By PAUL NEWBERRY
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Now, the real season begins for No. 3 Georgia.
Finishing off a dominating run through their first three games, the Bulldogs romped to a 55-0 win over Arkansas State on Saturday. Jake Fromm threw for 279 yards and three touchdowns before taking the rest of the day off, while Georgia’s defense turned in a dominating performance.
Bring on Notre Dame.
The No. 7 Fighting Irish will make their first trip ever to Athens next Saturday night, a game that has been eagerly anticipated by Georgia fans ever since the home-and-home series was announced.
“We’ve played in a lot of big games,” coach Kirby Smart said. “They’re not going to be intimidated by that.”
The Bulldogs (3-0) have yet to be tested, blowing through a stretch that felt more like an NFL preseason by a cumulative margin of 148-23.
“The physical conditioning of playing a four-quarter game, there’s only one way to simulate that — play it. And we haven’t,” Smart said. “But I can’t rightfully keep guys out there and not play other players. That’s the toughest thing. We’ve got to be in shape and ready for a four-quarter game the rest of the season.”
With thousands of Georgia fans wearing pink instead of red to honor Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson’s wife, Wendy, who died last month from breast cancer, the Bulldogs (3-0) took control as soon as they got their hands on the ball. They scored on six of seven possessions in the first half, building a 34-0 lead.
The Georgia defense was equally stout, posting its first shutout since the 2018 opener. The Red Wolves (1-2) went three-and-out four times in the first half and crossed midfield only once, settling for a 50-yard field goal try that faded wide right.
The Bulldogs went to the locker room with a 382-81 edge in total yards, and many of the fans didn’t bother coming back to watch the final two quarters.
Brian Herrien got Georgia rolling with a 3-yard scoring run, and Rodrigo Blankenship booted a couple of field goals to make it 13-0 at the end of the first period.
Fromm took it from there.
He connected with Dominick Blaylock on a 60-yard touchdown pass, went to D’Andre Swift out of the backfield for a 48-yard score, and finished it off by zipping a 5-yard TD throw to Lawrence Cager just inside the pylon with less than a minute to go in the half.
Anderson, coaching his second game since returning from a leave of absence, was moved by the support of the Georgia fans. A group of shirtless students sitting in the first row behind the Arkansas State bench painted their upper bodies pink and wrote “Remember Wendy” across their backs.
“One of the classiest moves I’ve ever seen,” Anderson said, choking up. “I would say thank you to all those who showed up today wearing pink or thinking pink. They don’t know my wife, they don’t know me, and they didn’t have to do it. I’m just very grateful and honored and obviously overwhelmed.”
The Red Wolves were thoroughly overmatched on the field. Georgia finished with 656 yards total while holding the visitors to 220.
Arkansas State’s only decent drive came midway through the fourth quarter, reaching the Georgia 13. But on fourth-and-5, backup quarterback Layne Hatcher’s pass was picked off in the end zone to preserve the shutout.
“We needed Georgia to be thinking ahead and looking ahead,” Anderson said. “We needed them to make some mistakes. They didn’t.”
Blankenship made seven extra points, pushing his streak to 173 in a row for his career. He is second in Southeastern Conference history behind Daniel Carlson, who made 198 consecutive PATs at Auburn.
Blankenship also is perfect on five field goal attempts this season. He connected from 29 and 41 yards.
Arkansas State: A discouraging performance for one of the Sun Belt’s powerhouse programs. The best thing they can do is forget about this one and enjoy the massive $1.8 million check the got for making the trip to Athens.
Georgia: It’s hard to get a read on a team that’s beaten Vanderbilt, Murray State and Arkansas State. The Bulldogs have been able to get many of their younger players some playing time, which could pay off later in the season. Seven players scored touchdowns, including freshmen Blaylock and Kenny McIntosh and redshirt freshman Zamir White. Freshman wide receiver George Pickens turned in another highlight-reel catch, a toe-tapper along the sideline.
Arkansas State: Returns home to face Southern Illinois in its final nonconference game before the start of Sun Belt play.
Georgia: Plays Notre Dame for only the third time. The Bulldogs clinched their lone national title with a victory over the Fighting Irish in the 1981 Sugar Bowl. Two years ago in South Bend, Georgia prevailed 20-19 in Fromm’s first career start.