Zirkel FG lifts team Black to 26-23 victory
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Zirkel FG lifts team Black to 26-23 victory

Georgia Bulldogs
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. – Jared Zirkel kicked a 27-yard field goal as time expired to lift Team Black to a 26-23 win over Team Red in Georgia’s G-Day Game on Saturday in front of 68,002 fans at Sanford Stadium and an ESPN2 audience.

Quarterback Stetson Bennett went 15-of-35 for 273 yards and three touchdowns to pace Team Black. Tailbacks Kenny McIntosh and Kendall Milton combined to rush for 44 yards on 12 carries. Kearis Jackson paced the receivers as he hauled in four passes for 107 yards, including a 25-yarder to set up Zirkel’s game-winning kick. Tight end Arik Gilbert pulled in three catches for 49 yards, including two scores.

Quarterback Carson Beck went 13-of-21 for 246 yards to lead Team Red. Quarterback Brock Vandagriff led Team Red with 45 yards on three rushes. Tailback Daijun Edwards added 29 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries. Tight end Oscar Delp was Team Red’s top receiver with seven catches for 91 yards.

Linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson had a Red-best seven tackles, while defensive backs Daylen Everette and Malaki Starks led Team Black with five tackles each.

Team Black struck first as Bennett fired a 16-yard strike to Gilbert. Zirkel’s PAT gave Team Black a 7-0 lead with 10:09 left in the opening quarter.

Team Red responded with a 10-yard scoring run by Edwards. Kicker Jack Podlesny tacked on the extra point to knot the game at 7-7 at the 9:19 mark.

Between the first and second quarters, members of the 2021 national championship team not participating in the game received their commemorative rings.

In the second quarter, the squads traded field goals as Podlesny connected from 24 yards and Zirkel hit from 36.

Edwards pushed Team Red out front with a 3-yard touchdown run with 2:58 remaining in the first half. Podlesny added the extra point for a 17-10 score.

Team Black responded as Bennett threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Milton with 1:54 left in the half. Zirkel’s PAT made it 17-17 at the break.

Bennett again found Gilbert, this time for a 6-yard touchdown with 6:17 remaining in the third quarter. Zirkel’s PAT was blocked.

In the fourth quarter, Podlesny drilled field goals of 33 and 28 yards to pull Team Red even, setting up Zirkel’s capper.

The Bulldogs will open the 2022 season on Sept. 3 against Oregon in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.


Head Coach Kirby Smart

Opening Statement …

“It was a really competitive game, kind of a back-and-forth game, like it always is.  We want it to be as much action, close, game coming down to the wire, not so much for you guys or the fans but for us.  I don’t think you get better in games that are lopsided, you get better in competitive action.  We tried to make that happen as much as possible. I thought our fan base was awesome, to come out especially with the inclement weather earlier, to be able to come out and support us and give us a great atmosphere.  We’ve got a lot of good football players here today.  We’ve got a lot of good football players leaving, too, and got a lot of good football players on the field.  I was excited about that.  Really pleased with some things in the kicking game, and we’ve got a long way to go before we get where we need to go.  That’s the objective. I was really proud of the competitive nature the guys played with today.”

On redshirt-sophomore wide receiver Arik Gilbert

“Yeah, Arik is a really tough, physical player that’s done a good job.  I’m more proud of the practices he had leading up to today than today.  Today was a little bit icing on the cake.  He got some good breaks.  He had a ball that I think Stetson was throwing away that he ended up making a play on.

But he’s not where he needs to be, either.  There were two missed assignments where he didn’t block a guy that in the run game could kill us.  We get tackles for loss and we end up not blocking a guy.  He didn’t really have those kind of plays during the spring, but his conditioning level has got to continue to improve.  He lost a lot of weight, but just what he’s been through and overcome is such a great story, but he’s not where he needs to be.  He’ll be the first to tell you he’s got to continue to grow, to get in shape, to change his body, and he can get an opportunity to help us.  With the two other guys we’ve got coming back, it makes it a luxury of those guys being able to make us a special football team.”

