Mississippi State came into Athens this evening ranked #16 in the country. The maroon Bulldogs throttled LSU 37-7 and were going to be a challenge for the Classic City Canines. Nick Fitzgerald was going to be a playmaker, and Jeffrey Simmons was going to give the Bulldog offensive line all they could handle.
It was going to be the day that Mississippi State announced its claim to the title of SEC West challenger to the Crimson Tide.
Yeah. About that.
Instead it was Georgia who looked the part of the ascendent champion, throttling the Bizarro Bulldogs 31-3.
There are still questions about this Bulldog team. But let's start with the things we do know. For one, UGA is fielding as good a defense as it has in five years. A championship level defense. Mississippi State came into the evening averaging 47.7 points per game. Sure, it wasn't murderer's row that they rang up those numbers against. But when you are held 44 points below your season average it's safe to say you ran into something you haven't seen before.
Fitzgerald, who entered to the tune of Dak Prescott comparisons, exited looking a lot more like Chris Relf. Fitzgerald was 14 of 29 passing for 83 yards, and he surrendered two second half interceptions that effectively spelled the end for the Fightin' Mullens.
The return of veteran cornerback Malkom Parrish from a broken foot spurred the Georgia secondary toward its best performance of the season, smothering the maroon receivers all night. Deandre Baker and JR Reed came up big in coverage again and again, with Baker tallying 7 tackles, breaking up 2 passes, and returning an interception that set up a Georgia touchdown.
Reed had a monster night, leading all Georgia defenders with 10 tackles. When you've got a really good defense, you're a match for anyone. When your good defense starts taking the ball away and setting your offense up with short fields, it starts getting hard to lose football games.
We also know that if you give Jake Fromm a solid gameplan and a lead he will game manager the heck out of you, even as a Bullpup. Fromm came out firing on all cylinders, connecting on each of his first eight passes for 160 yards. He finished the night 9 of 12 for 201 yards and 2 touchdowns, a brutally efficient evening of football.
At this point it is difficult to think of this as anything other than Jake Fromm's football team, even though it was clear four weeks ago why Jacob Eason was the one starting. The decision regarding how to handle things when Eason becomes game-ready again is one I'm glad i do not have to make. Honestly, if Fromm is effective at Tennessee and Georgia wins convincingly how do you sit him at this point? This is the most first world of football problems.
Regardless of who is under center, we know he'll be standing in front of a stable of weaponized tailbacks. As expected, Jim Chaney came out firing, but once staked to a lead let his offensive line and bruising tailbacks bludgeon MSU and burn clock.
Offensive game plans have a tendency to look better when they work, and that may have been the case to some extent tonight. We once again saw the Wild Dawg, and there was once again no real passing threat associated with it. But when Nick Chubb is taking the snap and blasting untouched to a 28 yard touchdown no one really cares.
Chubb was but one of a phalanx of UGA backs who churned out 203 rushing yards on 42 carries, winning the time of possession battle and giving SEC opponents a preview of post-game ice baths to come. The big man from Cedartown led all Bulldog rushers with 81 yards on 15 carries. D'Andre Swift chipped in 69 energetic yards on 10 carries.
Terry Godwin continued his special season, reeling in 2 catches for 80 yards, principally the 59 yard touchdown on the first play of the game that set the tone and kept the Mississippi State defense off balance from the word go. The tight ends were a part of the gameplan as well, with Isaac Nauta carching a sweet touchdown pass and Jackson Harris getting in the act, too.
And while we’re waiting to find out how seriously Solomon Kindley’s injury might be, we know that this Bulldog offensive line really could be pretty good. Mississippi State brought to town the best defensive front the Bulldogs have faced all season. That front was pushed around consistently most of the night. A pair of Isaiah Wynn penalties were really about the only bad mark on their ledger. Can they do that consistently? Well, that is not among the things we know yet.
The Bulldogs now head to Knoxville for a showdown with the Tennessee Volunteers, most recently seen holding on in the final minute against the UMass Minutemen for a 17-13 win. Georgia will be heavily favored in this one. The Vols will have their backs against the wall. Tennessee would be all but eliminated from the SEC East race by losses to both Florida and Georgia, and the Creamsicle Kids will give everything they've got. We've seen how Kirby Smart's squad responds to a lack of respect. How will they respond to a much harder challenge: prosperity? Until later . . .