Georgia pounces on Blue Raiders
ATHENS, Ga. — The starting time of Saturday’s Georgia football game against Middle Tennessee State changed, but the expected outcome didn’t.
Entering the nonconference clash as 34-point favorites, the No. 3 Bulldogs built a 35-point halftime lead and cruised to a 49-7 victory before an announced Sanford Stadium sellout crowd of 92,746.
Roughly half of those fans remained for the second half of a contest that was originally scheduled to kick off at 7:15 p.m. but was moved Thursday morning by officials of both schools to noon due to the uncertainty of Hurricane Florence that has soaked the Carolinas.
“You always concern yourself with distractions, but at the point they made the decision, it didn’t affect us,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said after his Bulldogs improved to 3-0 this season and 16-2 since the start of last year. “Our kids were prepared to do anything. We would have gone to a movie, but we didn’t go to a movie. We would have had a walk-through on Saturday, but we had it on Friday.
“It moved some things up for us, but our kids understand it, and our kids embrace playing in the heat. They think it’s an advantage for them.”
Smart praised the fans for being a factor from the start, and several Georgia supporters on the front row of the student
section had “Pray 4 Carolina” spelled out in paint on their backs.
Georgia sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm completed 10 of 12 passes for 128 yards and three touchdowns, while junior running back Elijah Holyfield rushed eight times for 100 yards for his first collegiate 100-yard game. Neither Fromm nor Holyfield played in the second half after the Bulldogs built a 42-7 lead.
“I didn’t really know my status for the second half, because they never really tell you. They just tell somebody else to go in,” Holyfield said. “Somebody told me in the third quarter that I had 100. Getting 100 is like the sign of a pretty good day, so I had a pretty good day today.”
Bulldogs junior receiver Mecole Hardman continued to provide weekly excitement with a 5-yard touchdown catch to cap Georgia’s opening possession and a 70-yard punt return for a score midway through the second quarter that made it 28-0.
Georgia wound up amassing 484 yards of total offense while holding the Blue Raiders to 288.
“It was tough sledding out there,” MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said after his team fell to 1-2. “They swallowed us up. They are bigger than us and faster than us.”
Georgia didn’t waste much time milking the drama out of Saturday’s contest, taking its opening possession 87 yards in seven plays and grabbing a 7-0 lead on the pass from Fromm to Hardman. An offside penalty on the Blue Raiders after two plays from scrimmage turned a potential third-and-6 into a third-and-1, and Holyfield broke up the middle moments later for a 66-yard run down to the MTSU 8.
After a three-and-out by MTSU, the Bulldogs did not look as impressive with their second possession, with freshman left tackle Cade Mays getting flagged for holding and with Fromm getting sacked in the end zone and fumbling. Right guard Ben Cleveland fell on the ball at Georgia’s 2-yard line, which was followed by a Jake Camarda punt that resulted in the Blue Raiders taking over at the 36 of the Bulldogs.
That’s when Bulldogs cornerback Deandre Baker came alive, recording an 8-yard tackle for loss on a third-and-1 throwback attempt and then intercepting Brent Stockstill on fourth down and returning the ball 26 yards to the MTSU 49.
“My favorite play was their trick play on third-and-1, because the line got pursuit to the receiver, and I was happy to be there when he threw it back to the quarterback,” Baker said. “That was 1 percent instinct and 99 percent film preparation. I’ve got to thank (safety) J.R. Reed for helping me learn that.
“That trick play came up in the film room, and I was waiting on it.”
Georgia needed just five plays to cover those 49 yards, taking a 14-0 lead on an 11-yard pass from Fromm to Jeremiah Holloman with 4:02 remaining in the first quarter. On the first play of the second quarter, receiver Tyler Simmons took a speed sweep and raced 56 yards down the right sideline to make it 21-0.
The Bulldogs’ 28-point second quarter also included Hardman’s 70-yard punt return for a score, a 65-yard pass from Fromm to Holloman that set up a 12-yard scoring strike from Fromm to Ridley and a 15-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Justin Fields.
Fields opened the second half by directing a 10-play, 90-yard drive that culminated with a 9-yard pass to Jayson Stanley, giving Stanley the first touchdown in his four-year career. Fields completed six of eight passes for 71 yards and the touchdown, and he also rushed three times for 31 yards and the score.
Georgia will play at Missouri this week in an SEC East game that also will begin at noon.
Georgia tailback Elijah Holyfield (13) drives passed Middle Tennessee safety Gregory Grate Jr. (3) during the first half on Saturday.
Georgia backup quarterback Justin Fields celebrates after a touchdown Saturday.