On the performance of the defensive line on Saturday

“I think they’ve had good springs.  I’d rather evaluate the spring than the spring game.  It’s hard to judge when you’re out there and it’s happening.  We’ll watch the tape.  But I think Naz has done a lot to change his body.  He’s lost 10 to 15 pounds, he’s changed his body fat percentage.  Warren is a quick-twitch guy that can make some plays when he moves inside.  He’s gotten tougher.  He’s gotten more physical. But certainly that’s the area that we probably lose the most, there and linebacker, the depth we had there.  Those guys are going to have to play meaningful minutes and become very dependable for us to go where we want to.”

On the quarterbacks

“I thought those guys did a good job.  When you put them in a situation where it’s pass-happy type environment, it changes the D-line’s demeanor, so there’s no real run game to slow guys down and everybody is pinning their ears back.  You have two two-minute situations which are actually three-minute, but it was a three-minute two-minute and then another three-minute two-minute, and you’re up tempo going, that makes sometimes for tougher passing situations. But I really thought those guys made some plays.  Standing back there with them, they stood in the pocket, made good decisions with the ball, made some vertical plays down the field, and our style is, hey, we’re going to make shots.  It really wasn’t a shot-type day because it wasn’t a play action type day, it was a drop-back pass type day. Those guys executed well and made some plays.  They really all three got so much better during the spring.  Just the growth within the offense, you see so much promise in each one of them.”

On the defensive backs

“Lassiter didn’t get to play.  He got a little bit sick last night and he didn’t get to play, but he had a good spring.  He got to work and play a lot for us.  Bull is one of the toughest guys in the secondary.  I think he dinged his shoulder a little bit.  Don’t have an update on him, but he came out right there at the end. Those guys are really — Chris Smith, Dan Jackson, Kelee, those guys are great competitors, Nyland Green.  The thing about Daylen Everette, we learned in the spring he can tackle you.  He’s not afraid of contact.  He’s going to be a good football player.  We’ve got to get better in the secondary to go where we’re going to go, and we’ve got some guys coming, but we’ve got to get the guys that are here to go to here, and that’s our job as coaches.”

On the offensive line

“Off and on.  We had two or three missed assignments that were disappointing, things we wouldn’t normally do.  We didn’t ask them to come out and just grind it and run the ball.  We asked them to pass pro and play in a situation where guys know they’re going to rush.  I thought we passed off some twists nicely, and we’ve got some mobility in our quarterbacks.  You saw both quarterbacks when things kind of broke down, they took off and made some plays with their legs. A lot of times that’s because the offensive line was able to finish just enough to get them out of the pocket.”

On the second-team offensive line

“Well, I reserve judgment to watch the tape, but Blaske worked at center and right tackle all spring.  He did a tremendous job.  Picking up more and more tackle reps as the spring went on. Earnest (Greene) has come a long way, from getting here and having to lose 25 to 30 pounds, he did that before spring, and then once he got on the field, because of his conditioning level, he was able to handle the number of reps we gave him.  He took almost every rep with the twos and the threes for all spring, and just think he’s going to be a talented player that’s extremely tough, does things the right way.  We’re very fortunate to have Earnest in the program.”

On if today was typical for freshman tight end Oscar Delp

“ I don’t know about typical.  I thought he didn’t get too caught up in the moment and played well.  He like Arik has been thrown in the fire.  Like they’re out there going every play against guys who have played 20 and 30 games.  I thought he had a decent scrimmage today.  He caught the ball well.  He ran after the catch well.  We didn’t ask him to block and do some things, and those are things that he’s got to continue to work on. To play in the SEC you’ve got to be able to do both.  You can’t just be a receiving tight end.  That’s what we saw last year with Brock and Darnell.  They’re so versatile they can do both.”

