The Dawgs’ season opener against a lower-tier nonconference opponent was a mixed bag.

On the one hand, the 6 p.m. kickoff in Athens, which made it sort of a half-night game, did result in a much louder and more engaged Sanford Stadium crowd than you would expect for such game.

Unfortunately, Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs didn’t seem nearly as excited to be facing the UT Martin Skyhawks of the FCS Ohio Valley Conference. As Smart complained at one point to Ashley ShahAhmadi, sideline reporter for the SEC Network+/ESPN+ streaming telecast, the Dawgs did not look “hungry.”

The final score of 48-7 was respectable, with the visitors’ lone score coming with 6:39 left in the fourth quarter, long after Georgia’s stout defense had begun substituting liberally with third-stringers.

Carson Beck notched his first start at quarterback for the Dawgs Saturday. (Jason Getz/AJC) (Jason Getz/Dawgnation)

UTM was 0-9 on third-down attempts before finally converting a couple in the second half, and Georgia’s D also notched a pick-6 late in the game, courtesy of freshman Kyron Jones.

But you expect the No. 1 team in the country to dispatch a lower-level opponent with much more ease than we saw Saturday.

On a night when the Dawgs’ punter, Brett Thorson, got more of a workout than usual (with five kicks), the Georgia offense generally provided an underwhelming performance, especially in the first half, when everybody not named Brock Bowers looked to be playing at less than their expected capability.

UTM head coach Jason Simpson noted afterward that, with Georgia only leading 17-0 at halftime, the Skyhawks had done “pretty good … we were still in the game” at that point.

Well, nominally. And a lot of that was due to the Skyhawk’s superb punter, Aidan Laros, who kept Georgia backed up, averaging 50.2 yards on his 8 kicks, including one 66-yarder. (No one should be surprised to see an FBS program snap Laros up, should he decide to enter the transfer portal at some point.)

Georgia tight end Brock Bowers soars into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown run against UT Martin. (Jason Getz/AJC) (Jason Getz/Dawgnation)

Truthfully, the outcome of Saturday’s game never actually was in doubt, but the meh performance by the offense meant college football’s back-to-back defending national champions got their so-called three-peat campaign off to a somewhat shambling start.

As first-time starting quarterback Carson Beck put it after the game: “We started off a little rocky, but we settled in.”

Saturday wasn’t a total write-off for the Georgia offense in Mike Bobo’s first game back as its coordinator and playcaller, but it did give the impression that his unit begins the season a bit further behind than in the past two championship seasons. That doesn’t mean they won’t get there, but the offense has a lot of work to do.

On the other side of the ball, the Dawgs looked strong, though the defensive front appeared to be a bit less disruptive than in the past couple of years. Smart was pleased that he got the chance to play a lot of people on defense, though he said he’d like to see some turnovers forced and more tackles for loss.

The team is paying tribute this season to offensive lineman Devin Willock, who died (along with athletic staffer Chandler Lecroy) in a tragic traffic accident in January, by having a different player wear Willock’s No. 77 jersey each game. On Saturday, it was Xavier Truss.

Kirby Smart shouts instructions during the first half of the game against the Skyhawks. (Hyosub Shin/AJC) (Hyosub Shin/Dawgnation)

In his first game as starting QB, Beck had both good and bad moments. He looked a little nervous early on, constantly referring to his wrist playbook, as if he wasn’t sure of the call, and he was off-target on several first-half passes and had timing issues with his receivers.

But he showed more running capability than many had expected, especially on Georgia’s second score of the game, when he found his receivers covered and so ran it in, making a nice move on a defender that showed he’d been paying attention to Stetson Bennett last year.

Beck, who finally yielded to backup Brock Vandagriff with Georgia up 31-0 in the third quarter, wound up completing 21 of 31 passes on the night for 294 yards, with no interceptions (though one errant pass probably should have been picked off) and 1 touchdown. He also ran the ball 3 times for 12 yards and a score.

Running back Roderick Robinson carries the ball against UT Martin. (Hyosub Shin/AJC) (Hyosub Shin/Dawgnation)

Smart said after the game that, with the exception of one failed third-down attempt that “we should have gotten,” he thought Beck played well.

“He knew when to run, he knew when to get rid of the ball,” the head coach said. “There was a dead play, he threw it out of bounds. You talk about his decision-making, he did exactly what he did all camp. He didn’t put us in bad situations, he made good decisions, he didn’t throw it to the other team, he didn’t fumble it. He did some really good things.

“We have to execute better around him, and we have to have some guys make some plays and make some guys miss. That’s what we missed early, but when we got on rhythm and started doing our offense, we did some pretty good things.”

Vandagriff completed 2 of 3 passes for 77 yards and 1 touchdown, but he had one nice run wiped out by a holding call and another pass negated by a similar penalty. His best play was a bullet pass downfield to Mississippi State transfer Rara Thomas for 56 yards. On the next play, Vandagriff hit tight end Oscar Delp for a 21-yard touchdown pass.

Quarterback Carson Beck had a couple of key runs against the Skyhawks. (Jason Getz/AJC) (Jason Getz/Dawgnation)

Getting back to those holding calls, Georgia’s offensive line, considered likely to be one of the best in the country by preseason observers, did not have a particularly impressive game, failing to dominate the much less talented Skyhawks’ defensive front much of the time.

Georgia’s third QB, Gunner Stockton, finished out the game for the Dawgs in the fourth quarter, completing 3 of 5 passes for 29 yards and running twice for a total of 18 yards.

