ATHENS — Freshman Jake Fromm came off the bench to relieve injured quarterback Jacob Eason and revive Georgia’s offense in the process as the Bulldogs surged past Appalachian State 31-10 in the season opener Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
It was a relatively stress-free night, at least after Eason left the game with a left knee injury with 6:30 remaining in the first quarter. Coach Kirby Smart said the Bulldogs sophomore starting quarterback had suffered only a sprain and could be back this season, but would have no other information until later.
No. 15 Georgia (1-0) is now 2-0 all time against Appalachian State. The Bulldogs will get an even bigger test Saturday, when they travel to South Bend, Ind., to take on Notre Dame. It’s the first meeting of those schools since Georgia beat the Fighting Irish 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl to win the 1980 national championship.
Here’s how the Bulldogs graded out against the Mountaineers:
The Bulldogs did what they had to do to move the ball against a very good App State defense. Tailbacks Nick Chubb (15-96) and Sony Michel (16-87) were each close to recording 100-yard rushing games. The Bulldogs’ passing game was solid if unspectacular, accounting for 221 yards. But only a penalty kept Georgia from opening the game with three straight three-and-outs. Then backup quarterback Brice Ramsey was intercepted twice as Georgia tried to milk the clock in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs totaled 368 yards on 64 plays, which is still below the program’s established standards.
This was as dominant a defensive performance as Georgia has put together since the Bulldogs shut out Missouri 34-0 in 2014. In fact, it probably should have been a shutout, if not for the 2 interceptions by App State late in the fourth quarter. The Mountaineers converted them into points, continuing the Bulldogs’ red-zone defense struggles of 2016. But, otherwise, App State’s well-oiled offense played the first three quarters without a trip to the red zone. Georgia’s front seven was stout, getting 6 tackles apiece from linebacker Roquan Smith and defensive tackle Trent Thompson. The Bulldogs recorded 2 sacks and 7 tackles for loss, limiting the Mountaineers to 12 first downs.
Special teams: A
It was a fantastic outing for Georgia’s special teams, especially its kickers. Sophomore Rodrigo Blankenship demonstrated why the coaching staff rewarded him with the kickoff and place-kicking jobs. He recorded 5 touchbacks and was good on 4 extra points and a 23-yard field goal. Transfer punter Cameron Nizialek might have been the star of the game, averaging 43.8 yards on 5 punts and flipping field position three times in the first quarter, when the Bulldogs couldn’t generate any offense. Georgia did nothing special in the returns area.
Georgia had an excellent game plan and executed it particularly well on defense. The coaches deserve credit for keeping the team calm and focused amid the potentially devastating loss of the starting quarterback to injury. Having third-string quarterback Ramsey throw passes deep in his own territory late in the five-score game was reckless but might have been necessary given the depth dilemma at that position heading to Notre Dame. Sixteen freshmen made their career debuts Saturday night. So they’re still coaching a young team.
There was little for the sellout crowd of 92,746 to complain about. The Bulldogs faced a difficult opponent in one of those no-win situations a week before playing a national opponent on the road. The Eason injury and the Fromm substitution added some intrigue to what could have been a drab and lackluster game. But Georgia showed with its defense and special teams it could be a force to be reckoned with this season regardless of who is running the offense or how well it is working.