Northwestern State, a I-AA power from Louisiana, served as little more than a sparring partner for a much-criticized Georgia offense hungry for redemption. Setting a school record with five touchdowns passing, Georgia put a decisive end to its offensive slump by beating the Demons 45-7.
David Greene passed for 346 yards and four touchdowns and backup Cory Phillips added a fifth scoring pass as Georgia led 31-0 at halftime and kept throwing in the second half. "(Northwestern State) brought more blitzes than they had ever shown before,'' said Georgia coach Mark Richt. "To run the ball into the type of things they were doing would have made for a long day. We decided to spread it out with four wide receivers. Greene executed it pretty well. I thought we got better.''
Said Greene: "They were betting they could get to me before I could get the ball off.'' Greene was sacked twice, but most of the time Northwestern State's defense lost its bet. For a Georgia team averaging only 250 yards per game - 111th in the nation - the 536-yard explosion was much-needed.
Fred Gibson (eight catches for 134 yards) recorded his second straight game with more than 100 yards receiving and already has moved into a share of the school's career record with seven 100-yard games.
Terrence Edwards added six catches for 76 yards, including touchdown catches of 12 and 3 yards from Greene. Greene also threw touchdown passes to Reggie Brown and fullback J.T. Wall, and Michael Johnson caught a scoring pass from Phillips in the fourth quarter. Georgia (3-0 overall, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) also scored on a blocked punt, continuing its trend of big plays from its special teams.
Still, there was room for improvement. There were three turnovers: Gibson fumbled twice, losing one. Greene threw an interception when he forced the ball into tight coverage. Georgia drew six penalties, including one that negated an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown by Damien Gary.
The starting defense came out flat in the third quarter and gave up an 80-yard touchdown drive to the Demons (3-1). Still, the Bulldogs had heard so many negative reviews, especially on offense, from their opening wins over Clemson and South Carolina that a confidence-builder was needed.
There was more good than bad in the early reviews Saturday. "I was pleased we got better,'' Richt said. "I believe we improved. Execution has been our problem with a lot of unforced errors. I don't think we had a rash of missed assignments.''
The running game was overshadowed by the air show, but in limited work Musa Smith and his backups were impressive. Smith, who had been held without a run longer than 14 yards the first two games, had runs of 32 and 24 yards while finishing with eight carries for 70 yards.
Especially encouraging was the play of freshman tailback Tyson Browning, who added six carries for 53 yards. Browning and Smith each averaged 8.8 yards per carry, and Tony Milton added four carries for 24 yards.
Said Greene: "It felt good to play like we can. We gained some momentum and it carried over. We just came out ready today.'' Greene disregarded the suggestion he was more productive because the two-quarterback system with D.J. Shockley has been shelved while Shockley misses four to six weeks with a broken foot. "I haven't been looking over my shoulder (waiting to be pulled in favor of Shockley),'' Greene said. "That is just something somebody else can say.''
Georgia plays host to New Mexico State next Saturday at 1 p.m. and then plays back-to-back games against Alabama and Tennessee. Next week's game provides another opportunity for fine-tuning. Thanks to Saturday's breakout game, the Bulldogs don't have to prove they have an explosive offense. They just have to show it again.
"This is just a big confidence boost for us right now,'' said Edwards. "If our offensive line blocks, if our receivers catch the ball and our running backs run, we can do this every week.''
GEORGIA 45, NORTHWESTERN STATE 7
Georgia lost the second of two fumbles by Fred Gibson and an interception thrown by David Greene but still led 14-0 thanks to a touchdown pass to Reggie Brown and a blocked punt by Sean Jones that set up a scoring return by Bruce Thornton.
Georgia 7, Northwestern State 0 Georgia touchdown: Reggie Brown 5 pass from David Greene (Billy Bennett kick), 11:47; 7 plays, 44 yards, 1:24 drive. Key play: Brown found openings over the middle for a 20-yard reception to the 11 and again on the touchdown on a third-and-4 play from the 5. Brown was a step ahead of Northwestern State safety Wade Leone on the touchdown pass.
Georgia 14, Northwestern State 0 Georgia touchdown: Bruce Thornton 12 return of blocked punt (Bennett kick), 10:10. Key play: While Northwestern State punter Chris Stegall needed an extra step after fielding a high snap, Sean Jones broke through the line and blocked the punt. Thornton needed two tries to scoop up the loose ball but then was able to score easily.
Georgia had a touchdown on a punt return by Damien Gary negated by a holding penalty, but otherwise played a cleaner quarter. Coaches went deep on the bench early, especially on defense. At least five true freshmen were in the game on defense on one possession in the quarter.
Georgia 21, Northwestern State 0 Georgia touchdown: J.T. Wall 5 pass from Greene (Bennett kick), 13:49; 6 plays, 37 yards, 1:38 drive. Key play: On third and eight from the 35, Gibson reached high to pull down a pass for 23 yards to the 12, putting him over 100 yards receiving for the game.
Georgia 24, Northwestern State 0 Georgia field goal: Bennett 47 kick, 7:50; 10 plays, 40 yards, 2:34 drive. Key plays: Greene completed passes of 16 and 12 yards to Terrence Edwards.
Georgia 31, Northwestern State 0 Georgia touchdown: Edwards 12 pass from Greene (Bennett kick), :17; 9 plays, 62 yards, 1:10 drive. Key plays: Greene completed six passes while successfully operating the two-minute offense. Edwards caught the final two passes, beating Goldsmith on the scoring pass.
THIRD QUARTER Northwestern State opened the half with an 80-yard touchdown drive against Georgia's starting defense. The Bulldogs answered quickly with their own long drive, capped by Greene's fourth touchdown pass of the day.
Georgia 31, Northwestern State 7 Northwestern State touchdown: Freddie Harrison 11 pass from Kevin Magee (Tommy Hebert kick), 10:24. 9 plays, 80 yards, 4:36 drive. Key plays: Cory Bell caught a 33-yard pass to the Georgia 47. On third and nine from the 11, Magee had good time and found Harrison, his second option on the play, a step ahead of cornerback Decory Bryant.
Georgia 38, Northwestern State 7 Georgia touchdown: Edwards 3 pass from Greene (Bennett kick), 6:55; 10 plays, 77 yards, 3:29 drive. Key plays: Musa Smith ran for 24 yards on a draw play and, on third and 25 from the 29, gained 26 yards on a screen pass from Greene.
Will Thompson helped stop the Demons on back-to-back plays at the Georgia 3. On fourth and 2 from the 3, Thompson sacked Magee to turn the ball over to Georgia. Backup quarterback Cory Phillips then directed an 83-yard touchdown drive.
Georgia 45, Northwestern State 7 Georgia touchdown: Michael Johnson 11 pass from Cory Phillips (Bennett kick), 5:54; 7 plays, 83 yards, 2:59 drive. Key plays: Tyson Browning, a freshman, opened the possession with a run for 13 yards and added a run for 16 yards later in the drive.
- Compiled by Charles Odum
Charles Odum is the beat writer for Dawg Post in Athens. He has over 20 years of experience covering Georgia football. He can be reached here: CEOdum@aol.com
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