A Low-Key Ending to a Newsworthy Spring

ATHENS – A second half packed full of long yardage plays and defensive touchdowns gave fans attending Georgia's annual spring game Saturday an exciting note to leave on.

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The Red Team, comprised mostly of the first team offense and second team defense, edged the Black Team 32-31 after stopping a two-point conversion attempt with a minute left to play.

"There were probably a little more offensive plays than I thought might be made," coach Mark Richt said.

The ending – which included a 62-yard fumble returned for a touchdown by walk-on Ricky Lowe and a 66-yard touchdown reception by tight end Jay Rome – was fun to watch. But it contrasted what was a predominately rather stale afternoon on the field in Sanford Stadium.

Sure, there was real tackle football on display for fans' consumption and a handful of plays that led to scores.

But the game lacked punch.

Both quarterbacks vying to backup starter Aaron Murray played well. Junior Hutson Mason, who intends to redshirt this season barring injury to Murray, was 5-of-8 for 62 yards. Redshirt freshman Christian LeMay finished 7-of-10 with a touchdown and an interception.

"We're not naming a backup or anything like that," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said following the game.

The top two running backs on roster, Isaiah Crowell and Ken Malcome, played well together and neither seemed to care about who is considered the starter when asked following the game.

"I think both of them are working extremely hard," Bobo said.

Also, potential opportunities for exciting waves were negated due to the absence of cornerback Malcolm Mitchell and running back Keith Marshall. Hamstring injuries cost fans the chance to see Mitchell's unveiling at cornerback after playing wide receiver last year and the introduction of Marshall, who enrolled early as a freshman this January.

"It would have been nice to see Keith," Richt said earlier this week when Marshall was ruled out.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of all that went on was the amount of success the first-team offense managed against its counterpart.

Georgia's defense finished last season ranked fifth in the country. And the offense spent this spring breaking in three new offensive linemen. Still, the Red Team managed 235 total yards, including a 6-yard scoring rush by Malcome and a 33-yard touchdown reception by Tavarres King.

"The offense has come a long way in the past two weeks," Murray said. "I'm proud of the way we played today because that's how well we've been playing for a while now."

There may have been a reason for the defense's struggles.

"We had different guys playing different positions and stuff like that," nose tackle John Jenkins said. "It was more like a learning experience in a game situation and a lot of us were working on the fundamentals. We were still in a game, but at the same time trying to learn some things."

The most important thing, to Richt and Georgia's legions of fans, was that there were no injuries. Also, Richt and fans alike had to enjoy the recruiting momentum that came before the event.

The Bulldogs received verbal commitments from two recruits – 2013 athlete Reggie Wilkerson and 2014 receiver Demarre Kitt – attending the game. The Bulldogs have now received eight pledges in the past nine days – an astounding feat for the Georgia staff considering there were only two commitments in the 2012 class at this time last year.

"We've done a good job of getting offers out there and pursuing these guys and letting them know that we want them and getting them on the campus and those sort of things," Richt said. "It's been good."

The Bulldogs are tied with Florida for most committed players in the SEC at 15 each. Georgia is the only team in the conference with commitments from 2014 players (3). Those three players are wrapping up with sophomore years in high school.

The game didn't provide any answers about the team that weren't already known, Richt said. The team is full of upperclassmen and isn't dealing with many questions marks. But this spring did stir some issues that must be addressed sooner or later before the 2012 season is kicked off.

The Bulldogs will begin the season with four defensive starters facing suspensions stemming from offseason troubles.

Cornerbacks Sanders Commings (two games for domestic abuse) and Branden Smith (at least one game for a misdemeanor marijuana arrest), safety Bacarri Rambo and linebacker Alec Ogletree (muliple games due to a rules violation) all figured to be key members of the defense – and still will be.

Richt will have to figure out how to win without those players in early September. But for now, in mid-April, the Dean of SEC coaches seemed content with a pretty dull day of football.

"I think it was good medicine," he said. "I think everybody got a chance to enjoy our team and see all the wonderful young men we've got out there, watching them play their tails off."

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