Big win for the Dogs: Georgia coach Kirby Smart (right) gives a fist bump to Auburn coach Gus Malzahn after Saturday’s 27-6 UGA victory in Athens.
By Mark Bradley, Atlanta Journal-Constitution #atlanta-ga
Notice has been served. The team that trailed 10-5 at Arkansas? Not Georgia. The team that just obliterated No. 7 Auburn?
So maybe there was a teensy bit of doubt after Week 1, in which a quarterback change was required before halftime. So maybe a 24-point victory over a program that hasn’t won an SEC game since 2017 was, as an opening statement, a tad less emphatic than Herschel Walker trampling Bill Bates in Knoxville. But forget all that. In Week 2, the Bulldogs brought the oomph.
Saturday’s 27-6 thrashing of Auburn was never close. Georgia was stronger and faster and smarter. It had the better players. It had the better coaches. (Not for nothing is Gus Malzahn 1-4 against Kirby Smart, 2-7 versus Georgia.) After a halting opener that made us wonder if the Bulldogs had slipped after the departures of Jake Fromm and D’Andre Swift and Andrew Thomas, they looked at us and, arching an eyebrow, asked: “This look like slippage to you?”
They scored on their second, third, fourth and fifth possessions. Auburn’s first points came 98 seconds before halftime and cut its deficit to 21 points. The Bulldogs outgained the visitors 288 yards to 81 over the first two quarters. Tigers quarterback Bo Nix, the 2019 SEC freshman of the year, had a frightful night. By the second half, he’d taken to throwing the ball left-handed – he’s a right-hander – and even backhanded.
As for Georgia’s quarterback: The big news is that it has one. He’s not Fromm, gone to the NFL. He’s not Jaime Newman, Fromm’s presumptive replacement. He’s not D’Wan Mathis, who started against Arkansas. He’s not JT Daniels, the USC transfer finally cleared by Georgia medicos for contact. He’s the redshirt junior Stetson Bennett, who arrived in Athens as a walk-on and not long ago left UGA for a Mississippi junior college.
Bennett didn’t complete every pass – he was 17 for 28 – but his team converted eight of 13 third downs and left Auburn’s heralded defense in a gamelong lurch. In his first Georgia start, he formed a stunning partnership with Kearis Jackson, who caught nine passes for 147 yards. Early in the second quarter, Bennett broke the game open by hitting George Pickens for a touchdown on third-and-9 from the Auburn 21. This came one snap after the quarterback had been flattened by a blitzer.
By then it was blatant: These teams might have been separated by three spots in the Associated Press poll, but on the field the Bulldogs were better by three miles. An offense that managed no first-half touchdowns in Fayetteville stacked three on Auburn, and that breeze you felt was Bulldog Nation’s sigh of relief. (That whimpering you heard was Auburn fans again calculating the tonnage of Malzahn’s buyout.)
Georgia’s offense, under new coordinator Todd Monken, found its feet Saturday. Early in the game, the Bulldogs were fast and loose. Working with a lead, they were poised and powerful. Said Bennett: “Coach Monken does a great job knowing when we need to go fast and knowing when we need to go slow.”
The Bulldogs rushed for 202 yards. Auburn managed 216 yards rushing and passing. The Georgia defense yielded no touchdowns. Cornerback Tyson Campbell more than held his own in a duel with the heralded receiver Seth Williams. As per usual, there’s a sturdiness about Smart’s team. It can win both lines of scrimmage.
Said Smart: “I did think we played really physical. When you play Auburn, that’s where it starts.”
Also: “We ran the ball early. That’s hard to do in the SEC.”
Bennett said he’d been told Monday he’d start against Auburn. “My goal when I came here was always to be the starter,” he said. Funny how things work out.
Smart on Bennett: “He’ll only get better from here, I hope. He gives us continuity … If he continues to prepare the way he has and the offense continues to function, (remaining the starter) is the plan.”
Smart conceded that he’d taken Newman in the belief that the Wake Forest transfer would be Fromm’s successor. Newman opted out in early September. The thinking turned toward Mathis and/or Daniels. Smart conceded that much as well, saying of Bennett: “He wasn’t not the guy, but he wasn’t the guy. He didn’t get a whole lot of reps in practice. He came to see me a couple of times.”
Then: “He didn’t cry or pout or transfer or have his parents call.”
But here he is, 1-0 as Georgia’s No. 1 quarterback, and here his team sits, 2-0 with a significant victory on the ledger. Maybe two significant victories, come to think of it.
Said Smart: “Everybody wants to make it really bad last week, and everybody will try to make it really good this week. Guess what? It’s probably in the middle.”
Then: “Hey, maybe Arkansas is better than people think. Someone told me they won tonight.”
The Razorbacks did indeed. They beat Mississippi State, which had just beaten the reigning national champ. As Vince Dooley, the man who sent his third-string tailback into that famous 1980 opener, used to say: “It’s hard to know after one game – you’re not sure how good the other team is.”
We know a bit more today. Arkansas? Not awful. Auburn? Nothing special. Georgia? Pretty doggone good.