ATHENS Georgia football put in a workmanlike performance in its 63-17 win over FCS-level Murray State on Saturday afternoon.
The Bulldogs (2-0), however, got off to an inexplicably slow start. Further, UGA was equaled on the effort front by a scrappy Racers team (1-1) that should have been completely overwhelmed.
Instead, quarterback Jake Fromm took a hard shot on a first-quarter sack and the scoreboard reflected a 7-7 tie after one quarter that surely prompted gasps when posted across the country.
Coach Kirby Smart won't be affected by that, nor should the Georgia fans. It's a long season, and one sloppy quarter and slow start can do more good than bad if the UGA staff is effective using it as a teaching point.
The most important thing that came out of the win over Murray State was the emergence of new players. It was something the Bulldogs needed desperately to happen after losing their top four receivers from a season ago along with the best pass-catching tight end.
Freshman receivers George Pickens and Dominick Blaylock had their moments, and tight end Eli Wolf enjoyed a four-catch day.
The grades (on a curve, by SEC Championship Team standards), from this viewpoint in the press box:
Run Game (B-)
Smart was right when he said folks expect a touchdown on every drive against an FCS opponent, and frankly, with Georgia's talent that's not much of a stretch to ask for with the starters in the game. D'Andre Swift (11.2 yards per carry) and James Cook (10 yards per carry) certainly would have had game-breaking plays and days, but the Bulldogs elected to take the more physical route with hammers Zamir White (8 carries, 72 yards), Kenny McIntosh (9 carries, 61 yards) and veteran Brian Herrien (5 carries, 31 yards). The collective 269 yards rushing (6.7 yards per carry) was, by UGA standards, merely adequate. Good ball security and blitz pickups push the grade up in the B range
Pass Game (B+)
Jake Fromm went downfield, something Kirby Smart wanted him and OC James Coley to get done in this game. Going downfield requires trust, and one could sense Fromm starting to feel good about putting it up for his receivers to make a play. Miami transfer Lawrence Cager did not make a play on his deep ball, and did not come back for the ball that was picked off. But Pickens made a couple of big-time plays, the sort that should send Coley to the drawing board to design more for the player wearing the No. 1. Wolf also showed he's on a mission, overcoming a hard-luck fumble with some impressive runs after the catch that were on par with Isaac Nauta's best days. The pass protection breakdown with the first-team line in the game was disappointing and knocked down the grade. So did Stetson Bennet's Pick 6, the so-called "Mailman" making a delivery to the wrong address after staring down his receiver.
Run Defense (A)
Kirby Smart had a plan to attack the Murray State Air Raid, and like every other defensive plan he draws up, it started with stopping the run. Georgia's defensive dominated the line of scrimmage like it should, and the linebackers filled gaps with DBs coming up hard in run support. Mark Webb got beat on a TD pass, but he delivered a punishing, fumble-inducing hit that led to J.R. Reed's scoop and score. It was good to see Reed get involved in the action and make a big play he'll be counted on for many more, along with Richard LeCounte. Webb had 9 tackles, LecCounte 5 and JUCO transfer Jermaine Johnson, Monty Rice and Quay Walker all added four from their linebacker positions.
Pass Defense (B-)
Georgia played aggressive coverage against the Air Raid, Smart explaining how the intent was to limit the yards gained after the catch (YAC). Taking chances opens up a defense for big plays, and that's what happened when a Florida transfer got a step on Webb on a slant route, and Reed wasn't able to make up ground in pursuit. Smart said it was a broken coverage, and when breakdowns turn fatal a rarity in secondaries coached by Smart / Charlton Warren that's a major deduction. Latavious Brini recorded a late interception on the Murray State backup QB, worth noting.
Special Teams (B)
The Bulldogs coverage units didn't give the Racers much room to breathe, as this continues to be one of the most improved areas on the team. It was a quiet day for punter Jake Camarda, who averaged 48 yards on his two punts. It seemed there were lanes open for returns to take a kick or punt back for touchdowns, but it didn't appear Georgia maximized those opportunities.
Some of the best UGA news of the day was no one on the team was seriously injured. Smart reported cornerback Eric Stokes was in and out of the injury tent, and that X-rays taken on an undisclosed part of his body were negative. One of the more interesting things was Vince Dooley in the ESPN2 box seeming to sense the Murray State TD coming. Dooley said the Racers were looking good right before they scored on the 60-yard play. While the Racers deserve credit for their effort, Georgia, for all of its quality and great talent, needs to show a killer instinct it has yet to display through two games.
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