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Defense, QB among five things to watch in Georgia's spring football game Saturday
Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins (59) pulls down South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw (14) as Georgia nose tackle Mike Thornton (96) looks on during the first half of a game Sept. 7, 2013 in Athens. - photo by John Bazemore | Associated Press

Murphy: G-Day gives fans a fun first look at new season

Georgia Spring Football Game

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens

Tickets: Free admission


The Georgia football team will hold its annual G-Day Game today inside Sanford Stadium in Athens.

While not everyone believes spring games are beneficial — some fans think the events should instead be referred to as “glorified scrimmages” — the split-squad contest gives a glimpse of what to expect in the fall, while also offering a gauge of just how far a team has come since the conclusion of the previous season.

For the Bulldogs, who underachieved with an 8-5 record during an injury-riddled 2013 season, this year’s spring game has plenty of key storylines — from a new full-time starting quarterback to a new defensive coordinator to injuries. Here are five things to watch at this year’s G-Day Game.

1. The defense under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt: When former Bulldog defensive coordinator Todd Grantham announced he was leaving Georgia to join Bobby Petrino’s staff at Louisville, many within Georgia’s fan base wanted head coach Mark Richt to pursue Georgia alumnus Kirby Smart away from Alabama.

Instead, Richt hired the only defensive coordinator to win a national championship since Smart, when he brought in then-Florida State defensive coordinator Pruitt just eight days after the Seminoles edged Auburn for the national title.

Pruitt was said to bring a new intensity to practices at Georgia, something he learned from Smart and coach Nick Saban at Alabama. That intensity was evident the very first day of Georgia spring practices, when Pruitt was reportedly in the face of several of his players when they didn’t complete a drill correctly.

In his lone year at FSU, Pruitt’s defense ranked No. 1 in FBS in scoring defense and No. 3 in total defense. UGA, meanwhile, struggled on the defensive side of the ball and now faces a lack of depth issue with the dismissal of safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and potential suspensions coming for players like Tray Matthews — another safety — stemming from his arrest last month.

Bulldogs fans will be eager to see what the Georgia defense looks like Saturday, and if the players have made big strides in the practices under Pruitt.

2. Hutson Mason at QB: Now that Aaron Murray is officially no longer a Bulldog, the Hutson Mason era officially begins at Georgia, even if it did get a two-game kick-start at the end of last season after Murray tore his ACL.

Regardless, Mason showed both positive and negative signs in his two starts last season. Now Bulldogs fans want to see what his fifth-year with the Bulldogs holds.

One thing is for sure, Georgia fans are hoping for better results than the 8-5 record they had the last time they had a rookie fifth-year senior, Joe Cox, under center.

3. Todd Gurley’s health: After finishing the 2013 season banged up, there were questions regarding how much Gurley would participate this spring, especially with the absence of backfield mate Keith Marshall, who is still recovering from a torn ACL.

Those questions were silenced on the first day of spring practice, when Gurley was seen participating in full drills without the green practice jersey that distinguishes injured/non-contact players.

With Mason under center for the Bulldogs, Gurley will be relied on heavily in 2014. In his two seasons at Georgia, Gurley has rushed for 2,374 yards with 27 touchdowns.

However, he suffered from a sprained ankle last season, stemming from an awkward landing in the September game against LSU, and was sidelined for four weeks due to the injury.

4. The battle for the No. 2 spot: Believe it or not, there is actually a quarterback battle at Georgia this spring. No, it’s not for the starting spot, but rather for the honor of the second-string quarterback.

The two candidates for that job are redshirt sophomore Faton Bauta and redshirt freshman Brice Ramsey.

After Murray went down with his ACL injury last season, Bauta split time with Parker Welch at the end of games for the Bulldogs. He even entered spring as the clear favorite to secure the No. 2 quarterback spot, but Ramsey has other ideas.

The former Camden County star has dazzled coaches and teammates with his strong right arm.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo told recently reporters that Ramsey’s right arm is the strongest he’s seen on the team since Matthew Stafford, who the Lions selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

The one thing holding Ramsey back is the mental aspect of the game. The former all-state quarterback acknowleged that he believes Bauta has the upper edge for the No. 2 spot, because he is more advanced in understanding schemes and picking up coverages.

A strong spring game may lift one of the two candidates over the other, but the battle for the No. 2 spot could carry well into summer camp.

5. Who will become a new star?: One of the good things that comes out of spring games is the opportunity they give younger players to see game-like scenarios. It seems like each spring someone new elevates his game and has a coming-out party in the G-Day game.

The question is, who will it be this year?

With injuries at wide receiver, will a younger, less experienced receiver, rise up and become a new go-to threat?

Or will J.J. Green show what he can do on the defensive side of the football after making the switch to defense from running back?

Somebody completely off the radar might become the next breakout player for the Bulldogs.

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