FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Overcoming early offensive struggles and a halftime deficit, the fourth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (1-0, 1-0 SEC) opened the 2020 season with a 37-10 victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks (0-1, 0-1 SEC) Saturday afternoon before 16,500 spectators at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium and an SEC Network audience.
With the victory, Georgia improved to 97-27-3 all-time in season openers, including a 5-0 mark under head coach Kirby Smart. Wearing throwback uniforms honoring the 1980 national championship team, the Bulldogs increased its series advantage over the Razorbacks to an 11-4 margin.
“We didn’t execute well early, and when we did, we had penalties,” said Smart. “I thought the defense played with a lot of heart, but we’re not going to beat many football teams playing like we played.”
Junior quarterback Stetson Bennett, who entered the game in the second quarter, finished 20-for-29 with 211 yards and two touchdowns. On the ground, junior tailback Zamir White posted 71 yards rushing on 13 attempts and one touchdown, while redshirt sophomore wide receiver Kearis Jackson tallied 62 yards on six receptions. Overall, the Georgia offense finished with 387 yards.
“(Stetson) brings a lot of reps,” said Smart. “Here’s a kid who took every single rep as a No. 2 last year. He understands what defenses are trying to do to him. He knows where to hurt them. He used a lot of the tools around him, made good decisions.”
On the defensive front, sophomore linebacker Nakobe Dean led with seven tackles, followed by sophomore safety Lewis Cine and sophomore linebacker Nolan Smith with six apiece. Senior safety Richard LeCounte hauled in two interceptions for the second-consecutive game, increasing his career total to a team-leading seven.
Junior punter Jake Camarda led a strong showing by the Georgia special teams with seven punts for 349 yards, averaging 49.9 yards per kick with a long of 63. Additionally, the Bulldogs’ return game netted 148 yards, including 91 from sophomore kick returner Kenny McIntosh.
Redshirt freshman quarterback D’Wan Mathis started the game for the Bulldogs, leading them into Razorback territory on the opening drive before settling for a Camarda punt. Starting at its own 11-yard line, Arkansas crossed midfield on a 28-yard completion, setting itself up for a 49-yard touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks to Treylon Burks with 8:48 remaining in the opening period.
Georgia’s offense continued to labor in the early going, but the Bulldogs’ defense picked up from where it left off last season as LeCounte picked off Franks and returned it 38 yards to the Arkansas 15. The momentum would only last for three plays though as Mathis was also intercepted by Montaric Brown at the 5-yard line, but the Razorbacks were unable to capitalize on the quick turnover themselves.
Early in the second quarter, the defense once again showed its might as senior cornerback Mark Webb snuffed out an Arkansas double-reverse and forced the ball out of the end zone for a safety, narrowing the score to 7-2 at the 14:30 mark. On the ensuing kickoff, McIntosh’s 48-yard return set up the Bulldogs in Razorback territory. But once again, the offense was unable to get going as Mathis mishandled the snap and was tackled for a 17-yard loss, necessitating another punt.
Bennett entered for Georgia on the following possession and guided the Bulldogs down the field, but the drive was stifled near in the red zone when White was stopped on fourth-and-1. Later in the quarter, the Bulldogs embarked on their most successful drive of the half as they swiftly moved down the field with on Bennett completions, resulting in redshirt sophomore place kicker Jack Podlesny’s 38-yard field goal at the end of the half. Podlesny’s first career score capped off an 8-play, 80-yard drive lasting just one minute.
On the opening drive of the second half, the offensive malaise appeared to carry over as junior tailback James Cook fumbled a third-down completion at the Arkansas 42-yard line. Cook’s turnover would lead to 25-yard field goal by A.J. Reed, but that would prove to be the final Arkansas score of the contest.
McIntosh again set up Georgia in excellent field position with a 43-yard return, bolstered two plays later by a 20-yard rush from White. After a fumbled snap lost 12 yards, Bennett found sophomore wideout George Pickens for a 19-yard catch-and-run touchdown, giving Georgia its first lead of the afternoon. Bennett then stretched for the pylon on the two-point conversion, completing the 11-play, 43-yard sequence.
Georgia’s special teams success continued on the following drive as White blocked Arkansas’ punt, leading to a 4-play, 24-yard drive capped off by a 7-yard touchdown toss from Bennett to redshirt sophomore tight end John FitzPatrick. Two plays later, junior cornerback Eric Stokes notched his second career touchdown with a 30-yard pick six off Franks, extending the lead to 27-10. The Bulldogs’ secondary continued its phenomenal performance as LeCounte made a leaping interception of Treylon Burks’ trick play pass at the Georgia 19-yard line.
Entering the fourth quarter, Bennett’s direction continued the offensive turnaround, including a 23-yard completion to junior wide receiver Matt Landers on third-and-10. White closed the Bulldogs’ fourth-consecutive scoring drive with a 6-yard touchdown run, finishing off a 13-play, 81-yard series. Mathis would return for the Bulldogs’ final two possessions, with the latter drive wrapping up on a 38-yard Podlesny field goal.
Georgia will play host to No. 8 Auburn (1-0, 1-0 SEC) next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium. The latest edition of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry will be broadcast on ESPN and will be the first playing of the game outside of November since 1936.