ATHENS, Ga. — For the first 30 minutes of Southern’s showdown with No. 6 Georgia on Saturday afternoon, the Jaguars more than held their own against a dangerous Southeastern Conference power that’s known for striking early, often and with great efficiency.
After the break, however, it was a different story. The Bulldogs exploded for 28 points in the third quarter and wound up flattening the Jaguars 48-6.
But what a first half it was for Southern, playing an SEC opponent for the first time.
The Jaguars limited Heisman hopeful Nick Chubb — who was seeking his 12th consecutive 100-yard rushing game — to 31 yards in the first half. They also ended quarterback Greyson Lambert’s consecutive completion streak at 22 and sacked him once (thus preventing the Bulldogs’ offensive linemen from a postgame ice cream reward), and Southern forced Georgia to settle for two field goals.
Although Southern went into the locker room down 20-6, the play of the defense was more than encouraging — especially in the second quarter, when the Bulldogs managed but three points and only 81 offensive yards.
“They got in the red zone and we had some stops,” Southern coach Dawson Odums said. “We forced them to kick some field goals. We knew they liked to run the football as good as anybody in the country. We did a good job of defending the run, but they just wore us down.
“I thought we took some steps forward. I thought we challenged those guys because we knew that we were going to play against a complete offense.”
Linebacker Daniel Brown, who had four tackles (including the sack on Grayson), said he wasn’t surprised the defense enjoyed some success in the first two quarters.
“We got adjusted to the game speed,” Brown said. “We came out with the mindset that we could play with them, but when we got to the game, we realized that, ‘OK, anything can go.’ The opportunity was there, so we had to seize our opportunity.”
Defensive tackle Gabe Echols, who had two tackles, pointed to overall effort and some instances of good fortune in the first half, which included holding the run-happy Bulldogs to 35 yards on the ground.
“The coach called the plays and we just executed them to the best of our ability,” he said. “We knew they are one of the top teams in probably the top college conference there is, but we just went out there to play hard, play strong and play fast. In the first half, everything tilted our way, at least defensively.”
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, the Bulldogs came out firing in the third quarter, unleashing Chubb for 100 yards and touchdown runs of 9 and 49 yards. Chubb finished the day with 131 yards on 15 carries, and he caught a 24-yard pass for a touchdown.
When Chubb wasn’t knocking down walls, teammate Sony Michel — who scored a touchdown in the first quarter — was doing the honors, rushing for 62 third-quarter yards and another touchdown, this one on a 58-yard scamper.
“I’m quite sure that at halftime they got motivated and they came out and took control of the game,” Odums said. “I though for the first half, our guys played as good as they could have played. We answered the challenge, but it was hard for us to get anything offensively. They’re very good defensively and the factor was the players ... everybody in the country knew Georgia was going to run the football. And it was all about us stopping them, and we didn’t do a very good job of that.”
Added Brown, the linebacker: “We were doing pretty much the same thing we did in the first half, but we just weren’t capitalizing on our opportunities. We had some missed tackles. We were going up high on some big backs.”
At the end of the day, Southern could’ve been pleased that Georgia scored more points (52) and racked up more yards (576) the week before against SEC rival South Carolina.
“They did their thing,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of the Jaguars. “I was impressed with them.”