“I don’t know what to take from this game,” one of my Sanford Stadium neighbors said Saturday after Georgia had completed its 66-0 romp over Troy.
I shrugged. The Dogs, I said, did exactly what they were supposed to do. So what if it was against an outmanned Sun Belt opponent.
Of course, that in itself is something worth noting about this game: Too often in the past, particularly coming off a disappointing loss in a big game, Mark Richt teams have taken the field for such matchups seeming distracted, bored, as if they’d rather be somewhere else. The result often has been the Dogs playing down to their competition, or letting up in the second half so that the score winds up looking more competitive than it really was.
There was none of that, though, against the Men of Troy from Alabama. Aside from a somewhat shaky defense on the Trojans’ opening drive of the day (which still wound up resulting in no points), the Bulldogs were ruthless and efficient as they got out to a 45-0 halftime lead and racked up 547 yards of offense while recording a shutout. But it was more than just a workmanlike performance; they actually seemed to be having fun out there.
As quarterback Hutson Mason (who only played about half the game) put it: “Today was all about just taking care of business. … We showed up; we played great.”
Whether that pays dividends down the road remains to be seen. As Richt said after the game, “I can’t sit here and say this prepared us for Tennessee, other than sometimes it’s just good to keep playing ball.”
The main plus out of Saturday’s game probably is that so many backups got considerable playing time, including quarterbacks Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta. You know it’s a complete rout when your third quarterback into the game (Bauta) scores two touchdowns.
Also, while some easy wins like this one can prove boring for the fans (and much of the stadium had indeed emptied out by late in the fourth quarter), there were plenty of highlights and some neat, tantalizing twists that spiced up the day Between the Hedges.
Like Sony Michel running several plays in the wildcat formation in which he took a direct snap, including a play in the third quarter in which he handed off on a sweep to fellow freshman Isaiah McKenzie, who ran 49 yards to set up another score.
With Todd Gurley taking most of the day off, Michel was busy, scoring three touchdowns on the day, running for 155 yards on 10 carries (with a long of 75 yards) and also was a key member of the punt coverage team. Sort of a Mr. Everything.
McKenzie, meanwhile, also had a “SportsCenter” highlight when, receiving a second-quarter punt, he fielded the ball on a bounce and proceeded to weave his way through the Troy defense, first moving to the right and then cutting back to the left for a 52-yard scoring return. (That was the Dogs’ first punt return for a score since Brandon Boykin ran one back 92 yards against Michigan State in the 2012 Outback Bowl.)
Georgia’s other punt returner, Reggie Davis, also had a nice return of a rugby-style kick to set up Georgia’s final score of the day. At last, the Dogs have a punt return game again!
Other takeaways from the game: The running game continued to outshine the passing game, with the Dogs running for 367 yards (the most in the Richt era) on 39 attempts, for a 9.4 average. (Brendan Douglas finally got to play some at tailback, getting 47 yards on eight carries and showing again his characteristic tough running style.)
But Georgia’s trio of QBs did throw for 180 yards and three touchdowns and finally showed something of a downfield air threat. Starter Mason had another quiet day, going 8-of-11 for 97 yards and two scores. Ramsey (4-of-8 for 66 yards), first QB off the bench, looked a little nervous at first, but settled down and gave a display of his Matt Stafford-like arm and showed a nice touch on a couple of his passes, including a 39-yarder to Chris Conley. And while Batau’s chief contribution was to add a running element to the quarterback position, he completed two of three passes for 17 yards.
As for the Georgia defense, it started out a little rough on the first drive, letting the Trojans convert on three third-down attempts (on one of which J.J. Green was ejected from the game for targeting), before stiffening and forcing a missed field goal. But coordinator Jeremy Pruitt had a few choice words with his troops on the sideline after that drive and they tightened up the zone defense considerably for the rest of the game. The Trojans could only manage 87 yards on the ground.
Downside to the game? Besides Green’s ejection, Keith Marshall (knee) and Quincy Mauger (shoulder) left the game shaken up (though neither injury was believed to be serious) and Richt wasn’t pleased that Collin Barber only averaged 37.7 yards on his three punts. But the special teams generally looked good, with Marshall Morgan notching a 37-yard field goal and getting five touchbacks among his 11 kickoffs.
Bottom line: Georgia played a lot of folks, scored almost at will, held the other team to a goose egg, and looked good doing it, even if the competition was less than SEC caliber.
As Richt noted, “It’s always nice to get a shutout and it’s always nice to score a lot of points.”
What did you take away from Saturday’s game? Feel free to share your comments.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg