ATHENS — For the second week in a row, some boo birds could be heard chirping from the Sanford Stadium stands. Their complaint was seeing the home team move into the second quarter in a 0-0 tie with its visitor from the Mid-American Conference.

The discontent wouldn’t last long.

Twenty-eight seconds into the second quarter, Georgia’s Mekhi Mews fielded a punt, made a couple of defenders miss and then went 69 yards down the visiting team’s sideline for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

That seemed to touch off all kinds of delightful craziness as the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs rolled to a 45-3 victory over Ball State. As a result, they’ll carry a sparkling 2-0 record into their SEC opener against South Carolina next weekend (3:30 p.m. Saturday, CBS).

“The punt return kind of sparked us,” coach Kirby Smart said. “Really excited that Mews continues to do that. That provided a lot of energy.”

Mews’ punt return touched off a 31-point second quarter for Georgia. Those were the most points in a quarter since the Bulldogs scored 35 points against Vanderbilt in the first quarter in 2021.

How did it happen? First, safety Malaki Starks, showing off his vertical-leap skills once again, high-pointed a deep sideline pass for his first interception of the season. Taking over at their own 22, it took the Bulldogs only six plays to cover the 78 yards to Ball State’s end zone.

Most of that ground was covered on two pass plays, a 13-yard completion to Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, who got 15 yards tacked on because of a facemask penalty, and a 37-yard completion to Arian Smith on a deep crossing pattern. Facing third-and-goal from the 7, Beck side-stepped an unblocked Ball State rush and hit Rosemy-Jacksaint with a hot-read pass over the middle for a touchdown. That made the score 14-zip with 10:16 remaining in the half.

Forty-seconds later, the darnedest thing happened. Ball State quarterback Kadin Semonza rolled right under pressure and threw a pass downfield. It’s unclear who exactly it was intended for, but the ball bounced off the back of the right foot of tight end Maximus Webster, who was blocking downfield, and it careened backward into the arms of Georgia outside linebacker Chaz Chambliss.

“Obviously we don’t practice that,” said Chambliss, a junior from Carrollton. “It was just up to me to ‘cover-down’ and just look, really. ... I just saw the ball come, and there wasn’t much to do but try not to drop the ball.”

Sports reporter Sarah K. Spencer talks with Georgia beat writer Chip Towers about the Bulldogs’ 45-3 win vs. Ball State Saturday.

That interception – one of three in the game for the Bulldogs – set them up at the Ball State 30. From there, it took Georgia two plays to reach the end zone. The second was a right-tackle run play for receiver Dillon Bell, who made an nifty cut to the outside to break free all the way to the right-side pylon. The PAT made the score 21-0.

A sophomore from Houston, Bell played mostly running back in high school. He has been working at the position in practice the past few weeks with the Bulldogs’ numbers low at that position because of injury.

“You’ve got to be a team player and make the play when your name is called,” said Bell, who rushed for 655 yards and 14 touchdowns as a high school senior. “When I grew up, running back was my first love. So, when they called me to go out there, I was, like, ‘Oh, I can’t ever lose my running back instincts.’ I prepared during the week as well.”

Georgia finally got the chance to mount a traditional offensive drive on its next possession, reaching the Ball State 2-yard line in 12 plays. But a touchdown pass to Dominic Lovett on fourth-and-goal at the 2 was nullified by a questionable interference call against Rosemy-Jacksaint. That backed up the Bulldogs to the 17, and they settled for a 35-yard field goal from Woodring to make the score 24-0 with 1:49 remaining in the half.

Woodring, by the way, had missed a 28-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter that he hooked left.

The Cardinals probably would’ve been thrilled to get to the locker room with such a deficit. But they didn’t. They came out throwing, and Semonza’s pass in the flat was batted from the intended receiver by Georgia cornerback Daylen Everette. The carom went straight to Tykee Smith, who was immediately tackled on the Ball State 20.

Four plays later, Kendall Milton sailed over left guard – Herschel Walker-leap style – for a 1-yard touchdown. In a snap, the Bulldogs were up by five scores.

The second half mostly was the two teams going through the motions. Beck connected with walk-on running back Cash Jones on a beautifully thrown pass down the Ball State sideline midway through the third quarter to make the score 38-0.

It was a huge day passing the football for Beck. A 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior from Jacksonville, Florida, Beck left the game late in the third quarter shortly after connecting with Oscar Delp on a 41-yard completion that saw the tight end leap a defender as he ran down the sideline. After Roderick Robinson’s subsequent touchdown run, Beck’s day was done with the Bulldogs leading 44-0.

He retired to the sideline having completed 23 of 30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw an interception, which was not at all his fault. A completed pass for Bell actually flew out of the receiver’s hands as he was getting tackled.

“I definitely felt really good going into today,” Beck said. “I felt confident in our plan, confident in our offense. We had a really good week of practice, practiced really hard. But ultimately the confidence part of it really played a role.”

Brock Vandagriff got two series under center and Gunner Stockton one, but the game was long since finished at that point. The only spoiler was Ball State’s 28-yard field goal, which broke up the shutout with 9:05 to play.

That hardly registered as a blemish on what truly was a dominating performance.

“We challenged our guys this week to be honest with themselves about last week’s performance and come out this week and get better,” Smart said. “I thought our guys had an unbelievable week of practice. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday may have been the best in seven or eight years. I was very impressed.”