ATHENS, Ga. — – No. 1 Georgia intercepted three passes and walk-on Mekhi Mews sparked the offense with a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown, leading the slow-starting Bulldogs to a 45-3 victory over Ball State on Saturday.
The two-time reigning national champions were held scoreless in the opening quarter, but Georgia (2-0) finally got rolling with a 31-point outburst in the second period against the overmatched Cardinals (0-2).
The 5-foot-8 Mews, quickly becoming one of Georgia’s most exciting weapons, took a punt at his own 31, shook off a couple of would-be tacklers, weaved past another defender and found a wall of blockers down the sideline.
Mews also had a 47-yard kickoff return to start the game, but Georgia botched that opportunity when Peyton Woodring missed a chip-shot field goal from 28 yards.
There was a bit of grumbling in the stands when Georgia’s offense, led by new starting quarterback Carson Beck, began sluggishly for the second week in a row.
The Georgia defense totally stifled Ball State, a Mid-American Conference school that filled an open spot on the schedule after the Bulldogs had to ditch a scheduled trip to Oklahoma because of Southeastern Conference expansion.
Chambliss’ first college pick was particularly fortuitous.
Ball State freshman Kadin Semonza, in his first college start, threw a pass toward tight end Maximus Webster, who was busy blocking and not even looking in the quarterback’s direction. The ball bounced off the back of Webster’s right leg – and right into the hands of Chambliss.
Smith’s interception off another deflected ball led to Kendall Milton‘s 1-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the first half.
Coming off a strong second half at Kentucky in the season opener, Semonza was held to 7 of 16 for 55 yards by one of the nation’s top defenses. The Cardinals turned to Game 1 starter Layne Hatcher and third-stringer Kiael Kelly in the second half.
Semonza didn’t have much help either. Marquez Cooper was held to 8 yards rushing after gaining 90 against Georgia the previous year while playing for Kent State.
Ball State: The Cardinals picked up a hefty payday as the fill-in for Oklahoma, but it’s time to get back to playing programs their own size. At least they can say they were tied 0-0 with the two-time reigning national champions at the end of 15 minutes. Semonza, the first true freshman quarterback to take snaps at Ball State since 2018, was dealt an especially tough hand for his first start.
Georgia: Still too early to make a read on Beck, the replacement for Stetson Bennett. Facing inferior competition in his first two starts, he’s made some nice throws – especially the over-the-shoulder pass to Cash – but had a few stumbles against the Cardinals. There was a fumble while attempting to run for a first down, though the Bulldogs recovered, plus an interception on a deep throw to a tightly guarded receiver.
Ball State: After a pair of road losses to SEC teams, the Cardinals welcome Indiana State for their home opener next Saturday.
Georgia: Hosts South Carolina in its SEC opener next Saturday, the third of four straight home games for the Bulldogs to begin the season.