ATHENS — The highlight of Kirby Smart’s postgame press conference Saturday came when the coach was asked to address the “spat” that occurred between two Georgia defensive players.
Rather than deny or downplay that it happened, Smart had a little fun with it.
— Wes Blankenship (@Wes_nship) September 16, 2018
Asked what precipitated the shoving match between freshman Brenton Cox and senior D’Andre Walker, Smart grinned and said, “Love.”
“They love each other,” he continued. “Sometimes when you’re playing football you have spats. So sometimes when you care about somebody so much and you want them to do something right, you encourage them to do right. What they did, we’ll handle internally. It’s not a big deal. They’re both over it and I respect both of them. They’re great kids and I’m proud of the way it was handled and the way they both have fire.”
Smart never revealed what actually triggered the confrontation, but he that the heated exchange was actually a good thing. He compared it to an incident that occurred between some Alabama players right there in Sanford Stadium when Smart was the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator in 2015.
“One of the best teams I’ve been around sat in that stadium right there when I was at Alabama and about killed Reuben Foster because he gave up an 80-yard run to Nick Chubb,” said Smart, referring to a game the Tide won in Athens, 38-10. “I knew then that we had a special defense. Well, today showed me some fire and grit that, regardless of the score, the standard’s here. If you don’t play to the standard, you’re going to be called out.”
Not clear about Saturday’s skirmish was which party was enforcing the standard, but the inference was that it was the senior.
Regardless, with the Bulldogs’ 49-7 win over Middle Tennessee State, No. 3-ranked Georgia improved to 3-0 and continues to look like the dominant team it was predicted to be this season. But no sooner did the Bulldogs bench all their starters and put the finishing touches on their day, than LSU went out and beat Auburn and Alabama went to Oxford and humiliated Ole Miss 62-7.
So, clearly, to be everything the Bulldogs want to be this season, their standards have to be very high. And it’s to that standard that they shall be graded on Saturday’s performance.
Based on that, here’s how Georgia did:
The Bulldogs had 382 total yards and 217 rushing — by halftime. It was at that point that quarterback Jake Fromm and most of Georgia’s offensive skill players took a seat for the day. But there were some concerning moments hidden between the many explosive plays.
Georgia’s No. 1 offensive line gave up two sacks, one of which could have and probably should have resulted in a safety or defensive touchdown. The Bulldogs were flagged a season-high seven times, including twice for holding and twice for false starts.
Again, Georgia produced its first 100-yard rusher of the season in Elijah Holyfield, who had a 66-yard run, and also had a 65-yard pass and another 56-yard run. But for every explosive play the Bulldogs had, they also had a dud.
Middle Tennessee State managed only 288 yards on 68 offensive plays, an average of 4.23 yards per play. That’s a pretty good day’s work. But there were moments of concern.
Especially disconcerting was the 41-yard TD pass by the Blue Raiders. Quarterback Brent Stockstill hit wide receiver Patrick Smith on a quick out in the right flat, then got great blocks from C.J. Windham and Gatlin Casey to turn what should’ve been a short gain into a 41-yard touchdown.
Pressuring the passer continues to be problematic for the Bulldogs. For the second time this season, they exited a game without recording a quarterback sack. They have just one on the season. Smart contends too much is made of that stat, but they also weren’t credited with a hurry. It is paramount Georgia figures out how to affect the passer before it gets to Columbia, Mo., next Saturday.
Special teams: A
If we included minuses, there would be one here. Georgia was penalized four times on kicks, twice for offsides on kickoffs and twice for holding. It blemished what was otherwise an exceptional day.
Mecole Hardman finally broke through and recorded the punt-return touchdown he has so cruelly eluded him. He went straight up the cut with a 70-yarder midway through the second quarter.
Rodrigo Blankenship did not have a field goal attempt but continued his touchback streak despite kicking off into the wind several times. He added eight Saturday to make him 23-of-23 for the season.
Punter Jake Camarda booted another 55-yarder, but that one also rolled into the end zone. That’s four touchbacks on the season. That’s the same number Cameron Nizalek had all last season.
Again, the Bulldogs were flagged for penalties seven times and generally weren’t as sharp as we’ve seen them this season. But Georgia managed to put together a fairly focused effort despite facing an overmatched non-conference opponent in a game that was moved up more than seven hours two days before it was scheduled to be played.
It was good, not great. The fact is, all of Georgia’s goals remain intact and Bulldogs’ seem reasonably healthy physically and mentally as they prepare for a challenging road trip to Missouri. The Tigers improved to 3-0 when they defeated Purdue 40-37 on a last-second field goal in West LaFayette, Ind.
DAWGNATION GAME COVERAGE
- Mecole Hardman heard a voice in his head before TD return
- Jake Fromm not thrilled with Saturday’s performance
- Georgia QB Justin Fields ‘getting more and more comfortable’
- RB Elijah Holyfield slowly making name for himself
- WATCH: Deandre Baker shares secret to being a ‘lock-down secondary’
- Instant Analysis: No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs follow script for 49-7 win over MTSU