Athens, GA – Georgia’s inaugural game at the newly-named Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium was quite a satisfactory dedication to the man who was largely responsible for the stadium evolving into the 92,000-seat arena it is today.
Following a slow start which saw the Bulldogs deadlocked in a 7-7 tie with a 50-point underdog Murray State team, Georgia kicked things in high gear in the second quarter when they outscored the Racers 35-0. That enabled the 3rd-ranked Bulldogs to go on to a 63-17 romp over their FCS opponents.
And it enabled the so-honored Vince Dooley to maybe exit the sweltering day at any point in the second half to begin celebrating his big afternoon between the hedges, where he celebrated so many big victories over his 25 seasons of guiding the Georgia Bulldogs.
So as Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs go to 2-0 following a 30-6 opening victory at Vanderbilt and then the 46-point waltz past the outmanned Murray State team Saturday, it’s pretty much a certainty this 2019 Georgia edition has yet to be tested. And the Bulldogs, which host Arkansas State next weekend at noon, won’t get that test until Nov. 21 when the ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish come to town surely smarting from their close loss to Georgia two years ago in South Bend, Ind.
But as Smart insists, the Bulldogs want to play to a standard each and every week … doesn’t matter who the opposition is. His team can only play the teams right in front of them, from week to week.
“We’re always proud to get a win,” Smart said. “At the end of the day, a lot of work goes into a game, and I want the kids to be able to celebrate that. We just need to fix a few things. … We’ll work this week, like we always do, on fundamentals. We’ve got to tackle better. We had sloppy, sloppy tackling. Against good people, that will come back to haunt you. We’ll work on that.”
The final statistics maybe didn’t illustrate that sloppy tackling Smart alluded to. The Georgia defense reduced the Racers to slow walkers by checking Murray State’s rushing attack to a measly 23 net yards on 27 carries. But the Racer quarterbacks did compile 261 yards through the air lanes … including a 60-yard touchdown pass in the opening quarter from Preston Rice to DaQuon Green that enabled Murray State to knot the game at 7-7, following a 3-yard touchdown run by D’Andre Swift had gotten the Bulldogs on the board with still 13:37 left in the opening period.
But, as mentioned, Georgia kicked the door in in the second quarter, getting a 2-yard scoring run from Brian Herrien, a 14-yard fumble recovery touchdown by safety J.R. Reed after nickel back Mark Webb separated the ball from a Racer running back, a 10-yard run by Swift, a 15-yard touchdown pass from Jake Fromm to freshman George Pickens, moments after Pickens made a sterling diving catch for 43 yards and Fromm then passed 22 more to tight end Eli Wolf, and then a 6-yard scoring run by Zamir White.
That blinked the scoreboard to 42-7 at the halftime break the Bulldogs would then continue the scoring parade in the second half when Smart cleared his bench. Backup quarterback Stetson Bennett drew his first action for Georgia and acquitted himself well, hurling a 15-yard scoring strike to Demetris Robertson, a 25-yard touchdown pass to freshman Dominick Blaylock and then tallying the Bulldogs’ final score of the long afternoon on a 1-yard keeper when he outran the Racer defense into the right corner of the end zone.
Playing only in the first half, Fromm was a sizzling 10-for-11 on passing attempts for 166 yards and the touchdown pass to Pickens. In his second-half performance, Bennett went 9-of-13 for 124 yards and the two touchdowns with one interception when Murray State’s Nigel Walton scored a 35-yard pick-six. So for the game, the Bulldogs were 20-for 25 through the air for 292 yards and three touchdowns.
The high-leaping Pickens and Tennessee grad transfer Wolf each hauled in four passes, the talented freshman for 78 yards and Wolf for 73 yards. Blaylock and Robertson followed with three receptions each, freshman Blaylock for 48 yards and Robertson for 21 yards.
And the Bulldogs balanced out the attack perfectly by clicking 269 yards on the ground. With Swift only playing in the first half and finishing with 67 yards on just six carries – an 11.2 average per rush – it remained for redshirt freshman White to pace the team in rushing with his 72 yards on eight carries, a 9.0 average. Freshman Kenny McIntosh came off the sideline in the final quarter and pounded out 61 yards in 9 attempts.
Defensively, although Webb was the defensive back the Racers beat on their long touchdown pass in the opening period, the junior from Philadelphia paced the Bulldogs in tackles with six including one tackle-for-loss and he also, as mentioned, had the one forced fumble. Safety Richard LeCounte followed with five stops, freshman linebacker Nolan Smith had 1.5 sacks, Walter Grant and Adam Anderson were credited with a sack each, and notching half-sacks were Jermaine Johnson, Azeez Ojulari and freshman Travon Walker. J.R. Reed, in addition to his scoop-and-score touchdown, contributed four tackles as did Johnson, Monty Rice, and Quay Walker.
Smart, commenting on the game being played in 90-degrees plus temperature, said his team handled it well.
“We’re used to the heat,” he said. “We’ve had 24-25 outdoor practices in that kind of heat, so we’re used to it. I thought they did a good job of pushing through it. We were sloppy at times and we played well at times. We’ve got things to correct. But playing a game, that’s how you get better. It’s not always perfect, but if you keep chopping wood, good things happen. We got some momentum there in the second quarter.”
Smart said it was good that every Bulldog on the roster saw game action.
“It helps tremendously to go out and play,” he said. “Players think they’re ready, then their moment comes, and they’ve got nerves. The next time, they get better. Then better. Then better. A lot of guys got to grow up today. It’s a maturity process as we build toward the future.”
Commenting on freshman receiver Pickens’ performance in just his second game in a Georgia uniform, Smart said: “Pickens did some good things. He’s talented. He just needs to control his emotions. I love the kid and he plays with energy, but he needs to play within the realm of the discipline of our program (referring to an unsportsmanlike penalty call on Pickens after one of his catches). He’s got a lot of talent. I’m excited for his future.”
“We just had a couple of mistakes on defense today,” said redshirt freshman outside linebacker Ojulari. “I think it’s just on our part. That’s something we can fix next week, though. I think we can fix it. We just need to focus on whoever’s in front of us. First, we get that done and then we worry about the next one. We just came in and focused on Murray State today, just stopping them and continuing on this season.”
“Giving up that long pass, that was on me,” said Mark Webb. “But we then came back and adjusted well and pretty much shut them down after that.”
“I thought we played red hot at times in the first half,” said Fromm. “And it was good to see everybody get out there in the second half. I thought Stetson did a great job of running the offense.”
“I think you could see out there today, Coach (James) Coley is going to use the tight ends a lot,” said Wolf. “And it feels great to us to be able to get some balls. If we get open, Jake is going to find us. The fumble I had (after one of his four catches), I expect more out of myself,” said Wolf. “I got stood up and there’s no excuse for that. For the coordinator, Coach Coley, to come back to me and have trust in me, it meant a lot. It helped me get over it a little bit and move on. That’s what you’ve got to do with those kind of plays.”
And so, at Vince Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium, the Bulldogs will be out to dispatch the Arkansas State Red Wolves in the same manner they did Murray State and, then, turn their eyes on the Irish.
And Smart summed up the importance of the day the best when he saluted Coach Dooley in his opening postgame remarks.
“Congratulations to Coach Dooley,” said Smart. “What a great person, what a great man! He has touched so many lives, so many generations. I was proud that our fans braved the 100-degree heat to be in the stadium to honor him.”