ATHENS — Kirby Smart saw some of his Georgia players grow up before his eyes on Saturday night.
The Bulldogs’ head coach knows that needs to be a trend for Georgia to repeat as SEC champions and make another run for what would be a third-straight CFP title.
“I did think we had some players grow up out there today,” Smart said. “When you look on the sideline and there’s five or six guys dinged up, banged up, you knew there were going to be some butterflies for some guys - particularly on offense.”
Carson Beck admitted he was nervous making his first start, and it showed when he overthrew a wide-open Arian Smith and missed on a throw to Dominic Lovett.
Beck shook off the slow start to finish 21-of-31 passing for 294 yards and a touchdown, and he also rushed for a TD before exiting with the game in hand late in the third quarter.
Some fans booed Georgia early, while others took to social media to criticize new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
Smart later revealed it was his strategy to devise a game plan that would cater to UGA’s defensive strengths while a younger and more inexperienced offense settled in.
The Bulldogs pounded the run game at the FCS Skyhawks, making sure not to turn the ball over while softening up the smaller, less deep UT-Martin defensive front.
The No. 1-ranked Bulldogs walked out of Sanford Stadium with a convincing 48-7 win, with most in the nation unaware the UGA lead was only 7-0 with five minutes left in the first half.
Mekhi Mews had the sort of breakout game Smart hinted at with 3 catches for 75 yards and a TD along with his 2 punt returns (19 yards) and 31-yard kick return
Brock Vandagriff didn’t get much action, but he had dynamic moments on both series, firing a deep 56-yard TD pass and scrambling 28 yards on play nullified for holding.
Brock Bowers lined up wide, in the backfield an at the conventional tight end spot. Bowers scored on a 3-yard run sweep and led the receivers with 5 catches, gaining some 60 of his 77 yards after the catch.
C.J. Smith had 2 catches for 57 yards, including a 47-yard grab that caught the head coach’s eye and earned him a post-game shout out.
Tykee Smith was seemingly all over the field and made six tackles, including a stop behind the line.
Carson Beck missed on a couple of throws and was not perfect, but he made good decisions and earned a level of trust. Beck showed good mobility and pocket awareness as well as arm strength
Peyton Woodring opened his career by connecting on field goals of 23 and 33 yards. The freshman won the place-kicking duties in fall camp
Malaki Starks had a team-high 8 tackles and a pass break-up that Smart said could have been an interception.
Kryon Jones had a 26-yard Pick-6, and even though Smart called it “lucky,” there is something to be said for being in the right place in the right time and taking it back for a score.
The Georgia run game netted 159 yards on 30 attempts against an overmatched FCS defense, and Smart noted a lack of broken tackles and push at times.
Arian Smith had issues separating and making the catch in tight coverage. Beck also overthrew Smith on a deep ball, which seemed surprising.
Offensive line: Smart specifically said the offensive line has to get more movement
The Georgia run defense was gashed a few times, the Skyhawks utilizing their QB to get outside for a 26-yard burst as they went for 132 with a 4.4-yard average.