Georgia’s defense had its way with Idaho State’s Bengals on Saturday. Now let’s see what the Bulldogs can do against Tigers who have some teeth.
Below, cornerback Brandon Boykin is carried off the field sideways by teammate Bacarri Rambo after Boykin returned an interception to the 3-yard line.
In a week’s time, the level of difficulty for Georgia’s defense will multiply exponentially.
Saturday’s performance by Georgia’s defense – en route to a 55-7 victory – was exemplary. The Bulldogs limited Idaho State to 41 yards in the first half and did not allow the Bengals to penetrate Georgia territory until Demetrius Cowherd caught a 33-yard pass at the Bulldogs’ 35-yard line with less than 10 minutes to play.
Georgia led by eight touchdowns and the starters were on the sideline by that point, hoping the reserves could keep the shutout intact.
"Man," Georgia linebacker Akeem Dent sighed when asked about losing the shutout. "That was the goal was to get a shutout, but we got some guys in there and gave them a chance to play. You never know what’s gonna happen."
Tavoy Moore scored three plays after Cowherd’s catch and the shutout was no more, but that was mostly insignificant.
Although it lost a chance for its second consecutive home shutout – which would have been the first time since 1976 that Georgia posted back-to-back shutouts at Sanford Stadium – Georgia’s defense did what it came to do.
The Bulldogs suffocated Idaho State’s offense, scoring touchdowns off interceptions by Vance Cuff and Bacarri Rambo, and falling just short of a third pick-six when Brandon Boykin was dragged down just short of the Bengals’ end zone after another interception.
"It kinda took the defense to show the way a little bit and just spark the team," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "And after that, I thought the offense began to play real well."
The interceptions played a direct role in Georgia taking a commanding 41-0 halftime lead, which provided the very opportunity the Bulldogs needed on Saturday.
They were able to sit the starters for most of the second half – not risking any costly injuries – and begin looking ahead toward their defense’s biggest test of the year.
At the same time as the Bulldogs jogged into the locker room at halftime, Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was already a sideline spectator, as well, having produced five first-half touchdowns as the Tigers rolled up 484 yards to lead Tennessee-Chattanooga 48-14 at halftime.
At 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds – nearly as effective passing as he is running – the Heisman Trophy front-runner will be the most dynamic player the Bulldogs have faced this season, and yet they aren’t entirely unfamiliar with Auburn’s breakout star.
Georgia defensive lineman Kiante Tripp was Newton’s teammate at Atlanta’s Westlake High School. Dent played with Newton on an all-star team in high school. Boykin played against Newton in both football and basketball in high school.
They all say the same thing about their upcoming opponent.
"That guy’s awesome," Dent said.
"He’s a beast," said Boykin, who said he scored around 30 points in a victory against Newton’s Westlake basketball team, but didn’t fare so well in a blowout football loss.
He’s unquestionably a handful, having already broken the Southeastern Conference’s single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,146 and 15 touchdowns.
Newton passed for a career-high 317 yards and four touchdowns on Saturday, giving him 1,890 yards, 19 touchdowns and five interceptions this year.
It would have been natural for Georgia’s team and coaches to look past lowly Idaho State toward next week’s showdown with Newton’s unbeaten club. But the Bulldogs insisted they did no such thing – not after the way things have gone this year, where bowl eligibility is still no certainty.
"That’s the thing coach Richt emphasized, was that you can’t overlook any opponent," Boykin said. "They’re gonna come out here ready to play. They didn’t travel all the way from Idaho to get beat. Our name alone is not gonna get the job done."
Still, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham admitted he might have snuck a peak at Newton’s offense on film.
"I’ve noticed a little bit, yeah," Grantham said with a laugh.
He’ll have to study up this week, as Auburn is averaging 42 points and 510 yards per game – and Georgia’s defense has been fairly generous at times.
The Bulldogs had an easy time with an overmatched opponent on Saturday, but next week is a different story.
Georgia will need by far its best defensive performance of the year to leave the Plains with its fifth consecutive victory in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.