ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Stetson Bennett has moved on. No problem for No. 1 Georgia.
The Bulldogs have a new walk-on star.
Mekhi Mews sparked Georgia with a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown and the Bulldogs, taking advantage of three interceptions, blew away Ball State 45-3 on Saturday.
“It's almost surreal,” said the 5-foot-8 Mews, who came to Georgia without a scholarship two years ago and is emerging as one of the Bulldogs' most exciting weapons. “I just work my butt off every day and let the results come.”
The two-time reigning national champions were held scoreless in the opening quarter, but Georgia (2-0) finally got rolling with a 31-point outburst in the second period against the overmatched Cardinals (0-2).
Credit Mews for the momentum swing.
He took a punt at his own 31, shook off a couple of would-be tacklers, weaved past another defender and found a wall of blockers down the sideline.
“All I saw was green grass,” said Mews, who had three catches for 75 yards and a TD in a season-opening win over Tennessee-Martin. “I feel like everybody executed well. I was just doing my job.”
Mews also had a 47-yard kickoff return to start the game, but Georgia botched that opportunity when Peyton Woodring missed a chip-shot field goal from 28 yards.
There was a bit of grumbling in the stands when Georgia's offense, led by new starting quarterback Carson Beck, began sluggishly for the second week in a row.
But Beck finished 23 of 30 for 283 yards, with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint and a 21-yard scoring toss to Cash Jones.
“I'm extremely pleased,” coach Kirby Smart said when asked about Bennett's replacement at the most prominent spot on the field. “He's getting the ball out of his hands quick. He's seeing the field. He does a good job playing that position.”
The Georgia defense totally stifled Ball State, a Mid-American Conference school that filled an open spot on the schedule after the Bulldogs had to ditch a scheduled trip to Oklahoma because of Southeastern Conference expansion.
Malaki Starks, Chaz Chambliss and Tykee Smith had interceptions in the second quarter, all followed by Georgia touchdowns.
Chambliss' first college pick was particularly fortuitous.
Ball State freshman Kadin Semonza, in his first college start, threw a pass toward tight end Maximus Webster, who was busy blocking and not even looking in the quarterback's direction. The ball bounced off the back of Webster's right leg — and right into the hands of Chambliss.
“It's football,” Chambliss said with a shrug. “Crazy stuff happens all the time.”
Two plays later, receiver Dillon Bell lined up in the backfield, took a handoff and broke it back outside for a 21-yard touchdown.
Smith's interception off another deflected ball led to Kendall Milton's 1-yard touchdown run in the final minute of the first half.
Coming off a strong second half at Kentucky in the season opener, Semonza was held to 7 of 16 for 55 yards by one of the nation's top defenses. The Cardinals turned to Game 1 starter Layne Hatcher and third-stringer Kiael Kelly in the second half.
Semonza didn't have much help, either. Marquez Cooper was held to 8 yards rushing after gaining 90 against Georgia the previous year while playing for Kent State.
“We competed," Ball State coach Mike Neu said. “Our guys gave it everything they had."
Plagued by injuries, Georgia's long-reliable running game is struggling.
Daijun Edwards missed his second straight game because of a lingering knee injury, while Milton got only seven carries as he comes back from a hamstring issue.
The Bulldogs finished with just 99 yards rushing — and only 60 of those came from players listed as running backs.
The lack of depth is why Georgia turned to Bell, a receiver, to provide a spark on the ground.
“We like him at receiver,” Smart said. “That only came up because of the situation we've got at running back. He provided some explosiveness.”
Ball State: The Cardinals picked up a hefty payday as the fill-in for Oklahoma, but it's time to get back to playing programs their own size. At least they can say they were tied 0-0 with the two-time reigning national champions at the end of 15 minutes. Semonza, the first true freshman quarterback to take snaps at Ball State since 2018, was dealt an especially tough hand for his first start but still enjoyed the experience. “It was a dream come true,” he said. “That’s what you think of when you think college football: thousands of screaming fans, big stadiums and the best team in the country.”
Georgia: Still too early to make a read on Beck. Facing inferior competition in his first two starts, he's made some nice throws — especially the over-the-shoulder pass to Cash — but had a few stumbles against the Cardinals. There was a fumble while attempting to run for a first down, though the Bulldogs recovered, plus an interception on a deep throw to a tightly guarded receiver.
Ball State: After a pair of road losses to SEC teams, the Cardinals welcome Indiana State for their home opener next Saturday.
Georgia: Hosts South Carolina in its SEC opener next Saturday, the third of four straight home games for the Bulldogs to begin the season.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll