Georgia football’s spring practice schedule would have ended with the G-Day spring game on April 18 in an alternate timeline without the coronavirus pandemic. That’s not reality in 2020.
In-person athletic activities were canceled for the remainder of the academic year before the Bulldogs held a single practice, so Georgia hosted a virtual G-Day experience instead. SEC Network re-broadcasted Georgia’s 23-17 victory over Notre Dame from 2019, head coach Kirby Smart live tweeted his analysis and a broadcast crew gave commentary on Facebook Live with a number of special guests, including Smart and former kicker Rodrigo Blankenship.
While rewatching last year’s Notre Dame game may not give the best outlook on this year’s team, here are three takeaways you can gather from the game we watched on virtual G-Day.
The fan impact is important
With practices canceled through spring, the challenge is finding a way to play football on schedule this fall. Holding games in Sanford Stadium without fans present has been floated around as an option amid social distancing standards.
If the Notre Dame game is any indication, a season without fans wouldn’t be ideal for Georgia.
Georgia fans set a Sanford Stadium attendance record on Sept. 21, 2019, with 93,246 in the stands — and they were loud. Notre Dame was called for six false start penalties and totaled 12 overall, the most under head coach Brian Kelly to that point.
Smart took notice of the crowd’s impact on the Fighting Irish while he tweeted during the third quarter of the Notre Dame rebroadcast.
“ANOTHER penalty caused by our fans,” Smart tweeted. “Sanford Stadium is the ultimate weapon!”
The Notre Dame game showcased the impact of an excited fanbase in person. Should the factor be removed for some or all games in 2020, the Bulldogs may suffer the consequences.
“This environment is one of the reasons why we schedule games vs programs like Notre Dame,” Smart tweeted. “How could you not want to be part of an atmosphere this special?”
Without the starting quarterback, leading rusher, offensive coordinator and bulk of their offensive line from 2019, the Bulldogs will have a new-look offense this season.
Georgia’s defense, however, remains mostly unchanged, and Smart called out a number of returning standouts on Twitter during virtual G-Day.
Starting cornerback Eric Stokes left the Notre Dame game early with a knee injury, and fellow starting cornerback Tyson Campbell didn’t start the game due to injury.
“Tough loss in this situation with Tyson down and now Stokes too,” Smart tweeted. “This is where depth on your roster is critical!”
Smart also praised defensive back D.J. Daniel and linebacker Azeez Ojulari, two emerging leaders for this year’s defense. Daniel forced a fumble against Notre Dame, and Ojulari came down with two tackles — one of which Smart called “one of the biggest plays in the game that no one talked about” on Twitter.
Divaad Wilson played in the “star” position against Notre Dame and intercepted Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book in the third quarter. Smart tweeted about the interception’s impact on momentum even though Wilson’s pick-off was bobbled.
“This interception changed the entire game,” Smart tweeted. “We’ve got to work on my man’s ball security though!”
Who’s up next
Throughout virtual G-Day, Smart called out two positions where Georgia hopes to reload in 2020: running back and safety.
The Bulldogs’ top two rushers from 2019, D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien, are both moving on from the program, leaving a new spot open to shine at “Running Back University.”
“Who is up next for the REAL #RBU??” Smart tweeted.
Zamir White and James Cook are viable options for 2020, but White didn’t play against the Fighting Irish and Cook recorded one carry for -4 yards and one kick return for 16 yards. Incoming freshman Kendall Milton and sophomore Kenny McIntosh could step up this season, though neither played against Notre Dame either.
Safety J.R. Reed is gone for 2020, but he leaves experienced senior Richard LeCounte and sophomore Lewis Cine behind. Cine started in the Sugar Bowl, Georgia’s last game of the 2019-20 season, and recorded six tackles against Baylor.
Smart remains confident in his ability to find a worthy replacement for Reed in 2020.
“Does anybody know where I can find another safety like that?” Smart tweeted. “I do!”