ATLANTA - Saturday night's matchup against fifth-ranked Boise State in the Georgia Dome was supposed to be a shot-in-the-arm opportunity for Georgia's struggling football program.
Bulldogs fans heading for the exits with 12 minutes remaining wasn't part of that plan.
Behind an impressive night by Heisman Trophy candidate Kellen Moore and its undervalued defense, Boise State continued its stay among college football's elite by whipping the Bulldogs 35-21. The Broncos defeated their first Southeastern Conference foe in five tries and gained a measure of revenge from a 48-13 loss in Athens that opened the 2005 season, proving either they are much better than six seasons ago or Georgia is much worse.
"We knew going in that they were pretty darn good, and they just beat us tonight," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "They were better than we were, and our players understand that. They understand we will have to get a lot better next week when we open Southeastern Conference play.
"We've got a lot of work to do."
Moore completed 28 of 34 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns to jumpstart a potential second consecutive run to the Heisman ceremony. He got off to a slow start as the Broncos went three-and-out twice but was sizzling by the start of the third quarter.
After coming out of halftime with his Broncos up 14-7, Moore went 7-for-7 on the opening drive to help extend the lead to 21-7. He had consecutive completions of 10, 10, 11 and 19 yards before Doug Martin's 7-yard touchdown run gave the Broncos a double-digit lead they never relinquished.
"With the fast-paced offense they had with the no-huddle and things like that, we've got to work on our communication," Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin said. "They score their points by confusing people and just knowing where to go, and that kind of hurt us a little bit. We know that, and we'll get it corrected."
Boise State went up 28-7 on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Moore to Tyler Shoemaker late in the third quarter and took a 35-14 lead with 11:37 remaining on a 1-yard run by D.J. Harper.
The No. 19 Bulldogs did strike first.
Boykin got his first career play on offense midway through the opening quarter and took a handoff 80 yards for a touchdown to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 advantage. His touchdown was the longest rushing score for the Bulldogs since Richard Samuel had an 80-yard touchdown run against Arkansas in 2009.
It marked the fifth career touchdown for Boykin, who has four kickoff returns for scores, including three 100-yard returns.
Richard Samuel started at tailback for Georgia, but touted freshman Isaiah Crowell got in on the second possession. Crowell's first carry resulted in a 2-yard loss, when he joined several Bulldogs who slipped on the turf during the first quarter.
Crowell finished with 59 yards on 15 carries, while Samuel had 12 on 7.
"I think I did all right, but I think I could have done more," Crowell said. "I think I could have gotten more carries and stayed on the field more."
The Bulldogs have little time to regroup with South Carolina visiting Athens this Saturday afternoon.
"All of our goals are still out there," inside linebacker Christian Robinson said. "This is one game, and it was a big game where we didn't do what we wanted to, but that's why we play a whole season. It's not over."
Who was that?
When Georgia starting inside linebacker Alec Ogletree went down with a foot injury in the second quarter, senior walk-on Jeremy Sulek served as his primary replacement. The 6-foot-1, 209-pounder from Dacula wound up tied for third on the team in tackles against the Broncos with seven.
"The weeks leading up to this game, I had been practicing at both inside positions," Sulek said. "I just wanted to know as much stuff as I could in case something did happen, and I had to come in. I was definitely a little antsy and probably made my reads a little bit slower in the beginning, but I ended up calming down."
Robinson, who led the team with career-high 13 tackles, thought Sulek filled in admirably.
"He knows this defense just as well as I do," Robinson said.
Georgia junior tight end Orson Charles wound up with a career-high 109 yards on six receptions. ... Senior punter Drew Butler averaged 47.8 yards and had a long of 56. ... Saturday marked Georgia's first opener against a top-five team since 1965, when the Bulldogs upset Alabama 18-17.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.