Todd Gurley more than lived up to his preseason hype with a coming out party between the hedges, but Georgia’s suspension-saddled defense didn’t have too much to celebrate on a Saturday when it didn’t play up to its own standards.
Gurley, the 6-foot-1, 218-pound freshman tailback from Tarboro, N.C., rushed for 100 yards, returned a kickoff 100 yards and scored three touchdowns as
the sixth-ranked Bulldogs opened their season pushing past
It was not the rout most anticipated.
“We definitely didn’t play up to our expectations,” Georgia defensive end Abry Jones said. “We definitely saw ourselves playing a lot better than we did. We had little small mistakes, we figured them out. We came out in the second half and competed and did a lot better.”
Georgia might not get away with being on its game for only a half Saturday night when it opens its SEC season at Missouri.
“Am I concerned about it? Yeah,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “We better play better than that next week or we’re going to be riding home sad.”
There were plenty of cheers for Gurley from the crowd of 92,446 in Sanford Stadium — the first non-sellout at a home opener
There were also some boos when Buffalo pulled within a score before halftime on the hot and humid day.
Buffalo went 94 yards in eight plays, getting a 2-yard run from Branden Oliver (111 yards on 30 carries) and then traveled 47 yards in six plays to set up a field goal before halftime to trail 24-16.
“I heard the boos, but you can’t really get mad at the fans coming off the year defensively that we had,” Jones said. “With the people we had returning, the fans also had expectations.”
A team talking boldly about getting to Miami for the national championship game was favored by 38, but had reason to feel a bit humbled because they were having trouble shaking a team from the same conference as Miami of Ohio.
“We had some busts,” All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “I think it was a learning experience for us.”
Quarterback Aaron Murray overthrew his first two deep balls and then Michael Bennett on a third down pass, but hooked up with Tavarres King on a 63-yard touchdown on a pass King had to wait on.
Buffalo outgained Georgia 243-188 in total yards of offense in the first half, but Georgia scored on the kickoff return and had a field goal set up on a blocked punt by Chris Conley.
“If you looked at it just from a statistical point of view, they whipped us offense, defense,” Richt said. “If it weren’t for that, we’re losing the game at halftime.”
Former Georgia All-American defensive end David Pollack tweeted: “Very surprised to see UGA’s Defense looking so bad against Buffalo. Missing some guys but it’s BUFFALO.”
The guys missing included safety Bacarri Rambo and inside linebacker Alec Ogletree, who were indeed suspended as expected (Rambo for a violation of Georgia’s drug policy), but while Richt acknowledged suspensions for the first time he would not say whether they will miss the Missouri game. Georgia also was missing suspended cornerback Sanders Commings and outside linebacker Chase Vasser who are suspended two games. Cornerback Malcolm Mitchell was on crutches with a sprained left ankle and is questionable for next week.
Georgia’s struggles came against a team that went 3-9 last year.
“I think we’ve got work to do,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “I think there’s some good things, but there were some inconsistencies that created some explosive plays. I thought we played much better in the second half.”
Nose guard John Jenkins said that Grantham’s message at halftime was “that we weren’t ourselves. He pretty much told us that we need to come out and be a whole different ballclub than we were in the first half.”
Georgia forced Buffalo to three-and-outs on four of its first five second-half possessions during which the Bulls managed just one first down.
Buffalo quarterback Alez Zordich rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries and passed for 148 yards and a touchdown.
Gurley scored a 10-yard touchdown on his second carry and then raced 100 yards on his first kickoff return for the Bulldogs.
He went to the locker room with cramps but returned and added a 55-yard touchdown run with 8:13 to play for Georgia’s final score.
“I didn’t think it would be like this,” Gurley said of his day.
Neither did Georgia’s defense.
“We did OK,” cornerback Damien Swann said. “We’re going to have to go in the lab and do some work and fix it for next week.”