September 24, 2017 12:05:07 AM
ATHENS, Ga. -- Whether Nick Fitzgerald wanted it to happen or not, the nostalgia came.
Mississippi State's quarterback, a native Georgian, made his return to his home state and the team he grew up cheering for Saturday night when he led MSU to Georgia. Georgia (4-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) ruined Fitzgerald's homecoming by beating MSU 31-3, but returning to Sanford Stadium in pregame brought back some times from his childhood.
"Growing up you hear the fight song all the time -- I'm sure my alarm clock was the fight song at one point in my life," Fitzgerald said. "It brought me back to when I was younger, but like I said all week, it was just another game we had to win, and it didn't happen."
Fitzgerald's homecoming doubled as a dominant performance for the Georgia defense, holding Fitzgerald to 83 yards through the air, including two interceptions, and 47 yards on the ground.
Georgia's offensive formula entering Saturday was as obvious as could be: a lot of running and very little passing. Georgia entered Saturday with just 12 teams in the nation attempting fewer passes than it, with most of those teams being triple option teams that traditionally rarely pass.
All in all, the formula was the same. Georgia just got a lot more out of it this time.
Georgia freshman quarterback Jake Fromm only attempted 12 passes, but converted them for 201 yards and two touchdowns on nine completions. It sets a new career-high for Fromm in single-game passing yardage.
"The kid is stepping up," Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. "He's starting to play. He's always had that in him. He's a good leader. He did a good job managing the game."
Fromm wasted no time finding that rhythm, completing all eight passes he attempted in the first half to the tune of 160 yards.
None of them more impactful than the Georgia's offense first play from scrimmage.
On that play, Fromm handed off to tailback Nick Chubb -- just to get It right back. Chubb tossed it back to Fromm for a fleaflicker, who connected with Terry Godwin for a 59-yard touchdown that put Georgia up 7-0 mere minutes into the game.
"We had poor communication in the back end and didn't get in the right coverage," MSU coach Dan Mullen said.
Smart said of the play, "I had gone to (offensive coordinator) Jim (Chaney) and told him I'd like to open with that and he said they had been talking about the same thing. We felt like there would be some players peeking in the backfield and Terry got behind them."
Fromm ending the first half with eight attempts and ending the game with 12 means one thing: Georgia turned to its rushing attack in full force in the second half.
The new emphasis paved the way for Georgia to run for 203 yards in the game, but possibly more importantly, Georgia possessed the ball for nearly 21 minutes in the second half alone. With MSU trying to fight back from an 11-point halftime deficit that kept growing with time, every possession capped with a punt felt like the last straw.
Mullen sounds off of conference
As programs including Missouri, Auburn, Texas A&M and Florida suffered non-conference losses with some less than aesthetic appeal, a national consensus came together on the SEC: it's a one-team league. The national idea on the SEC has come together that Alabama is a national championship contender and the rest of the conference doesn't have much to offer.
Mullen vehemently disagrees.
"It's kind of funny, I hear how down the SEC is. We're playing out third straight top 15 team, all conference games," Mullen said referencing the previous week's win over LSU and the upcoming game against Auburn. "I don't know how down the league is that way. Shout out to the league, I guess.
"The great thing about the Southeastern Conference is you usually end up playing a better team next week. It's not all about the one game in this league, it's the multiple games."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter, @Brett_Hudson
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