Most certainly, if Georgia head coach Kirby Smart allowed his freshman football players to talk to the media after Bulldog victories, quarterback Justin Fields would have had a considerable audience after Georgia’s 66-27 romp over the Massachusetts Minutemen Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
That’s because all Fields did while seeing by far his most extensive playing time of the season in relief of starter Jake Fromm was to run for 100 yards on just seven carries and a touchdown and pass for 121 yards via 5-of-8 completions including touchdown passes of 57 yards to Mecole Hardman and 11 yards to Riley Ridley.
With the 6-3, 225-pound Fields enjoying his finest afternoon yet in his young UGA career, Fromm completing all five of his passing attempts for 106 yards including a 71-yard touchdown strike to Tyler Simmons (who also tallied Georgia’s first touchdown on a 49-yard run) and James Cook and Brian Herrien coming off the bench in the second half and becoming the Bulldogs’ second and third-leading rushers with 76 and 53 yards, Georgia compiled a staggering 701 yards of total offense, second in program history.
“I thought both of them played well,” Smart said, commenting on Fields’ and Fromm’s performances. “When you have a run game that’s as physical as ours, when you’re able to kind of run the ball at will and run the ball inside, it opens up the passing game. It makes it easier and I thought both guys made good decisions with the ball.
“Jake was five for five or something, and Justin didn’t make a great decision throwing the bubble out there but, other than that, he threw the ball really well,” said Smart. “One of his drops should have been a touchdown.”
Smart said he challenged the Bulldogs to get off to a fast start Saturday.
“I thought it was important to come out and set a tone in these kinds of games,” he said. “You want to start fast, you want to go quick, you want to execute and not be sloppy. I did think we did that.
“I thought we played two good weeks (vs. Kentucky and Auburn) and then coming into this week I thought the offense built some momentum,” Smart said. “I mean, you can’t say we didn’t build momentum when we scored every time we had the ball. But defensively, we probably didn’t play as well tonight as we played in previous weeks, so we have to continue to work and get better.”
Smart mentioned that the Bulldog defense didn’t play up to its capabilities. While limiting the UMass running attack to just 103 net yards, Georgia allowed the nation’s leading receiver, senior Andy Isabella, to pull in 15 passes for 219 yards including touchdown catches of 75 and 45 yards, with Minutemen quarterback Ross Comis passing for 278 yards and the two scores to Isabella.
“I’d say on the defensive side, (giving up that many passing yards) is never our standard,” said senior linebacker Natrez Patrick. “We did a better job in the second half stopping the run, but gave up a couple big plays. Those were some good guys over there. Isabella is a great receiver and had a great game. I feel like we’ve just got to get better, we’ve really got to get better this week going into Tech.”
“I mean, what a player,” said Fromm, of the 5-10, 190-pound Isabella. “He did a phenomenal job. It didn’t matter who we put on him, he was finding ways to get separation and get open. He made some plays and I don’t know if he dropped a ball. He did awesome. It seemed like every time they threw it, there he was again catching another ball. Great player, really exciting, really fun to watch.”
On the two-touchdown performance by junior receiver Simmons, Fromm said, “He’s getting healthier and he’s fun to watch. He’s a really explosive guy. You really get to see the speed that he has and it’s fun to watch when the guy’s coming out there making plays. It’s all we ask him to do … go out there and make plays.”
UMass head coach Mark Whipple, as one would expect, came away duly impressed with the strength and speed of the Bulldogs.
“They’re big and physical,” said Whipple. “Even Kirby said that to me before the game. We knew that on tape. They’ve got speed and big guys that can run. We got caught on defense with some really poor angles and we hadn’t faced anyone like that. BYU is a good team but when you get that extra step, that’s what makes a difference. Our guys battled in there. But they’ve got a good football team,” said Whipple. “They’re going to play for the SEC Championship and a chance to win a National Championship. They’ve got talent, they’re deep.”
Now, before the 10-1 Bulldogs can begin working for the Dec. 1 SEC Championship game against top-ranked and unbeaten Alabama in Atlanta, Georgia must confront a Georgia Tech team that will come to Sanford Stadium next Saturday riding a four-game win streak and having won six of their past seven outings to improve to 7-4 on the season. A Yellow Jacket team, mind you, that owned a nation-leading 362-yards per game rushing average but was held to 268 by Virginia Saturday in Tech’s 30-27 win in overtime.
“They have a way of peaking at the right time,” said Smart of the Jackets’ recent play. “They get better and better at the end of the year. When you play Tech, you have to have a fundamentally sound plan. It’s hard to explain how different it is for a defense. Their offense is unique. We’ll have to do a good job this week of focus, discipline and assignment. Your eyes have to be on the right thing. Everyone has a job to do. If not, a small play can become a big play and they expose you.”