No. 1 Bulldogs stifle Skyhawks in opener
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No. 1 Bulldogs stifle Skyhawks in opener

No. 1 Georgia opened its 2023 season by rolling past UT Martin, 48-7, on Saturday night at Sanford Stadium.

Georgia tight end Brock Bowers (19) avoids a tackle from Tennessee Martin safety Jack Lucas (19) during the first half of a NCAA college football game against Tennessee Martin in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023.

ATHENS, Ga. — The two-time defending national champion Georgia football team opened its 2023 season by rolling past UT Martin, 48-7, on Saturday night at Sanford Stadium. The win was the Bulldogs’ 18th in a row overall, 19th in a row on Dooley Field, and Georgia tied the school record for regular-season wins in a row with its 28th, matching the great run of the 1981-83 teams.

Playing in front of a sold-out crowd of 92,746, the Bulldogs were in control throughout their takedown of the Skyhawks, an FCS program that plays in the Big South-Ohio Valley Conference, though the offense took a bit to get rolling. Georgia (1-0) finished with 559 of offense while the defense repeatedly stuffed Martin, holding it to 260 total yards.

Among the offensive players held out of the game were wide receivers Ladd McConkey and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint; McConkey had 58 catches for 762 yards and seven touchdowns last season and Rosemy-Jacksaint had 29 for 337 yards. Still, the Bulldogs still had plenty of offensive weapons available, including one of the best players in the country in tight end Brock Bowers. The junior finished with five catches for 77 yards and scored on a three-yard run in less than three quarters of action.

Making his first start for the Bulldogs, junior quarterback Carson Beck completed 21 of 31 passes for 294 yards and threw a 54-yard touchdown. He also ran for a four-yard TD late in the second quarter.

Georgia took a little while to get going offensively, not scoring until the 3:40 mark of the opening quarter. By halftime, the Bulldogs had a 17-0 lead and a 248-89 advantage over the Skyhawks (0-1) in total offense.

The Bulldogs’ first scoring drive of the season began with two runs by senior running back Kendall Milton, making his third career start, followed by a pass play that resulted in a penalty on the Skyhawks for holding Bowers. Two plays later, Beck dumped a short pass off to Bowers on the right side, and the 2022 Mackey Award winner turned it into a 23-yard gain plus a 15-yard penalty for a late hit out of bounds.

At the end of the drive, on third-and-2 at the Martin 3-yard line, Bowers scored on the right side on a jet sweep. Bowers ran for three touchdowns last season, to go along with his seven receiving touchdowns. Freshman kicker Peyton Woodring made his Bulldog debut on the point-after attempt, putting Georgia up 7-0 with 3:40 remaining in the first quarter.

Georgia’s next points didn’t come until the 4:29 mark of the second quarter, when Beck ran the ball in from the 4 on third-and-goal. Woodring’s extra point made it 14-0. The key play of the drive was a 37 yard run by Milton on the first play, as well as a 16-yard reception to the Martin 13 by Bowers, who bounced off several would-be tacklers on the play.

The Bulldogs took a 17-0 lead into halftime after converting a couple of big plays on the drive but failing to get into the end zone. Beck hit Bowers for 20 to the 50; with less than a minute to play, Beck hit wide receiver Dominic Lovett for a 25-yard gain down to the Skyhawk 3. Georgia tried to get a touchdown but had to settle for a Woodring 23-yard kick, the first field goal of his career, and a 17-0 lead at the break.

Midway through the third quarter, Beck produced a career-long pass and redshirt sophomore receiver Mekhi Mews a career-long catch and his first career touchdown. On second-and-10 from the UGA 46, Mews lined up in the backfield and motioned out to the slot, where he caught a short pass from Beck, followed a few blocks and then outran everyone for a 54-yard touchdown and a 24-0 lead with 8:29 left in the quarter.

After the defense got another stop, the offense produced a pair of big-yardage plays to set up its next score. On first down from the Bulldog 20, Beck hit redshirt freshman wideout C.J. Smith for a 47-yard gain up the left side. Two plays later, Beck rolled right and hit Mews for 25 yards, down to the Skyhawk 8. Two plays after that, running back Roderick Robinson powered his way into the end zone from the 2 for the freshman’s first career touchdown and a 31-0 lead with 5:35 left in the third.

