But the bulldog defense could be fine next year, based on Saturday’s 23-17 come-from-behind win by the Blacks over the Reds.
The Blacks featured the starting defense against the Reds, loaded with most of the veterans returning on one of the nation’s most effective offenses.
“I think they are a great defense,” said quarterback Aaron Murray, who completed 12 of 18 passes for 200 yards, throwing two touchdown passes in the first half. “They have improved every practice, and I think they will carry the momentum into the summer camp and be ready for the first game.”
Aside from Jones, Georgia must replace safety Bacarri Rambo, linebacker Alec Ogletree and lineman John Jenkins, all expected to be playing in the NFL this fall.
The leading candidates to forge their own identities include sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, freshman safety Tray Matthews, sophomore outside linebacker James DeLoach and freshman lineman John Taylor.
Harvey-Clemons was the defensive MVP of the spring, and Matthews, an early enrollee, was the most improved defensive player. DeLoach, at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, had six tackles Saturday, including a sack and a tackle for loss. Taylor, playing on the backup defense, had seven tackles, including two sacks and two tackles for loss.
“They deserve to be here,” said sophomore flanker Justin Scott-Wesley. “They deserve to be on the Georgia defense. I feel they will be great.”
Scott-Wesley should know. He missed two days of practice this spring after taking a hit from Matthews.
Even head coach Mark Richt has been impressed with the play of his young safeties, but he said it is also a little frightening to think about lining up in the season opener with such inexperienced players in the secondary.
“Tajh Boyd is one of the best quarterbacks in America,” Richt said of Clemson’s signal caller. “And they have some great receivers.”
Junior flanker Chris Conley said he thinks the Bulldogs defenders are “extremely talented.”
“Most people had question marks going into this game. They wanted to see what we had, and they saw that we had a talented defensive line,” he said.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said he liked what he saw Saturday before a G-Day record crowd estimated at 45,113.
“Overall, we controlled the line of scrimmage,” Grantham said. “I was pleased with our performance. That first drive, they scored when they had a couple of wrinkles that we had not seen. Once they started running what we had seen, we shut them down, except for the two-minute drill at the end of the half. But that situation came up again at the end of the game, and we got a turnover.”
Murray led the offense to a quick score on the first possession of the game, completing a 16-yard pass to Scott-Wesley. That was the only drive during the game on which running back Todd Gurley played significant snaps. Gurley led Georgia with 1,385 yards rushing last year.
At the end of the first half, Murray completed three straight passes in the last 58 seconds, throwing to Rhett McGown for a 4-yard score with 33 seconds remaining.
The offense was also missing veteran receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Michael Bennett, sitting out with injuries.
Meanwhile, the Black offense had the game’s leading rusher, walk-on Kyle Karempelis, who rushed for 89 yards on 13 carries, and the leading receiver, junior-college transfer Jonathan Rumph, who caught four passes for 98 yards, scoring twice.
Backup quarterback Hutson Mason completed 16 of 27 passes for 191 yards with a touchdown and one interception for the Black team.
Richt said he was delighted that the teams competed hard and that there were no injuries.
“I thought we looked like a really well-conditioned team,” he said. “We did a very good job stopping the run, and there were some explosive plays in the passing game here and there.”
Trailing 17-7 at the half, the Blacks rallied with 16 points in the second half, including a 47-yard reception by Rumph from Parker Welch, and three field goals by three back-up kickers: Adam Erickson from 19 yards, Patrick Beless from 23 yards and Thomas Pritchard from 35 yards.
Red quarterback Christian LeMay was intercepted on the first play of a last-chance effort to rally.