The Missouri defense had better be ready as next Saturday on the Tigers’ home field in Columbia, Mizzou will welcome a Georgia team to town that has blinked the scoreboard to 40-plus points in all three of the Bulldogs’ games this season.
Georgia blitzed Austin Peay 45-0 in the season opener, dismantled South Carolina 41-17 on the road and then at Sanford Stadium Saturday roared into a 42-7 halftime lead on outmanned Middle Tennessee State and coasted to a 49-7 final decision as Kirby Smart cleaned out his bench in the final two quarters.
But now, the 3rd-ranked Bulldogs are about to go through a 7-game SEC gauntlet that includes the Sept. 22 road trip to Missouri, consecutive home games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, a trip to Baton Rouge to face the LSU Tigers and, following an open date, battles with the Florida Gators in Jacksonville, with Kentucky in Lexington and, finally, the huge home date on Nov. 10 with the Auburn Tigers.
I have to say this football team looks more than ready for that challenge. The Bulldogs’ offense (484 total yards), defense (just 7 points and 288 yards allowed) and special teams (70-yard punt return and stellar kicking by Rodrigo Blankenship and Jake Camarda once again) all were on point against the Blue Raiders; in fact, about the only negatives in a game where Georgia easily covered the spread were a number of nagging penalties in the first half. The Bulldogs will need to clean that area up as they wing west this coming week. Georgia was whistled seven times for 54 yards Saturday with six of those infractions come in the first two quarters.
That hardly mattered in a game such as this, where the disparity in talent was so pronounced but, yes indeed, it will certainly matter in some of the big conference tilts that lie dead ahead.
But, one game at a time. As predicted here, Smart’s Dawgs suffered no letdown whatsoever in facing the Blue Raiders right after the huge victory at South Carolina. Georgia hit paydirt in almost every way possible while limiting Middle Tennessee to a lone second-period touchdown, that coming on a 41-yard scoring pass from Brent Stockstill to Patrick Smith.
At the same time, the Bulldogs were striking for one long gainer after another. A 66-yard run by Elijah Holyfield — with his former heavyweight champion dad Evander looking on — set up the first touchdown, a 5-yard pass from Jake Fromm to Mecole Hardman. Fromm then made it 14-0 on an 11-yard pass to Jeremiah Holloman and then the big plays started to boom again … a 56-yard scoring dash down the right sideline by wide receiver Tyler Simmons to make it 21-0, an electrifying 70-yard punt return for a touchdown by Hardman to make it 28-zip and, following the Raiders’ only touchdown with 4:21 left until halftime, a 65-yard bomb from Fromm to Holloman that set up a perfectly-thrown 12-yard scoring strike from Fromm to Riley Ridley on the left side of the end zone. Freshman Justin Fields then guided Georgia’s final touchdown drive of the first half, which he capped by high stepping 15 yards to the end zone.
Thus, that accounted for the 42-7 halftime advantage and it was really a matter of working down the clock over the final periods, picking up no additional injuries and start getting ready for those Mizzou Tigers and passer deluxe Drew Lock. The only score in the second half came with still 6:33 remaining in the third quarter when Fields drilled a 9-yard laser to Jayson Stanley in the west end zone.
For the record, and as you would expect, gaudy individual performances were all over the final statistics sheet.
Junior tailback Holyfield enjoyed his first 100-yard game at Georgia, with 100 yards on just eight carries, a 12.5 average. And Holyfield didn’t play in the second half. Simmons had his 56-yard scoring run, Brian Herrien zipped for 44 yards on five carries and Fields kept for 31 yards on three totes including his touchdown run as the Bulldogs clicked for 261 yards on the ground. And, oh yeah, sophomore Demetris Robertson, like he did in the season opener between the hedges, only touched the ball one time but, again, made it count by reeling off a 23-yard run.
Passing-wise, you’d have to say Georgia was nearly perfect in that department also as both Fromm and Fields missed on just two of their attempted throws, Fromm going 10-for-12 in his first half of play for 128 yards and the three touchdowns and Fields completing six of his eight attempts for 71 yards and the touchdown. Coupled with a 24-yard completion by third-string quarterback Matthew Downing, that gave the Bulldogs 223 yards through the air lanes Saturday.
The receiving stats were also balanced as tight end Isaac Nauta had four catches for 47 yards, Hardman also snared four balls for 21 yards and Holloman stepped up with three receptions for a game-high 90 yards.
Defensively, the Bulldogs didn’t give the capable Blue Raider offense much room to breathe as the MTSU offense was checked to just 288 total yards … 158 via the rush and 130 through the air. And talk about a balanced defensive effort, linebackers Juwan Taylor and Monty Rice recorded six and five tackles, respectively, and then there were a whole bunch of UGA defenders who checked in with four tackles each. All-America cornerback candidate Deandre Baker, just as he did at South Carolina, had an early interception of Stockstill, which he returned for 26 yards, and also shortly thereafter caused a fumble, which safety Richard LeCounte recovered.
And now for these Dawgs, who have bolted out of the 2018 starting gate even faster than maybe even their staunchest supporters could have envisioned, will head for the Show Me State next weekend and the high noon date with Drew Lock and the high-flying Tiger passing circus.