Georgia knows a great running back and the Bulldogs rolled into Week 2 raving about a familiar ballcarrier on the scouting report.
Marquez Cooper rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown for Kent State at Georgia last season, and returns to Athens on Saturday as the leading offensive threat for Ball State when the Cardinals visit the top-ranked Bulldogs.
“Really physical, downhill, power runner, good back,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Our guys were talking about him just this morning of how powerful he was and how ironic it is you’re playing against him again at a different school in the same conference. We have a lot of respect for him.”
Georgia opened the season Saturday with a 48-7 victory over Tennessee-Martin in the starting debut of Carson Beck. While national media reviews of Beck were not glimmering as he fills the shoes of two-time national champion Stetson Bennett, Smart said the game film told another story.
“Carson played really well — composed,” Smart said of Beck’s 21-of-31 performance. “There will be looks that maybe they fool you with, you didn’t see in the scouting report. But his run check game, his carrying out his fakes, his decision in the pocket, him throwing the ball away, I thought the guy for a first start, played really well.”
While Smart was testy with media appraisals of Beck’s showing, the Georgia coach did say he expects massive collective improvement in Week 2 after failing to dominate any one area of the game last week.
Beck is surrounded by playmakers including projected top-10 draft pick Brock Bowers, who scored on a rare tight end sweep. He helicoptered over the goal line for a 3-yard TD, the fifth rushing touchdown of his career.
“Brock is just a freak. He can do everything,” Georgia running back Kendall Milton said. “The stuff people see on game day, that’s nothing compared to what we see in practice. It’s definitely a blessing to have a teammate like Brock.”
Smart said wide receiver Ladd McConkey was a game-time decision but was held out of the opener with back discomfort. He’ll likely suit up Saturday.
Never threatened by Tennessee-Martin, Georgia expects a bit more resistance from Ball State.
The Cardinals led Kentucky 7-3 in the second quarter last week and have multiple players on the radar of NFL scouts, including the diminutive but powerful Cooper. Kentucky took control in a 44-14 win for the Wildcats.
Cooper led the Mid-American Conference in rushing (1,326 yards) at Kent State last season. He is critical to the keepaway plan for Ball State, which had the ball for 38 minutes against Kentucky. Layne Hatcher started at quarterback but Ball State played freshman Kadin Semonza and plans to keep both in the game plan this week. Semonza was more effective moving the ball, and could be in line to start, head coach Mike Neu said.
“He’s earned it,” Neu said of Semonza, who was 15-for-21 passing for 165 yards and one touchdown.
“To be thrown into the situation he is, I thought he handled himself quite well, very poised, did a good job of distributing the ball and getting the ball in the hands of our playmakers.”
Kentucky scored on a fumble return and kickoff return, reaching the red zone just twice.
The Ball State defense took a hit in the opener, losing fifth-year linebacker Clayton Coll in the first half to a serious lower-leg injury.
This is the first meeting between the programs. Ball State lost its only previous game against a No. 1-ranked team (coaches poll), 62-6 at Oklahoma in 2011. The Cardinals have never faced the No. 1 team in the AP poll.
–Field Level Media