Jeff Doke

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By: Jeff Doke news services

Another G-Day game has come and gone. The annual spring game, which for decades stood as a reasonable excuse for alumni & recent graduates to make an offseason return to the classic city, has grown into something larger.

For the first time, the intrasquad matchup of the red & black was broadcast live on ESPN2, making it the highest billed CFB non-game event in cable broadcast history.

The event has had its share of celebrities in the past; either in the stands or as guest coaches for one of the squads. This year there was no need for such chicanery & tomfoolery.

No sir, the citizens of Dawgnation have rewatched the national championship game dozens of times since January (and probably will watch it a dozen more between now & September), but they are ready for some new information as to what they can realistically expect out of the Dawgs this fall.

What they saw on the field invited an old friend back into their red & black hearts – Hope.

For the first time in his career, Stetson Bennett IV will start the season as the undisputed starting quarterback. His performance at G-Day showed that his enshrinement as QB1 is justified, but he still has room to grow in his final season between the hedges.

The Mailman went 15-35 for 273 yards and 3 TDs. The 2 INTs were mildly troublesome, but not blatantly bad decisions like we saw in the SEC Championship Game.

On the other hand, Carson Beck showed that he will be more than capable to step into the starting role should situations require. The redshirt sophomore from Jacksonville went 14 of 26 for 274 yards with no scores or picks.

While the RBs at RBU were understandably quiet on the day, the tight ends were the real showcase even without freshman phenom Brock Bowers.

LSU transfer Arik Gilbert and early enrollee Oscar Delp showed that the receiving corps is just fine without a 1000-yard WR, thank you very much.

Delp led all receivers on the day with 7 catches for 91 yards, while Gilbert hauled in 3 catches for 49 yards and 2 TDs, including a beaut of a 16-yarder in double coverage.

When you take an arguably all-time great defense like UGA had last year, a drop in performance has to be expected. Of last year’s contributors, eight are expected to be drafted in the NFL draft this year, with an outside chance of a record-tying six Dawgs going in the first round.

When you have that severe of a talent bleed, you would be hard pressed to expect anything but a letdown. G-Day showed us that although the lofty heights of 2021 are more than likely out of reach, the drop off in defensive production might not be as severe as feared.

While Kelee Ringo will pick up right where he left off and Jalen Carter will undoubtedly take over from Jordan Davis as the heart & soul leader of the 2022 Bulldogs, there were several names on display at G-Day that Dawg Nation would do well to remember.

For example, take Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins. Get used to the initials TID. The redshirt freshman was in the backfield almost as much as the running backs all day long.

Warren Brinson was pushing the line as well, forcing pressure on the QB and making his presence felt.

All things considered, the first-string defense did better against the first-string offense than you would expect, considering 10 out of the 11 starters from last year’s opener against Clemson have changed.

In short, the 2022 G-Day Game was more than just a spring warm up as usual. The National Championship team received their rings, and those that bleed red & black got a chance to see what to expect in the fall.

And expectations, while understandably high, may not be unrealistic after all.


The New Knights

By: Jeff Doke news services

It’s a Friday afternoon at Frederica Academy, and Coach Brandon Derrick is happy to have made it through the day without any injuries.

Granted, this was spring field day at the school, not spring football practice, but he’ll take the victories where he can get them.

“Any day without injuries is a good day around here,” says the Englewood, Tennessee native, preparing for his 10th season leading the Frederica Knights.

The injury report was not his friend last season. Multiple week absences from two key players on an already short roster meant the 2021 Knights would have to rely on a late-season surge to salvage a .500 record for the year and eke into the playoffs.

It was a difficult task for a team that started with a scant 24 players on the roster, but relief is on the way for the 2022 Knights.

That relief comes in two forms; an influx of young talent from a rising freshman class that led the middle school Knights to an undefeated season last year, and a rising senior quarterback transferring in from Brunswick High.

After helping helm the Brunswick High Pirates to an 11-1 record in 2021, Class of 2023 Quarterback Sutton Ellis will be suiting up for his final campaign in the forest green and gunmetal grey of Frederica Academy,

“After the playoff loss to Dacula, his dad reached out to me,” recalls Coach Derrick. “He told me some things were said and Sutton wants to come over here. I told him if he wants to transfer, he’ll be like everyone else. He’ll have to compete.”

Ellis is used to competition. Splitting time under center last season, he managed to complete 42 of 83 attempts for 689 yards and 5 touchdowns during the Pirates’ run to the state playoffs. His first few months on campus at Frederica would lead you to believe those numbers can go nowhere but up this season.

“After his dad reached out to me, they came over to campus and hung out for a day,” elaborates Coach Derrick. “Sutton loved it. He thought this was a good place & a good setup and jumped right in. He’s playing baseball right now, starting at catcher.”

Since most of his eventual football teammates are two- and three sport athletes, there won’t be a true spring practice, save for film room, weight training, and playbook work.

“(Sutton)’s got the playbook and is studying it. He and Grant are actually working on it together right now.”

The “Grant” that Coach Derrick mentions is rising freshman QB Grant Moore – the leader of the previously mentioned undefeated middle school Frederica team from last season and the “competition” Coach Derrick spoke of in that first phone call with Sutton’s dad.

