Georgia got an early taste of what's in store when it opens the season against Oklahoma State when the Bulldogs held a practice game against the scout team Wednesday, and the results weren't exactly encouraging.
"Overall, my feeling was that we weren't quite ready to beat Oklahoma State, so I'm glad we have 10 more days to prepare," head coach Mark Richt said. "We're playing the No. 9 team in the country, a team with (numerous) senior starters on defense, a team with an offense that is nothing short of spectacular. We've got to be sharp, and we weren't sharp today."
The problems weren't disastrous, Richt said, but they were numerous.
After finishing among the most penalized teams in the country a year ago, the Bulldogs' penchant for drawing flags reared its head again Wednesday, although Richt cautioned the problems were mostly a result of playing a number of inexperienced players.
"We had a few too many penalties," Richt said. "We were substituting pretty freely because it was warm, and some of our younger guys didn't really handle it very well in my opinion."
Richt said the first-team offense had a holding penalty and an illegal formation flag that each halted drives or forced field goals.
In addition to the flags, the offense simply wasn't clicking on all cylinders, Richt said.
The unit posted 27 points in the 30-minute practice game, but it wasn't the type of success he had hoped for.
"It was just an erratic day," Richt said. "It just was not sharp. It wasn't awful, but when you're playing this game, and you have almost your first and second team vs. the rest, you would think we'd have been a little more explosive offensively against that group."
While the offense seemed sluggish, Richt did have some kudos for his defensive unit.
"There were some really fine defensive plays, some good solid tackling," Richt said. "I thought the tackling was pretty good."
STARTING FROM BEHIND
The final score of Wednesday's practice game was 27-24 Georgia, but it wasn't quite as close as the margin might indicate.
Richt set the teams up to play just the second half of the simulated action, and the No. 1 unit took the field having spotted the scout team three touchdowns before a single snap had taken place.
"I wanted a little sense of urgency for both sides of the ball to make it a tight ballgame," Richt said. "The defense twice had to play with a three-point lead, which I thought they did a good job of."
It was a somewhat familiar situation for quarterback Joe Cox, too.
Cox's last significant action during a game came in 2006 when he came on in relief of Matthew Stafford in the second half against Colorado trailing 13-0. Cox rallied the Bulldogs to a 14-13 win, just as he maneuvered the first-team offense to a comeback victory Wednesday.
Despite his calm under pressure, however, Cox said he'd be just fine with his defense keeping the Cowboys off the scoreboard.
"No, I don't want to spot Oklahoma State 14," Cox said. "I think they did that so we'd really come out and have a different mind-set, and I think it was definitely a good thing. (After the scrimmage), we don't want to say we lost because we couldn't come back."
GOING OFF SCRIPT
One plus for Georgia's offense was the opportunity to run through the playbook in a game situation, Cox said.
In practice, most of the offensive plays are scripted in advance, but Wednesday the Bulldogs got to take the training wheels off.
"We just went off Coach (Mike) Bobo's call sheet, some things we like that we thought would work for the Oklahoma State game," Cox said. "Anything could come in at any time, so it really tests your knowledge and tests everything you've been working on the past few weeks in camp."
The results were clearly mixed, Cox said, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The early scrimmage work gave the offense a chance to revamp a few of its plans for its date with the Cowboys on Sept. 5.
"We saw a lot of things we did really well that we can definitely solidify in our game plan or maybe tweak a little bit," Cox said. "There's probably some things that we ran that we said maybe that's not what we want to run. It's good to have a scrimmage like this and have some time to go back and make some changes to the game plan."
NO DECISIONS YET
Freshman quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger took turns playing the role of Oklahoma State's Zac Robinson during Wednesday's practice game, and only helped the scout team muster three points against Georgia's first-team defense.
That's been indicative of the struggles both have endured at various points this fall, but Richt said he's still not close to deciding whether either or both of the two will redshirt this season.
"I don't think we're there yet," Richt said. "We've still got some time and we've got some games to play. I don't want either one of those guys thinking they're redshirting right this minute."
KING OF THE HILL
Tavarres King was one of Wednesday's offensive stars, hauling in a touchdown reception from quarterback Logan Gray. While it was another strong moment for the redshirt freshman, the more important improvement in his game has come when the ball isn't in his hands, Richt said.
King came in undersized and had to put on weight this offseason, but the work has paid off and Richt said his receiver is looking much improved in the blocking game.
"He's getting better," Richt said. "He's certainly getting much more aggressive as a blocker, and blocking as a receiver is really much more about attitude and technique."
