ATHENS — True freshman Jake Fromm came off the bench to relieve injured quarterback Jacob Eason and revive Georgia’s offense in the process as the Bulldogs surged past Appalachian State 31-10 in the season opener at Sanford Stadium Saturday.
It was a relatively stress-free night, at least after Eason left the game with 6:30 remaining in the first quarter with a left knee injury. Coach Kirby Smart said the Bulldogs’ sophomore starting quarterback had suffered only a sprain and could be back this season, but would have no other information until later.
No. 15 Georgia (1-0) is now 2-0 all time against App State. The Bulldogs will get an even bigger test next Saturday when they travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. It’s the first meeting of those two schools since Georgia beat the Fighting Irish 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl to win the 1980 national championship.
Here’s how the Bulldogs graded out against the Mountaineers:
The Bulldogs did what they had to do to move the ball against a very good App State defense. Tailbacks Nick Chubb (15-96) and Sony Michael (16-87) were each close to recording 100-yard rushing games and the Bulldogs’ passing game was solid if unspectacular, accounting for 221 yards. But only a penalty kept Georgia from opening the game with three straight three-and-outs. Then backup quarterback Brice Ramsey threw two interceptions as Georgia tried to milk the clock in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs totaled 368 yards on 64 plays, which is still below the program’s established standards.
This was as dominant a defensive performance as Georgia has put together since the Bulldogs shut out Missouri 34-0 in 2014. In fact, it probably should have been a shutout, if not for two interceptions Georgia threw deep in its own territory late in the fourth quarter. The Mountaineers converted them both into points, continuing the Bulldogs’ redzone defense struggles of 2016. But otherwise, App State’s well-oiled offense played the first three quarters without a trip to the red zone. And Georgia’s front seven was stout, getting six tackles apiece from linebacker Roquan Smith and Trent Thompson. The Bulldogs recorded 2 sacks and 7 tackles for loss while limiting the Mountaineers to 12 first downs.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
It was a fantastic outing for Georgia’s special teams units, and for its kickers in particular. Sophomore Rodrigo Blankenship demonstrated why the coaching staff rewarded him with both the kickoff and place-kicking jobs. He recorded five touchbacks on the night and was good on four extra points and a 23-yard field goal. And transfer punter Cameron Nizialek might’ve been the star of the game, averaging 43.8 yards on five punts and flipping field position three times in the first quarter when the Bulldogs couldn’t generate any offense. Georgia did nothing special in the returns area.
Georgia had an excellent game plan and executed it particularly well on the defensive side of the ball. They deserve credit for keeping the team calm and focused amid the potentially devastating loss of the starting quarterback to injury. Having third-string quarterback Brice Ramsey throw passes deep in his own territory late in the five-score game was reckless but might have been necessary given the depth dilemma at that position heading to Notre Dame. A total of 16 true freshmen made their career debuts Saturday night. So they’re still coaching a young team.
There was really very little for the sellout crowd of 92,746 to complain about. The Bulldogs faced a very difficult opponent in one of those no-win situations a week before playing a national opponent on the road. The Eason injury and the Fromm substitution added some intrigue to what could have been a drab and lifeless came. But Georgia showed with its defense and special teams it could be a force to be reckoned with regardless of whose running the offense or how well it’s working.
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