Georgia’s offense plays to ‘the standard’ just in time for Auburn
Bulldogs score five TDs in row vs. Alabama-Birmingham
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Georgia fans celebrate the start of the fourth quarter as the stadium goes red during their game against UAB at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, September 23, 2023, in Athens, Ga. Georgia won 49-21. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)
ATHENS — Finally, Georgia’s offense started fast. The Bulldogs scored on their opening drive for the first time in four games this season. Then they bogged down, the defense leaked points and the special teams blundered. The Bulldogs, favored by 42 points, were tied with Alabama-Birmingham early in the second quarter.
The shaky opening quarter is why this wasn’t a complete victory for the Bulldogs on Saturday night at Sanford Stadium. But they showed something close to their full offensive potential over the next two periods. The score was tied early in the second quarter. Georgia scored touchdowns on their next five possessions on the way to a 49-21 victory.
Now things get more serious for the Bulldogs. They are at Auburn next weekend for their toughest test so far. It’s UGA’s first road game of the season. South Carolina, a lesser team than Auburn, made the Bulldogs work hard for a win here. They should expect even more resistance from the Tigers, who lost 42-10 here last season.
“They’ve got a new coach (Hugh Freeze) and a new energy,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “It will be tough. We have to prepare that way.”
I watched Auburn lose 27-10 at Texas A&M on Saturday. I don’t see how the Tigers will score many points against Georgia. But Auburn’s defense is pretty good. The Bulldogs needed an offensive eruption against UAB to gain some confidence before going to Jordan-Hare Stadium, and that’s what they got.
Georgia gained 443 yards against UAB (7.9 per play) before sending in the reserves with a 42-14 lead. The persistent issues in the red zone disappeared. The Bulldogs made it inside UAB’s 20-yard line six times and scored six touchdowns.
Georgia’s offense is starting to find its form.
“Absolutely,” quarterback Carson Beck said. “We obviously have a hard way to go. We’re still to find our identity. But I think we are picking up steam, and we are starting to build chemistry and figuring out who we are as an offense.”
Against UAB, the Bulldogs were an explosive passing offense. Beck had his best game as a starter, with 338 yards on 32 attempts and three touchdowns. Brock Bowers had nine catches for 120 yards and two scores. Beck was sacked once and usually had time to pick out his targets.
Two Sun Belt teams did something similar to UAB. Georgia Southern scored 49 points and gained 462 yards. Louisiana-Lafayette tallied 41 points and 513 yards versus UAB. A lackluster offensive day by Georgia against UAB would have raised alarms. The explosion of 35 points over 36 plays raised the bar.
That’s the best sustained stretch all season for Georgia’s offense.
“I really think the offense played to ‘the standard’ tonight,” Smart said. “It would be hard to argue they didn’t.”
The Bulldogs made it clear early what was coming. They needed one play to make it to UAB’s side of the field. Beck’s first pass went to Dominic Lovett for 33 yards. Back-to-back passes of 9 yards by Beck put the Bulldogs in scoring range.
The Bulldogs were rolling and not even the typical penalty close to the end zone could stop them. After Daijun Edwards’ run got called back by a holding penalty, a pass-interference penalty moved Georgia to the 12-yard line. Arian Smith scored from there on an inside screen pass.
Credit: Sarah K. Spencer/AJC
Offense looked easy for the Bulldogs. The fun times didn’t last. Georgia gained one first down before punting on its next drive. The Bulldogs moved the chains twice on the drive after that before punting again. They made it to UAB’s 23-yard line on their next possession, but the Blazers stopped them on fourth-and-2.
As usual, the Bulldogs controlled the game because their defense gave up little as the offense scuffled. That changed when special teams put the defense in a bad position.
Georgia fumbled on a punt return and UAB recovered at UGA’s 36-yard line near the end of the first quarter. The Blazers cashed in on the prime field position three plays later when quarterback Jacob Zeno faked a handoff to his right and lofted a short pass the other way to Bryce Damous for a 16-yard TD.
The mood was festive at Sanford Stadium at kickoff and after the opening score. Now there was some nervous energy. Georgia’s offense was sputtering again. The defense couldn’t hold after the special-teams turnover. This was not the dominant performance the people came to see.
The Bulldogs would give them what they wanted over the next 14 minutes. Georgia scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions for a 28-7 lead. The Bulldogs gained 9.5 yards per play on those drives. Beck was 9-of-11 for 150 yards with a 41-yard TD pass to Bowers. Georgia’s third TD of the quarter was set up by Tykee Smith’s interception that started Georgia at UAB’s 25-yard line.
After following the hot start with some bad possessions, the Bulldogs were rolling again. But the half ended on a sour note when UAB drove 70 yards in 72 seconds for a touchdown.
“A lot went wrong,” Smart said. “We missed tackles. We didn’t communicate well.”
Then the Bulldogs fumbled away another return. It ended up being inconsequential once Zeno’s pass to the end zone fell incomplete to end the half. But the turnover added to the evidence that, despite leading by two touchdowns, the Bulldogs weren’t sharp. That’s probably why Bulldogs backers had a muted reaction to the stadium’s light show before the start of the second half.
They were in a much better mood for the “Light up Sanford” program between the third and fourth quarters. The Bulldogs were blowing away the Blazers. The offense was humming. Now comes Auburn.
“I think it will be a good test for us and another chance for us to kind of find out identity,” Beck said.
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Georgia wide receiver Arian Smith (11) celebrates his 12-yard touchdown reception with offensive lineman Tate Ratledge (69) during the first quarter against Alabama-Birmingham at Sanford Stadium, Saturday, September 23, 2023, in Athens, Ga. The Bulldogs won 49-21. (Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com)