Top-ranked Bulldogs hold off Flashes, 39-22
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Top-ranked Bulldogs hold off Flashes, 39-22

Georgia-Kent State
Photo: Tony Walsh/UGA

ATHENS, Ga. — Brock Bowers scored on a 75-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage to get the No. 1-ranked Georgia football team up and running Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium. But the Bulldogs had to work all the way to the end to take down Kent State, beating the Golden Flashes 39-22.

Georgia (4-0) has now was 14 in a row on Dooley Field. This one started out like it might be a runaway thanks to Bowers’ big burst, but Bulldog miscues (three turnovers, multiple dropped passes and a successful Kent State fake punt) combined with a gritty performance by the Golden Flashes (1-3), kept the score close all the way through.

A Kendall Milton 1-yard run with 5:30 left in the game made it 39-22, and a Christopher Smith interception soon after finally sealed the victory. The Bulldogs finished with 529 yards of offense, while Kent State (1-3) had 281. The Golden Flashes were playing their third ranked opponent in four weeks, having already played at No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 18 Washington.

On Georgia’s first offensive play, quarterback Stetson Bennett tried to hit Ladd McConkey on a home-run ball up the right side. The deep pass fell incomplete. On the next play, Bowers, the All-American tight end with wide-receiver speed, ran the ball around the right side and went 75 yards for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead just 19 seconds into the game.

Georgia’s defense quickly stuffed the Golden Flashes on their next drive, but then McConkey fumbled on the punt return, giving Kent State the ball at the Georgia 26-yard line. The Bulldogs got the stop, including a sack back Nolan Smith on third-and-long, and Kent State kicked a 35-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3.

It’s the earliest an opponent has scored against Georgia all season, the first first-quarter points the Bulldogs have allowed, and the Golden Flashes actually got the ball back with the chance to take the lead following an interception of a deep Bennett pass down the middle.

The Golden Flashes started the ensuing drive at their 5-yard line. And went nowhere. Punting from their end zone on fourth-and-10, a pack of Bulldogs stormed through the line and it was Jalon Walker that blocked Josh Smith’s punt. The ball went out of the end zone, giving the Bulldogs a safety and a 9-3 lead with 6:51 to play in the quarter.

On the ensuing drive, Georgia drove down the KSU 12 but a couple of dropped passes and a sack of Bennett on third down forced the Bulldogs to settle for a 39-yard Jack Podlesny field goal and a 12-3 lead with 1:07 to play in the quarter.

Kent State took advantage of another Georgia miscue, a McConkey fumble after a reception, and beat the Bulldog defense with a 56-yard touchdown up the left side, cutting the Bulldog lead to 12-10 with 11:30 to play in the first half. The Flashes didn’t have a first down before that drive, which began with a 12-yard completion from Collin Schlee to Dante Cephas, followed by Schlee to Devontez Walker for the score.

Georgia, in its closest half of the season, answered with a dominating drive that featured a 23-yard completion to tight end Darnell Washington and a 27-yard run by Milton. It ended with another Bowers rushing touchdown, this one a 2-yard end around to the right, putting Georgia up 19-10 with 8:15 to play in the half.

Kent State didn’t wilt after the Bulldogs quickly scored. The Golden Flashes put together a couple of plays and then connected on a 45-yard field goal to make it 19-13 with 3:39 left in the half.

Georgia put together a strong drive to close out the half, utilizing a variety of receivers and runners to march down the field. With 8 seconds left, Bennett scored from the 1, reaching the ball across the goal line as he fell, putting Georgia up 26-13 at the half.

The second half began with the Bulldog defense quickly forcing a Kent State three-and-out. The offense then moved into the red zone before having to settle for a 31-yard Podlesny field goal, pushing the lead to 29-13 with 10:41 left in the quarter.

Kent State answered with a drive that got as close as the Bulldog 1-yard line before the Flashes had to settle for a 22-yard field goal, cutting the Georgia lead to 29-16 with 5:12 remaining in the third. The Bulldogs followed that with another drive into the red zone that ended with a Podlesny field goal, this one from 32 yards, that gave Georgia a 32-16 lead with 1:44 left in the period.

Georgia looked to have the Flashes stopped on the ensuing drive, but Kent State pulled off a fake point on fourth-and-1 on their 34 on the final play of the third quarter. Kent State eventually cut Georgia’s lead to 32-22 on Marquez Cooper’s 1-yard touchdown run with 12:13 to play in the game. The Flashes’ 2-point attempt failed.

