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Kirby Smart, Georgia Bulldogs Give Fans Preview of 2024

UGA Receiver Colbie Young (8) Runs After Catching Pass Against Defensive Back Daylen Everette (6) in G-Day Game at Sanford Stadium
© Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

More than 50,000 loyal patrons graced the grounds of one of the sport's most storied venues on April 13. While the same can be said for a little golf course down the road in Augusta during that time, in Athens, Ga. at Sanford Stadium the Georgia Bulldogs hosted their annual G-Day scrimmage.

Both the offense and defense put on a show for an eager spring crowd while playing to a draw, 20-20. The annual Red and Black competition allowed coach Kirby Smart to showcase to the fans what he and his coaching staff have been up to this offseason.

Returning starters, transfer additions and incoming prospects all took the field Saturday in what turned out to be an evenly matched exhibition. Below are a few takeaways from the game that should give all UGA fans an added level of comfort heading into an exciting 2024 college football season.

Defense Wins Championships

As a former defense coordinator, Smart has always had a penchant for a strong defense that aims to be at the top of the sport, year in and year out. In the 2023 season, most of the conversation centered around quarterback Carson Beck and the offense which proved to be a pleasant surprise for the Bulldogs under former UGA QB and current offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. However, questions did arise after the 2023 season as to how the Bulldogs could return to the uber-elite form on the defensive side of the football as in seasons past.

While 2023 was not a horrible year for the Bulldogs finishing as the No. 9-ranked defense in the country, compared to years prior, it was slightly less reliable down the stretch and missing a dominant playmaker in the front seven. During the spring game, Junior defensive lineman Mykel Williams looked to benefit from his move to outside linebacker. At 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds, Williams is a problem for tackles coming out of a three-point stance with his size and seemingly even more effective attacking the line from an upright position. With his combination of length and speed, he is expected to be a formidable opponent at the second level come the fall.

Quarterback Question?

When it was time for the offense to take the field, many fans saw returning starter Beck lead the first-string offense with a myriad of weapons both in the backfield and out wide. While Beck put up solid numbers and looked to be picking up where he left off from last season, the more intriguing performance came from backup Gunner Stockton.

Standing at a hair over 6-foot and weighing in around 220 pounds with ability to get outside the pocket, fans may be reminded of former UGA QB Jake Fromm who was of a similar ilk. Like many before him, Stockton has come into the program as a highly touted recruit who looks to be joining an already loaded QB room. Hailing from just north of Athens, Stockton is a homegrown prospect who is looking to take the next leap in Bobo's offense.

While Beck is the solidified starter, it is always appeasing to fans to know there is someone behind him ready to go if need be. Setting a career high in pass attempts with 37, the redshirt showed he is comfortable relying on his arm as opposed to his legs. While he did warm up to the passing game, what makes Stockton special is his ability to escape pressure after the pocket has collapsed. Stockton looks to have made improvements this offseason and hopes to give his coaches something to think about for this upcoming season.

UGA Quarterback Gunner Stockton attempts a pass in the first half of the G-Day Scrimmage at Sanford Stadium
© Joshua L. Jones / USA TODAY NETWORK

Receiving the Goods

Outside of the quarterback room, Georgia has weapons that looked very impressive this past Saturday compared to last year's squad. Dominic Lovett looked to solidify his spot as the team's No. 1 receiving option with his spectacular display in the scrimmage, capped off by what could be the catch of the weekend. In years past, Lovett has struggled to take attempts away from other UGA receivers and much like the reoccurring theme of this article, had to wait his turn. While this is often the case for many positions across big football programs, Lovett has not let that deter his drive.

Along with fellow returning starters Dillion Bell and RaRa Thomas, the Georgia wideouts this year will be a huge factor in the long-term success of the passing game.

Running Back University

Bringing up the rear is a scene all too familiar with Georgia fans. A strong rushing attack led by an immensely talented committee. This season, the Bulldogs will turn to former Florida rival and recent transfer, Trevor Etienne.

Etienne completed two seasons with the Gators but decided to take his talents elsewhere and where better than behind one of the biggest and most dominant offensive lines in college football where the average player is whopping 6-foot-7 and 325 pounds? While the Bulldogs are losing four O-line starters to the NFL Draft, there is plenty of depth to go around between the hedges.

Given Georgia's recent history of using multiple running backs as opposed to the traditional bell cow, Etienne can expect a decent workload and strong support around him. Included in that committee are Roderick Robinson and Andrew Paul, who both had a good second half showing over the weekend. While it was announced today that Paul has entered the transfer portal, there is still hope he will return to the Bulldogs for this season.

Last, but not least is a talented back from Mississippi in Branson Robinson who missed all of 2023 with an ACL injury but expects to be back with the team before the 2024 season.

UGA Running Back Trevor Etienne (1) Breaks A Tackle At Georgia's Spring Game in Athens,GA at Sanford Stadium
© Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Final Thoughts

The spring game only gave Georgia Bulldog fans a taste of what is to come in the fall of 2024. Last season would have been excellent in years past but when the precedent is championship or bust in this modern era of college football, the Bulldogs walk a fine line.

Returning a Heisman Trophy hopeful at quarterback, a more than capable backfield and litany of receiving options, the sky is the limit for this Bulldog offense. While the offense can put up points with the best in the land, the defense has to return to championship-caliber form and establish the momentum early on in the season before it is too late and turns into a public works project that needs maintenance down the road.

All in all, Georgia has found that winning national championships is possible and expected, but each season brings a new challenge that Smart will have to face head on if he and the Bulldogs want to hoist the championship trophy at the end of the season.


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