ATHENS, Ga. — The two-time defending national champion Georgia football team opened its 2023 season by rolling past UT Martin, 48-7, on Saturday night at Sanford Stadium. The win was the Bulldogs’ 18th in a row overall, 19th in a row on Dooley Field, and Georgia tied the school record for regular-season wins in a row with its 28th, matching the great run of the 1981-83 teams.
Playing in front of a sold-out crowd of 92,746, the Bulldogs were in control throughout their takedown of the Skyhawks, an FCS program that plays in the Big South-Ohio Valley Conference, though the offense took a bit to get rolling. Georgia (1-0) finished with 559 of offense while the defense repeatedly stuffed Martin, holding it to 260 total yards.
Among the offensive players held out of the game were wide receivers Ladd McConkey and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint; McConkey had 58 catches for 762 yards and seven touchdowns last season and Rosemy-Jacksaint had 29 for 337 yards. Still, the Bulldogs still had plenty of offensive weapons available, including one of the best players in the country in tight end Brock Bowers. The junior finished with five catches for 77 yards and scored on a three-yard run in less than three quarters of action.
Making his first start for the Bulldogs, junior quarterback Carson Beck completed 21 of 31 passes for 294 yards and threw a 54-yard touchdown. He also ran for a four-yard TD late in the second quarter.
Georgia took a little while to get going offensively, not scoring until the 3:40 mark of the opening quarter. By halftime, the Bulldogs had a 17-0 lead and a 248-89 advantage over the Skyhawks (0-1) in total offense.
The Bulldogs’ first scoring drive of the season began with two runs by senior running back Kendall Milton, making his third career start, followed by a pass play that resulted in a penalty on the Skyhawks for holding Bowers. Two plays later, Beck dumped a short pass off to Bowers on the right side, and the 2022 Mackey Award winner turned it into a 23-yard gain plus a 15-yard penalty for a late hit out of bounds.
At the end of the drive, on third-and-2 at the Martin 3-yard line, Bowers scored on the right side on a jet sweep. Bowers ran for three touchdowns last season, to go along with his seven receiving touchdowns. Freshman kicker Peyton Woodring made his Bulldog debut on the point-after attempt, putting Georgia up 7-0 with 3:40 remaining in the first quarter.
Georgia’s next points didn’t come until the 4:29 mark of the second quarter, when Beck ran the ball in from the 4 on third-and-goal. Woodring’s extra point made it 14-0. The key play of the drive was a 37 yard run by Milton on the first play, as well as a 16-yard reception to the Martin 13 by Bowers, who bounced off several would-be tacklers on the play.
The Bulldogs took a 17-0 lead into halftime after converting a couple of big plays on the drive but failing to get into the end zone. Beck hit Bowers for 20 to the 50; with less than a minute to play, Beck hit wide receiver Dominic Lovett for a 25-yard gain down to the Skyhawk 3. Georgia tried to get a touchdown but had to settle for a Woodring 23-yard kick, the first field goal of his career, and a 17-0 lead at the break.
Midway through the third quarter, Beck produced a career-long pass and redshirt sophomore receiver Mekhi Mews a career-long catch and his first career touchdown. On second-and-10 from the UGA 46, Mews lined up in the backfield and motioned out to the slot, where he caught a short pass from Beck, followed a few blocks and then outran everyone for a 54-yard touchdown and a 24-0 lead with 8:29 left in the quarter.
After the defense got another stop, the offense produced a pair of big-yardage plays to set up its next score. On first down from the Bulldog 20, Beck hit redshirt freshman wideout C.J. Smith for a 47-yard gain up the left side. Two plays later, Beck rolled right and hit Mews for 25 yards, down to the Skyhawk 8. Two plays after that, running back Roderick Robinson powered his way into the end zone from the 2 for the freshman’s first career touchdown and a 31-0 lead with 5:35 left in the third.
Backup quarterback Brock Vandagriff provided some fourth-quarter fireworks when he connected with junior wideout Rara Thomas for a 56-yard gain down the middle of the field. On the next play, Vandagriff, a redshirt sophomore, found sophomore tight end Oscar Delp on the right side for a 21-yard touchdown that made it 38-0 with 11:36 remaining.
The Skyhawks got on the scoreboard with 6:39 to play thanks to a one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone by Trevonte Rucker on a 9-yard pass from quarterback Kinkead Dent. Woodring made it 41-7 Bulldogs with a 33-yard field goal with 2:09 to play.
Defensively, sophomore safety Malaki Starks and junior STAR Tykee Smith led the way with eight and six tackles, respectively. Georgia’s final points came from the defense when freshman STAR Byron Jones intercepted a pass and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown with 1:59 remaining.
Ordinarily No. 73 on the Bulldog roster, starting left guard Xavier Truss wore No. 77 on Saturday, to honor former teammate and lineman Devin Willock. Willock and Georgia recruiting staff member Chandler LeCroy died in a car accident on Jan. 15. A different Georgia player will wear No. 77 each game this season.
Bulldog mascot Uga XI, known as “Boom,” made his first official appearance on Dooley Field on Saturday, doing so just days after the death of his legendary owner, Sonny Seiler, who passed away on Monday at age 90. Seiler and his family’s long history with the Bulldogs — the Uga tradition began in 1956 — were remembered in a video prior to the game.
The Bulldogs’ opener was the first of four straight home games to start the season. Georgia hosts Ball State next Saturday, Sept. 9, at noon.