The No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs opened their season with a bang and a bark Saturday afternoon (a new bark to be exact!) as they handled the FCS powerhouse, and in-state foe, Georgia Southern 45-21 between the hedges.
For any followers, the 45-21 victory may not look as good on paper as the 52-7 blowout USC put on Virginia, or the 43-0 romping over Youngstown State by Ohio State. However, looking beyond the score, the Dawgs showed plenty of bright spots on offense and defense as they cruised to a 38-0 lead.
As for the score, it actually should have been expected from all of us here in Bulldawg country. The Dawgs averaged an allowance of 21 points a game last season and averaged just around 45 per game in the second half of the year. A typical performance from Georgia against the Eagles, right?
Despite the score, the offense was extremely efficient, and the defense was for the most part very solid.
As I said in my season schedule preview last month, the Eagles had a good offense coming in, and I was not surprised at all by the 21 points allowed by the Dawgs. 14 of those were scored in the fourth quarter against our backup defense.
The real stats you need to look at are 38-0 and the 535 yards Georgia racked up against the Eagles over the course of the game. Matthew Stafford looked better than he ever has, completing 13-21 passes for 275 yards and two scores in about three quarters' worth of work.
Stafford's decision making was spot on, and his throws were to the right guy and accurate every time. He did, however, miss a wide-open touchdown in the corner to Mike Moore, but first game excitement fits as a good excuse there. Backup Joe Cox put together some good time as well, completing four of six passes for 48 yards and a touchdown.
The running game was its usual and expected self, as the Dawgs compiled over 200 yards on the ground. Knowshon Moreno may not come up on the leaderboards for stats this week, but his eight carries led to 59 yards and a touchdown hat trick.
Moreno showed off his amazing agility on a nifty 13-yard run to start the game and scored on a 24-yard touchdown run with no legs (cramps). He also added two catches for 53 yards.
The stars of the day might have been two freshmen. Caleb King got his first action at UGA with 12 carries for 95 yards. King showed some impressive cutting ability in the open field, but he definitely had trouble at times finding a hole.
The other freshman who impressed was A.J. Green. Though he only had two catches, Green showed off some great speed and jumping ability. He had a pretty "Calvin Johnson-esque" touchdown grab late in the game that wowed the 70,000 fans who decided to stay that long in the heat.
There wasn't a ton of production from any one receiver on the day, but starters Kris Durham and Mohamed Massaquoi both notched three grabs. Durham had the play of the day with a 61-yard touchdown catch and run in the second quarter. Green, Israel Troupe, Michael Moore, Kenneth Harris, and Demiko Goodman saw the most action at wide receiver during the game.
No one had any complaints about the offensive line, which is a great thing considering what those five guys have gone through. Georgia allowed one sack, and it was clearly a coverage sack. Stafford and Moreno both were very pleased with the line and the way they held up. We can only hope that they can withstand SEC-caliber defensive fronts.
One thing I was very impressed with was the play calling. The offense was clearly mixing things up well, throwing out of the I-Form downfield and running well out of the gun. They looked to keep GSU on their heels all day. Despite Richard Samuel's fumble that turned into a turnover (on his first carry at UGA! Samuel had six carries for 34 yards), the offense impressed me.
The defense looked absolutely outstanding in the first half of the game. GSU could barely move inches in the first quarter. Granted, the Eagles had a case of the drops, especially on their first two possessions, but there did not seem to be any confusion on defense.
The Eagles did have some chances in the red zone, throwing an interception to Dannell Ellerbe and missing a field goal. They definitely had some bright spots on offense as the game went on and managed to tie the Dawgs in second half production, 21-21.
I would usually be concerned with the 21 points the Eagles put up, but considering we scored so fast throughout the game, GSU got a lot of chances and touches with the ball on offense. I think if Georgia ran the ball and played a bit more conservatively, they could have easily shut out the Eagles.
Also, the Dawgs played plenty of youngsters on defense early and often throughout the game. It definitely felt like a preseason atmosphere. Linebacker Marcus Downtin and defensive backs Brandon Boykin and Vance Cuff got plenty of playing time. Downtin was impressive with six tackles from the outside linebacker spot.
The bad news of the day was catastrophic. DT Jeff Owens, a preseason All American candidate, was lost for the season with a torn ACL. I think many Georgia fans left the stadium more worried about Owens than they were excited about the score or the new Dog.
On the bright side, Corvey Irvin led the team in tackles and had a sack as he filled in for Owens. Hopefully Irvin can have a solid year and put to rest any questions about the D-line. Freshman DeAngelo Tyson found some playing time along the D-line as well. Tyson was very highly recruited and could also help fill the void left by Owens.
Jarius Wynn, who started at DE in replacement of the sackmaster Marcus Howard, also looked very impressive. Jeremy Lomax, on the other hand, had two offsides penalties in a row and might be on the bench a little more than he wants to be next weekend.
The star on defense was Reshad Jones, who showed off some great ball skills in coverage and displayed his amazing hitting ability. Jones also returned a punt in relief of Asher Allen and took it over 20 yards. Jones looks to be the next big thing on the defense.
Special teams looked great. Freshman placekicker Blair Walsh hit a 53-yard field goal on his first attempt as the UGA kicker! Brandon Coutu? Who's that?
Asher Allen showed off some nifty moves returning punts, along with Jones and quarterback/athlete Logan Gray. The Dawgs averaged 21 yards per return on punts.
Overall, the Dawgs looked awesome on offense and defense, but I think what we will be looking for next weekend is a sexier final score. Shutting down the Central Michigan offense is quite a task...so they say.
We will learn much about the Jeff Owens-less defense next weekend as they take on Dan LeFevour and the high-octane offense of the Chippewas.