ATHENS – Now Georgia’s football team can fully turn its attention to more pressing matters.
The Bulldogs wasted no time dispensing with Saturday’s obligation, scoring on their third offensive play of the game and building a 42-13 halftime lead on the way to a 66-27 rout of overmatched and outsized UMass at Sanford Stadium.
The game provided considerable playing time for Georgia freshman quarterback Justin Fields, who made the most of the opportunity. He threw or ran for three second-quarter touchdowns, the last of them on a beautiful 57-yard pass to Mecole Hardman.
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Fields, who also played extensively in the third quarter, finished the game with a team-leading 100 yards rushing on seven carries and 121 yards passing on five completions in eight attempts.
“It’s nothing new from what you see in practice,” Georgia starting quarterback Jake Fromm, who completed five of five passes for 106 yards, said of Fields’ performance. “He makes plays with his arm and his legs in practice, so to come out here and play the way he did – it’s not surprising at all.”
Said Georgia tailback Elijah Holyfield: “I’m glad [Fields] got to throw the ball … and show some of the other stuff he can do other than run the ball.”
By game’s end, the Bulldogs had piled up 701 yards of offense, the second most in school history (426 rushing and 275 passing). They didn’t punt all day.
The game concluded UMass’ season with a 4-8 record and lifted Georgia’s record in a far-from-over season to 10-1.
The Bulldogs move on to two games of considerable importance for different reasons the next two Saturdays: first the regular-season finale for bragging rights against in-state rival Georgia Tech, and then the SEC Championship game against No. 1-ranked Alabama.
“We outmanned those guys,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of UMass. “… We know it won’t be that way the rest of the season.”
The standout for UMass was Andy Isabella, a sure-handed senior receiver with a knack for getting open. He caught 15 passes for 219 yards and 2 touchdowns as the Minutemen scored the third-most points of any opponent against Georgia this season, albeit aided by the Bulldogs’ heavy substitutions on defense in the second half.
The game was UMass’ ninth against an SEC opponent, all since 2012, many of them much more competitive than this one. But the Minutemen, who play as an FBS independent, are now 0-9 in those games.
Before Saturday, UMass had lost its previous eight games against SEC opponents by an average score of 32.9-18.9. Last season, the Minutemen lost 34-23 to Mississippi State and 17-13 to Tennessee.
“They’ve got a good football team,” UMass coach Mark Whipple said of Georgia. “They’re going to play for the SEC championship and a chance to win the national championship. They’ve got talent. They’re deep.”
Georgia started its scoring onslaught on its third offensive play of the game when wide receiver Tyler Simmons ran 49 yards to the end zone on a jet-sweep.
“That’s just something we really practice throughout the week, and we see that we can run it on certain defenses,” Simmons said. “We emphasized it a lot today, and it worked in our favor.”
Simmons’ run signaled, not that there was any doubt, what type of game this would be.
Georgia’s offense scored touchdowns all six times it had the ball in the first half, a stretch of proficiency interrupted only by a special-teams breakdown when Terry Godwin fumbled a punt at the Georgia 16-yard line to set up a UMass touchdown late in the first quarter.
After Fromm led touchdown drives on Georgia’s first two possessions, Fields entered the game on the third with UGA leading 14-7. Fields quickly made his presence felt with a 47-yard run to the UMass 20-yard line on the final play of the first quarter and threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Riley Ridley on the third play of the second quarter.
Georgia’s scoring avalanche continued the rest of the quarter. Fromm connected with Simmons on a 71-yard touchdown pass. Fields ran 3 yards for a touchdown, one play after connecting with tight end Isaac Nauta on a 54-yard pass play. And with just over two minutes left in the half, Fields threw the dazzling 57-yard touchdown strike to Hardman to stretch Georgia’s lead to 42-10.
With Fromm back at quarterback, Georgia scored again on its first possession of the third quarter, the drive capped by a 26-yard James Cook touchdown run.
Fields was on the field later in the third quarter when Georgia drove to a field goal and then to a touchdown for a 59-13 lead. Fields’ 30-yard run to the 2-yard line set up the touchdown, which came on a 6-yard run by tailback Brian Herrien after a false start.
Isabella had two second-half touchdown catches for Massachusetts, a 75-yarder on the final play of the third quarter and a 45-yarder midway through the fourth.
Walk-on Matthew Downing took over at quarterback for Georgia in the fourth quarter. He immediately led another touchdown drive, completed by Cook’s second touchdown of the game, a 27-yard run.
Cook was Georgia’s second leading rusher for the game behind Fields with 76 yards on just three carries.
The mismatch was Georgia’s third home game this season against an opponent from far outside the Power 5 conferences. Against Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee and UMass, the Bulldogs won by a cumulative score of 160-34, signaling a need, which Georgia seems to be heeding in future schedules, of tougher non-conference opponents.
Saturday’s win didn’t come cheaply for UGA, which paid UMass $1.5 million to make the trip to Athens – slightly less than the $1.7 million paid to Middle Tennessee earlier this season. A home-and-home basketball series also was included in the deal with UMass.
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