ATLANTA — Defending national champion Georgia State may have lost 15 players in the NFL draft, but the No. 3 Bulldogs looked just fine in their first game of their title defense, at Mercedes-Benz on Saturday The stadium defeated Oregon State No. 11 49-3.
Even with the loss of five defensive players in the first round, including No. 1 overall pick Traven Walker, Georgia’s defense was too quick and too physical for the Ducks.
After losing the most drafted player by a school in NFL draft history, Georgia still looks set to re-search for a CFP seat for the third time in Smart’s seven seasons.
But Smart knows his young team has a long way to go to get back there, even after an uneven win in the opener.
“Expectations have definitely been contained,” Smart said. “You don’t have to worry about that.”
Georgia’s offense, which finished second in record-setting defense last season, was more explosive against the Ducks. Quarterback Stetson Bennett, who led the Bulldogs to their first national championship in 41 years, completed 25 of 31 passes for a career-high 368 yards, two touchdowns.
With 21 seconds left in the first half, Bennett turned from Oregon’s four guards and somehow saw Rad McConkie, who opened wide in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown that put Georgia in the half. Leading 28-3.
After starting last season as Georgia’s No. 3 quarterback and only being pushed into the lineup after JT Daniels was injured, Bennett is the undisputed starter this year.
“I don’t think Stetson is really affected by anything I do, what you do or what anyone does,” Smart said. “Steyson lives in his own world and he does a really good job of blocking out all the noise. This guy has a flip phone, well, in 2021. He’s not really into it all.
“I think that’s where his strengths lie, he played some games today where he didn’t make the right decisions and he knows that. He knows his mistakes. He has to be smart. He’s doing things that maybe we don’t ask him to do. …but he did hit some balls with his feet and I think you’ll take the good, I wouldn’t say it’s bad, but you’ll take the good with his bad decisions.
Georgia had a touchdown on each of its first seven possessions, made it on its first nine thirds, and went 6-for-6 in the red zone. The Bulldogs didn’t tee off until early in the fourth quarter, when freshman Brett Thorson fired for 53 yards.
The Ducks couldn’t do anything about Georgia’s rebuilding defense. Oregon State had 313 yards offense and averaged 4.6 yards per game compared to the Bulldogs’ 9.2. Georgia had two interceptions and stopped the Ducks on the goal line at the 3-yard line with 1:22 left.
“We don’t want to be hunted down,” said safety Christopher Smith, who had one of two interceptions in Georgia. “We want to hunt.”
Oregon State played its first game under new coach Dan Lanning, the 2021 Bulldogs defensive coordinator. It was a disappointing debut for Lanning, who was a first-time head coach.
“He’s going to do well in Oregon,” Smart said. “He’s ruthless. They’ll recover from it and he knows we have better players. He would never say that, but he knows we have better players.”