No. 4 Georgia leads No. 7 Auburn 24-3 at halftime in the home opener at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Georgia. Here are some takeaways from The Red & Black:
Believing in Bennett
Head coach Kirby Smart stated Monday that redshirt sophomore quarterback JT Daniels would be cleared for Saturday’s game against No. 7 Auburn — and he was — but junior Stetson Bennett was the one under center throughout the first half.
Bennett’s opening drive as starter didn’t pan out how he had hoped, ending after just three plays and two-straight incomplete passes. The Bulldogs’ second possession began at the Auburn 43-yard line and Bennett took advantage, converting twice on third down with passes of 17 and 10 yards leading to a 2-yard touchdown run by running back Zamir White for the game’s first touchdown.
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken opened up Georgia’s third offensive drive with five-straight productive runs but then flipped the script with five-straight passes by Bennett, as the offense stalled near the end zone resulting in a field goal to increase the lead to 10.
Bennett routinely diced up Auburn’s defense on third down, converting for the first down on six of nine opportunities. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Kearis Jackson and Bennett developed a strong connection the entire half, as Jackson hauled in seven passes for 104 yards.
Defensive dominance continues
Tonight’s game was expected to be a low-scoring, defensive affair, and at least for the Bulldogs, it was. Georgia’s defense began the night by forcing Auburn into two-straight three-and-outs, and kept the Tigers out of the end zone in the opening half for the second-straight season. Auburn quarterback Bo Nix finished 7 of 15 through the air for 54 yards with only 12 yards on the ground.
Georgia allowed just one third-down conversion the entire half as Auburn’s offensive line struggled. One member of Auburn’s starting offensive line entered this season with starting experience for the Tigers, and its inexperience was routinely evident. But even when Nix was able to escape pressure, he was clearly out of sorts and had trouble finding his targets downfield.
Auburn’s final drive of the half was the only one resulting in points. Two penalties on Georgia were a large reason for that, as cornerback Tyson Campbell was called for pass interference and safety Richard LeCounte was ejected for targeting on a costly third-and-13.
The Tigers’ trio wide receiver corps of Seth Williams, Eli Stove and Anthony Schwartz were mostly kept in wraps, combining for just 20 yards receiving. The Tigers finished with a lowly 81 yards of offense.
Running game comes alive
The running back duo of White and James Cook rushed for just 97 yards and just one touchdown against Arkansas in the season opener, but needed only two quarters to eclipse that in with 117 yards against Auburn.
White led all rushers with 17 carries for 76 yards and two touchdowns, bullying his way through Auburn defenders effortlessly. Cook carried five times for 41 yards before leaving midway through the second quarter with an apparent upper-body injury.
White’s 17 carries are the second-most of his career, coming one shy of the 18 he received in the Sugar Bowl against Baylor.