“We’ve got an 8th Grader coming up named Grant Moore that’s going to be pretty good,” says Derrick. “(He and Sutton) going to have to battle, it’ll be a competition.

Sutton is more of a traditional-style quarterback guy, and Grant is a pure athlete. We’ll be able to get him on the field at other positions, but I’m pretty sure they’ll both see action under center at some point.”

Joining the freshman QB will be several of his middle school teammates, not just adding depth to a roster that desperately needed it, but many starting as well.

“We’ll be starting or playing 8-10 freshmen, on the lines mostly. As crazy as that sounds, they’re gonna be some pretty good freshmen. We’re going to have 30-40 kids all total this year. The cupboard isn’t bare for the first time in a long time.”

Possibly the biggest benefactor of the influx of talent will be junior phenom running back Jordan “The River” Triplett.

“Jordan has been playing a lot of basketball, now baseball,” reports Coach Derrick. ”He’s a great three sport athlete, but his main focus is always football. He’s up to 195 lbs and is working on his speed & technique at a clinic down in Jacksonville. Hopefully Sutton & Grant will be able to get some throws to the outside, spread the field a little bit, and open up the middle for Jordan. We’re trying to add in some new wrinkles to get (Jordan) the ball in space.”

If I’ve learned anything in the last ten years, it’s that when Brandon Derrick starts talking about adding wrinkles to the playbook, there’s going to be some fun-to-watch football on the way. In his own tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecating words, “we’ve got a chance to make some noise as long as I don’t do anything stupid.”

Three Wise Men

By: Jeff Doke news services

During the most magical time of the year, we all love the traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation.

While we all feel a lift in our spirits by surrounding ourselves with our friends & family that also embrace the season, the memories of those who have passed on makes us reminisce about them and wonder how they would feel about this season if they were still with us.

For those of us who have been raised right, we specifically think about the three wise men. Of course, I’m talking about UGA football season, and the three wise men are Lewis, Larry, and Jack.

For them to have never taken the field, no other triumvirate makes me think of Georgia Football more than Lewis Grizzard, Larry Munson, and Jack Davis.

To me, they are just as important to Georgia lore as Vince & Herschel, and their skills in their chosen fields have inspired and influenced me tremendously in three of my favorite hobbies over the years.

Lewis Grizzard was one of the first newspaper columnists I ever followed. He talked about things that were relevant to me (growing up in rural Georgia, southern cooking, the pains of being a Dawg fan) and things that would one day become relevant (politics, divorce, the pains of being a Dawg fan).

His columns in the AJC and his best-selling novels added so much to the southern lexicon that many of his quips have become standards. While he ruffled more than a few feathers in his tragically brief career, his writing style was instantly recognizable and it was more often than not as comfortable as a pair of grey sweatpants & a threadbare 2002 SEC Championship t-shirt.

Passing away in 1994, Lewis thankfully only had to suffer through 13 seasons of the UGA Championship drought and completely avoided the Jim Donnan years. If we all could have been so lucky…

If you search for Grizzard quotes about Georgia football, one of the first you will find mentions another of my three wise men; “listening to Larry Munson was better than being there.”

For a lot of us South Georgia Dawgs, Larry was the only way we could be there.  A Saturday trip to Athens wasn’t as relatively easy as it was for our North Georgia brethren, and believe it or not, back in those days it wasn’t guaranteed that the game would be on TV.

Even when it was, it didn’t feel right if you listened to the network commentator. They didn’t have the established relationship with the team the way that Larry did, so it became a longstanding tradition to turn down the TV and turn up the radio. Because of that, Larry Munson *was* Georgia football for generations. You could tell from his voice in those legendary calls that Larry loved Georgia football as much as we did. You could feel the anxiety, the tension, the elation in every game. He had ownership of the Dawgs. He had buy-in, just as much as every fan, be they students, graduates, or “tailgate alumni” like myself.

Then there’s Jack Davis. I was a MAD Magazine fan before I realized I was a Dawg fan, so I got a steady diet of Jack Davis art before I could barely say “What, Me Worry?” or “Hunker Down.”

Growing up in Glynn County, I didn’t get the Game Day Saturday editions of the Athens Banner-Herald with a Jack cartoon on the front page.

What I did get (as did most of the rest of the state) was the 1980 commemorative Coca-Cola bottle, and I’m lucky enough to have mine signed by the man himself. Much like Larry & Lewis, you could tell Jack loved UGA just as much as we did with every sepia-toned stroke of his brush that brought Hairy Dawg to life long before he roamed the sidelines between the hedges.



Knights Quest

By: Jeff Doke news services

Over the years, Frederica Knights teams have developed their own personalities from year to year, and historically become known by it.

The 2018 championship squad was known as the fastest. In 2017, they were heralded as the most “football smart” unit. The Dirty Thirty of 2020 was aptly described as the grittiest Knights team to take the field.

The 2021 squad will more than likely be remembered by a single trait; resiliency.

