On Georgia’s first play from scrimmage, the anticipation amongst the crowd momentarily faded.
Nick Chubb was tackled for a 3-yard loss, and the Bulldogs’ supposedly-potent rushing attack didn’t get off to the start it had hoped. And traction wasn’t immediately gained as on Georgia’s first two possessions, it failed to collect a net yard on three carries.
But the Bulldogs’ analogy of “chopping wood” came true shortly thereafter.
Sony Michel finally found a hole on the left side of his offensive line and picked up 10 yards. Georgia went through another period of stalling briefly, but it served as a catalyst. A few carries later, the senior broke free for a 44-yard burst.
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“Things aren’t going to always explode in the beginning,” Michel said. “Sometimes you have to grind for it. We had to respect that they had a good defense and pound the football.”
Georgia credits the Appalachian State’s defensive line for its agility, which served to be plausible as the Bulldogs went into the locker room with 99 rushing yards.
But in the second half, the Bulldogs built upon that and introduced some new faces into the backfield. Georgia finished with 221 yards and three touchdowns – all of which came within the 10-yard line -- on the ground in its 31-10 season-opening win over its mid-major foe.
Georgia ran the ball on 44 of its 64 total plays; 10 of which came from reserves D’Andre Swift and Brian Herrien.
“I think they just got a little tired,” Smart said. “They have a great defensive front, and there’s not a whole lot different that we did. It’s tough to run the ball at times, I don’t care who you are. We stayed with it, we were committed to it. It paid off in the second half a little bit.”
Added Chubb: “If there’s a hole, there’s a play to make.”
Chubb was the team’s leading rusher with 96 yards. Michel followed shortly behind with 87.
It wasn’t only the veteran duo that Smart displayed pleasure with, however. Swift, one of many true freshmen to play in Saturday’s win, made his head coach “proud” by blocking and selflessly creating running lanes for his teammates.
“That’s the plan, to share the ball and share the load,” Chubb said. “I enjoyed going out there and competing with him as a teammate, but also beating up on other teams.”
Despite the Bulldogs showing tangible offensive success, Smart was hesitant to show satisfaction with his unit – especially given the slow start.
Georgia finished off its victory with 368 offensive yards, even after backup quarterback Jake Fromm was quickly forced into crucial action as a true freshman. The next test comes against non-conference power Notre Dame on Sept. 9.
“We’re going to get more physical teams up front and will have to grind them down,” Smart said. “We have to be able to throw the ball, that’s the bottom line and Fromm can do that.”
Where it did find success, Georgia was sure to credit its offensive line after it had to fill three vacancies due to graduation. The Bulldogs rotated at its guard spots with Dyshon Sims, Kendall Baker and Pat Allen.
As Georgia had success in the running game offensively, the same was true on the other side. The Bulldogs were tasked with facing a mobile quarterback in Taylor Lamb and an “SEC-caliber back” in Jalin Moore.
Appalachian State finished with 136 rushing yards as a unit – which included a couple of bigger plays from Lamb. Georgia defensive tackle Trenton Thompson praised the work of his position coach Tray Scott as he kept the same core message within his unit, despite rotating a number of players.
But as is the case on offense, it will get harder.
“Appalachian State’s offensive line was overmatched,” Smart said. “We had bigger players than they did up front, but that’s not the best thing they do. We’ll play a lot better offensive lines that one. Our defense should dominate those guys and they did.”