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August 30, 2008Georgia coaches and players never uttered a word about wanting to make a statement against Georgia Southern, or that they felt the need to justify their placement as college football's No. 1-ranked team.
That being said, Saturday's 45-21 victory was just fine with them.
"I don't really care about that (the rankings) to be honest with you. I wanted us to get our feet wet, I wanted us to see what kind of team we had at least to this point and I wanted us to get a victory. We accomplished what we needed to accomplish today but we do have a long way to go," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Like I was saying the other day, we're just like everybody else. We're kind of feeling our way to see what we have, find out where our weaknesses are and try to improve so the next time we'll play we'll play better. But we played pretty good."
Quarterback Matthew Stafford was certainly impressive. The junior completed 13 of 21 passes for 275 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, while running back Knowshon Moreno rushed just eight times for 59 yards but scored three times.
Moreno give Richt and the sold out Sanford Stadium crowd of 92,746 a near coronary when he pulled up with a cramp during his third touchdown, but that was the extent of the injury and he will play next week against Central Michigan.
That wasn't all.
True to Richt's word, 10 true freshmen saw the field for Georgia, included touted wide receiver A.J. Green who caught two passes for 40 yards and a touchdown, while kicker Blair Walsh converted a 52-yard yard goal in the first quarter with Richard Samuel getting six carries for 34 yards, despite fumbling his first attempt.
Unfortunately, there was one huge piece of bad news that cast a considerable pall over what was otherwise a pleasing win.
Senior defensive tackle Jeff Owens injured his right knee during the just the defense's eighth snap and did not return. Owens, who stayed with the team, was taken to St. Mary's Hospital after the game. Although the Bulldogs won't say officially until results of the MRI are in, but preliminary reports suggest that the big tackle could be lost for the year.
"This is going to affect us a lot because Jeff was our leader," junior defensive tackle Geno Atkins said. "He's the one who got us motivated and got us hyped up for the game. Losing him is huge, but we're going to step up for him and make him proud."
Penalties are also a bit of an issue for the Bulldogs, who were flagged 11 times for 70 yards, including five off-sides calls by the defensive line.
Nevertheless, Georgia Southern coach Chris Hatcher was impressed with what he saw from the Bulldogs.
"Their team speed is just phenomenal. Their receivers are bigger than some of our linemen," Hatcher said. "We had a bunch of guys who will come out and fight, and as the game went along the nerves did go away. But I'll tell you what, Georgia is a great team. You can see why they're ranked No. 1.
Although Georgia jumped out to a 24-0 lead, the thoughts of most Bulldog fans remained with Owens who appeared to plant his leg then take an awkward step before he fell to the turf.
At least the view from the sideline gave the gregarious Owens somewhat of a reason to smile, beginning on the very first drive when Green entered the game and promptly caught a 36-yard pass from Stafford down to the 2-yard line.
Moreno did the rest, sliding in for the game's first touchdown.
Walsh made a subsequent successful debut. After Georgia's next drive stalled, the freshman from Fort Lauderdale came on and drilled a 52-yard field goal with plenty of room to spare to put the Bulldogs up 10-0.
It was also a game of firsts for junior wide receiver Kris Durham, who turned a 30-yard catch from Stafford into a 61-yard touchdown play when he outran the Eagle secondary for his first career score.
Moreno capped Georgia's first-half scoring with a 3-yard touchdown run late in the half, a drive he helped extend when he took a screen pass from Stafford and turned it into a 36-yard gain.
The Bulldogs led 24-0 at the half following Moreno's second touchdown, a 3-yard run with 24 seconds left
Georgia came out firing in the third quarter, with Stafford hitting Mohamed Massaquoi with a 47-yard pass to set up Moreno who cut left and trotted into the end zone to compete a 24-yard touchdown run, despite cramping during the play.
The Bulldogs capped their scoring on a 5-yard pass from Stafford to Demiko Goodman with 6:07 in the third and 4-yard pass from backup Joe Cox to Green at the 7:46 mark in the fourth.
Georgia Southern's first touchdown came with 4:27 in the third on a 1-yard run by Lee Chapple, followed by a 2-yard run by Samair Baker with 11:33 left in the game. The Eagles' final touchdown came on a 34-yard pass from Antonio Henton to Leander Barner late in the game.
"We just wanted to win, come out here and play as good as we can do in Week 1," Stafford said. "We just wanted to get a W and that's what we did."
"We got the victory and that's a great thing for Georgia. If you had told me before the game what the outcome would be regardless of the score I would take it," Richt said. "Even though we made some mistakes there were a lot of good things that happened, too. As coaches, when things don't go the way we want, we get bent out of shape, but the victory is good. We'll correct the mistakes and hopefully do a better job next week."