On analysis of individual performances and how important today was in terms of big picture

“Well, it’s important because it’s an opportunity to measure things, to look at things and say, okay, what did we do well, what did we do poorly, but not statistically.  Like I don’t read into the statistics and say, okay, what was the completion percentage.  It’s a decision-making process.  Did his eyes go to the right place, did he do right thing. Same thing on defense; did I make the right call, did I play the right technique.  You’re grading effort and toughness on both positions.  When you look at the quarterback, hard to grade effort and toughness when you’re not getting touched.  You’re evaluating decision-making process, and a lot goes into that; can I get the signal, can I fix things, because every now and then you got a guy that doesn’t know what to do out there and your job is to get him fixed because if you don’t, it could cost you a big play.  And we had several situations out there where I thought the quarterbacks went over and said, hey, you’ve got to do this.  They helped the wide out, they helped the back out.  There’s so much more so being the quarterback at Georgia than just numbers.”

On when Coach Dooley hired celebrity coaches for G-Day

“Yeah, I mean, it doesn’t bother me.  You can do whatever you want as far as the coaches.  I want the players to play.  All that’s for entertainment purposes.  For me it’s about making the players go out there and play well.  How did they handle the pregame, how did they handle the halftime, because everybody thinks it doesn’t matter.  It does matter because the next time they do it, it’s going to be in Atlanta against Oregon. So for me it’s a dress rehearsal.  It’s like, see where their mind is.  Does this kid respond well to anxiety because there was some anxiety out there today.  I’m a lot more into that than I am just goofing off with it, and they did that long pass coach, too, because they did that when I was here.”

On naming Stetson Bennett the starter

“You said it, so there you go.  You just quoted.  You said it.  I don’t have to say that.  Our team knows Stetson is our quarterback; know what I mean?  Stetson has done a tremendous job.  Stetson has been an incredible leader, done what we’ve asked, and you know what, the other two guys have gotten a whole lot better, and I think if you asked them, they’re really comfortable back there in the pulpit throwing the ball. I saw it today with both of them.  They both have really good arm talent and done a great job.  Stetson knows where he stands on our team.”

On the first thing on his schedule after this game

“First thing on the schedule after this?  I’ve got to go meet with some recruits.  Then I’ve got to go out to eat with some recruits and then I’ve got to go call some recruits and then I’ve got to grade the film.

There’s a long list of things — I’ve got to do the duty that lies nearest, and that’s always going to be the case in this profession, what is the duty that lies nearest.”

On the 2021 seniors getting their national championship rings

“ It was really cool.  I have not gotten my ring yet, but I was really proud of those guys.  Getting to see them there today and the ovation they got means so much.  Those guys have given so much to this program, and there’s a lot of guys, there’s five-year, six-year, three-year guys.  It’s a random group when it comes to the number of years served here.  It’s not like they’re all one class.  They all came in across really three years, and they’ve changed the culture, the work ethic, and there’s a lot of guys before them that didn’t get a ring that were out there today, too, that they were part of that same success.  Some of that ring is theirs, and I think the guys that got the rings will be the first to admit that.”

On what boost winning the national title gives you when recruiting

“I don’t know how you measure that.  I really don’t.  It’s hard to measure what is the amount of boost it gives you.  I don’t know.  I think it puts you in conversation with a lot of kids, but you can only efficiently recruit so many kids.  If it puts you in it with more, you’d better pick the right ones to be in it with and you’d better hone in on who you want because otherwise you’re just like shooting a big spread shotgun out there just seeing what comes back to you. You’ve got to narrow your focus, you’ve got to know what you want to go after, the right kind of kids, and I think that’s — win or lose the National Championship game, that doesn’t change. What we have to do in recruiting is what we have to do in recruiting.  I’m certainly glad that we won it.  I’m glad we won it for our fans, but I’m focused on forward.  I’m looking like in there, not in the rear-view mirror.  I’m looking out the windshield straight ahead.”