As for the other notable offensive debut — Bobo replacing the departed Todd Monken — the results, again, were mixed. Despite the UTM defense loading up against the run, there were too many vanilla calls resulting in negligible runs up the middle (when the Dawgs were having much more success running on the outside), and it took quite a while before we saw the Dawgs testing the Skyhawks’ secondary with deep throws. (Of course, if the OL had been playing up to the Georgia standard, those calls would have looked a lot better.)

Defensive back Javon Bullard tackles UT Martin tight end DJ Nelson after a short gain. (Jason Getz/AJC) (Jason Getz/Dawgnation)

The worst offensive play call came late in the first half, when Georgia got inside the Skyhawks’ 5-yard line on a long pass to Missouri transfer Dominic Lovett, but Bobo then called a run up the middle (with no timeouts left and the clock running out). That run lost a yard and Beck had to spike the ball to stop the clock. He failed to connect with a receiver in the end zone on the next play. Having to settle for a field goal on that drive sort of summed up the first half, and the disgusted expression on Smart’s face spoke volumes.

However, it was encouraging to see Bobo letting the two backup quarterbacks put the ball in the air in the third and fourth quarters, despite the outcome of the game being a settled matter. (Of course, the thin ranks in the depleted running corps might have had something to do with that.)

Overall, Georgia amassed 559 yards of total offense on 70 plays.

Also on the plus side, Bowers was his usual reliable self in the three quarters or so that he was in the game, catching 5 passes for 77 yards — 60 of them after the catch. There’s no one better than No. 19 after the catch. Additionally, Bowers also scored on a 3-yard jet sweep.

But Smart admitted after the game that Georgia deliberately didn’t go to Bowers as much as they could have, wanting to “get the ball to other guys.”

And, despite Ladd McConkey being held out of the game with a back injury and fellow receiver Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint serving a suspension, a couple of young players — Mehki Mews and C.J. Smith — stepped up. Smith caught 2 passes for 57 yards, 47 of which came on one play. Mews looked like a star in the making, catching 3 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown (on a play where he caught a screen pass behind the line and then broke free, making some nice moves and showing good speed, for a 54-yard score). He also was productive returning a couple of punts and a kickoff. Transfer receiver Dominic Lovett had a so-so day, catching 3 passes but dropping some, too. He needs to work on holding on to the ball in a contested catch.

While Georgia’s running game up the middle against a stacked defense wasn’t particularly impressive — again, the offensive line didn’t control the line of scrimmage most of the game, with Smart conceding that “There were times we didn’t get the movement we should” — the Dawgs’ corps of running backs, depleted by injuries, had a decent day, led by Kendall Milton, who had a net of 53 yards on 9 carries. Roderick Robinson added 50 yards and a TD on 8 carries, and Andrew Paul and Cash Jones saw playing time, with Jones also catching 4 passes for 25 yards.

Georgia definitely needs improvement across the board to get back to the level of last year’s dynamic and explosive offense. Getting some injured players back will help, and Beck and his receivers hopefully will be more on the same page as the season progresses.

Still, the offense is an area of concern. (Former UGA QB Aaron Murray, the color analyst on the telecast, graded Beck a B- or C+ and the overall offense a C.)

On special teams, freshman placekicker Peyton Woodring went 6-for-6 on PATs and made field goals covering 23 and 33 yards. He is the first true freshman placekicker to make his debut in the season opener since 2012. Jared Zirkel kicked off 9 times, 7 of which were touchbacks.

Overall, it was not an embarrassing showing by the No. 1-ranked Dawgs, but it wasn’t what it should have been, although Smart pooh-poohed such talk afterward. “Everybody thinks you are going to walk out there and roll over these teams,” he said. “‘It ought to be 40-to-nothing by halftime.’ Then it’s not and you get tighter, and guys get worried. I’m over that. I want to grow and get better.”

Fans line up to enter the new Gate 1 on Gillis Bridge before Saturday’s game. (Leslie King/Junkyard Blawg) (Leslie King/Junkyard Blawg/Dawgnation)

Saturday’s win was the Bulldogs’ 18th in a row overall, their 19th in a row on Dooley Field, and Georgia tied the school record for regular season wins in a row with its 28th, matching the run in the early 1980s. Georgia has won 10 straight season openers, including all eight under Smart.

Since the game finished after dark, fans got to enjoy the “redout” light show, which impressed UT Martin receiver Trevonte Rucker, who told reporters: “That environment was crazy. When they turned the red lights on and the field all black, that was a crazy moment.”

Saturday was the first game since the first half of the renovation of the South side of the stadium was completed, and early returns from fans in attendance gave the wider concourses and expanded restrooms and concessions a big thumbs up.

However, quite a few fans complained about the closing of the Sanford Drive bridge to pedestrian traffic. Not only did it make it much more difficult to get around the stadium, it also resulted in frustrated fans and their kids straining in vain to catch a glimpse of the pregame Dawg Walk.

The late Sonny Seiler, owner of Georgia’s line of mascots, was honored prior to Saturday’s game. (John Kelley/UGA) (John Kelley Jr./Dawgnation)

Also Saturday, the flags at Sanford Stadium were at half-mast in honor of Frank W. “Sonny” Seiler, the patriarch of the family that has provided the long line of Georgia Bulldog mascots known as Uga. Seiler died Monday in his hometown of Savannah after a short illness.

Ironically, the game also was the first for Uga XI, also known as Boom, who officially was collared as the Dawgs’ new mascot at the G-Day game in April.

One day a few years back, after a home game in Athens, we were dining at the second incarnation of Allen’s when Seiler and some of his family came in and sat down at a table near us. Before we left, I went over and shook his hand and thanked him for all his family has done for the university.

I’m sure he got that kind of response from fans frequently, but he seemed genuinely appreciative and thanked me.

A Damn Good Dawg, indeed.