ATHENS – It’d be hard to imagine Georgia playing any better than it did Saturday night against Mississippi State.
Maybe Terry Godwin doesn’t drop that one pass late in the third quarter. Maybe Natrez Patrick and J.R. Reed are able to hold Nick Fitzgerald to less than a yard on fourth down and nix that one field-goal drive by Mississippi State. Otherwise, it was close to a perfect day.
You know a team played well when its head coach devotes as much time and energy to deflecting praise as he does providing it himself.
“We’ve got to do a good job managing our team,” Kirby Smart said toward the end of his postgame question-and-answer session with reporters. “If you have a mature team, they’ll handle things well. It does concern me because I do worry about those guys reading it and believing it. But I was around a guy for 10 years who did a good job of managing that.”
That’d be Nick Saban, who has patented “the process” at Alabama.
Nobody’s quite ready to start comparing Smart’s second bunch of the Bulldogs to any of Saban’s Crimson Tide juggernauts. But Georgia is exhibiting enough positive traits a quarter of a way into the season to make folks believe they may get to play Bama before this season is over.
Here’s what we saw from the Bulldogs versus Mississippi State:
Quarterback Jake Fromm played a near perfect game, and so did offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. He was 9-for-12 passing the ball and one was a throwaway the other two were drops. The Bulldogs reverted back to more of a pro-style look with the quarterback under center and that translated into some big plays both in the running game and the passing game. In fact, Georgia was almost perfectly balanced. The Bulldogs ran for 203 yards and passed for 201, leading Smart to feign disappointment that they weren’t 202 and 202. Drops by Terry Godwin and Javon Wims didn’t matter in the context of Saturday’s game, but they shouldn’t happen. And a couple of penalties on tackle Isaiah Wynn were aggravating. But generally, there was nothing not to like here.
Mississippi State came in as the SEC’s top scoring team at 47.7 points per game and had just put 37 on LSU. The Bulldogs held MSU to 280 total yards and just three points. And as State desperately tried to get into the end zone late in the fourth quarter, just for posterity sake. Georgia’s second teamers were able to keep the score where it was, a victory not just for the scoreboard, but also for their future roles on the team, according to Smart. It took four games for the Bulldogs to finally register an interception, and then they came up with two. Deandre Baker picked off the third of his career in the third quarter, then Dominick Sanders hauled in another one off a J.R. Reed tip. Sanders’ pick tied him with Smart, Scott Woerner and two others with 13 in his career.
Special Teams: A
The remarkable transformation of Rodrigo Blankenship continues. The redshirt sophomore, who earned a scholarship earlier this season, tied his career long with a field goal of 49 yards and continues to crush his kickoffs. He extended his streak of consecutive touchbacks to 14, dating back to his last kickoff of the Notre Dame game. Graduate transfer Cameron Nizialek continued his good work as Georgia’s punter as well. Mississippi State was unable to return any of his four punts, which included a 53-yarder and one fair catch at the 10. Returners have -4 yards against Georgia. The Bulldogs’ returners have yet to bust one themselves, however. Mecole Hardman lost three yards on his only punt return and went 25 yards with his only kickoff return.
Smart and Georgia’s staff get the highest of marks for Saturday’s game plan and execution. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney implemented significant changes into the Bulldogs’ offense to maximize the skill set of Fromm at quarterback. Chiefly he had him under center much more in this game, and the Georgia was able to get its play-action game going as a result. Clearly, the Bulldogs have been saving some of their best stuff for the start of the SEC schedule. Meanwhile, Georgia’s defense has demonstrated that it has mastered the art of defending the spread-option attack. They’ve now seen it four weeks running and they’ll see it again from Tennessee in Knoxville next week.
The Bulldogs did an excellent job of playing within themselves and taking advantage of all the ideal circumstances that surrounded them coming into this contest. Sanford Stadium was packed and rocking. ESPN was in the house for a national broadcast. There was also a parade of blue-chip recruits, that included seven 5-star prospects. It was truly a special night and Georgia made it sure it stayed that way by the way it played on the field. The challenge only grows from here as the Bulldogs likely will head up to Knoxville with a Top-10 ranking and a lot of pats on the back during the week leading up to it. Staying grounded yet improving as the stakes continue to rise is the mission now.