Bennett, Georgia defense lead No. 3 Dawgs to 49-3 rout of Oregon

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ATLANTA – Stetson Bennett and the Georgia defense picked up where they left off in last year’s national championship game, even with a bunch of their former teammates now playing in the NFL.

Bennett threw for 368 yards and accounted for three touchdowns, a revamped defense didn’t miss a beat, and the No. 3 Bulldogs looked very much like a champion intent on repeating with a 49-3 rout of No. 11 Oregon on Saturday.

Bennett completed 25-of-31 passes with two touchdowns and ran for another score in the season opener before calling it a day in the third quarter. By that point, Georgia led 42-3 and had thoroughly ruined the debut of Oregon coach Dan Lanning.

Georgia really opened it up on offense, throwing 37 times for 439 yards.

“I think when you watch what they did today, if you’re watching from home, you’re saying, `Man, I’d love to come play in that offense,”‘ coach Kirby Smart said.

After spending the last three years as Georgia’s co-defensive coordinator, Lanning got a look at his former team from the opposing sideline in a game played before a predominantly red-clad crowd at the home of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.

He saw just how far the Ducks have to go.

“That locker room is hurting a little bit,” Lanning said. “But they’re ready to grow.”

Bennett, the former walk-on who led a storybook run to Georgia’s first national title since 1980, returned for a sixth college season with a firm grip on the starting job after battling for playing time most of his career.

Bennett was the offensive MVP of both Georgia victories in last year’s College Football Playoff.

He started his final season with a career high for passing yards.

“It’s always good to go in being the guy,” Bennett said. “It was pretty cool.”

He guided the Bulldogs to the end zone on all six possessions he played. He ran for a 1-yard score and tossed TD passes of 4 yards to Ladd McConkey – spinning away from a pass rusher who appeared to have him corralled – and 18 yards to Adonai Mitchell.

There were some questions about the Georgia defense, which had five players off the 2021 unit selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

Any doubts were quickly put to rest by a swarming group that looked very much like last year’s defense for the ages, making life miserable for new Oregon quarterback Bo Nix.

“One of our mottos is, `No one in our end zone,”‘ said Christopher Smith, who had one of Georgia’s two interceptions.

Nix transferred to Eugene after starting at Auburn the last three seasons. He immediately found himself facing a team he lost to three times while playing in the SEC.

Make it 0-4.

Nix’s frustration was evident when he buried his helmet in his hands after a false-start penalty.

Georgia’s day was epitomized by a short pass to Darnell Washington that turned into a big gain when the 6-foot-7, 270-pound tight end shrugged off one defender hitting him high and hurdled another who tried to bring him down low.

QUITE A DEBUT

Freshman Malaki Starks looks like one of the new stars of the Georgia defense.

He made a brilliant interception while falling backward at the Georgia 8 and wound up leading the team with eight tackles.

NIX IN GREEN

Despite his poor showing, Nix has a solid grasp on the Oregon quarterback job.

Nix completed 21 of 37 for just 173 yards, and his second interception – the one picked off by Smith – was an especially poor decision.

“He forced a throw he didn’t need to force,” Lanning said. “Bo knows that.”

Even though he didn’t name a stating quarterback leading up to the game, Lanning never considered giving someone else a shot.

Nix is still No. 1 on the depth chart.

“He’s our quarterback,” Lanning said. “He did a a good job handling some adverse situations. Now he’s got to figure out how he can improve.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Oregon: Lanning clearly has a lot of work to do to bring the Ducks up to a truly elite level. While there’s no shame in losing to a team such as Georgia, Oregon expected to be much more competitive in their new coach’s first game.

Georgia: The Bulldogs are off and rolling in defense of their national championship. They weren’t threatened at all by perhaps the toughest team on their schedule until a Nov. 19 game at Kentucky.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Bulldogs are more than worthy of their No. 3 ranking. Smart has built a program that reloads rather than rebuilds.

Oregon is sure to tumble in The Associated Press poll. But at least every game from here on out looks much easier than facing the Bulldogs.

UP NEXT

Oregon: Home opener next Saturday against FCS school Eastern Washington.

Georgia: While this seemed like a home game for Georgia, its actual home opener is next Saturday against FCS opponent Sanford.

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.