1:00 PM ET, September 16, 2006
Sanford Stadium, ATHENS, GA
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- The way Georgia's defense is playing, Matthew Stafford can take his time learning what it takes to be a successful college quarterback.
The freshman scored his first touchdown in a winning debut as the Bulldogs' starter Saturday, but it was the guys on the other side of the line who made sure there wasn't any pressure on the youngster.
Georgia's defense put up its second straight shutout -- the first time that's happened since 1980 -- in a 34-0 rout of UAB.
"Those boys are playing light out," center Nick Jones said. "We see them in practice every day, so we know they're good. Back-to-back shutouts just shows everybody else how good they are."
The special teams aren't so bad, either.
C.J. Byrd scooped up a blocked punt and returned it 12 yards to the end zone midway through the third quarter, which gave Georgia (3-0) a 20-point lead and essentially finished off a team that couldn't muster anything offensively.
Brandon Coutu kicked two more field goals, including a 55-yarder. He's 7-for-7 on the season.
That made things easy for Stafford, who completed 10 of 17 passes for 107 yards and powered into the end zone on a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter. He broke a couple of tackles and dove across with another defender wrapped around his feet.
"There wasn't any big stress or big burden on me," said Stafford, who took over the No. 1 job after senior Joe Tereshinski went down the previous week with a severely sprained ankle. "It's just fun to be playing on Saturday."
After beginning the season with a surprisingly close 24-17 loss at Oklahoma, UAB (1-2) managed only 163 yards against a defense that shut out South Carolina 18-0 the previous week.
The Bulldogs opened with a 48-12 victory over Western Kentucky, giving up a field goal in the closing minutes. They have gone 123 minutes, 32 seconds since then without allowing a point.
"This is the best team I have played in quite a while," UAB coach Watson Brown said. "They just physically dominated us at times."
Georgia's last back-to-back shutouts were 41-0 over Vanderbilt and 27-0 over Kentucky in 1980 on the way to a national championship.
"If we continue to play defense and special teams the way we are, and we get a little better on offense," coach Mark Richt said, pondering the possibilities, "I don't know how good we can be, but we certainly have a chance to get better."
UAB averaged less than 2.9 yards per play and never seriously threatened to score. The Blazers' deepest drive was to the Georgia 36, where they were snuffed out on downs.
"There's a little pressure on us," end Charles Johnson said. "We want to step up for him. We want him to know we've got his back."
Stafford, the first freshman to start at quarterback for the Bulldogs since 1998, made his most glaring error when he failed to pick up a blitzing safety, who knocked the ball loose with a big hit.
Georgia recovered the fumble and kept Stafford from being tainted by any major mistakes -- the primary emphasis after he tossed three interceptions in relief of Tereshinski against South Carolina.
The Bulldogs went straight down the field on their first possession, taking advantage of a 26-yard punt return by Thomas Flowers to the UAB 44. Stafford completed three straight passes, UAB was penalized for a personal foul, and Kregg Lumpkin finished it off with an 8-yard run around right end.
Flowers, who was coming back from a two-game suspension, hurt a ligament in his foot later in the game and may need season-ending surgery.
On their second possession, the Bulldogs passed up a chance for a short field goal after a penalty, then failed to convert on fourth-and-1. But Coutu got another chance from long range and barely cleared the crossbar on his 55-yarder, the third-longest kick in school history without benefit of a tee. He also holds the first two spots on that list, connecting last season from 58 and 56 yards.
Coutu made a 38-yarder early in the third quarter, then it was time for the kick-blocking team to step up. Prince Miller broke through to smother a punt by Parker Mullins, Byrd scooped it up on one hop and sped to the end zone.
It was the 23rd block and 10th special-teams touchdown for the Bulldogs since Mark Richt took over as coach in 2001.
Appropriately, Jeremy Lomax sacked UAB's Chris Williams on the final play of the game.
Neither member of the Blazers' two-quarterback rotation did much. Sam Hunt, getting the start because he's a Georgia native, completed 6 of 10 for 49 yards. Williams was 5 of 10 for 46 yards.
"They took it to us today," running back Dan Burks said. "They beat us up and down the field."
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... Kregg Lumpkin scored from the 8-yard line to give the Dawgs an early 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Gameball goes to... Matthew Stafford. The true freshman QB was an effective 10 of 17 for 107 yards with one rushing TD.
Stat of the game... 17-130: Both teams combined for 17 penalties for 130 yards.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||2-13||2-9|
|4th Down Conversions||1-3||1-2|
|TD||9:42||KREGG LUMPKIN 8 YD RUN (BRANDON COUTU KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 44 yards.
|FG||5:09||BRANDON COUTU 55 YD FG|
Drive info: 9 plays, 50 yards.
|FG||10:35||BRANDON COUTU 38 YD FG|
Drive info: 10 plays, 45 yards.
|TD||7:18||CJ BYRD 12 YD BLOCKED PUNT RETURN (BRANDON COUTU KICK)||0||20|
|TD||9:16||MATTHEW STAFFORD 4 YD RUN (BRANDON COUTU KICK)|
Drive info: 9 plays, 55 yards.
|TD||4:24||BRANNAN SOUTHERLAND 1 YD RUN (BRANDON COUTU KICK)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 40 yards.