Long after the No. 15 Bulldogs’ 48-12 trouncing of the Hilltoppers had been secured, the competition to be Georgia’s starting quarterback continued and even expanded, moving from a head-to-head matchup to a three-man race.
Senior Joe Tereshinski held onto his starting job but that grasp has to be slipping after an underwhelming performance and the surprise emergence of true freshman Matthew Stafford into the competition.
The depth chart “was never was set in stone, and it’s not set in stone now,” Coach Mark Richt said.
Tereshinski played all but one series of the first half and finished 7-of-17 for 90 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions against a defense that was 100th against the pass in Division I-AA last year. He was victimized by four dropped passes but also missed his target that many times.
“I felt like I went to the right places and made the right checks, I just feel like I need to make it quicker,” he said. “You can never close the door on the competition.
These guys really compete hard day in and day out.”
Designated backup Joe Cox led a touchdown drive in the first half by completing both of his pass attempts, but his first drive of the second half started and ended with a bad decision and an easy interception by Western Kentucky’s Travis Watters.
Then came Stafford, who was welcomed by the biggest cheer of the day from the sellout crowd of 92,746 in Sanford Stadium. Stafford was labeled a co-No. 3 by Richt two weeks ago but worked his way back into the rotation with two good weeks of practice.
Stafford learned he was going to play Saturday morning and would have seen action no matter how well Tereshinski played, Richt said.
“We just said, ‘Let’s go ahead and do it and see what happens,’” Richt said.
Stafford was shaky on his first two possessions, going 0-for-2 on two poorly thrown balls. Richt considered putting fourth-teamer Blake Barnes in at that point “but I wanted to see Matthew one more time,” he said.
He’s glad he did because Stafford led a five-play, 65-yard scoring drive in two minutes, 32 seconds. He was 3-of-3 for 40 yards and had a 13-yard touchdown to tight end Coleman Watson on that possession.
“I felt like I did pretty well,” Stafford said. “I was a little off when I first came in, but I felt like I kind of got into a rhythm. On that last drive, I was playing the way I used to play in high school, just seeing what I see and reacting.”
Tereshinski will remain the starter this week, and Stafford and Cox will compete for the No. 2 job, Richt said. On Saturday, the Bulldogs face a man familiar with quarterback controversies when they travel to Columbia, S.C., to face Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks (1-0).
“I think they’ve got some nice choices,” Western Kentucky coach David Elson said. “That’s a good problem to have. Obviously, you want to make a decision. I’m glad I’ve got the one I’ve got, and I’ll let Coach Richt worry about that situation.”
Despite the shaky quarterback play, the Bulldogs never were threatened by the Hilltoppers (0-1) thanks to defense and special teams.
Junior Mikey Henderson started the scoring with a 67-yard punt return for a touchdown, and Georgia led 31-0 before allowing the Hilltoppers a first down. Not counting an 80-yard touchdown drive on their final possession of the first half, the Hilltoppers gained just 11 yards in the first half.
The Hilltoppers finished with 195 yards of total offense compared to Georgia’s 295.
“You’ve got to be able to come out and move the ball a little bit and get some first downs,” Elson said. “We just couldn’t do that early. Hats off to them and their defense, I just thought they did a hell of a job.”