ATHENS, Ga.—Replacing a legend is never easy, but Hutson Mason made it look easy in Georgia's spring game on Saturday afternoon between the hedges at Sanford Stadium.
The redshirt senior signal-caller was sizzling on Saturday, completing 18 of 27 passes for 241 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions, leading the Red team to a 27-24 win over the Black team in front of a record spring game crowd of 46,073 fans at G-Day.
Mason's touchdown came on a beautiful 10-yard, back-shoulder fade to Reggie Davis in the second quarter. That's a trait that is consistent with virtually every quarterback of the Mark Richt era, and something that Mason has worked on quite a bit while he sat behind former quarterback Aaron Murray for four years.
"The kind of coverage they were playing down there in the red zone, it was kind of tough," Mason said. "We were going to have to throw it up or do a back shoulder. With Reggie being 5'10", I didn't want to throw it up. When I saw the corner playing over the top, I just did a back shoulder."
But it wasn't just the back-shoulder fade that Mason has mastered. The 6'3", 202-pounder had nice touch on several deep balls, including one to Chris Conley and another on what would have been a sure-fire touchdown to Reggie Davis had Davis not been interfered with by cornerback Shaq Wiggins.
"Hutson's definitely a guy who, if he sees a matchup that he likes, he's going to let it go early," Conley said. "When he throws the ball, he definitely puts more air under it. He's still adjusting to playing with all of these receivers. He's an extremely hard worker, a great leader, and this offense is going to be just fine with him."
Mason didn't just light up the stat sheet. He impressed his coaches with his pre-snap reads and the ability to handle the offense like a veteran.
"He did a nice job like he's been doing all spring long," head coach Mark Richt said. "Finding the open targets, getting us in the right plays, right protections. I think he stood in the pocket very well and bought some time back there and made some plays. I thought he did a nice job overall."
As Edward Ascoff of ESPN notes, Mason has the right mentality and will be an exciting player in 2014.
But can he lead this team to a championship?
With receivers like Conley, Michael Bennett, Davis already comfortable with him—and Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley both coming back this fall—he certainly has the weapons around him to be successful.
Mason isn't your average first-year starter. His experience with the program and familiarity with his teammates and the system allows him to step into the full-time starting roll with little-to-no hiccups.
While Mason was solid during G-Day, he could be—and has been—better.
"The other two scrimmages were even better than today, and I thought today he did well," Richt said. "He's just very knowledgeable. Very comfortable. I think he's accurate. I think he's a competitor. He's ready for all of his challenges."
Georgia's offense—which finished fourth in the SEC (484.2 YPG) last season—shouldn't miss a beat with Mason taking the snaps.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes and spring game statistics were obtained firsthand.