Backup quarterback Brock Vandagriff provided some fourth-quarter fireworks when he connected with junior wideout Rara Thomas for a 56-yard gain down the middle of the field. On the next play, Vandagriff, a redshirt sophomore, found sophomore tight end Oscar Delp on the right side for a 21-yard touchdown that made it 38-0 with 11:36 remaining.

The Skyhawks got on the scoreboard with 6:39 to play thanks to a one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone by Trevonte Rucker on a 9-yard pass from quarterback Kinkead Dent. Woodring made it 41-7 Bulldogs with a 33-yard field goal with 2:09 to play.

Defensively, sophomore safety Malaki Starks and junior STAR Tykee Smith led the way with eight and six tackles, respectively. Georgia’s final points came from the defense when freshman STAR Byron Jones intercepted a pass and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown with 1:59 remaining.

Ordinarily No. 73 on the Bulldog roster, starting left guard Xavier Truss wore No. 77 on Saturday, to honor former teammate and lineman Devin Willock. Willock and Georgia recruiting staff member Chandler LeCroy died in a car accident on Jan. 15. A different Georgia player will wear No. 77 each game this season.

Bulldog mascot Uga XI, known as “Boom,” made his first official appearance on Dooley Field on Saturday, doing so just days after the death of his legendary owner, Sonny Seiler, who passed away on Monday at age 90. Seiler and his family’s long history with the Bulldogs — the Uga tradition began in 1956 — were remembered in a video prior to the game.

The Bulldogs’ opener was the first of four straight home games to start the season. Georgia hosts Ball State next Saturday, Sept. 9, at noon.

POST-GAME NOTES

*Season Opener: With today’s 48-7 victory, No. 1 Georgia has won 10 straight season openers including all eight under Kirby Smart.

Today marked Georgia’s first season opener at home since 2018 against Austin Peay (Bulldogs won 45-0). Since then, the Bulldogs kicked off a season with wins at Vanderbilt, Arkansas, versus #3 Clemson in Charlotte and last year against #11 Oregon in Atlanta. Also, today marked the official game debut of UGA XI or “Boom” who was introduced to the Bulldog Nation at the spring G-Day game this past April.

*Defense Blanks Skyhawks For Three Quarters: Top-ranked Georgia blanked the Skyhawks until 6:39 left in the contest when they scored a TD on a nine-yard completion to Trevonte Rucker from Kinkead Dent to finish a 12 play, 75-yard drive that made it 38-7. UT Martin finished with 260 yards of offense on 63 plays. In the first half UT Martin was held to 89 yards on 24 plays.

Tonight, Georgia’s leading tacklers were sophomore safety Malaki Starks with eight and senior star Tykee Smith with six including a TFL. Sophomore DE Mykel Williams had a sack. Williams led the team last year with 4.5 sacks. Freshman Kyron Jones registered a pick-six, covering 26 yards to make it 48-7. It marked the 28th score on either defense or special teams in the Kirby Smart era. It was the first Bulldog pick-six since Kelee Ringo’s 79-yarder to help clinch the CFP national championship against top-ranked Alabama on Jan. 10, 2022.

*The Streaks: After posting a 48-7 win, Georgia has set a school school record with its 18th straight victory dating back to the 2021 season when it registered a 34-11 decision over #2 Michigan in a CFP semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl in Miami. The Bulldogs now have won 28 consecutive regular season games, which leads all of FBS, and is the second longest active streak in the NCAA behind DIII Mount Union who won today to extends it streak to 55 straight. Also, Kirby Smart is now 8-0 in season openers and 82-15 overall.

*Bulldogs Post 48 Points In Season Opener: Georgia amassed 559 yards of total offense on 70 plays in a 48-7 season-opening victory.

