The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful under the Atlanta sky as over 21,000 fans packed their way into Bobby Dodd stadium to catch their first glimpse of a new era in Yellow Jacket football.
When the dust was settled, after new schemes were shown and a new atmosphere was provided, those 21,000 plus fans we’re reassured that head coach Geoff Collins has already changed the landscape of the program, and he hasn’t even coached his first official game yet.
“It was a great night, great environment,” he said. “I’m really proud of our fanbase that came out to support us. These young men have worked so hard this offseason and embraced everything we’ve implemented as a culture. It was good to see them rewarded with an unbelievable attendance.”
With the fans packed in, the game got off to an exciting start rather quickly.
The gold team got the ball to start the game and set the tone early, going 60 yards in eight plays to strike first blood when Christian Malloy drove the ball in from 13-yards out.
But on the first play of that drive, something rather interesting happened, much to the delight of the fans.
The gold team lined up in double slots, only to shift to a shotgun formation and throw a pass to a tight end, the first of such since Colin Peek caught a four-yard pass against Georgia in 2007 according to Collins.
Team white would respond rather quickly, though, only needed a minute to go 60 yards themselves after James Graham hit Adonicas Sanders in stride for a 39-yard touchdown, allowing the white team to take the lead.
It would be their only lead of the game.
Team Gold would score on their next three possessions while forcing team white into turnover on downs situations on their next three drives.
The scoring onslaught started when quarterback Lucas Johnson found Ahmarean Brown near the goal line from four yards out, allowing Gold to re-take the lead.
Ryan Lantz then entered in at quarterback and found Jaylen Jackson for a 58-yard pass. Dontae Smith would punch it in from a yard out to finish off the drive.
Lantz would get them in scoring range again after a deep jump ball to Malachi Carter allowed Jordan Mason to drive in for a six-yard score.
With the quarterback play on full display in a big way, Collins noted that one of the biggest things he liked was the relationship his quarterbacks and receivers had built with each other.
“The 50-50 balls, our quarterbacks have faith in delivering those to our receivers,” he said. “Making those plays on the contested throws has been a big revelation and something that I am proud of.”
Team white would close the gap right as time expired on the half when Graham scrambled on 3rdand 15 and found enough room to scamper past the goal line to close the scoring gap 24-14.
The momentum continued for the Gold team quickly in the second half as they recovered a fumble on Team White’s first possession. They would capitalize on the turnover with another score as Jordan Mason punched his second in from two yards out to put the gold team up 30-14
Once again, the Gold Team would force a turnover on the ensuing drive as Ajani Kerr picked off Byrne’s pass to put the offense right back in control at their own 48, but the white team’s defense stepped up to force a rare turnover on downs.
The defensive effort was one that was lauded by Collins on both sides of the ball, despite having a “vanilla” scheme for the spring game.
“I was really proud of the guys,” he said.
Collins noted a big defensive moment was when the Gold team had gotten up by two and a half scores on the white team late in the second quarter.
“I saw the look on the White defense that they we’re starting to fracture a little bit,” he said. He called his assistants to the logo and talked them through that the only thing that matters is the next play and next series.
On offense, Team White would respond with a six-play, 44-yard drive capped off with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Byrne to Tija’i Whatley to pull the white team back within ten.
The 30-20 score would solidify in the fourth after a back and forth defensive battle failed to produce anymore scores.
With the spring game behind a team that’s now looking to build off the culture change this summer, Collins was more than elated as to what he saw throughout the night not only from the team, but from the fan turnout as well.
“I’m proud of the way the guys played and proud of the way they competed,” he said. “I’ve loved the way they’ve attacked this offseason and embraced everything we do. I thought they went out there tonight and had a lot of fun.”