Georgia, suddenly only up 10, 32-22, in the fourth quarter, had to do something it hadn’t all season: make the game-winning plays down the stretch. That included converting a fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 5:30 remaining. With big Bear Alexander (6-foot-3, 305 pounds) in as a blocker, Milton ran the ball in to cap the 12-play drive and push Georgia’s lead to 39-22.

Shortly after Milton’s score, Smith was all alone deep when a pass came his way. He nabbed his second interception of the season and helped preserve the Bulldogs’ win.

This was Georgia’s second all-time matchup against Kent State. The first came in 1998, when the Bulldogs on the field for the season opener included future College Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman Matt Stinchcomb, future first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Champ Bailey, who started on offense, defense and special teams that day, and a safety that would one day lead the Bulldogs to their next national championship, Kirby Smart.

The Bulldogs are back in action next Saturday at Missouri, and return to Sanford Stadium on Oct. 8, against Auburn.

POST-GAME NOTES

Offensive Highlights: Top-ranked Georgia posted a 39-22 win over Kent State to improve to 4-0. Senior QB Stetson Bennett finished 27-for-36 for 272 yards and one INT plus a rushing TD. In the first half, he was 18-of-24 for 173 yards and the rushing TD. Two Bulldogs had a team-high six catches apiece in RS-sophomore Ladd McConkey (65 yards), Kenny McIntosh (35 yards). Today, nine different Bulldogs caught a pass. Georgia had its longest TD-drive of the year (by time), chewing up 6:43 on a 12 play, 75-yard drive late in the 4th quarter for its final score..

Sophomore TE Brock Bowers led all rushers with 77 yards on two carries — both resulting in first half touchdowns. He struck paydirt from 75 yards out, marking the longest rushing TD by a Bulldog since 2020 when Zamir White went 75 yards against Florida on the first scrimmage play of the game. Bowers first TD today came on the second play. The previous longest rush for Bowers was 24 yards against Tennessee last year. Bowers scored again on a two-yard rush in the second quarter. It marked the first time in his career he had two rushing TDs in a game. Georgia attempted its first fourth-down attempt of the year, and it was successful (4th and 1 from the 50). Georgia has now outscored its opponents in the first half 108-16 and 169-32 on the year.

Red Zone Review: The Bulldogs were 6-for-6 in the Red Zone with three TDs and and three field goals. For the year, Georgia is now 25-for-26 in the Red Zone with 17 TDs and eight field goals.

A Look At The Defense: KSU finished the day with 22 points, running 52 plays for 281 yards of total offense. In the first half, KSU had 13 points, tallying 124 yards of total offense on just 24 plays. In the second half, KSU put together a 13 play, 70-yard drive in 5:29 that resulted in a field goal to trim the deficit to 29-16. On that scoring drive, the Golden Flashes had a 1st-and-goal from the three and a 3rd and goal from the one before an illegal motion penalty backed them up and ultimately had to settle for a field goal.

Georgia entered the game leading the nation in Scoring Defense, surrendering just 3.3 points a game and 10 total on the year. KSU’s field goal in the first quarter was the first points the Bulldogs had allowed this season in the opening quarter.

Today’s leading tacklers for the Bulldogs were Jamon Dumas-Johnson with six stops including 3 TFLs and 2 sacks and sophomore Smael Mondon with six tackles. The Bulldogs came in with one sack on the year. KSU’s first offensive play resulted in a sack by Dumas-Johnson for a six-yard loss. He would add one more in the first half to match his total from a year ago. Also, senior Nolan Smith picked up a sack later in the first quarter as the Bulldogs finished with three on the afternoon.

Points Off Turnovers: Georgia forced one turnover, an interception by senior Christopher Smith, his second of the year fifth for his career. It came with 5:11 left in the contest, and the Bulldogs leading 39-22, and they ran out the clock. Meanwhile, KSU managed 10 points off three Bulldog miscues. The Bulldogs are now +4 for the year with 31 points off turnovers. In the first quarter, Georgia had its first turnover of the season on a muffed punt and it gave KSU the ball at the Georgia 26. It led to a 45-yard field goal. Later in the first, Stetson Bennett threw his first INT of the year as KSU took over at its own 5. It led to a blocked punt/safety. In the second quarter, Ladd McConkey fumbled after a reception at the KSU 32. It led to a touchdown, which marked only the second one allowed by the
Bulldogs this year.

