By PAUL NEWBERRY, AP Sports Writer
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Freshman Jake Fromm threw a pair of touchdown passes in another poised showing on the big stage, the defense stifled Nick Fitzgerald and No. 11 Georgia broke out plenty of trickery in a 31-3 rout of No. 17 Mississippi State on Saturday night.
Georgia established itself as the clear favorite in the Southeastern Conference East with a dominating performance from its very first snap and the most impressive victory of Kirby Smart’s two-year coaching tenure.
After the defense forced a three-and-out from Mississippi State on the opening possession — a sign of things to come — 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 2½ minutes into the game .
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.
Chubb rushed for 81 yards and a pair of TDs, leading a parade of Georgia runners who pounded Mississippi State.
The home team burned Mississippi State (3-1, 1-1) 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.
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.
Mississippi State: After the impressive showing against LSU, coach Dan Mullen’s team showed it’s still a long way from making a run at top-ranked Alabama in the SEC West.
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.
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 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), which can’t afford another conference loss after falling to Florida and faced intense criticism for a 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.