Bulldogs Beat

Georgia’s freshmen shine against Murray State, including some ‘unbelievable’ performances

UGA’s Kirby Smart talks Dooley, slow start and Stetson Bennett after win over Murray

University of Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart spoke with media after a 63-17 win over the Murray State Racers. Smart talked about the significance of Vince Dooley in his life and the importance of Stetson Bennett getting playing time.
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University of Georgia Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart spoke with media after a 63-17 win over the Murray State Racers. Smart talked about the significance of Vince Dooley in his life and the importance of Stetson Bennett getting playing time.

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It was a day of firsts in Athens on Saturday.

Several freshmen, all highly touted and playing in their home stadium for the first time, had standout performances in a 63-17 victory for the Bulldogs over Murray State.

The first to make his presence known was freshman outside linebacker Nolan Smith. He was credited with half a sack on a play that ended Murray State’s third drive, and he added a solo sack later in the contest to finish with 1.5 sacks in his first game between the hedges.

“He’s got a tremendous motor,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said after the game. “I love the way Nolan plays. If he can continue to grow and play with physicality and match up with bigger people, he’s going to be able to help us.”

When describing Smith, sophomore outside linebacker Azeez Ojulari used the word relentless three times in a span of 12 words. Senior safety J.R. Reed even went as far as to say he expects that from Smith.

The tenacity that he shows in practice wasn’t lost on the defenders in the speed of game action on Saturday, either. Just ask junior defensive back Mark Webb.

“Every time I turned around, I see Nolan Smith on the tackle,” Webb said. “It was unbelievable.”

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Murray State quarterback Preston Rice (5) is sacked by Georgia’s Nolan Smith (4) and Travon Walker (44) in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Athens, Ga. John Bazemore AP

On offense, a pair of freshmen at both running back and receiver turned heads in their first action in Athens.

In fact, receiver George Pickens turned every head in the stadium with his second collegiate catch. On a deep pass from quarterback Jake Fromm, Pickens layed out and snagged the ball before tumbling over with a 43-yard reception.

Fromm said Pickens makes plays like that all the time in practice, and it’s now starting to translate into games. For a team that entered the season with plenty of questions at receiver, Pickens’ potential emergence is promising.

“You know how good we can run the ball,” backup quarterback Stetson Bennett IV said. “We keep hitting big plays like that, it’s going to be really hard to stop us.”

Pickens ended up leading the Bulldogs with four catches for 78 yards, including his first touchdown on a 15-yard strike from Fromm.

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Georgia wide receiver George Pickens (1) catches a pass from quarterback Jake Fromm in the end zone for a touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game against Murray State, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Athens, Ga. Joshua L. Jones AP

Freshman Dominick Blaylock also got in on the fun, ending his Classic City debut with three catches for 48 yards including his first touchdown on a 25-yard swing pass from Bennett.

At running back, four-star freshman Kenny McIntosh ran for 61 yards on nine carries. Most of it came as the Bulldogs tried to grind the clock out in the second half, but Bennett still knows the positives McIntosh can take from those carries.

“He ran down people’s throat,” Bennett said. “This is a college football game, this is the first one he’s been in. He ran it down their throat, so he’s going to take that and use it to his advantage.”

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Georgia wide receiver Dominick Blaylock (8) drives into the end zone for a touchdown against Murray State in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Athens, Ga. Joshua L. Jones AP

Then, there was Zeus.

The top-rated running back recruit in the Class of 2018, Zamir White missed all of last season with a torn ACL. The Bulldog fans had to wait a long time to see him in Athens, and when he checked in for the first time cries of “Zeus!” rang around the stadium.

In a form befitting of his nickname, White didn’t disappoint.

He finished with eight carries and 72 yards, the most of any Bulldog back. He also scored his first touchdown on a three-yard plunge into the end zone.

“‘I finally scored, man, I finally scored!’” junior running back D’Andre Swift recalled White saying when he got to the sideline after his first score. “It was like, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a lot more to come too.’”

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Georgia wide receiver George Pickens (1) celebrates with his teammates after scoring a touchdown against Murray State during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Athens, Ga. Joshua L. Jones AP

After the game, Smart said it was the little things the freshmen did that impressed him the most. For Pickens, that was blocking a safety to spring Swift on a long run. For White, that came in the form of him stepping in front of a blitzing linebacker and stopping him dead in his tracks.

“Go back and watch that one, and that’s what being a running back’s about,” Smart said.

These freshmen still have a long way to go and much better competition to play against. But if they can continue to improve and play the way they did on Saturday, it will go a long way in giving Georgia the depth it needs to compete for a national title.

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