Field position damages Dogs’ chances all night

ATLANTA — Georgia lost the war against No. 5 Boise State 35-21 Saturday evening in the Georgia Dome, and among the many reasons for the No. 19 Bulldogs’ tepid 2011 debut was losing the early battle for field position.

Thanks to a Georgia offense that stalled time and time again in the first half, the Broncos, who defeated a Southeastern Conference opponent for the first time in five tries, found themselves in good-to-excellent field position on nearly very possession. And were in not for the punting of Drew Butler, who averaged nearly 46 yards on his four attempts in the first 30 minutes, things could have been much worse.

Staff gallery: UGA vs. Boise State

Spotted: UGA vs. Boise State

Although Georgia coach Mark Richt didn’t see field position as being a big issue in the outcome, he assented that “We were in a bind.”

“We decided to take the ball first and didn’t get much going and we got backed up,” he said. “But it didn’t really cost us.  … Our field position was a little rough early, but we fought our way out of it. We got the first score, so I don’t know if it was that big of a factor.”

Tailback Richard Samuel, who rushed seven times for 12 yards and caught two passes for 21 yards, had a different outlook on the weight field position carried, especially in the early going.

“Field position played a major role,” Samuel said. “It helps the offense get going and can help the defense get going, too. Field position determines what plays you pick and how productive you are. Our defense did a real good job. We had so many three-and-outs and the defense would go out and hold them. The defense kept putting us back on the field.”

The second half wasn’t much better as Boise State scored on its first two possessions — starting one drive on the Georgia 28 after a 49-yard punt return by Chris Potter — to take a 28-7 advantage, although the Bulldogs managed one productive drive in the third quarter, marching 56 yards in five plays and pulling to within two touchdowns on a 36-yard pass from Aaron Murray to Orson Charles.

But the boys in blue negated any fourth-quarter momentum Georgia sought to establish by responding immediately with an 11-play, 76-yard drive that culminated with a 1-yard scoring run by D.J. Harper with 11:37 remaining, putting the game out of reach despite a 51-yard touchdown reception by freshman Malcolm Mitchell with 10:15 still on the clock.

Boise State’s average field position in the first two quarters was its own 41-yard line, and while the Broncos found the end zone on two consecutive drives, even when they didn’t score they continually corralled Georgia deep in its own back yard.

Although the Bulldogs got an 80-yard first-quarter scoring dash by Brandon Boykin — who was moonlighting from his cornerback responsibilities — the drive started from their own 19, thanks to a 34-yard punt by Boise State’s Brad Elkin.

The only possession that represented what might be termed a sustained drive for Georgia in the first half began in closing minutes of the first quarter and traversed 51 yards in 11 plays, ending  at 12:22 in the second quarter when Richard Samuel was unable to advance for a first down on the Boise State 26.

On its first four possessions, Georgia managed but 69 yards on 11 plays, with two drives failing to create positive yardage. The Bulldogs closed out the first half with four first downs and just 151 offensive yards, aided in no small part by Boykins’ long run and Murray’s 36 passing yards.

Boise State didn’t do much better in the drive department and picked up only 37 more offensive yards in the first half, but thanks to its favorable field position, it didn’t take much to pin the Bulldogs back on every possession. Elkin’s 43 yard-per-punt average was also helpful to the Broncos’ cause.

The Georgia defense held on as well as it could, but Boise State’s first two touchdowns came on its only two extended drives of the half. The Broncos’ first scoring drive took up six plays, 58 yards and 2:24, ending with Kellen Moore connecting on a 17-yard strike to Matt Miller late in the first quarter. Its second scoring drive consumed 51 yards on seven plays, again ending with a Moore touchdown pass, this time to Kyle Efaw with 43 seconds remaining in the first half.