Dantrell Savage dives in for a TD.
First, the good news: Oklahoma State gets a chance to redeem itself when Georgia visits Stillwater for the grand opening of the renovated Boone Pickens Stadium in 2009. The bad news: The Bulldogs were the better team Saturday night – in every phase of the game – en route to a 35-14 season-opening victory in a contest that the Cowboys had been pointing to for the last eight months.
Georgia, which improved its home record in nonconference games to 18-0 under Mark Richt, scored on its first offensive play – a 12-yard run by Thomas Brown just a little more than a minute after the opening kickoff – much to the pleasure of more than 92,000 fans at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga.
The Bulldogs forced a three-and-out by the Cowboys on the game’s first possession, and then capitalized on a bad snap over the head of punter Matt Fodge and took over on the 12-yard line. Brown scored the first of his two touchdowns on the very next play.
“We recovered from that (bad snap). We came back and tied it up 7-7,” OSU head coach Mike Gundy said. “We’d like to have that one back – we gave them one – but that’s not what got us beat. The reason we lost the football game is because they outcoached us, we became one-dimensional on offense when we got behind, defensively in the second quarter we got out of position, our corners allowed the screens on the receivers to get outside and get big plays and long yardage, and we didn’t tackle very well.”
The Bulldogs effectively kept the high-powered OSU offense (which averaged 35 points a game a year ago) off the field by controlling the ball with an effective running game. In the first half, Georgia had two long scoring drives which culminated in touchdowns. Bulldog quarterback Matt Stafford directed scoring drives of 71 yards (in 10 plays) and 77 yards (using nine plays) en route to a 21-14 halftime lead.
Oklahoma State kept it close through the first half – tying it up 7-7 on Bobby Reid’s 20-yard touchdown pass to Adarius Bowman and pulling within 21-14 on Danrell Savage’s dive into the end zone for a score in the second quarter – but Georgia kept the Cowboy offense off the field in the final 30 minutes of play.
Georgia used another long, time-consuming drive to open the second half (72 yards in nine plays) that culminated with Stafford hitting Bruce Figgins for an 11-yard touchdown. The next two Cowboy drives stalled and resulted in Matt Fodge punts, including one which Michael Henderson returned 63 yards to the OSU 24-yard line. Stafford hit Michael Moore for a 9-yard touchdown just four plays later, and the Cowboys were down 35-14.
“What really disappoints me as a coach is that we came down here with an opportunity in the national spotlight to make a statement, and we were a long ways from making a statement,” Gundy said. “We weren’t very physical, we didn’t tackle tough enough, and offensively I didn’t think we were very physical at all. I don’t think our running backs ran very hard. There were a lot of areas that we did not play very well.
“Now the good news is – like I told the team – the sun comes up tomorrow, and it’s an opportunity to go to work, an opportunity to go to practice. This one is gone. This one cuts me deep because we had such high expectations, and we had a tremendous following with 5,000 people, a lot of excitement. I’m just disappointed that we didn’t play better for the fans.”
Stafford completed 18 of 24 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns, and the Bulldog running game (behind an offensive line with three first-time starters) accounted for 142 rushing yards, including a pair of touchdowns by Thomas Brown.
Oklahoma State, which averaged nearly 410 yards per game a year ago, managed just 266 total yards (70 rushing and 196 passing) against a Bulldog defense which returned just three starters from 2006. The Cowboys only turned the ball over once – on a Reid interception late in the game – but did not force the Bulldogs into a single turnover.
“When it comes down to it, we just didn’t make any plays,” said OSU defensive end Nathan Peterson. “We missed tackles, we weren’t in the face of the quarterback ... as senior defensive ends me and Marque (Fountain) consider ourselves leaders, and we weren’t making a difference tonight.
“I don’t believe we played up to our potential (on defense). I believe we just played very poor. I don’t think there’s one person on this defense that can honestly say they had a good game and made a difference tonight. They ran the ball at us like we expected, and we didn’t do a good job of stopping it. So many things went wrong tonight. It’s really frustrating because we prepared so long for this game. Now we just need to get ready for a quick turnaround and get ready for next week,” Peterson said.
Cowboy tight end Brandon Pettigrew caught a career-best seven passes for 85 yards. All-American wide receiver Adarius Bowman finished with four catches for 65 yards, including the 20-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter that tied the game at 7-7.
Oklahoma State returns to action next Saturday night in the home opener when it plays host to Florida Atlantic at Boone Pickens Stadium. Florida Atlantic, coached by former Oklahoma head coach Howard Schnellenberger, defeated Middle Tennessee State 27-14 in its season opener Saturday.