The question for the Georgia Bulldogs was whether last year’s losing season was a trend or an aberration. While there’s much football still to be played, they could not have liked the answers they got Saturday night.
Facing No. 5-ranked Boise State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome in a game they hoped would return them to national relevance, the 19th-ranked Bulldogs instead were manhandled by their visitors from the Mountain West Conference 35-21 before a partisan crowd of 73,614.
“Boise State just beat us tonight,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “They were better than we were and my hat’s off to them. Our players understand that and our players understand that we’ve got to get a lot done before we play next week and open Southeastern Conference play. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We know that everybody’s 0-0 in league play. Our goal is to win the Eastern Division and that’s not changing. So we have to get ready for that.”
It was the Broncos’ first win in history over an SEC team. They were 0-4 previously. But the former WAC member has won its last five against BCS schools.
“It means a lot to us,” said Boise State’s Chris Petersen, who improved to 62-5 as the Broncos’ head coach. “We have tremendous respect for the conference and for UGA. Last time we were down here it wasn’t even a game.”
The Broncos lost 48-13 to Georgia at Sanford Stadium in 2005.
It was Georgia’s ninth loss in its last 11 tries against Top 10 opponents.
While there certainly was no shame in losing to team ranked among the five best teams in America, the fact that it was the Bulldogs’ were coming off a losing season and have been trending downward was more problematic. It was Georgia’s 13th loss in its last 27 games under Richt. No. 12 and SEC East favorite South Carolina comes to Athens next week.
“I don’t think there’s any deflation,” said Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin, who stood up and addressed the team after the game. “We were competitive. We know we’re a good team and we know we can bounce back from this adversity. Boise State is not just a good team. They’re a great team and they deserved to win that game. But SEC starts next week and we know what we’ve got to correct.”
In the end, Georgia just didn’t have an answer for Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore. The Heisman Trophy candidate, who is on pace to become the winningest quarterback in college football history, proved unstoppable for the last two and a half quarters of play. He finished with 261 yards and three touchdowns on 28-of-34 passing and was never sacked.
“He’s a very good player so he knows where to go with the ball and when to go there,” Richt said. “They protected him well, too. He rarely got knocked down. . . . We didn’t get enough pressure on him.”
Twenty-one of Boise’s points came in a 12-minute stretch that started with 48 seconds left in the second quarter and ended with the Broncos ahead 28-7 with three minutes remaining in the third.
Conversely, Georgia was not at all sharp on offense. The Bulldogs tried to execute a newly-implemented, no-huddle offense and struggled to make sight adjustments from the press box. They committed three penalties on their first offensive possession and never seemed to get into sync.
Quarterback Aaron Murray was 16-of-29 passing for 236 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Orson Charles led the Bulldogs with six catches for 106 yards and a touchdown. True freshman wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who started the game at flanker, caught a 51 yard TD pass and finsihed with three for 64 yards.
But the much anticipated debut of tailback Isaiah Crowell was anticlimatic from the beginning. He didn’t start the game — junior Richard Samuel did — and found little to no running room behind Georgia’s porous offensive line. Crowell ended up with 63 yards on 15 carries.
“It was tough, it was tough,” Crowell said. “They really ran to the ball well. But it’ll be all right. It was a good experience for all of us. . . . I was real hyped seeing all the fans and support.”
Because Georgia had elected to receive after winning the pregame coin toss, Boise State got the ball to start the second half. And the Broncos knew what to do with it.
They came flying down the field in a hurry-up offense that left the Bulldogs huffing and puffing. Boise negotiated 76 yards in just seven plays when running back Doug Martin scored on a toss-sweep around left end. The drive consumed less than four minutes.
Georgia had a chance to answer, gaining a first down at the Boise 28 on the ensuing possession. But a false-start penalty, followed by a short run, followed by a dropped pass by Tavarres King and sack of Murray left the Bulldogs facing fourth-and-18. Then Blair Walsh’s 54-yard field goal attempt was wide left.
A 49-yard punt return set up yet another short scoring drive for the Broncos that put them ahead 28-7 with 3:10 left in the third, and the outcome was essentially settled.
Georgia would give its fans brief hope when a penalty nullified its punt back to Boise. On fourth and two, Murray hit Orson Charles for a 36-yard touchdown that cut the Broncos’ lead in half with more than a minute left in the third quarter.
But then the game disintegrated into a scoring match and the Bulldogs were too far behind to make up enough ground.
Georgia falls to 9-2 in season openers under coach Richt. It also lost to Oklahoma State in 2009.
Georgia uncharacteristically chose to receive the opening kickoff after winning the opening coin toss and proceeded to have a horrible first possession. After Boise’s line-drive kickoff forced Brandon Boykin to take a knee for a touchback, the Bulldogs were flagged for three penalties – two false starts by tackle Justin Anderson and a delay of game on fourth down — and lost a total of 10 yards before having to punt.
Neither team registered a first down through the game’s first four possessions. But the Bulldogs finally registered a big one on the second play of their third offensive possession.
Brandon Boykin, lining up in the slot left, took a handoff on a reverse right and took it 80 yards for the Bulldogs’ first score of the season. It was the first time in Boykin’s Bulldog career that the senior cornerback had ever played on offense.
After exchanging punts again, Boise answered the score. Taking over at their own 42, the Broncos drove the 58 yards in just five plays, scoring on Moore’s 17-yard pass to wide open freshman Matt Miller over the middle. Miller got the start because sophomore Gerald Boldewijn was suspended for the game. The PAT tied the game at 7-7 with 2:55 remaining in the first quarter.
Georgia was in position to re-take the lead when it reached the Boise 26 on the ensuing possession. But on fourth-and-1, Richt decided to go for the first down. But Samuel was stopped for a loss by Shea McClellin on the dive at right tackle. McClellin was unblocked on a missed assignment by tight end Orson Charles.
The teams exchanged turnovers shortly thereafter. Boise had driven to Georgia’s 26 in four plays when Branden Smith intercepted a Kellen Moore pass near the 15-yard line. But Georgia gave it right back.
On third-and-three at its own 25, Murray attempted to go deep to true freshman Malcolm Mitchell down the left sideline. Mitchell was tightly covered by defensive back Jerrell Gavins, who had inside position and intercepted the pass.
This time the Broncos made Georgia pay. They drove 51 yards in seven plays to score on Moore’s 12-yard pass to tight end Kyle Eflaw. The Bulldogs had a busted coverage on the play, with just three defenders trying to cover four receivers on Boise’s right. The score came with just 48 seconds remaining in the half.