On a sweltering day in Athens that saw mascot Russ going shirtless at one point and Georgia looking like a team that was missing several starters on defense, the positive fan talk on the way out of Sanford Stadium was Todd Gurley and … well, OK, that was about it.
But there’s nothing wrong with that, because Gurley’s debut as a Georgia Bulldog was definitely a performance to savor, with the true freshman showing those August scrimmage performances were no fluke: 100 yards on eight carries plus a 100-yard kickoff return for a total of three touchdowns. He’s the first UGA freshman to run for 100 yards in his debut game since Danny Ware in 2004.
Fellow freshman Keith Marshall, who had 46 yards on 10 carries, shows a lot of potential as an alternative back to Gurley but looked like more of a work in progress.
Overall, the Dawgs’ offense against the opening game opponent looked about like I expected: Mostly vanilla, explosive at times but inconsistent. Quarterback Aaron Murray, who surprisingly played deep into the fourth quarter, had a decent day statistically, completing 15 of 26 passes for 258 yards, but he got off to a shaky start in the first half, overthrowing several open receivers. Had he been more on target, that embarrassing 24-16 halftime score would have looked a lot more respectable.
Still, it wasn’t the offense that appeared most in need of improvement Saturday. That dubious distinction went to Todd Grantham’s defense, particularly in the first half before they’d had a good chewing out by their coach during the locker room break. Yes, some of Buffalo’s intermittent success throwing the ball was to be expected with most of the starting secondary missing the game, but it was the Bulls’ success on the ground against Georgia’s defense that was more disturbing.
Buffalo’s Branden Oliver is a decent back, so him getting 111 yards on 30 carries wasn’t that unexpected, but with Missouri’s James Franklin coming up next week the Dawgs’ trouble corralling Buffalo QB Alex Zordich, who racked up 83 yards running, had a lot of us concerned. The Dawgs’ much vaunted defensive front definitely didn’t have a particularly sharp day.
Let’s wrap up this initial assessment of the opener back on a positive note, though. While there’s still room for improvement, Georgia’s special teams play was for the most part encouraging. Placekicker Marshall Morgan missed his first field goal attempt, probably a case of nerves, but otherwise looked solid, particularly on kickoffs. Punter Collin Barber showed a strong leg and the Dawgs actually blocked one of those hated rugby-style punts that the Bulls tried. Buffalo did have one long punt return but that was thanks to getting away with one of several blatant holds that went uncalled by the infamous Penn Wagers officiating team.
Overall, a sloppy win that still had enough high points that I didn’t see fans scowling on their way out like they were at halftime.
What did you think of the Dawgs’ home opener?
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg