ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — From the very first snap, the message was clear.
With a thoroughly dominating performance and plenty of trickery, the No. 11 Bulldogs re-established their presence in the national conversation with the most impressive victory of Kirby Smart's two-year coaching tenure.
Freshman Jake Fromm threw a pair of touchdown passes in another poised showing on the big stage, while the defense stifled Nick Fitzgerald in a 31-3 rout of No. 17 Mississippi State on Saturday night.
(AP Photo/Mike Stewart)
"Everyone's always talking Georgia this, Georgia that," receiver Terry Godwin said. "We finally came out and showed you tonight that Georgia's back. Georgia's back being that top dog and being the Georgia Bulldogs that we are."
On the first play of the Southeastern Conference showdown, the first ever between the teams with both ranked in the Top 25, Mississippi State's Aeris Williams was thrown for a 6-yard loss, leading to a three-and-out.
Then it was Georgia's turn.
All it took was one play to reach the end zone.
Fromm handed off to Nick Chubb for what looked to be a routine run up the middle. Instead, Chubb wheeled around and tossed the ball back to the quarterback on a flea flicker. Terry Godwin broke into the clear downfield, the Mississippi State secondary having totally bought the ruse. Fromm delivered the pass in stride for a 59-yard touchdown less than 2 1/2 minutes inot the game.
Fromm ➡️ Godwin.
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 23, 2017
It was pretty much all Georgia (4-0, 1-0) from there. Fromm threw for 201 yards on just 9-of-12 passing, further solidifying his hold on the quarterback job he inherited when Jacob Eason went down with a knee injury in the first quarter of the season opener.
"He was very accurate as a passer," Smart said. "I thought he made good decisions, the plays he put us in. He read the coverages well. He had a good feel of the game plan."
Chubb rushed for 81 yards and a pair of TDs, leading a parade of Georgia runners who pounded Mississippi State (3-1, 1-1).
(AP Photo/Mike Stewart)
Georgia burned the visitors again early in the third quarter on a third and 2. Fromm went in motion to the right, Chubb took a direct snap and took off around left end on a 28-yard TD without being touched.
Georgia's final touchdown came when Fromm faked a pitch to the right, again freezing the secondary, before delivering a 41-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Nauta that made it 28-3 late in the third quarter.
The way Georgia's defense was playing, that was plenty.
"They didn't give up a touchdown and that's huge, especially against guys who can score like that," Nauta said. "On offense, we did what he had to do. Ran the ball, passed the ball, made plays. There's not much more you can ask for."
(Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Coming off a 37-7 blowout of LSU that vaulted Mississippi State into the Top 25 , Fitzgerald faced the home-state team that didn't even recruit him out of high school. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for two more against the Tigers, but he couldn't duplicate that performance against a swarming Georgia defense that is starting to look a bit like the one Smart oversaw in his previous tenure as Alabama's coordinator.
Fitzgerald passed for just 83 yards and was picked off twice, while rushing for 47 yards on 10 carries.
"They've got a ridiculous amount of talent," Mississippi coach Dan Mullen said of Georgia.
(AP Photo/Mike Stewart)
Mississippi State: After the impressive showing against LSU, Mullen's team showed it's still a long way from making a run at top-ranked Alabama in the SEC West. On both sides of the line, State was thoroughly dominated.
Georgia: An inventive performance on offense and a strong showing from the defense leaves the Bulldogs looking like the class of the SEC East. Eason is on the mend from his knee injury , but it's hard to see how he's going to reclaim the starting job from Fromm, who has now led victories over Notre Dame and Mississippi State.
Dominick Sanders grabbed his 13th career interception off a deflected pass, tying him for fifth in the Georgia record book with Smart and three others.
Georgia kicker Rodrigo Blankenship tied his career best with a 49-yard field goal that cleared the crossbar with plenty to spare.
Georgia should climb solidly into the Top 10 off this performance. The Bulldogs got as high as No. 9 early in Smart's debut season, but wound up struggling to an 8-5 finish. Mississippi State will surely drop a few spots but should maintain its place in the Top 25.
Mississippi State: Another tough SEC road test at No. 15 Auburn, the Bulldogs' third straight game against a ranked SEC opponent. The Tigers (3-1, 1-0) romped to a 38-14 victory last season in Starkville.
Georgia: Heads to Rocky Top for its first SEC road game against Tennessee (3-1, 0-1), which can't afford another conference loss after falling to Florida and faced intense criticism after Saturday's lackluster 17-13 victory over winless Massachusetts. The Vols have won two straight against the Bulldogs, including last year's 34-31 triumph on a Hail Mary pass as time ran out.