Georgia Bulldogs begin title defense with easy victory over Oregon Ducks

ATLANTA — Defending champion Georgia may have lost 15 players to the NFL draft, but the No. 3 Bulldogs looked good in the first game of their title defense, beating No. 11 Oregon 49-3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday.

Even after losing five defenders in the first round, including No. 1 pick Travon Walker, Georgia’s defense was too quick and too physical for the Ducks.

After losing the most players ever drafted by a school in NFL draft history, Georgia looked like it would still be in the hunt for a CFP berth for the third time in Smart’s seven seasons.

But Smart knows his young team still has a long way to go to get back there, even after the lopsided win in the opener.

“Expectations are definitely already contained,” said Smart. “You don’t have to worry about that.”

Georgia’s attack, which played second fiddle to his record-breaking defense last season, was far more explosive against the Ducks. Quarterback Stetson Bennett, a former walk-on who led the Bulldogs to their first national title in 41 years, completed 25 of 31 passes for a career-high 368 yards with two touchdowns.

With 21 seconds left in the first half, Bennett spun away from four Oregon defenders and somehow saw Ladd McConkey wide open in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown that gave Georgia a 28-3 lead at halftime.

After starting as Georgia’s No. 3 quarterback last season and only being pushed into the lineup after JT Daniels’ injury, Bennett is the undisputed starter this year.

“I don’t think Stetson is really influenced by anything I do, you do or anyone does,” Smart said. “Stetson lives in his own world and he does a really good job of blocking out all the noise. The guy had a flip phone in 2021, okay, he doesn’t really go into all that.

“I think that’s his kind of edge and he’s made some games where he didn’t make the right decisions today and he knows those. He knows his mistakes. He must be smart. He does things that we might not ask him to do. But he did some games with his feet and I think you take the good and I won’t call it bad but you take the good with his bad choices.

Georgia scored touchdowns on each of his first seven possessions, converted his first nine third-down plays, and went 6-on-6 in the red zone. The Bulldogs didn’t punt until early in the fourth quarter when freshman Brett Thorson boomed a 53-yarder.

The Ducks couldn’t muster much against Georgia’s rebuilt defense. Oregon had 313 yards of offense, averaging 4.6 yards per game compared to the Bulldogs’ 9.2. Georgia had two interceptions and stopped the Ducks on a goal-line stand at the 3-yard line with 1:22 left in the game.

“We don’t want to be the hunted,” said safety Christopher Smith, who had one of Georgia’s two interceptions. “We want to hunt.”

Oregon played its first game under new coach Dan Lanning, who was the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator in 2021. It was a disappointing debut for Lanning, who is head coach for the first time.

“He’s going to do a really good job in Oregon,” Smart said. “He’s relentless. They’ll recover from that and he knows we have better players. He’ll never say that but he knows we have better players.” Georgia Bulldogs begin title defense with easy victory over Oregon Ducks

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