The Last Time: Freshman linebacker Jalon Walker notched his first career blocked punt, and it resulted in a safety for a 9-3 lead. It was the first blocked punt by a Bulldog since Nolan Smith against Missouri last year that also resulted in a safety. Georgia blocked five kicks last year including two punts. For the second time in as many weeks, opponents were successful executing a fake punt. In the second half, KSU converted a 4th-and-1 and its own 34 with a 14-yard pass from punter Josh Smith to graduate DE Zayin West.

It’s Good: Senior PK Jack Podlesny made a 39-yard field goal for a 12-3 lead. He added a 31-yarder in the second half for a 29-13 edge and a 32-yarder to extend the lead to 32-16. On the year, he is 8-for-9 in field goals with the lone miss coming on a 54-yard attempt against Samford. He was 4-for-4 on PATs to give him 13 points on the day.

For Starters, Game Captains & Helmet Stickers: Georgia did not have any first-time starters. KSU won the toss and elected to defer the ball until the 2nd half. Senior Christopher Smith (SS), senior Nolan Smith (SLB), Sedrick Van Pran (C) and junior Darnell Washington (TE) were the captains. In support of Curing Kids Cancer, Georgia wore special helmet stickers featuring the group’s logo. With today’s win, Georgia is now 2-0 all-time against Kent State.

Up Next: No. 1 Georgia (4-0, 1-0 SEC) goes on the road to Columbia to face Missouri next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network). The Tigers (2-1, 0-0 SEC) faced Auburn on the Plains today and were going to overtime when the Bulldogs-KSU game ended.

POST-GAME QUOTES

Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart

On being back at home and playing at noon in Sanford Stadium…
“It’s great to be back here. We played a tough opponent. We talked all week and told our team that we thought this
was going to be the best team we had played and it came out to be that way. They played really tough. They have a
really good quarterback, good system, and they are tenacious on defense. I thought we did really well on offense and
had a great game plan. The kids practiced hard. We didn’t cash in the chips in the red area, a couple really costly
penalties that killed drives. Thank goodness for Jack Podlesny, he just kept on making them and the defense had some timely stops.”

On the offensive performance…
“Turnovers. Three of them, maybe four total when you count the fake punt, that was like a turnover, they got an extra
possession. It makes it hard. When you come out ahead like we did sometimes you take wins like that for granted. I
have a lot of respect for that team and that program. That was a tough, hard-fought win.”

On the defensive performance…
“First of all, they’re physical. They have an athletic quarterback. There are times in games you play, where you say, “Oh we got a good call on that” and everywhere where we had a pretty good call, they had a run/pass option (RPO) where they could bang it in there. When they bang a seven-yard slant instead of handing it off, I’m saying I would have rather them hand it off and try to stop them up there. They did a nice job, they had some explosive plays and we didn’t stop them on those explosive plays. If you take the explosive plays out, we played pretty good defense.”

#13 Stetson Bennett | Sr. | QB

On the start of the game …
“They’re a good football team. I don’t know if we were awake to start, it was a noon kick. I thought we had a great week of practice. I thought we had a good walkthrough before, but for one reason or another. And give them credit, they have a bunch of seniors and they’re a good football team. But an interception, fumble, a dropped punt, you just can’t have those.”

On if they played to the standard of Georgia football…
“You can’t turn the ball over three times. We didn’t punt, not once. We had over 500 yards of offense; scored 39 points. We had a good day. We just had three turnovers almost consecutively – boom, boom, boom – all in the first half. You can’t have that, but we still scored [26] in the first half. And they’re a good team. Like I said earlier, I don’t know what you guys said about how good they were or what, but they’re good.”

#19 Brock Bowers | So. | TE

On being a part of the run game…
“It’s always fun to get the ball wherever you get it. I think just coming out of the backfield, you can just see more stuff
and do your thing more. I like it.”

On the team taking an early lead in the first minute of the game…
“We knew they were a good football team coming into it. It’s never really over, especially that early, so we were just
always prepared and just tried to carry on through the game with that same momentum.”

#10 Jamon Dumas-Johnson | So. | LB

On what Kent State did to stay in the game…
“We had some mismatches, some miscommunication, things like that on the field. We just have to clean that up, talk to each other and have better communication.”

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