Nick Chubb runs into the end zone to lift Georgia to a 38-21 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
ATHENS, Ga. --- Following an impressive 45-21 opening victory over No. 16 Clemson on Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium, the No. 12 Georgia Bulldogs are headed into a bye week with No. 9 South Carolina around the corner.
Georgia will travel to Columbia, S.C., next Saturday to take on the Gamecocks, currently coming off a 52-28 loss to No. 21 Texas A&M on Thursday night. With two weeks of preparation before their first Southeastern Conference game, the Bulldogs will have ample time to focus and improve mistakes from Saturday’s game.
“I think we played one game and we’ve got a long way to go,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said on Sunday evening. “The old saying is true—you’re probably never as good as you think after a win and never as bad as you think after a loss. When you watch the film, there’s so much to correct. We’ve got to get better in a lot of areas or we could get exposed. That was just one game. It was a great, emotional day. We were at home. We fed off the crowd and we finished strong. That was good, but it was just a start.”
Finishing strong was indeed the key to Saturday’s game. At halftime, the score was tied at 21-21. In the second half, Georgia outscored Clemson 24-0 and put up 346 total yards to the Tiger’s 15. But after the game, the coordinators commented that no major adjustments were made at halftime.
“I’m not so sure it was a big turnaround,” Richt said. “I think we played hard in the first half and the second half. We did give up fewer big plays on defense [in the second half], obviously. I think we made some calls to minimize some of the man-to-man coverage, just putting those corners on an island.”
In the first half, the Georgia secondary allowed some big plays on three Clemson drives that resulted in touchdowns. The second touchdown, a 30-yard pass from Clemson freshman Deshaun Watson to Charone Peake, came with double coverage on Peake. Richt said that Georgia provided good coverage on the play and called that “a great, great pass” by Watson.
“As the game went on, everybody settled down and began to take better angles and began to tackle better,” Richt said. “I think the communication went better as we went. There were a lot of young guys, a lot of anxiety out there. When they all settled down, they all played better.”
Another key to the dominant second half for Georgia was its deep group of running backs. Junior Todd Gurley (Tarboro, N.C.) led the rushing campaign, totaling 198 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries. The Bulldogs also featured true freshmen tailbacks Nick Chubb (Cedartown, Ga.) and Sony Michel (Plantation, Fla.). Chubb gained 70 yards and a touchdown on just four carries. Michel had 33 yards on six carries and three receptions for 20 yards.
“When you have fresh backs and tired tacklers, you get those kind of results some times,” Richt said. “You’re hoping to be fresh in the end through conditioning, obviously, but also through substitutions.”
Richt also mentioned that junior running back Keith Marshall remains healthy and able to play. Marshall, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament last season but has been practicing, did not take the field much on Saturday and appeared shaken up at times.
“He’s fine. Coming off an injury like that, if there’s any little thing that gets tweaked, sometimes you wonder if something is going on,” Richt said. “We had a couple tests to reassure that he’s fine. We’re good in that regard.”
Richt also credited the offensive line, calling them “resilient” for a solid performance that allowed for big runs and scoring plays.
“We won some and lost some through the first three quarters,” Richt said. “But then in the fourth quarter, we really started to knock some people down and create enough space for those backs to gain enough momentum to break some tackles and go to the house. We had three plays in a row that scored touchdowns. We had the end of one drive, a one-play drive and then another one-play drive. That was pretty impressive.”
With a second-half shutout and solid offensive output, Georgia received national praise following the conclusion of the game on Saturday. Richt is not concerned with that attention, however. He wants to focus on one game at a time.
“We’re really young in so many ways,” Richt said. “There are a few veterans that understand. I don’t know how good we are, quite frankly. We had a good performance. We had one good game. And even in that game, there are things that need to be corrected. So I’m not going to get too excited yet. We’ve got a long way to go.”
The Bulldogs will travel to South Carolina next Saturday, September 13, to take on the Gamecocks. The game is set for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff in front of a nationally televised audience on CBS. The teams last met in 2013 in Sanford Stadium, where Georgia posted a 41-30 victory.