Written by Brian Pohl
Athens, GA- The third-ranked Georgia Bulldogs look to continue their hot start to the season as they take on the Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders.
In what was supposed to by the first night game of the season from Sanford Stadium in Athens, the game has been moved to a noon kickoff due to potential weather from hurricane Florence.
UGA made a statement on the time change on their website saying, “After extensive evaluation involving the uncertainty of weather conditions on the east coast, and consideration of all constituencies involved including fans, support staff, and law enforcement, the Saturday Georgia-Middle Tennessee State game has been moved from 7:15 p.m. to a 12 noon kickoff in Sanford Stadium.”
Looking ahead to the matchup, this is the second-ever meeting between the two programs and the first since 2003 where the Bulldogs defeated the Blue Raiders 29-10.
UGA head coach Kirby Smart spoke about going up against MTSU’s coach Rick Stockstill saying, “I’ve got a lot of respect for their coach, a guy I’ve known for a long time in this profession. He helped me at a very young age, learning how to recruit on the road.” He continued, “He does a great job. Always had just tremendous respect for the job he’s done. He’s one of the longest tenured coaches at his school, in the country, having been there, I think, since either ’06 or ’07. And he does a tremendous job.”
UGA enters the game following a big SEC road win after defeating the South Carolina Gamecocks 41-17 and will look to continue rolling in 2018 against an MTSU team that comes into Athens 1-1 after a 61-37 victory over Tennessee-Martin.
Leading the Bulldogs on offense is sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm. The 2017 SEC Freshman of the Year has continued his great start to his college career, and through two games this season has completed 27 of 34 passes for 351-yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. After leading the Bulldogs to their first College Football Playoff National Championship appearance last season, Fromm is seen as a leader on the team and will look to continue his development on Saturday before heading into the bulk of the SEC schedule that begins next week.
UGA sophomore running back D’Andre Swift described Fromm’s leadership saying, “On the football field, he’s a leader, really vocal. Anything you need, anything you’re lacking, if you don’t know the play, he’ll tell you. Anytime I’m on the field, he tells me the play whether I know it or not. He makes sure I know my job.”
A big question for the Bulldogs prior to the 2018 season was how they would replace the production at tailback after losing both Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to the NFL. The duo amassed over 8,400-yards rushing and 77 touchdowns in their UGA career, leaving as one of the best tandems in college football history. With the opening at the tailback position, UGA has looked to two talented backs in sophomore D’Andre Swift and junior Elijah Holyfield to carry the freight.
Swift has led the way thus far, with 20 carries for 107-yards and two touchdowns in the first two games this season. Holyfield made his mark last week against USC, rushing nine times for 79-yards and a touchdown. It is hard to replace the production left by Chubb and Michel, but after two weeks, Swift and Holyfield have not missed a beat.
At the receiver position, UGA returns six of their top seven targets, headlined by senior Terry Godwin and junior Mecole Hardman. The duo really completes the Bulldog offense, and are a threat to score from anywhere on the field.
Although the offense possesses great talent across the field, the defense for the Bulldogs is just as impressive, as they allowed just 19-points last week after shutting out Austin Peay in their season opener.
The strength of the UGA defense may be their secondary, who picked off USC twice last week for their first interceptions of the season. Senior DB, and Pre-season All-American, Deandre Baker recorded the first take away, returning it an impressive 55-yards.
The player to watch, however, is sophomore Richard LeCounte, who, in his second consecutive start, led the team with a career-high ten tackles against the Gamecocks. The underclassman is getting great experience early in the season and will be counted on to continue his strong play heading into the meat of the schedule.
Facing this secondary will be a difficult test for MTSU quarterback Brent Stockstill, who headlines this Blue Raider offense. Brent, who is the son of head coach Rick Stockstill, has thrown a touchdown in 25 straight games, which is the second longest streak nationally. Stockstill has been really impressive to start the season, completing 49 of his 71 passes for 585-yards and six touchdowns. His streak will be on the line against this impressive UGA defense and will be something to watch as the game unfolds.
This is a final opportunity for UGA to get as many guys playing time before heading into the bulk of their SEC schedule that begins next week when the Bulldogs travel to Missouri to take on the Tigers. They won’t look past the Blue Raiders, however, and should send their fans home happy with a team looking to repeat last year’s success.
UGA and MTSU kick off at noon from Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA.