But Smart said he does know now that the Bulldogs have “a composure muscle.” Coming into the game, he wasn’t sure if they did while winning the previous three contests 130-10.
“It hadn’t happened this year. It got to happen several times today,” Smart said during his postgame press conference. “I thought the kids got to flex that muscle. You don’t build a muscle without using it, right? We certainly got to use it today. I probably need to work on mine for sure.”
Smart found himself losing his composure several times Saturday. Entering the game without committing a turnover all season, the Bulldogs (4-0) had three in the first half alone. For the second week in a row, they gave up a first down on a fake punt, which Smart counts as a turnover. Leading only 32-22 well into the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs had to play their primary offensive and defensive units for the entire game. Quarterback Stetson Bennett actually finished a game on the field for the first time this season.
Kent State (1-3) had Georgia’s defensive starters on their heels the entire second half, with scoring drives of 10 and 11 plays, respectively. Bennett and the Bulldogs’ first-string offense not only were throwing the ball in the fourth quarter but had to. It took a 13-play touchdown drive of its own for Georgia to fully secure victory. And, then, Kendall Milton’s 1-yard run didn’t come until only 5:30 remained in the game.
There was still a bit of discomfort on the Bulldogs’ sideline when the Golden Flashes got the ball back. Nobody could fully relax until Christopher Smith hauled in an interception on a deep pass by Kent State quarterback Collin Schlee and returned it to the Georgia 32 with 5:11 to play that the Bulldogs could fully exhale.
With a 13-point final margin, Georgia tight end Brock Bowers truly was the difference in the two teams. He had two more touchdown-scoring runs Saturday -- the latest covering 75 and 2 yards -- to make him 3-for-3 this season on scoring when the Bulldogs hand him the football.
“I think this game was really good for us,” said the sophomore Bowers, who also had four catches for 54 yards. “I mean, they’re a good team. They were executing and just making plays everywhere. So, I mean, they’re a good team, and I’m kind of glad we had to pull it out in the fourth quarter.”
The Golden Flashes proved they were in it to win it when they scored on a 1-yard touchdown plunge with 12:13 to play. Trailing 32-22 at that point, they went for the two-point conversion. They probably should have converted it, but the open Kent State receiver could not handle the hard-thrown pass slightly behind him.
To their credit, the Bulldogs answered with a workmanlike 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Georgia got out it going with a 13-yard completion on third-and-6 at its own 29. It didn’t end until Milton plunged in at left guard from a yard out on fourth-and-goal. That and an extra point ultimately set the final margin of 39-22.
“I pride myself on going ‘next play, next play, next play,’” said Bennett, who scored his fourth rushing touchdown of the season. “But whenever you get to see that the whole world is not always perfect, I think it does help. We’re going to prepare and try to be perfect. But it helps to see that we’re not.”
Bennett played an entire game for the first time this season. He did not throw a touchdown pass for the first time, while also tossing his first interception. But he finished with 272 yards on 27-of-36 passing and scored a rushing touchdown for the fourth game in a row.
Georgia finished with 529 yards, never punted and possessed the ball for 37 minutes. Kent State had only three first downs at halftime but recorded nine and 153 yards on two scoring drives totaling 25 plays spanning the third quarter and fourth quarters.
“We should’ve stopped them more and kept them out of the end zone,” said linebacker Jamon Dumas-Johnson, who led Georgia with six tackles and two sacks. “We’ve got to back to work and work on it and communicate better. But coming into this game, we knew Kent had a great quarterback and some good receivers and a big O-line. Much respect to Kent State.”