Even though it took Georgia two quarters to get things started, the Bulldogs turned it around in the second half offensively. Redshirt freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis got the start and didn’t play to his potential, so it was backup Stetson Bennett who came in to save the day. There are still a lot of questions surrounding the offense, but once Bennett took over, the unit looked like it was in rhythm.
Mathis showed flashes of greatness, but didn’t look comfortable in the pocket. He finished the game completing 6-of-14 passes for 37 yards and one interception. When forced to scramble, he showed his wheels even though he ran the ball five times for eight yards. At times, he showed his arm strength, but first game jitters seemed to get the better of him. He has a lot of raw talent, but will just to channel that moving forward.
Bennett to the rescue
Bennett took over in the second quarter with 10:07 left. He led the Bulldogs on a drive that ended the first half with a made field goal by placekicker Jack Podlesny. That coupled with Georgia’s forced safety on defense gave the Bulldogs momentum heading into halftime trailing 7-5.
After the game, Bennett said that he’s always ready for a situation like that.
“I always expect to come in, because if you don’t, then it’s kind of poor when you do,” Bennett said. “The first half was pretty poor. The second half was better. A few times I checked a protection that I shouldn’t have. On that two point conversion, it worked out, but maybe it won’t next time. So it’s things like that that I’ve got to fix.”
Bennett has been with the team for a couple of years, and that helps because Mathis had no prior collegiate experience before this game.
“The number one thing is experience. Experience at that position is a premium, and I think you see that more and more across the SEC as you look at the quarterbacks that are here and the quarterbacks that aren’t,” Smart said in his post-game press conference. “Stetson has played in a lot of football games. Everybody forgets he went to Mississippi and played in the JUCO league where he played in 10 games and got to play a whole season. That value of playing that season is immense in terms of getting reps. Then he came here and took every single rep for an entire year behind Jake Fromm as the No. 2. So we knew and we felt comfortable with what we had in Stetson in terms of all the reps he had taken.”
Defense continuing to look solid
Georgia’s defense played exceptionally well in the first half only allowing one explosive play from the Razorbacks. Senior quarterback Feleipe Franks hit wide receiver Treylon Burks on a 49-yard pass over Georgia’s Richard LeCounte on a blow coverage play. A couple of undisciplined penalties and inconsistent offensive line play held back Georgia back from scoring more first half points.
Once Bennett came into the game, Georgia’s offense started to get into sync. After leading the team down the field to secure a field goal to end the first half, James Cook fumbled on the opening drive of the second half. Then, Bennett led the Bulldogs on several straight touchdown drives. His poise and composure showed as the senior finished the contest completing 20-of-29 passes for 211 yards and two scores.
Georgia’s defense continued to dominate in the second half as they kept getting pressure on Franks, who threw a pick-six to cornerback Eric Stokes. LeCounte picked up his second interception of the game on the very next drive as wide receiver Treylon Burks hit him in the hands on a trick play. Those two turnovers proved to be costly for the Razorbacks as it dug them into an even deeper hole.
For a majority of the day, Franks was trying to avoid pressure. He finished the game completing 19-of-36 passes for 200 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Sophomore Nakobe Dean led the Bulldogs on defense with seven total tackles, with three of them being solo stops. Nolan Smith tied with free safety Lewis Cine for second with six total tackles, but Smith led the team with 1.5 sacks.
After the game, LeCounte was proud of the way the defensive front handled business. He also said that the defense as a whole was dominant in a game where Georgia only gave up 280 yards total.
“They’re getting after the quarterback, getting that rush,” LeCounte said. “Being able to make the quarterback react faster and make throws that put the ball in the air. Make those 50-50 balls. As a safety, as a defensive back you have to be able to go take it.”
Smart echoed the same sentiment.
“They were resilient. They fought. They got put in a lot of tough situations,” Smart said. “Thank goodness, we have a lot of experience on that side of the ball. The best thing they did was never point any fingers or blamed anybody. They just kept working.”
Overall: the positives and negatives
Georgia’s receiving corps and special teams looked spectacular in the season opener.
Kearis Jackson stepped up in a big way to lead the team with six receptions for 62 yards, followed by George Pickens who hauled in four passes for 47 yards and a score. Redshirt sophomore tight end John FitzPatrick came in clutch for the Bulldogs catching two passes for 19 yards and his first career collegiate touchdown. There were 12 different Bulldogs that caught passes against Arkansas.
Jackson was also featured as the team’s punt returner and had quite a few impactful returns. Podlesny missed his initial first try at the end of the first half, but Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman called a timeout beforehand giving him another attempt. He nailed the second try by splitting the uprights from 38 yards out. Junior punter Jake Camarda proved he’s consistent as he was money throughout the game. He pinned the Razorbacks inside the 20-yard five times throughout the game.
Georgia’s run game proved to a problem at time as they only averaged 2.9 yards per carry as a team. Still, Zamir White led the Bulldogs with 71 yards on 13 carries and a score. White made several great cuts that led to extra yardage down the stretch. Bennett also scrambled when necessary, finishing with five attempts for 20 yards. His wheels helped secure a two-point conversion in the second-half.
Overall, Georgia looked like a team that missed spring practice and had a limited fall camp.
The penalties racked up in the first half totaling 73 yards, which was five yards more than Georgia’s total offensive yards through two quarters. Defensively, Georgia held Arkansas to 160 yards of total offense and 91 of them came on its lone touchdown drive. They finished with 280 yards on offense.
Georgia was 6-of-20 on third downs in the contest, which is unacceptable. On the upside, the Bulldogs were 2-of-3 on fourth down. Georgia’s 12 total penalties totaled 108 yards. A few of the penalties were questionable, but a lot of them were undeniably pre-mature. Hopefully, in time coaching will combat all the mistakes that were made on Saturday.
“We didn’t execute well early, and when we did, we had penalties,” said Smart. “I thought the defense played with a lot of heart, but we’re not going to beat many football teams playing like we played.”
Smart’s post-game interview: