To say that the Bulldogs simply went through the motions against their FCS visitors probably would be too harsh, but not a stretch. On a damp, overcast day in Athens, there certainly wasn’t the energy that was crackling throughout Mercedes-Benz Stadium a week ago against No. 11 Oregon as Georgia turned in a near-perfect performance in a 49-3 win.
The stakes will get stoked again Saturday as Georgia (2-0) opens SEC play on the road against South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. (noon, ESPN). The Gamecocks fell to 1-1 (0-1 SEC) Saturday with a 44-30 loss on the road to Arkansas.
In the meantime, the Bulldogs know there’s much to work on between now and then. For a moment Saturday afternoon, it looked as if the No. 1 spot might be up for grabs as Alabama trailed unranked Texas in the final seconds in Austin. But the Crimson Tide kicked a short field goal to win 20-19, likely holding onto the top spot for at least another week.
As it turned out, the Bulldogs did little to nothing to impress pollsters against their Southern Conference visitors. Georgia built a 30-0 halftime lead on three field goals and three touchdowns and really no highlight-reel plays. And when Bennett took a 17-yard sack in the third quarter, leading to a missed 54-yard field goal, Georgia had only its second empty offensive possession of the season.
“We didn’t score touchdowns,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Offensively, our goal coming into the season was, ‘How can we score more touchdowns.’ We come off a week where every opportunity to score a touchdown, we score a touchdown. And then we take a huge step back and have to kick field goals. Good teams can’t do that.”
Nevertheless, Bennett’s day again ended early. He finished 24-of-34 passing for 300 yards and one touchdown. He added a rushing TD.
Carson Beck took over at quarterback at the 2:34 mark of third quarter, and it was more of the same. His first series ended in 25-yard field goal. That was the fourth of the day for Podlesny.
Georgia’s defense did distinguish itself, however. It gave up zero points, one first down and only 59 yards on 23 plays in the opening half. Samford, which if nothing else seemingly always moves the ball against anybody with Chris Hatcher’s “Hatch Attack” offense, was shut out, the ninth time for Georgia in the Smart era. The Bulldogs, as the visitors also are called, managed just 128 total yards.
Georgia posted its third takeaway of the season on a Dan Jackson hit and Xavian Sorey fumble recovery in the first quarter. Freshmen cornerback Malaki Starks and defensive end Mykel Williams each started, and Williams recorded the Bulldogs’ first quarterback sack of the season with a nine-yard drop in the fourth quarter.
“You win championships with defense, and they are really talented over there,” Hatcher observed. “They are always in the right place, and they do such a good job of mixing their blitzes and stunts to keep you off-balance and not knowing where they’re coming from. They do a great job.”
The rest of the game was a blur of meaningless possessions and wholesale substitutions. By head coaches’ agreement, the fourth-quarter was shortened from 15 to 12 minutes. Smart said the reason why was between him and Hatcher, who gave him his first job in college coaching at Valdosta State. Hatcher insisted it was because of the threat of inclement weather.
There certainly was no complaining from the host team. The Bulldogs dressed 100 players and played 82 of them. In the grand scheme of a long season, the lack of stress and strain can be beneficial. But it also can be detrimental.
“How are we going to respond when it gets tough?” Smart asked rhetorically. “How are we going to play when it gets thick, get’s physical, gets fast, when you’re tired and give up a touchdown?”
For at least another week, the Bulldogs can only guess. For now, they’ll have to revel in a victory short on highlights but long on dominance.
“We’ve got a standard that we like to play up to,” junior wideout Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint said. “We feel like we didn’t execute to that standard at the level that we should. So, we’re going to go back in the lab and see what we have to fix, and we’re going to fix it.”