Georgia offense, defense both pulling their weight

Atlanta Journal-Constitution photo by Curtis Compton via AP / Georgia tight end Brock Bowers catches a pass beyond South Carolina linebacker Brad Johnson and runs to the end zone during the third quarter of last Saturday's game in Columbia. It was Bowers' third touchdown of the game and covered 78 yards.

ATHENS, Ga. — The Georgia Bulldogs were all about defense last season.

Now college football's reigning national champions are packing quite an offensive punch, too.

Top-ranked Georgia (3-0) has outscored opponents 130-10 this season, and more of the same is expected Saturday when it hosts Kent State (1-2) between the hedges. A week after winning their Southeastern Conference opener 48-7 at South Carolina, the Bulldogs step back out of league play to face the Mid-American Conference's Golden Flashes.

Georgia, a 44.5-point favorite, seems to have lost none of the hunger that carried it to the program's first national title in 41 seasons.

"Hey, to be at Georgia, it's tough. To be at Georgia, you have to practice hard. To be at Georgia, you have to earn it," said coach Kirby Smart, a former defensive back for the Bulldogs. "As long as they believe in doing that, we have enough talent that we're going to have a good opportunity when we go out on the field on Saturday. But they have to believe in that culture."

Led by sixth-year quarterback Stetson Bennett, the offense has displayed a plethora of weapons. In last week's runaway win, 11 players had at least one catch — totaling 339 receiving yards and 16.1 per reception — and 10 players ran the ball, combining for 208 yards and a 5.9 average.

In the 21 possessions with Bennett on the field this season, Georgia has produced 14 touchdowns, four field goals, a missed field-goal attempt and two punts.

Last Saturday, the offensive star was Brock Bowers. The sophomore tight end had five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns, and he also scored on the ground via a reverse.

"We've got a few of those guys that you've got to get touches to," Smart said. "He's certainly one that I think certainly everyone tries to find ways to get creative. You have to move him around because people know he's going to be a target."

While the Georgia offense appears to be greatly improved, it's not like the defense has dropped off.

Even after having eight players from last season's unit taken in the NFL draft, including five in the first round, the Bulldogs have surrendered only one touchdown through the first three games — and it was a meaningless score by the Gamecocks in the waning seconds of last Saturday's game.

Still, the Georgia defense was a bit ticked off about giving up a score that cost the team a second straight shutout.

"I was really disappointed on that play," defensive back Dan Jackson said. "We just didn't feel like we finished the game like we should have defensively."

In the absence of some of the established stars who moved on to the next level, new ones are emerging. Freshman safety Malaki Starks has two interceptions in his first three college games, including one against South Carolina that he returned 42 yards.

"He ran really fast and jumped really high when he was a ninth grader," Smart said of Starks, who was a high school star just down the road at Jefferson. "I talked to his dad that day, and we knew he was going to be some kind of special player. We just didn't know how good he was going to be, and I still don't think we know."

Kent State is coming off a 358-yard rushing performance against Long Island, the fifth time in two seasons the team has for more than 300 yards.

Now, though, Kent State will be facing its third opponent currently in the AP Top 25. The Golden Flashes opened with a 45-20 loss at Washington, which is now No. 18. They followed with a 33-3 loss at Oklahoma, which is No. 6 this week.

Coach Sean Lewis has no complaints about this difficult stretch of Power Five conference opponents ahead of MAC play. If nothing else, it helps him when he votes in the coaches' poll.

"I have a pretty accurate description of who belongs where," he said. "I've gotten to see quite a few of them first-hand, live and up close."

Lewis called Georgia "the greatest amount of talent ever assembled on a football field."

"They are a galaxy of college football stars," he added. "They have talent all over the place. There are first-round draft picks everywhere."

This is the second meeting between the schools. Smart doesn't remember the first, even though he was playing for the Bulldogs.

In 1998, Georgia opened with a 56-3 victory over the Golden Flashes. Smart was a senior safety that season, when the Bulldogs went on to finish 9-3.

"I didn't even realize we played them when I was here," Smart said. "It was a long time ago."