The No. 7 Bulldogs smothered Mississippi State 23-10 here in front of 49,903 fans at Scott Field to remain undefeated.The fans who braved the tornado warnings and occasional downpours throughout the day stayed dry for almost a full three quarters. By the time the rains came back, Georgia (4-0, 2-0 SEC) had a 20-3 lead and most of the State fans were heading for the exits.
After Mississippi State (2-2, 0-2) gained 58 yards and kicked a field goal to take a 3-0 lead on its first drive, Georgia allowed the home Bulldogs just 63 more yards and three first downs during the next 41 minutes and 10 seconds.
“The defense was outstanding,” said tight end Leanord Pope, who had 55 receiving yards and one touchdown. “Those guys pounded them.”
The key for Georgia all night was pressure. It sacked Mississippi State quarterback Omarr Conner five times and rarely let him set his feet or find any rhythm.
“We were changing up certain things,” defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said. “We wanted to get pressure on that guy. He’s a good athlete you know.”
Quentin Moses had two sacks, both in the second quarter. Safety Greg Blue had 11 tackles and a fourth quarter interception.
“We just came out and tried to get after them,” Moses said. “Coach (Martinez) made some great calls. I guess he was more aggressive in his play-calling.”
Georgia essentially finished its preseason with the victory. The Bulldogs were expected to come through this stretch unblemished. The real story of their season will be told in the next four games, beginning with an Oct. 8 game at Tennessee and ending with the Oct. 29 game against Florida in Jacksonville.
“We’re just happy to come out of here with a win and have an off week to get ready for Tennessee,” defensive tackle Kedric Golston said.
Due to that open date, the Bulldogs will have two weeks to prepare for the test. While the defense doesn’t need it, the offense does. Georgia rolled up 406 yards but got just 16 points out of six trips inside Mississippi State’s 21-yard line.
“A championship offense needs to be able to stick the ball in the when it gets in the red zone,” said fullback Brannan Southerland, who fumbled on Mississippi State’s 10-yard line in the third quarter.
Richt blamed the red zone woes on penalites, inaccurate passing and Southerland’s turnover.
“The good news is all those things are correctable,” he said. “I think if we can keep from shooting ourselves in the foot, we can be a pretty special offense. We’re pretty good right now, but we can be a lot better than that.”
Quarterback D.J. Shockley, playing through wind gusts of up to 20 mph, missed several open receivers but ended up with career highs in completions (21), attempts (36) and yards (312).
“If you look at it like this guy is a first-year starter, you say, ‘That guys is doing great,’” Richt said. “I’d rather look at it that way. It was his first start in a hostile environment, and he did pretty darn good.”
Brandon Coutu, who hit the third-longest field goal in Georgia history ast week (a 58-yarder), missed from 41 and then 53 yards in the first half against Mississippi State.
Danny Ware was Georgia’s leading rusher with 42 yards, and the Bulldogs had only 94 rushing yards overall on 34 carries.
“They’re going to keep you from running the ball well just by their alignment,” Richt said.
Both of Georgia’s first half scores were embarrassments for Mississippi State. The first came when Ware, lined up in the slot receiver formation, ended up uncovered in the end zone in the first quarter. An easy toss from Shockley gave Georgia a 28-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead with 8:49 left in the first quarter.
Georgia extended its lead to 14-3 with 5:11 left in the second quarter when 248-pound tight end Pope caught a pass at the 5-yard line and drug 180-pound defensive back Demario Bobo into the end zone. Bobo held onto Pope all the way but none of his teammates ever showed up to help.
Coutu finally connected on a field goal on the Bulldogs’ first possession of the second half, hitting a 27-yarder to give Georgia a 17-3 lead with 12:40 left quarter.
On Mississippi State’s ensuing possession, Conner found Will Prosser for a short gain, but Prosser fumbled while being hit by Moses and safety Greg Blue. Cornerback Paul Oliver recovered at Mississippi State’s 40-yard line.