The cards were stacked against the 2021 Knights from the moment the 16 seniors that led the Dirty Thirty crossed the graduation stage. Any team that loses that amount of talent and leadership will feel the loss in the locker room. The lack of incoming players for the new season just added to the difficulties.

When all was said & done in the offseason, there would be a scant 22 players in green & grey starting off the 2021 campaign. Coach Brandon Derrick, needless to say, was trying to temper expectations.

“We’re not going to be flying around, trying to go no huddle with everybody. We’re going to slow it down, more ball control/clock control,” said Coach Derrick during a preseason interview.

After Senior QB Thomas Veal broke his hand during the week 1 victory over Valwood, the Knights were forced to show their resiliency once again. Shifting fellow senior Bryce Reilly from WR to QB, the target for opposing defenses shifted even further to record-setting RB Jordan Triplett.

Four tough losses and a bye week later, Veal returned to the lineup and things started clicking again.

A lopsided win over Memorial Day was followed by a solid victory over the hated Bulloch Gators, and then a historic performance from Triplett the following week. “The River” put up 442 yards rushing against the St. Andrews Lions for the 6th best rushing game in the history of high school football in Georgia.

More importantly, the victory took the Knights to a 4-4 record on the season at the time, and set them up for a region championship matchup against the Pinewood Patriots the following week.

After going up 13-0 early against the Patriots, Pinewood QB Mic Wasson turned on the jets and led his team to a 32-20 victory over our Knights. Another loss is the Pinewood game would be senior TE/LB Jon Phillip Spiers, who broke his hand and is out for the remainder of the season.

Which meant it was time to show that resiliency once again to wrap up the regular season.

On the road in Dublin, the Knights took care of the Trinity Christian Crusaders to the tune of 42-17.

The Knights have a bye week coming up this week and will face fellow bye week recipient Tiftarea Academy the following week in a rematch from week 3.

The Panthers won that game 29-7. The winner of that game will more than likely face defending state champion John Milledge Academy. The Trojans have been dominant against the GISA, losing only one game in the last three years.

That loss was to Frederica. Resiliency will absolutely be needed from the Knights if that matchup is in their future.


The Big Letdown

By: Jeff Doke news services

When I was a freshman at Young Harris College, I was introduced to a south Florida-based parrot head musician named Del Suggs. The chorus of one of his songs said “when everything’s coming up roses, I get suspicious.”

Boy howdy, does that sentiment ring true right now.

As any lifelong Dawg fan will gladly tell you – whether you want to hear it or not – we’ve been through a lot over the years: Second & 26. Half a hundred between the hedges. No, make that the entire Steve Spurrier run.

The Dawgs have been close (or should have been close) so many times since 1980 that many of us have developed a healthy sense of skepticism. Can you blame us though? We survived Jim Donnan *AND* Mark Richt.

This year feels different, though. Undefeated through seven games. Undefeated in the SEC with our backup quarterback and a decimated receiver corp. A defense that has allowed only 4 touchdowns all year…and it would have been three if Mark Stoops’ bookie hadn’t gotten that call through. Georgia, no matter how badly we don’t want to say it out loud, looks unstoppable.

This year’s Georgia/Florida game shouldn’t be a trap game. So why is it making me so nervous?

The 2021 Floriduh Gaturs are not a good football team. Neither QB has proved to be outstanding, although both were described as such in the preseason.

Yes, they almost took Bama to overtime, but I’m standing by my belief that this year’s Bama is a paper tiger.

Dan Mulllen has already gotten a third L to supplement the two Ls you can’t spell his name without. Not only are they not at their usual spot in the top 2 spots of the SEC East, they’re in 4th, behind Tennessee AND KENTUCKY.

Let that sink in. Florida is behind Kentucky. In FOOTBALL.

I’m pretty sure this is mentioned somewhere in Revelations, I’m just scared to look.

I’m nervous about this game because records and rankings absolutely do not matter in this matchup. Let’s take a look at the last few times a highly ranked UGA team has gone up against an unranked Florida squad.

2017 – #3 Georgia 42 – Florida 7. Okay, this one worked out the way we thought, but just wait.

2014 – Florida 38 – #9 Georgia 20. I’m not sure, but I think this was the year Fred Taylor’s kid decided he had some of his old man’s talent. Not sure, I’ve blocked this game from my memory.

2002 – Florida 20 – #5 Georgia 13. Ron Zook’s first year as coach (yeah, I forgot him, too), and a team led by a QB most famous for almost breaking his fool neck headbutting a cement wall on national television.

If we were to flip the script, the last time an unranked Georgia squad beat a ranked Florida team was 1989.

Thirty-two years ago. When George Bush was still in office. The first one, that is.

This is why I am hesitant to embrace hope this year, much less this week. Weird stuff happens at the WLOCP.

True, the 2021 Bulldogs have started to be mentioned in “best of all time” discussions, and rightfully so. JT Daniels is trending towards playing, and let’s be honest, it won’t be a heartbreak if he doesn’t – you’d like to see the Mailman get some payback for last year too, yeah?

My mind says “we’ve got this.” My heart says “ease up off the gas there, pablo.”

My cardiology nurse, however, says “please stop watching Georgia football.” I should probably listen to her, considering she’s my wife.

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