This one wasn’t really, either, but it lacked the dominance to which the Bulldogs have become accustomed. Georgia led only 17-0 at halftime, and its starters on offense and defense remained in the game well into third quarter.
That could be explained with all the newness on the field for the Bulldogs. Georgia started the game behind new quarterback Carson Beck, new offensive tackles, new backs and an entirely new set of wide receivers. Accordingly, they were slow to get going.
“It could be anxiety. It could be the team we played,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “They did a good job. I wouldn’t say they controlled the line of scrimmage, but they stopped the run well. We were not explosive in the run game, but they did some nice things.”
The Bulldogs punted three times in the first half and faced third down seven times, converting only three of those. Georgia ran the football but not at will. Beck hit on 14 of 21 passes but threw no touchdowns. It was all kind of – blah.
It wasn’t until the 8:29 mark of that half that the sellout crowd got something to be truly excited about. That’s when Beck connected with Mekhi Mews on a tunnel screen to left, and the 5-foot-8 jitterbug took it 56 yards for a score.
It wasn’t even three minutes later when freshman running back Roderick Robinson plunged in for another score and 31-0 lead. That sent many fans to exits and many of Georgia’s starters to the sideline.
Beck left the game with a decent line: 21-of-33 passing (63.6%) for 294 yards and a touchdown.
Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton both played at quarterback, and the Bulldogs finally got a look at their other backups. Vandagriff gave the crowd a thrill when he matched the day’s long completion with a 56-yard strike to Rara Thomas early in the fourth quarter. That was followed immediately by a 21-yard TD pass to tight end Oscar Delp.
The Skyhawks, champions of the Ohio Valley Conference the past two years, scored on a touchdown pass with 6:39 to play. The 75-yard scoring drive against Georgia reserves got the visitors over 250 yards yards gained and surely will bring scorn from Smart. But, truly, it mostly was meaningless at that point.
Kendall Milton ended up being the first running back in the game and had 53 yards on nine carries on a short night. Tight end Brock Bowers was dominant for the brief time he was in the game, leading the Bulldogs in receiving with five receptions for 77 yards and scoring on the only run he had on the night from 3 yards out.
“First game, a little bit of a slow start, we definitely have some things to work on, but we’re only going to get better from here,” Bowers said. “Carson may have had a few nerves. I mean, it was his first start. But I thought he did pretty good.”
A lot of frontline players sat out for Georgia, including star receiver Ladd McConkey and running back Daijun Edwards. There were a lot of first-time starters. Beck was one of five on offense, freshman Peyton Woodring made his debut at place-kicker and outside linebacker Chaz Chambliss, cornerback Daylen Everette and inside linebacker Xavian Sorey each got their first starts on defense.
In the end, the win gets the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs to 1-0 and extends their win streak to 18 games, which is the longest in school history. Georgia surpassed its scoring average of a year ago (41.2 ppg), but the last seven came on a pick-six interception by freshman Kyron Jones with just 1:59 to play.
Georgia will play host to Ball State on Saturday afternoon in a home game that replaced the road game against Oklahoma that was lost after the Sooners joined the SEC. The Bulldogs will look to make significant improvement from this game to that one.
But with yet another victory and another near shutout under their belts, there’s really not much to about which to complain. Many folks will, though.
“Everybody thinks you’re just going to walk out there and roll over these teams,” Smart said. “’Oh, it oughta be 40-to-nothing by halftime!’ And then it’s not and guys get worried. I’m not. I’m past that. I want to grow and get better.”