By Tim Gardner
ATHENS, Ga. – A solid debut from true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, steady performances by running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and a stingy defense led nationally15th-ranked Georgia to a 31-10 win over Appalachian State Saturday night.
The game was played before a near-capacity crowd of 92,746 at Sanford Stadium. It was the season-opener for both teams.
Fromm finished with an efficient 10-of-15 passing for 143 yards and one touchdown. Seniors Chubb and Michel combined for 183 yards and three touchdowns. The Bulldogs were equally impressive defensively, holding the Mountaineers to only 94 yards in the second half and 284 for the game. The veteran Georgia defense, which has ten of eleven starters returning from 2016, also held Appalachian State scoreless and without a trip inside the Red Zone in the first three quarters.
The Mountaineers’ small defensive line was strong early but appeared to wear down, allowing touchdowns on three consecutive drives. Appalachian State, the preseason pick to win the Sun Belt Conference, couldn’t dent the Georgia defense until late in the game.
Head coach Scott Satterfield remarked about how his Appalachian State team can improve from this game.
“There are certainly a lot of things we can correct and fix, we played a lot of young players, started three true freshmen on offense,” Satterfield said. “This is their first college game; so to come in this environment, I thought they played well. So we’ve got a lot to build off of. Georgia has such great depth along their front seven, and they played well up front and their secondary and linebackers did too. Georgia’s a really good team. They’ll have a great year, so hopefully we will too as we move on.”
With 6:30 remaining in the first quarter, Appalachian State defensive tackle Myquon Stout drew a personal foul penalty when he hit Georgia’s starting quarterback Jason Eason late out of bounds. Eason came out of the game with a knee injury and did not return. Fromm then took over Georgia’s offense. The rookie looked sharp, leading Georgia on a 39-yard scoring drive on the next possession. It was capped by Chubb’s 1-yard touchdown run with 39 seconds left in the opening period. Rodrigo Blankenship kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
Fromm and wide receiver Javon Wims then connected on a heave to the end zone, resulting in a 34-yard touchdown pass with 10:40 remaining in the second quarter. The scoring drive covered 86 yards. Blankenship added the extra point for a 14-0 lead.
A 44-yard run by Michel helped set up the touchdown.
Wims finished with three catches for 81 yards.
Georgia increased its cushion to 21-0 following Michel’s 6-yard touchdown plunge and Blankenship’s PAT at the 6:56 mark of the second quarter.
Georgia’s first three touchdown drives took only four plays each.
Satterfield added that the play of Fromm, Chubb and Michel especially were keys to Georgia’s win, commenting: “We prepared for their offense (with Eason playing), and they still ran the same offense (with Fromm). Eason was a little shaky to start the game, and our defense was playing really well. Fromm comes in, and he hits the first two balls (he throws), and they get first downs. They get a little bit of momentum, and Fromm played well the rest of the game. They also leaned on their running backs, and they ended up wearing us down and having a really good second half.”
The balanced trend continued in the third period as the Bulldogs scored on their first two offensive possessions. Blankenship kicked a 23-yard field goal at the 6:19 mark after a 13-play; 60 yard drive to provide a 24-0 lead. Then Chubb ran eight yards for a touchdown to end an 8-play, 66-yard drive. Blakenship tacked on the extra point, and Georgia led 31-0.
Two interceptions thrown on consecutive possessions by Georgia’s third string quarterback Brice Ramsey late in the fourth quarter helped the Mountaineers avoid a shutout, set up all of their points and kept the game from ending in a lopsided rout.
Mountaineers’ safety Desmond Franklin made the first interception at the Georgia 47-yard line and returned the ball 26 yards to the Bulldogs’ 21. Three plays later, quarterback Taylor Lamb ran 20 yards for a touchdown with 5:41 remaining. Michael Rubino kicked the point-after, making the score 31-7.
Lamb, who as a kid played on the Georgia practice fields when his grandfather, Ray Lamb, was Georgia’s coordinator of high school football relations, couldn’t pull off a win in his return to Athens. Taylor Lamb, the son of Mercer University head coach Bobby Lamb, completed 18 of 27 passes for 128 yards and ran for a team-best 66 yards.
Inside linebacker Jordan Fehr picked off the second Ramsey pass at the Appalachian State 41-yard line with 1:49 left. Seven plays later, and with 26 seconds remaining, Rubino kicked a 43-yard field goal for the final tally.
Georgia did not force any turnovers.
Strong safety A.J. Howard led the Mountaineers in tackles with eleven (4 solos; 7 assists).
Chubb ran for 96 yards on 15 carries, while Michel had 16 rushes for 87 yards. Defensive tackle Trenton Thompson and linebacker Roquan Smith led the Bulldogs in tackles with six each.
“That was a long time coming for our players,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “They’ve worked really hard. We have a lot of respect for Appalachian State. Our team played really hard in the second half. Our players were persistent. We talked about chopping wood and keeping it going.”
Appalachian State will host Savannah State next Saturday, September 9 at 3:30 p.m. in Kidd Brewer Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPN3.