ATHENS, Ga. - If Georgia was looking for a spic-and-span cleansing to scrub away the muck of its loss to South Carolina last week, it will probably have to wait six days until it gets its shot at Alabama.
The No. 23 Bulldogs' 45-16 victory Saturday against Western Carolina came against a team that has now lost 12 consecutive games yet still provided Georgia with more resistance than expected.
In the scheme of things, it probably didn't matter all that much.
After all, Georgia (2-1) started a pair of freshman offensive tackles, shook up its lineup by benching senior starters at linebacker and offensive tackle, and rested a pair of banged-up starters in the secondary.
No wonder coach Mark Richt needed only 20 seconds in his postgame news conference to show where his mind was.
"I'm assuming everyone is going to go home and get that Alabama-Arkansas game on and you see what you can find out," Richt said.
Western Carolina (0-3) was no pushover, trailing 17-9 with less than a minute to play in the first half until Georgia went 65 yards in three plays, capped by the first collegiate touchdown from Georgia redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno, who had a game-high 94 yards on 13 carries, on a 23-yard run.
Before it was over, the Catamounts scored their first ever touchdown against a Southeastern Conference team on Mike Malone's 2-yard run with 4:41 to play against mostly second- and third-stringers. Western Carolina was outscored 383-12 in seven previous games against SEC teams.
"I look at it as we had a pretty average game," middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said.
The expected rout against a team from the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) finally came when the Bulldogs scored touchdowns on six of seven possessions to open a 45-9 lead.
"Whatever happened today really probably isn't going to be thought of as soon as the day is over," offensive guard Scott Haverkamp said. "We'll take the win, enjoy it, then we're going to start preparing for 'Bama."
After failing to score a touchdown for the first time since 2001 last week, Georgia's offense rolled up six on Saturday.
"It didn't matter who we played," said quarterback Matthew Stafford, who completed 14 of 20 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns. "Just trying to get out there and get the taste out of our mouth, and I think we did some of that today."
Stafford rebounded from fumbling away the ball on a sack by completing his next 10 passes.
The Bulldogs managed just 43 first-half rushing yards and 140 total against a defense that had surrendered 326 to Eastern Kentucky and 313 to Alabama.
"We weren't consistent enough in the running game, but it's good to see some consistency in the passing game," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "They were loading the box and playing one-on-one and we were able to make some plays outside."
Georgia went deep down its bench, and Richt was happy to see 71 players get in a game in which safety Kelin Johnson (ribs) and cornerback Bryan Evans (knee) never left the sideline.
Joe Cox entered the game for first time this season midway through the third quarter and hooked up on a 34-yard touchdown pass to Demiko Goodman, who didn't even play last week.
"We had enough good things happen (on) both sides of the ball," Richt said. "We got to play a lot of guys. I think our morale will be good."
Senior linebacker Brandon Miller was replaced by Akeem Dent. Right tackle Chester Adams, who Richt said was in offensive line coach Stacy Searels' "doghouse," was replaced by Clint Boling, who joined left tackle Trinton Sturdivant in giving Georgia its first pair of first-year freshman offensive tackles in the modern era.
"Like Coach Richt told us 'It got the train back on the track,'" Adams said. "Now the train is moving. We've got to get more momentum every week. Once the train is moving full speed, it's hard to stop it."
Reach Marc Weiszer at firstname.lastname@example.org.