ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia continued its early-season dominance Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium, adding an annihilation of Middle Tennessee to its list of one-sided victories.
The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs built a 42-7 lead by halftime and went on to a 49-7 win over the Blue Raiders, an overmatched Conference USA team that will be paid $1.7 million by the University of Georgia Athletic Association for making the trip to Athens.
Georgia has beaten its first three opponents this season by a cumulative margin of 135-24, with a 45-0 win over Austin Peay and a 41-17 win over South Carolina preceding Saturday’s rout.
Highlights in Georgia’s latest win included two touchdowns by Mecole Hardman, one on a 5-yard reception and the other on a 70-yard punt return.
Georgia set the tone by scoring the first time it had the ball Saturday, with a career-long 66-yard run by tailback Elijah Holyfield accounting for most of the game-opening seven-play, 87-yard drive. Quarterback Jake Fromm completed the drive with the 5-yard throw to Hardman.
An interception and 26-yard return by Georgia defensive back Deandre Baker set up the next touchdown, which came with four minutes left in the first quarter on an 11-yard pass from Fromm to a wide-open Jeremiah Holloman in the end zone.
The game turned into a rout of extreme proportions when Georgia scored four touchdowns in the second quarter.
On the first play of the quarter, a 56-yard run by wide receiver Tyler Simmons on a jet-sweep play – his first career touchdown -- capped a six-play, 94-yard drive quarterbacked by freshman Justin Fields.
Next, Hardman’s 70-yard punt return -- his first career punt return for a touchdown -- stretched the Bulldogs’ lead to 28-0.
Middle Tennessee briefly interrupted the Georgia onslaught when quarterback Brent Stockstill threw a short pass in the right flat to Patrick Smith, who broke free for a 41-yard score. That trimmed Georgia’s lead to 28-7 with 4:21 left in the half.
But the Bulldogs quickly resumed the firepower.
Riley Ridley caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Fromm, three plays after Fromm connected with Holloman on a 65-yard deep ball to the 14-yard line.
And finally, with less than a minute to go in the half, Fields scored on a 15-yard run.
The 42 first-half points were Georgia’s most since scoring 45 in the first two quarters against Troy in 2014.
Georgia’s offense piled up 382 yards – 217 rushing and 165 passing – in the first half Saturday. Holyfield had an even 100 yards rushing in the half on eight carries. Fromm completed 10 of 12 passes for 128 yards and three touchdowns in the half.
Neither Fromm nor Holyfield played in the second half.
In the third quarter, Georgia expanded its lead to 49-7 on a 9-yard touchdown pass from Fields to Jayson Stanley, capping a 10-play, 90-yard drive.
The afternoon was at least a lucrative one financially for Middle Tennessee. The $1.7 million guarantee is the most Georgia has paid an opponent to this point to play in Sanford Stadium, and it matches the second largest payout to an opponent by any school in the nation this season.
The announced attendance was 92,746, reflecting a Sanford Stadium sellout, but the stadium was more than half-empty by the start of the fourth quarter of the rout.
This article was written by Tim Tucker with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
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