Richt was impressed by the performance, too.
Georgia's defenders kept the offense out of the end zone throughout the game until Carlton Thomas scored on a 20-yard run with just 1:08 left in the fourth quarter. Although the game time was reduced from 15-minute quarters to 10, the two offenses combined for just 329 total yards, while the defense racked up 10 combined sacks and Bryan Evans secured the game's only turnover – an interception of a Zach Mettenberger pass.
"The defense took this game very seriously and was excited about continuing the edge they had established this spring," Richt said. "I saw a lot of good, clean tackling and not many mistakes in the perimeter. I didn't see any busts that would make you nervous."
It was an important step for the defense's mentality, Curran said, but it was just the spring game. The true test, he said, will be keeping the edge the players have developed this spring through the long offseason and into the fall. But so far, Curran feels like the fresh start has done the defense a world of good.
"We have a lot more confidence in knowing that no matter where we are on the field, we can get the job done, get off the field and get the offense the ball back," Curran said. "It's really a different mentality that I see from each and every player."
NO HELPING HANDS
As well as the defense played Saturday, there almost certainly would have been a few more points scored if Georgia's receivers had done a better job holding on to the football.
"I thought each quarterback put the ball on the money most of the time," Richt said. "It would have been nice to see the receivers hold on to it, and it would have been a lot more exciting for fans as well."
Receivers dropped six passes in the game – several of which would have been for big gains. Aron White dropped two passes over the middle, and Israel Troupe had a grab close to the end zone that squirted out of his hands at the last second. Vernon Spellman, Caleb King and Zach Renner also had drops in the game.
It was a source of concern Saturday, but quarterback Joe Cox said the performance hasn't been indicative of the job the receivers had done overall this spring.
"We haven't had a problem with drops, so it was kind of surprising to see so many of them," Cox said. "But it happens. This is just one of those things where you make a mistake, and you just try to not make it again. I'm still completely confident in the wide receivers we have, and I know they'll use this day to work that much harder this summer to get ready for the season."
READY FOR RETURNS
Jeff Owens used a towel to rally the crowd during a few dull moments in the game. Demarcus Dobbs wore a protective boot and hobbled up and down the sideline with crutches tucked under his arms. Bruce Figgins watched his depleted corps of tight ends haul in six of the 21 receptions in the game but never stepped on the field, himself.
More than two dozen Bulldogs missed Saturday's G-Day game due to injuries, but by the time Richt sees his team again in August, that number shouldn't be nearly as high.
"We're short about 25 healthy bodies, and when our rookies and freshmen come in, by June there will be another 50 healthy guys running around, which will be a boost in and of itself," Richt said.
Only wide receiver Kris Durham, who will undergo shoulder surgery next month, and offensive lineman Josh Davis, who had two shoulder surgeries this offseason, are expected to miss any of the regular season, Richt said.
Still, this spring proved to be only marginally useful in terms of defining roles in the fall because there were simply too many players on the sidelines to make a fair assessment. But while the competition may not have been as fierce as the coaching staff preferred, the results were still positive.
"I think we accomplished as much as we could under the circumstances," Richt said. "Now it's going to be up to our senior leaders to take us from this point to where we need to be in August."
ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN
One position in which injuries prevented much shuffling on the depth chart this spring was on the offensive line.
After a season in which offensive line coach Stacy Searels had to piecemeal a group together nearly every week, plenty of depth appears to be on the horizon once Trinton Sturdivant, Chris Davis, Vince Vance and Josh Davis return from injuries. All four missed the spring.
"We'll have some options in the fall, so there's no telling what can happen," said Clint Boling, one of the few healthy starters guaranteed of a spot in the starting lineup in the fall. "We'll have a lot of guys with experience, and that's going to help us all. It's going to bring out the competition, and guys are eager to accept that."
While Boling figures to be a clear-cut starter in September, just where he'll land on the line is up in the air. He played every position on the line except center a year ago, and Richt said there's no safe bet as to where he might end up in 2009.
"If Trinton comes back healthy, I could see Clint playing the left guard spot," Richt said. "That's if we feel certain that Cordy (Glenn)'s a right tackle. Cordy could still be a guard and Vincent Vance might be a right tackle. There's a lot of things that could move around."
FINALLY GETTING ACTION
Dontavius Jackson has watched and waited long enough. The freshman tailback redshirted the 2008 season and was held out of spring practice with an injury up until Monday. But Jackson finally returned to full participation last week, and although his work on G-Day – three carries for just one yard – was hardly eye-popping, Richt said he was happy just to have his tailback healthy and carrying the football.
"He came out healthy," Richt said. "It's tough to not get into any kind of contact until this game, but I was just glad he got to play, get tackled a few times and get the confidence that his injury is OK."
A GOOD CROWD
There's nothing quite like having your first taste of action in front of fans at Sanford Stadium to be broadcast for the world to see, but that's exactly what was in store for freshman quarterback Zach Mettenberger on Saturday.
"I'd never been on national TV," Mettenberger said. "It was definitely a different atmosphere out there than Oconee County."
The G-Day game was broadcast nationally for the first time by ESPN on Saturday, and several former Bulldogs made the trip to Athens to put in some time in front of the cameras or behind the microphone.
Matt Stinchcomb, Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno were among the many former Georgia players on hand for the game, but Richt was far more impressed with the turnout in the stands.
The official attendance totaled 42,458, and the team raised 15,000 pounds worth of donations for the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia as well.
"It was a great crowd, beautiful weather," Richt said. "I thought it was a great day for Georgia football."
Carlton Thomas 8-59, 1 TD
Shaun Chapas 3-25
Caleb King 7-22
Kalvin Daniels 3-20
Fred Munzenmaier 4-8
Dontavius Jackson 3-1
Joe Cox 9-16-0-105
Logan Gray 9-13-0-91
Aaron Murray 3-5-0-62
Zach Mettenberger 0-3-1-0
Israel Troupe 5-38
Aron White 3-50
Marquise Brown 3-62
Derek Rich 2-44
Carlton Thomas 2-0
A.J. Green 1-35
Tony Wilson 1-9
Tavarres King 1-7
Bryce Ros 1-5
Fred Munzenmaier 1-4
Caleb King 1-4
Blair Walsh 1-of-1, 51
Andrew Jensen 1-of-1, 48
Jamie Lindley 1-of-1, 24
Christian Robinson, 5 tackles, 1.5 TFL
Baccari Rambo, 5 tackles, 1 TFL
Nick Williams, 5 tackles, 1 forced fumble
Justin Houston, 4 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 sacks
DeAngelo Tyson, 3 tackles, 1 PBU
Charles White, 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU
Brandon Boykin, 3 tackles, 1 sack
Bryan Evans, 3 tackles, 1 INT (27 yards)
Marcus Washington, 3 tackles, 3 sacks
Makiri Pugh, 3 tackles
Marcus Dowtin, 2 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 PBU
Sanders Commings, 2 tackles, 1 PBU
Trent Dittmer, 1 tackle, 1 sack
Devin Hollander, 1 fumble recovery
* For full coverage of G-Day, including the performance of Georgia's quarterbacks and running backs, check out Macon.com.