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‘We’ve improved players’: No. 3 Georgia cruises

8: 27 PM ET

  • Mark SchlabachESPN Senior Writer

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    • Senior college football writer
    • Writer of seven books on college football
    • Graduate of the University of Georgia

ATLANTA — Defending national champion Georgia may have lost 15 players to the NFL draft, however the No. 3 Bulldogs looked just fine in the initial game of these title defense, blasting No. 11 Oregon 49-3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Saturday.

Even with losing five defensive players in the initial round, including No. 1 pick Travon Walker, Georgia’s defense was too fast and physical for the Ducks.

After having lost probably the most players ever drafted in one school in NFL draft history, Georgia appeared as if it will be back the search for a CFP berth for the 3rd amount of time in Smart’s seven seasons.

But Smart knows his young team still includes a long way to visit reunite there, even with its lopsided victory in the opener.

“Expectations are already in balance,” Smart said. “You don’t need to be worried about that.”

Georgia’s offense, which played second fiddle to its record-setting defense last season, was a lot more explosive contrary to the Ducks. Quarterback Stetson Bennett, a former walk-on who led the Bulldogs with 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 initial half, Bennett spun from four Oregon defenders and somehow saw Ladd McConkey, who was simply wide open ultimately zone for a 4-yard touchdown that gave Georgia a 28-3 lead at the half.

After starting last season as Georgia’s No. 3 quarterback and being thrust in to the lineup only after JT Daniels was injured, Bennett may be the undisputed starter this season.

“I don’t believe Stetson really gets suffering from anything I really do, you do or anybody does,” Smart said. “Stetson lives in their own world, and he does an extremely good job of blocking out all of the noise. The guy had a flip phone, OK, in 2021. He doesn’t really enter all that.

“I believe that’s what his sort of edge is, and he made some plays he didn’t make the proper decisions on today, and he knows those. He knows his mistakes. He’s surely got to be smart. He does items that maybe we don’t ask him to accomplish. But he did make some plays along with his feet, and I believe you take the nice, and I’m not likely to call it bad, nevertheless, you take the nice along with his poor decisions.”

Georgia scored touchdowns on all of its first seven possessions, converted its first nine third-down plays and went 6-for-6 in debt 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 a lot of anything against Georgia’s rebuilt defense. Oregon had 313 yards of offense, averaging 4.6 yards per play when compared to 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 to play.

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

Oregon was playing its first game under new coach Dan Lanning, who was simply the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator in 2021. It had been a disappointing debut for Lanning, who’s a first-time head coach.

“He’ll do a excellent job at Oregon,” Smart said. “He’s relentless. They’ll bounce back out of this and he knows we’ve better players. He’ll never say that, but he knows we have better players.”

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