On any specific players who stood out today if he had to pick one

“Hard.  Hard to do that.  I’ve got to watch the tape, especially on defense.  I think offensively you look at statistics and you say, who threw it and caught it or who caught the ball or who made plays, but that’s a whole — it’s probably the offensive line across the front, and then defensively I thought we had a lot of batted balls which we didn’t have hardly any all spring.  We tried to emphasize that the three days.  We had more batted balls. We didn’t give up as many explosives as we had in some scrimmages, so there’s some promise there, but they also didn’t play action us the same way they did in the scrimmage.”

On young receivers and the depth of the receiver corps

“Yeah, I think we got better.  Like we got younger players better.  We still aren’t where we need to be.  Like I really feel good, Ladd and AD, they’re SEC wide outs.  They can compete at a high level. But when you go past that, you’ve got Marcus who’s done a tremendous job.  Marcus is extremely smart and he can play all positions.  We don’t have like, okay, this guy has got a hamstring, who’s going in.  We don’t have that.  We’ve got to grow that.  We’ve got to get Arian and Jackson, CJ, De’Nylon up to speed and days like today get them closer.  But they’re not there yet.  We’re not there yet.  We have to continue to grow.  You look at Arian has an elite trait and we try to use that elite trait as much as possible, but we’re not where we need to be at wide out, and we’ve got some more guys coming, so we’re going to get some guys to help out.”

On injury updates to Tramel Walthour, Warren Ericson and Robert Beal

“Yeah, all those guys will be fine.  Dealing with ankle, knee, but they’ll be back for summer.”

On what he liked out of the running backs today

“Catching the ball out of the backfield.  We ask them to catch the ball out of that backfield and make plays.  I thought Kenny caught a nice play on a wheel route, so did Kendall.  Those guys — in college football you become a weapon by how you receive the ball out of the backfield.  They want to grow with that.  They want to be able to showcase their talents catching the ball out of the backfield.  That’s what the NFL asks about.  Can he catch the ball out of the backfield?  Can he be a 3rd down back?  Well, we like to grow NFL backs here, so to do that you’ve got to use them in the passing game, and I thought that Kenny, Kendall all those guys, Daijun, Clark did a nice job.  We didn’t always hit them efficiently.  We missed some wide open backs, but I thought that those backs did a nice job.”

On the transfer portal and how it affects this next phase of the year

“ I don’t know.  I don’t even think of this next phase as transfer portal phase, I think of it as get stronger, get bigger phase.  Like we have to get better.  We’ve got to physically get better, so we’ve got to lift in May, we’ve got to work out in May.  We’ve got to get some guys academically in a good place.  The guys that want to be here, we’re going to coach them.  The guys that don’t, then we’re not going to chase after them.  We can’t.  That’s their determination. We’re trying to create a culture of I want to be here and grow and get better.  Like you come to Georgia, you get developed.  If I’m not the guy, at least I’m developing to be the guy, and we’ve got a lot, a lot of examples of guys that stuck around and became really good players, and Channing Tindall is a great example of that.  That’s really my focus.  It’s really not on who’s in it, who’s not in it.”

On Jared Zirkel

“ I think he’s gotten more confidence.  I thought he kicked well the last two weeks of spring.  Early on there was some butterflies.  He’ll be a stiff competition at kickoff because he and Pod are very similar hang distance, and I’m excited to see him continue to grow at field goals.  He’s shown more consistency in the last two weeks than he has since he’s been here.”

On comparing last year’s defense to the 2011 Alabama defense

“Other than I’m trying to replace all those guys.  The last thing I’m thinking about is where they stack up against the ’11 Bama defense.  I’ve got issues — duty that lies nearest, that’s at the bottom.  So I’m really trying to conclude where they stack in relation to those guys as much as I am replace those guys.  It takes a full day’s work by our defensive staff to replace what’s leaving here, and we’re trying as fast as we can because we have some talented players on defense, they just don’t have experience, guys.  You cannot put a price tag on experience.  We don’t is enough guys with experience, so what do you got to do?  You’ve got to get them experience.  You’ve got to go play in scrimmages, you’ve got to play in an environment like today, so our kids will grow from this.  We’re just very fortunate that we don’t have a 15th practice, we have a 15th game.  So I get to see how they react to giving up a play.

