ATHENS — One set of Bulldogs lost 11 yards before its second snap. The other set had seven points before its second snap. One band of Bulldogs came ready. Guess which.
The set of Bulldogs based in Clarke County had dropped hints over the season’s first three weeks, but this was more than that. This was something approaching a declaration. Georgia is way better than it was a year ago. It could be better than any Georgia team since 2012, a season that came down to a tipped ball on first-and-goal from the Alabama 8.
As it stands, Georgia looks like the team that will face Bama in Atlanta for the SEC title. Yes, there are miles to go – including jaunts to Knoxville and Nashville the next two weeks, not to mention the usual fun ’n frolic in Jacksonville – but these Bulldogs have improved with every game, which is saying something given that its No. 1 quarterback was lost on the third series of Week 1. There’s also this: Georgia might have just whipped the best team it’ll see before December.
This one never felt close. Georgia led 7-0 after 2:23, 14-0 after 8:24, 21-3 not three minutes into the second half. It would win 31-3. Mississippi State had obliterated LSU seven nights earlier, but Georgia isn’t LSU. More to the point, Kirby Smart isn’t Ed Orgeron. Smart’s team was primed for the occasion – fast and furious but focused, too.
Even Jim Chaney, the unloved offensive coordinator, had a big night. First Georgia snap: Nick Chubb took the ball from Jake Fromm and then, as Todd Grantham’s fly-to-the-ball defense flew to the ball, Chubb turned and shoveled it back to Fromm, who threw deep to an unencumbered Terry Godwin. That’s a play that mightn’t have worked against a read-and-react opponent, but Chaney apparently watches game film. On its first snap, his team took a lasting lead. Can’t beat that with a stick.
Then, believe it or not, Chaney got even cuter. On Georgia’s next possession, he deployed Chubb and D’Andre Swift in a two-back set, and not the I-formation with fullback and tailback. This was a two-halfback thing, last seen in the days of Amos Alonzo Stagg. With State again flowing toward Chubb, Swift took the ball and went rumbling. Then Fromm threw to Javon Wims over the middle.
If you’re keeping score at home, that made three Georgia snaps for a total of 87 yards, the shortest gain going for 12. Except for the part where he flipped the ball to his quarterback, the great Chubb hadn’t touched it. Finally, with Grantham not knowing whether to spit or wind his watch, Chubb burst for 16. Five plays later, he was in the end zone. Great play-calling.
The quarterbacking wasn’t bad, either. Fromm’s first incompletion came in the third quarter. His first nine completions were were snagged by seven different receivers. This might be an unfair comparison – the Georgia QB wasn’t facing the Georgia defense – but Fromm, from Houston County High, was clearly more composed than State’s Nick Fitzgerald, from Richmond Hill, Ga. The latter is a junior, the former a freshman.
Indeed, it was Fromm who delivered the clincher. After Deandre Baker intercepted a Fitzgerald pass midway through the third quarter, Fromm waited for tight end Isaac Nauta to shake free deep, which took so long that you wondered if the quarterback had waited too long. Nope. He delivered, absorbed the hit and scurried downfield to congratulate Nauta for making a budding blowout into the thing itself.
Georgia was ahead 28-3, but there was no way this football team from Georgia was blowing a 28-3 lead. What we saw in Sanford Stadium was domination. What we saw was Georgia playing the way Smart has hoped it would play but hadn’t so far. State is a strong bunch. Georgia was stronger. Most everything Georgia tried worked. Almost nothing did for State.
Whenever Fitzgerald would complete a dinky pass, a defender was attached to the receiver’s sternum. Fitzgerald threw 18 times in the first half; only one of his 10 completions gained more than 12 yards. This was State on first-and-10 in the first quarter – minus-6 yards, 2 yards, incompletion, 5 yards, incompletion, no gain. Six snaps, 1 yard. Domination.
Of the Clarke County Bulldogs, State coach Dan Mullen said: “They’ve got a ridiculous amount of talent.” But when haven’t they? Saturday offered a case study: Here’s what happens when talent and effort and coaching dovetail. Here was the comprehensive performance we haven’t seen against a ranked opponent in this stadium since … when? The Blackout night against Auburn in 2007?
Recent history teaches that there’s no time more perilous for Georgia than when it looks really good. Still, it has been a while since these Bulldogs have looked like this. The defense is great. The offense is more than holding up its end. We don’t know when Jacob Eason will be ready to return – he wore his uniform and pads this night and warmed up before the game – but it’s hard to imagine Smart demoting Fromm. This team is on to something.
Yes, we’ve said that many times and been wrong an awful lot. This team might be the exception. This team looks exceptional.