I was surprised early this week when I saw there were actually odds on the Georgia-Austin Peay 2018 football opener.
After all the Bulldogs, national runnersup to Alabama in 2017 and holding a No. 3 ranking in the first FBS poll for this new season, were facing an FCS team in the Governors and, normally, when two teams of such contrasting strengths meet you can’t get any odds on the game out of Vegas or anywhere else.
But yes, there were odds on this football game in one listing I saw this week and it had Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs as a 43-point favorite over the outmanned and outsized Governors.
Well, Bulldawg Nation, pat yourself on the back and be happy – at least for one week. Your team covered those 43 points on one of the warmest season openers within memory at Sanford Stadium Saturday. It was Georgia 45, Austin Peay 0 in a game that wasn’t really that close.
And you know why it wasn’t that close …. that’s because the Bulldogs were up 38-0 at halftime, at which time the majority of the 92,000-plus that watched the opening kickoff began moving toward the exits, what with the game long since won and the temps in the stands feeling like they were approaching the high 90s, 100 degree mark.
By that time, the UGA fans should have already learned that, the opening opponent not withstanding, this 2018 Bulldog team looks deserving to follow in the championship footsteps of the splendid Georgia team of last year. You know, the one that won the SEC championship for the first time in 12 years, beat Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl and came within one blown pass coverage of taking down the mighty Tide in the national championship game.
In tuning up for the South Carolina Gamecocks and the first conference test next weekend, look at the different ways the Bulldogs scored touchdowns Saturday … a 34-yard field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship, a 10-yard pass from Jake Fromm to Riley Ridley, an 8-yard run by D’Andre Swift, a 72-yard run by newcomer Demetris Robertson, a twisting, turning 17-yard run by Elijah Holyfield and a 59-yard bomb from Fromm to the speedster, Mecole Hardman.
And folks, that was just in the first half!
With Kirby empting the bench and everyone on the sidelines, too, the Bulldogs didn’t add any further insult to the Governors’ injury, notching only one more score in the third quarter when freshman quarterback Justin Fields tossed a 12-yard touchdown pass to junior tight end Isaac Nauta.
And Georgia may have dominated the final statistics even more than it dominated the scoreboard. The Bulldogs ran for 284 yards and passed for 224 more for 508 yards of total offense. And Austin Peay was checked to just seven first downs, 91 yards rushing and 61 yards passing in a game that saw the final quarter shortened to just 10 minutes.
And as controlling as the offense was, what about that Red and Black defense? When your opponent doesn’t cross the goal line and can’t at least make a field goal, either, you’ve played almost to perfection on the defensive side of the ball. Nope, it wasn’t the Oklahoma offense, the Alabama offense, the South Carolina offense that the Bulldogs were facing Saturday but as Smart noted in his post-game interview, it’s difficult to score a shutout this day and time in college football … no matter the opponent.
What did I like about Georgia’s season debut? I liked the fact both sophomore Fromm and freshman Fields did good things at quarterback, Fromm completing 12-of-16 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns and Fields coming out of the bullpen and drilling 7 of his 8 attempts for 63 yards and a score and also keeping the ball three times for 33 yards. I liked the swift wheels freshman running back James Cook displayed as he ran for 68 yards on six carries, including a 36-yard burst. I liked the fact that starting sophomore running back Swift had a total of 12 touches Saturday, carrying eight times for 43 yards and a touchdown and leading the receivers with four catches for 33 yards. And hey, everyone in the stadium saw that this Demetris Robertson guy may be the real deal because the one time he touched the football, he exploded around right end and outran all the Governor defenders for that 72-yard touchdown. You get the feeling D-Rob will be targeted much more at Williams-Brice Stadium next weekend? … You could be right!
And defensively, I liked the way Mel Tucker’s unit swarmed to the ball and cut off the Governors’ option ground game completely, with J.R. Reed, Monty Rice, Deangelo Gibbs and Richard LeCounte leading the team in tackles. You might note that, with the exception of linebacker Rice, all of those guys are Bulldog defensive backs.
I also thought the Bulldogs’ kicking game was superb on opening Saturday. “Hot Rod” Blankenship opened the scoring onslaught with his 34-yard field goal, booted six PATs and, also, had all eight of his kickoffs sail into the end zone for touchbacks. And the freshman punter, Jake Camarda, lived up to his lofty billing by booming three punts for a 55.0 average with one kick soaring 63 yards.
Of course, as Kirby quickly noted, his team wasn’t exactly perfect in their season debut. The Bulldogs had several costly penalties, including a targeting call on freshman James Cook when he went helmet to helmet with the Austin Peay punt receiver, an infraction that saw Cook ejected from the game and meaning also he will have to sit out the first half of the game in Columbia, S.C. coming up next Saturday. Smart said it was simply a “rookie mistake” by the fast freshman from Miami. The Dawgs also lost one fumble but that was when third string quarterback Matthew Downing botched a handoff in the final quarter. But in a win like this, I guess you have to get picky at something.
Yes, it was a splendid day for all Bulldogs on Saturday, nothing to really complain about with this first game. But at the same time, this game vs. Austin Peay was no test at all for Georgia. The first true test for this football team will come in that unfriendly venue out on the South Carolina fairgrounds on Sept. 8.
But on what I observed between the hedges on Saturday, I certainly think Kirby Smart’s third Bulldog team will be up for that test!