In the first half, Georgia built a 17-0 lead, tallying 248 yards of offense on 42 plays. Junior TE Brock Bowers scored his fifth career rushing TD with a three-yard scamper to put the Bulldogs up 7-0. It capped a 10 play, 76-yard drive in 4:39.Senior Kendall Milton was the leading rusher with 53 yards on nine carries including a 37-yarder in the 2nd quarter. The second TD drive covered 68 yards on seven plays. The Bulldogs added a field goal on its final possession of the second quarter to cap their scoring.

In the 3rd quarter, Georgia put together a 98-yard TD drive, which is tied for the second longest in the Kirby Smart era. The Bulldogs had a 99-yarder versus Ga. Tech on five plays last year and a 98-yarder on six plays against Arkansas State in 2019. Later in the 3rd quarter, Beck led an 80-yard drive in five plays to extend the lead to 31-0 while redshirt sophomore Brock Vandagriff directed the final TD drive while the defense added a pick-six for the final score.

*Starting Role BECKons: Junior QB Carson Beck made his first career start and finished 21-for-31 for 294 yards and 1 TD. In the first half, he was 14-for-21 for 140 yards. Also, he had his first career rushing TD, a four-yarder to make it 14-0 with 4:29 left in the first half. In the 3rd quarter, Beck connected for a 54-yard TD pass to Mekhi Mews to cap a 98-yard drive on six plays in 2:32. It put the Bulldogs in front 24-0.

Also at signal-caller, redshirt sophomore Brock Vandagriff (2-for-3, 77 yards, 1TD) entered the game late in the 3rd quarter. His first career completion came on a 56-yarder to junior RaRa Thomas, his first as a Bulldog. On the next play, he connected on a 21-yard TD pass to sophomore TE Oscar Delp to cap a 77-yard drive in two plays in just 37 seconds for a 38-0 advantage. Redshirt freshman QB Gunner Stockton (3-for-5, 29 yards, 2 rushes for 18 yards) saw his first action with 6:39 left in the game and led the team to a field goal.

*Top Targets: Eleven Bulldogs caught a pass and the leading receivers were junior TE Brock Bowers (5 rec., 77 yards all in the first half), redshirt sophomore TB Cash Jones (career-high 4 rec.,for 25 yards) and redshirt sophomore WR Mekhi Mews (3 catches, 75 yards {both career highs}, 1 TD). Mews had a 54-yard TD catch for his first career TD. Sophomore TE Oscar Delp had a 21-yard TD catch.

*Special Teams Summary: True freshman PK Peyton Woodring registered 12 points, going 6-for-6 on PATs and made field goals covering 23 and 33 yards. He is the first true freshman placekicker to make his debut in the season opener since 2012 (Marshall Morgan tallied nine points against Buffalo). Junior Jared Zirkel handled kickoffs. Sophomore Brett Thorson punted five times for a 44.6 average with a long of 53 yards. Redshirt sophomore Mekhi Mews served as the punt returner with two for 19 yards plus four fair catches and one KOR for 31 yards. Coming in tonight, Mews had one career punt return and no kick returns.

*Red Zone Review: Georgia went 5-for-5 in the Red Zone with three TDs and two field goals while UT Martin was 1-for-1 with a TD.

*Captains, Coin Toss and For Starters: Juniors Brock Bowers (TE), Sedrick Van Pran (C), Javon Bullard (S) and Jamon Dumas-Johnson (ILB) served as the game captains.

There were three first-time starters on defense: junior Chaz Chambliss (OLB), redshirt sophomore Xavian Sorey (ILB) and sophomore Daylen Everette (CB).There were five first-time starters on offense: junior Carson Beck (QB), sophomore Oscar Delp (TE), redshirt-freshman Earnest Greene III (LT), redshirt sophomore Mekhi Mews (WR) and junior Arian Smith (WR). Also, true freshman Peyton Woodring (PK) made his debut. Van Pran made his team-leading 31st career start.

*Honoring #77 Devin Willock: Senior LG Xavier Truss wore #77 today in honor of his late teammate Devin Willock. A different Bulldog offensive lineman will be wearing #77 each game this season.

*Up Next: Top-ranked Georgia (1-0) plays host to Ball State (0-1) Saturday, Sept. 9 at Noon (SEC Network). The Cardinals fell 44-14 at Kentucky earlier today.

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