Richt announced the captains for Georgia's opener against Oklahoma State. Cox will represent the offense, with Rennie Curran and Jeff Owens representing the defense, and Demarcus Dobbs representing the special teams.
The beauty of the decision, Richt said, is that it was so hard to make.
"A lot of guys to chose from," he said. "It was not easy to decide on that. There were a lot of names that came up, a lot of names that crossed my mind that deserved it, which is good."
Richt announced last week that Richard Samuel had a firm grip on the top of the tailback depth chart, but that doesn't mean he won't continue his work on kick returns, where he tallied 401 return yards as a freshman last season.
Samuel is one of five players getting work at the position, Richt said, and likely a leading candidate for the majority of the work.
"(Samuel), (Brandon) Boykin and Branden Smith are the top three guys right now," Richt said. "Carlton (Thomas) is in there, too, but I don't know if he'd be in the top three right now. But he's been getting work there along with Bryan Evans."
GOT YOU COVERED
The special teams work during Georgia's practice game is a bit more simulated than the rest of the scrimmage. Kickoffs are live, but the return men already have a second ball waiting and don't catch the kicks – a move made to ensure every kick is returned rather than wasting a rep.
That doesn't make judging the overall kicking game a simple task, but from what he did see, Richt was pleased with how the first-team coverage units played.
"It's a little bit tough to grade or judge how the kicks are going in relation to our coverage, but today the coverage was outstanding," Richt said.
WHO WANTS HIGHLIGHTS?
Richt didn't have stats available following Wednesday's practice game, but a few highlights were easy to recall.
On the defensive side, Brandon Boykin stood out.
"I just happened to see a real fine form tackle by Boykin on the sideline, just a real good job of breaking down and putting his face on the guy and running his feet on contact," Richt said.
Makiri Pugh and Boykin each had interceptions in the game as well, with Pugh's sealing the victory for the Georgia squad.
One rookie made some noise on the scout-team defense, too.
"Just from the naked eye on the sideline, it looked like Derrick Lott had a nice day," Richt said. "He played real strong inside, made some nice unassisted tackles. He stood out."
On offense, King and A.J. Green each caught touchdowns, but Richt was a bit more reserved in his praise.
"I thought Joe was sharp running the system," Richt said of his quarterback. "He was accurate throwing the ball."
Richt on tailback Richard Samuel: "Good day. It wasn't spectacular but it was a good day, solid."
-- The lone turnover by the first-team offense came on an interception. Richt didn't mention which quarterback threw it but he referred to Cox as "accurate" while simply saying Logan Gray "got some snaps." So read between the lines.
-- Ben Jones didn't participate Wednesday, and Kevin Perez worked at center, with Trinton Sturdivant, Chris Davis, Cordy Glenn and Clint Boling rounding out the rest of the No. 1 offensive line.
-- Jeff Owens on who impressed him: "Geno Atkins as usual. He always does great."
-- Richt said the practice game didn't result in any serious injury concerns.
-- Blair Walsh booted all three field goals in the game and Richt said the sophomore kicker had a strong hold on the field-goal and PAT job.
-- Rod Battle continues to impress. Richt said he had one or two sacks in the game.
-- Mettenberger, Murray and Vernon Spellman all took turns playing OSU quarterback Zac Robinson. Rantavious Wooten handled the role of Dez Bryant for the scout team.
-- Richt on Marcus Washington: "He got to play and played a good bit, but I can't sit here and say he did anything exceptional."
-- Akeem Dent, Reshad Jones, Bryan Evans and Caleb King all sat out of Wednesday's scrimmage, but Richt said Jones and Evans could have gone but were held out for precautionary reasons.
-- Darius Dewberry and Aron White sat out all of last week's practices but were full participants in the practice game.
-- King didn't participate, but Richt said he would be back by Monday at the latest. Richt said the next week's practice makes for an easier transition for many of the injured players returning to the lineup. "We're at the point now where there's going to be so much scout team work, and the tempo of the scout work is not quite like the (other drills). It's good tempo, but it's not the same tempo as when you're competing against the No. 1 or No. 2 units. So those guys tend to integrate into practice during scout work, and hopefully they catch up on their fundamentals when they're healthy again."
-- Jeff Owens says his goal is to get to 1,000 Twitter followers before opening day. So far, he’s at 830. If you want to help him out, you can follow him HERE.
-- Don't forget, the blog is taking the day off tomorrow. I'll be back Friday when the Dawgs hit the practice field again. You can follow me on Twitter for breaking news updates.