– By Gunter Schroeder –
On a day “Boom” the new Uga bulldog was leashed, the Georgia football team followed suit by ushering in a new era Saturday, as the Red team defeated the Black team 31-26 to kick off the 2023 season for the Bulldogs.
Many questions appeared to be answered about the ongoing battle at quarterback to replace the departing Stetson Bennett, but it appears junior Carson Beck has emerged as the frontrunner after a strong performance for both teams Saturday.
While sophomores Gunner Stockton and Brock Vandagriff struggled with pressure and inaccuracy at times, Beck looked poised in the pocket as he went 15/22 with 231 yards and a touchdown, showing his ability to make the throws expected of a Georgia starting quarterback.
“I thought every one of those [quarterbacks] made some plays,” said head coach Kirby Smart following the game. “I thought all three got so much better in the spring, just the growth in the offense. I see so much promise in every one of them.”
Following a perfect 15-0 campaign in 2022 and a second consecutive national title, Georgia will once again have to retool their roster in 2023 in order to compete for an unprecedented third national championship, something that has not been done since Minnesota in 1934-36.
However, with a recruiting class that ranks only second behind SEC rivals Alabama, the Bulldogs look to have built a roster that will last, with many talented underclassmen set to make an impact.
When asked what G-Day means to the coaching staff, Smart said, “It’s very important to us. It’s an opportunity to measure things, look at things, and say ‘okay, what did we do well,’ but not statistically.” When it came to the quarterbacks, Smart added, “There’s so much more to being the quarterback at Georgia than just numbers.”
Despite the quarterback competition, many people believe the key to winning a third national title is replacing the talent lost on a defense that has dominated opponents over the last two seasons, holding them to just 12.2 points a game.
Despite losing standouts like Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith and Kelee Ringo to the NFL draft, many freshmen look set to step up on the defensive side of the ball, such as defensive linemen Damon Wilson and Sam M’Pemba as well as defensive backs AJ Harris and Joenel Aguero.
In addition, standouts from last season, such as linebackers Jamon Dumas-Johnson and Smael Mondon in addition to a cornerback pairing of Malaki Starks and Kamari Lassiter look to take on larger roles this season.
However, it was the offenses that succeeded often throughout the first half, as Carson Beck was working well with the Red team throughout the game. The retooled receiving corps, which added transfers Rara Thomas and Dominic Lovett, looked strong, but it was once again the tight end room that facilitated offensive success, with reigning Mackey Award winner Brock Bowers and standout freshman Oscar Delp set for big roles in Georgia’s offense this upcoming season.
Both ran routes well and made some big plays in the first half, including a 48-yard strike from Beck to Bowers that set up the opening touchdown of the game.
In the second half, both defensive units looked stronger, with both run games largely stifled and multiple pass breakups being forced by each team’s secondary. With Vandagriff and Stockton taking multiple series each, both young quarterbacks were sacked multiple times, forcing them into 3rd-and-long situations on multiple occasions.
Vandagriff’s interception to Tykee Smith gave the Red team their first interception, and they got a second to put the game away, as Stockton was pressured and threw an errant pass that was taken back for a pick-six by Raylen Wilson to give Red a 31-19 lead with just over a minute to play.
Despite a nice final drive for the Black team that resulted in a touchdown, the Red team held on for a 31-26 victory that showed just how much progress the team has made in their spring practices. With a tough road ahead, the Bulldogs have certainly gotten off on the right foot in their quest for nearly unprecedented glory.
With just under 4 ½ months until the team kicks off its season against UT Martin on September 2, Georgia looks ready to reload toward the race for college football glory in 2023.