ATHENS — There is probably a lot Georgia Bulldogs’ fans would like to draw about the 2018 team from Saturday’s 45-0 win over Austin Peay. But there’s really not much.
Yes, the Bulldogs looked really, really fast on offense, and they definitely did not allow Austin Peay to score. But they won’t see anything like the Governors when they visit South Carolina next week. And their roster and rotation won’t resemble the phone book that we witnessed in Sanford Stadium.
Georgia played 82 of the 105 players it dressed for the Austin Peay game. To put that in perspective, that’s more players than played for the Bulldogs all of last season.
So if it felt like Georgia was missing some rhythm and timing on Saturday, it probably was.
“We’ll play better teams, let’s all be honest,” Smart said after the game. “We’ll play teams who have more talent, so we’ve got to be able to execute at a higher clip. Some of those plays that were two or three yards might be lost-yardage plays against somebody else. We can’t have those negative plays offensively. Then, defensively, we were soft on a couple of runs where they got four or five yards. We can’t have a bunch of second-and-medium and second-and-shorts in our conference. I think the biggest thing we got today is experience. Because we had a lot of players play today that didn’t have experience that gained experience.”
So lopsided was the talent gap that Austin Peay coach Will Healy asked for a shortened fourth quarter after another one of his players was taken off the field was injured. His request was granted and they played a 10-minute fourth quarter, and thus a 55-minute game.
But the sell-out crowd of 92,746 got what they came for. They got to see some new stars and some old, and they got to see their team score a relatively painless victory.
Here’s how the Bulldogs graded out in our book:
Georgia finished with 508 total yards, and that’s saying something since the Bulldogs probably didn’t stick with the same 11 players for more than one play. So why not an A?
The fact is, Georgia wasn’t as dominant as it needed to be or wanted to be against an overmatched opponent like Austin Peay, particularly on the ground. Yes, the Bulldogs had 284 yards rushing. But take away Demetris Robertson’s 72-yard run on a counter sweep and the Georgia backs averaged only 6.6 yards per carry. That’s pretty good for some teams, but not for one that “wants to physically dominate whoever we play” as Smart likes to say.
Still, Georgia threw the ball around with relative ease, with 11 different individuals accounting for 21 receptions. there were only six incompletions between quarterbacks Jake Fromm, Justin Fields and Matthew Downing. And the Bulldogs played about as vanilla as possible scheme wise.
Again, it was hard to come away with a strong feeling what kind of defensive team Georgia is going to be in 2018 based on what we saw Saturday. The Governors are a run-based option team and they managed just 91 yards on 29 attempts. But the Bulldogs won’t see anything that resembles them when they visit South Carolina next week.
Austin Peay was able to squirt loose for a few decent gains, with runs of 14 and 11 yards and a couple of first-down receptions of 12 and 10 yards. But in total the Governors averaged only 3.0 yards on 50 offensive plays.
Georgia will see something completely different next week when the Gamecocks unleash quarterback Jake Bentley and receiver Deebo Samuel. But for what the Bulldogs were asked to do Saturday, they did it well.
Special teams: B
Not much to complain about here. Certainly the kickers did pretty good work. The biggest concern coming in was breaking in a new punter. Freshman Jake Camarda took over that duty and averaged 55 yards on three punts. But two rolled into the end zone of touchbacks, and Smart would prefer that never happens.
Rodrigo Blankenship picked up where he left off when he scored the Bulldogs’ first three points of the season on a on a 34-yard field goal 4:18 into the game. Blankenship scored the last points of the 2017 season with a 51-yard field goal against Alabama in overtime of the national championship game. Blankenship also had eight touchbacks on eight kickoffs.
The biggest mistake came late in the game when James Cook hit an Austin Peay punt returner making a fair catch. Cook led with his helmet and was disqualified as per the targeting rule. He’ll have to sit out the first half of the South Carolina game because of that infraction.
Not much to quibble about here. The Bulldogs played 82 players and got out of the game without any significant injuries and without showing a lot on either offense or defense. Georgia had only three penalties for 40 yards in the game and had a near perfect offensive balance of 284 rushing and 224 passing.
At the end of the season, nobody will remember anything about what happened in this game. Well, perhaps, Demetris Robertson’s 72-yard touchdown on his first touch of his Georgia career. But this game was only as good as to what extent it helps the Bulldogs against South Carolina. We won’t know that for at least a week.