But I can’t compare those two defenses.”

On if he has any idea on what this team’s identity will be

“We’re creeping on it.  There was some really good accountability in terms of holding each other accountable this spring that I was shocked by, that I was like, man, there’s going to be a void in leadership, how can we create leadership opportunities, and from the day one they were pushing each other, they were cheering each other on the sideline. I’m like, man, it’s almost like they wanted to emulate those other guys.  I’m talking about from a leadership standpoint now.  They can’t emulate what some of those guys do on the field.  They can emulate the standard, though, and I thought they really did that for 14 of the 15 practices.  Man, I was like, dude, they had a great attitude, they worked really hard today and we made it tough, and they did it.  We’re going to have to have a little different personality.  We’re going to have some grit, some toughness because it won’t just be talent.  We were really talented last year, and not that we’re not talented now, but we’re going to have to win in different ways.”

On what he is looking forward to this summer

“Seeing the players get better.  Like I love the camps in the summer.  I love the opportunity to work out our players.  I love the opportunity to see our guys grow.  So I’m looking forward to the progression.


#29 Christopher Smith | Sr. | DB

On being a leader for new guys…

“I tell them that it’s not about the talent. It’s about how you attack the game and things like that. That’s the main thing that I try to push. Tackling it mentally and physically every day, that’s something that those guys brought. Of course, they have God-given talent, but they’re also hard workers, and they kept themselves mentally in the game every time. That’s one of the main things I try to push.”

On stepping up following key departures…

“I just try to preach that, even though the game is physical, it’s also mental. That’s one of the main things. All these guys have physical talent. They wouldn’t be here if they didn’t have it. It’s about the mentality. That’s one of the main things I try to push.”

#10 Kearis Jackson | Sr. | WR

On this year’s leadership…

“Most of the guys who have had a lot of experience on the team, Van Pran, you have Warren (McClendon), you have Stetson (Bennett). We have a lot of older guys who have played many reps for us, being able to lead. We even have loudmouth people like Nolan (Smith). Nolan has the loudest mouth on the team pretty much, but the stuff he says gets guys going and that’s what we need on this team.”

On physical shape this season versus last…

“I feel great about myself. Last year wasn’t the season I wanted to have and that’s why I came back for another season. I still have stuff I have to prove. I still have stuff I can do that I know I’m capable of doing. With me coming back for another season, to help not only myself but to help my teammates and help Georgia win another National Championship.”

#13 Stetson Bennett | Sr. | QB

On today’s performance…

“It was alright. We started off hot. The way spring games work, you have to switch up the reps and stuff. It kind of messes with the flow. There was a lot of good and a lot of bad. We’ll watch the tape and see what we can do better.

On the team bet…

“Yes! It was the same one. Either beanie wennies or you get steak and lobster, so we’re (Black team) going to get steak and lobster. We are trying to make sure Carson (Beck) eats beanie wennies because he said once he switched teams in the second half he was going to go with the winning one. We were like, “No… you’re with the Red team.”

On Arik Gilbert…

“He has come on this Spring… First of all, he’s just a freak. Second, he knows football. He knows space. Not just the two touchdown passes, but the one in the two-minute drill, right before we kicked to field goal to win the game. He made some great catches. I’m kind of getting that trust with him and getting to know where he is going to be on the field.

#5 Kelee Ringo | R-So. | DB

On his progress …

“I feel like I have great potential to be one of the best players at my position. Every single day I’m just looking for something to get better at. Just continuing to out in work.”

On the offense…

“The offense was really explosive. No matter how far you get down there, they are trying stuff. Every single day at practice, it’s a tough competition That helps us get it right throughout the season.”


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