ATHENS – Georgia’s defense was without five front-line players Saturday — four suspended and one injured — and the rest of the unit didn’t seem completely into the game either.
Georgia, which ranked No. 5 in the nation in total defense last season, allowed Buffalo, No. 80 in total offense last season, first-half scoring drives of 75, 94 and 47 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown drive of 75 yards. The Bulls finished the day with 347 yards total offense, considerably more than Georgia’s defense allowed per game last season (277.2).
The absences of safety Bacarri Rambo, cornerbacks Sanders Commings and Malcolm Mitchell and linebackers Alec Ogletree and Chase Vasser undoubtedly contributed to the defensive doldrums in what nevertheless turned out to be a 45-23 Georgia victory. (Mitchell was out because of a sprained ankle, the others because of suspensions.) Even so, the defense fell well short of expectations against a Mid-American Conference team that went 3-9 last season.
“Come out with a little bit more intensity, and I think we’ll be a lot better,” Georgia defensive end Abry Jones said. “I guess everyone’s expectations were that it would be a little bit of a cakewalk, but we’ll definitely look back on this game and say the season is not going to be easy. So we’ve got to keep working.”
On Buffalo’s first scoring drive, Georgia failed to get stops on third-and-4, third-and-5 and third-and-6, enabling the Bulls to put together an 11-play march culminated by 16-yard touchdown pass with about five minutes left in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Buffalo tailback Branden Oliver launched another touchdown drive by breaking free for 36 yards on third-and-3 from the Bulls’ 13-yard line. And as the first half concluded, the Bulls moved from the Georgia 48 to the 1 before settling for a field goal that trimmed the Bulldogs’ lead to 24-16.
“There were too many inconsistencies that led to explosive plays,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said.
By halftime, Buffalo had 243 yards offense (147 rushing, including 89 by Oliver). In the second half, Georgia’s defense was much better, stifling the Bulls until they assembled another long touchdown drive on their final possession of the game.
“We didn’t start [well], but we came in at the half and made adjustments and played a lot better,” UGA defensive end Cornelius Washington said.
Said Jones: “We looked each other in the eyes at halftime and said, ‘This is not how we play.’”
Grantham was encouraged by the second-half adjustments and had no interest in weighing the effect of the absent players on the overall performance.
“I ain’t blaming none of that because that is what it is,” Grantham said.
THE AJC’S COMPLETE COVERAGE OF SATURDAY’S GAME