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Monday February 8th, 2016 1:58PM

Defense dominates at UGA spring game

By The Associated Press
ATHENS -- The Sanford Stadium scoreboard said the Red team won Georgia's G-Day spring game on Saturday, beating the Black team 13-3.

Rennie Curran said he knew better.

The real winner of the annual spring game was Georgia's defense, which didn't allow a touchdown until Carlton Thomas scored on a 20-yard run with only 9 seconds remaining.

The game matched Georgia's first-string defense, which played for the Black team, against the starting offense, which played for the Red team.

When Thomas finally scored in the final seconds, the starters were not on the field for the Black's defense. When the first-string defensive players were on the field, they contained Joe Cox, Caleb King, A.J. Green and the other starters on offense.

Defensive end Justin Houston capped his strong spring with four tackles for 26 yards in losses, including three sacks. Bryan Evans had an interception and starting linebackers Curran, Akeem Dent and Darryl Gamble each had two stops.

"I feel we took care of business when we were all out there," Curran said.

Marcus Washington had three sacks for the Red defense.

Former quarterback Matthew Stafford, who could be the No. 1 overall pick in this month's NFL draft, and tailback Knowshon Moreno, also expected to be a first-round pick, watched from the sideline as Cox, King and others competed for the vacated starting spots.

Cox and the Black team's starting quarterback, Logan Gray, each were hurt by dropped passes.

Cox was 9-of-16 passing for 105 yards. Gray was 9-of-13 passing for 91 yards. Freshman Zach Mettenberger, playing behind Cox, was 0-for-3 passing with an interception. Another freshman, Aaron Murray, was 3-of-5 passing for 62 yards, including a 43-yard completion to Marquise Brown.

Cox, a senior, used the spring practice to affirm his status as the heavy favorite to replace Stafford. He opened the game by completing a 35-yard pass to Green on a flea-flicker.

The other highlight for Cox came in the fourth quarter when the game was tied 3-3. Cox completed a 22-yard pass to tight end Aron White on a third-and-20 play to set up Andrew Jensen's 48-yard field goal that gave the Red a 6-3 lead.

"It definitely wasn't our best offensive day, but we did some good stuff," Cox said.

Cox said he was "completely comfortable" while playing before the crowd of 42,458 and ESPN national TV audience.

"Joe just has a cool about him," White said. "He's a real cool cat."

Thomas, a 5-foot-7, 170-pound freshman from Frostproof, Fla., had eight carries for 59 yards. King had seven carries for 22 yards.

Coach Mark Richt said the tailback competition remains "wide open."

Richard Samuel, who joined King as backups behind Moreno in 2008, missed spring practice with a wrist injury. Redshirt freshman Dontavius Jackson was limited with a knee injury. Walk-on Kalvin Daniels missed time with a shoulder injury, leading coaches to give fullback Fred Munzenmaier some snaps at tailback.

Freshman Washaun Ealey will join the depth chart at tailback in preseason practice.

"As of right now, I'd say we would play more than one guy," Richt said. "I don't think we'd feature one guy right now. That might change."

There is more clarity at the quarterback position, where Cox is the clear starter and Gray was named by coaches as the biggest surprise of the spring on offense.

Richt said Mettenberger and Murray can compete better in preseason drills.

"Their big race right now is to learn enough between now and the fall to where they really can compete," Richt said.

Blair Walsh gave the Red team a 3-0 lead with a 51-yard field goal in the second quarter. Jamie Lindley answered with a 25-yarder for the Black team later in the quarter. Gray completed passes of 15 and 21 yards to Derek Rich to set up Lindley's kick.

The lack of offense left some wondering if Georgia would be able to recover from losing two probable first-round picks. With King failing to secure the starting job at tailback and Green making only one catch, there wasn't much offense. White had three catches for 50 yards and Israel Troupe led the Black offense with five catches for 38 yards, but each had drops.

Does Georgia have enough offense?

"We didn't see (big plays) today, but I think we do," Richt said. "When we get everybody together and focused on the first team, I think we'll be fine."

Added Richt, who liked the strong defense: "I'd feel better with the score we had than with a 31-30 game."

-- Notes: There was no admission charge but fans contributed a reported 12,500 pounds of food for the Northeast Georgia Food Bank, a record for any University of Georgia food drive, according to Richt. "I want to thank the University of Georgia people for helping out the people who need the help right now," Richt said. ... Richt said there was no report of a significant injury. ... The Red also beat the Black in an alumni flag football game before the G-Day game.
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