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2023 MAC Football Week 2 Game Recap: Georgia Bulldogs 45, Ball State Cardinals 3

The Cards got the eyes of the country on them with some early success, but the talent gap showed through soon enough.

NCAA Football: Ball State at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Ball State (0-2) faced off against a second-straight SEC opponent to start their season on Saturday afternoon, going from the bluegrass of Kentucky to the unwelcoming hedges of Georgia. The Bulldogs (2-0), like the Wildcats before them, wound up being ungracious hosts, taking down the Cardinals by a final score of 45-3 to defend their home grounds.

An 11 a.m. local time kick brought about some sleepy play to start, as Georgia possessed the ball first and walked down to the Ball State 10-yard line in just three minutes before new starting QB Carson Beck fumbled the ball on third-and-goal. Georgia recovered, but had to settle for a short field goal instead, which misfired off the foot of Peyton Woodring from 28 yards out.

A plodding drive on Ball State’s first possession saw the Cards burn nearly six minutes off the game clock to gain 36 yards before a nine-yard loss on first-and-10 basically killed the momentum, resulting in a touchback punt from Lucas Borrow.

The teams would exchange punts to end the first quarter, which ended tied at 0-0, but it would be Borrow’s second punt of the afternoon which would break the game open, as Georgia punt returner Mehki Mews would return the boot 69 yards for the first score of the afternoon at the 14:32 mark of the second quarter.

Georgia would double up on their lead after forcing a quick Ball State three-and-out, with Carson Beck finding Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint on a seven-yard passing connection to go up 14-0, then triple up after an interception gifted the Dawgs favorable field at the BSU 30. This time, it was the run game making an appearance, as Dillon Bell rushed in from 21 yards out to put the score at 21-0.

Ball State managed to prevent a fourth touchdown on the next possession, putting up a goal line stand to force a Woodring field goal from 35 yards out with 1:49 remaining in the first half, but another three-and-out offensively allowed Georgia another shot the endzone. This time, they converted, with Kendall Milton taking it in from one yard out to put UGA up 31-0 to end the half.

It was elementary from there, as true freshman kicker Jackson Courville would split the uprights with 9:05 remaining to get Ball State on the board and prevent a shut-out in what would ultimately be a 45-3 loss.

True freshman Kadin Semonza picked up the start for Ball State at QB, finishing 7-of-16 for 55 yards, while Texas State transfer Layne Hatcher, who had previously won the starting job out of camp, was 10-of-16 for 82 yards in clean-up work. Kiael Kelly was 1-of-5 for 10 yards.

Running back Marquez Cooper, formerly of Kent State, had a nightmare game against the Georgia defensive line, with eight net yards on 12 carries (23 yards gained, 15 yards lost.) Backup Charile Spegal wound up the rushing leader at 32 yards on four carries. Wideout Ahmad Edwards led BSU receivers in yards (47) on four catches, while Qian Magwood led the team in receptions (five) and had 32 yards.

Lucas Borrow had a busy day, with seven punts for 297 yards. Of the seven boots, two landed inside-the-20 and two went for touchbacks, while one was returned for a score.

Linebacker Keionte Newsome led the day for the Cards defensively, with seven tackles and a forced fumble in the first quarter. Sidney Houston (four tackles, TFL) and Aljareek Malry (four tackles, one interception) were other notables.

For Georgia, Carson Beck went 23-of-30 for 283 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception to lead the offense. The Bulldogs didn’t need very much from their skill positions, with Roderick Robinson II (38 yards and a score on six carries) leading the running backs while Arian Smith and Oscar Delp tied for the team lead in receiving with two receptions and 50 yards each.

Georgia scored via the run three times with three different backs, and via the pass twice to two different receivers.

Tykee Smith highlighted the UGA defensive effort, with three tackles, 1.5 tackles-for-loss and an interception. Two other Bulldogs picked off passes, while four Bulldogs pulled in at least one tackle-for-loss.

Ball State will stay at home next Saturday, hosting Indiana State for the first time since 2014 in a fight for the Blue Key Victory Bell at 2 p.m. Eastern time. The Sycamores currently retain the trophy after upsetting the Cards with a strong defensive effort.

Georgia will also stay home next Saturday, embarking on their conference campaign with a divisional match against South Carolina at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.