ATHENS, GA., SEPT. 5 -- Virginia football coach George Welsh said during the preseason he didn't think it was crucial for the Cavaliers to win their first game, but that it would be nice if they played well. Today, Welsh got exactly what he asked for.

Virginia was defeated, 30-22, by the 20th-ranked Georgia Bulldogs in its season opener before 75,126 at Sanford Stadium. However, the Cavaliers did play well. Or, at least better than 17-point underdogs are supposed to play when they mosey on down here 'tween the hedges.

Virginia led by 14-0 early in the second quarter, by 14-10 at halftime and trailed by just 16-14 after three quarters. But led by tailbacks Lars Tate and Rodney Hampton, Georgia scored twice midway through the fourth quarter to take a 30-14 lead.

Tate, a senior, had 218 yards rushing on 28 carries, Georgia's highest single-game rushing total since Herschel Walker ran for 219 against Florida in 1982. Hampton, a freshman, had 70 yards on six carries, all of which came in the game's final 16 minutes.

"I don't mean to say anything bad about them because they're a quality team, but we just ground it out on them in the second half," said Tate, an all-Southeastern Conference selection last season, who gained 44 of his 67 fourth-quarter yards on a Herschelesque touchdown run that made it 30-14 with 7:50 to play. "They just seemed to get weary."

"We missed too many tackles," Virginia linebacker David Griggs said. "If we'd made the tackles, we would have won plain and simple."

That's unlikely. Nobody wins here plain and simple. Virginia did beat Georgia, 31-0, here on Homecoming Day 1979, becoming one of just five teams to shut out a Vince Dooley-coached team. However, the Bulldogs have won 40 of 46 games at Sanford Stadium since that loss.

Virginia's missed tackles helped Georgia finish with 394 rushing yards, 250 in the second half, all of which came against a defense that was far and away the Atlantic Coast Conference's worst against the run last season.

"They are a lot quicker," Welsh said. "Their quarterback and their tailbacks make plays. I guess maybe they are a little better than us; maybe more than a little better."

And on the one missed tackle Griggs will not be able to forget, those differences never were more evident.

Just over 14 minutes remained in the game. Georgia, which had taken a 16-14 lead on its previous possession, faced a third down and five from Virginia's 46. Quarterback James Jackson, under a rush, dumped a pass to Hampton, who caught the ball in stride at the 45 and stopped. Griggs and two other Cavaliers went sailing past, tackling each other, but not Hampton, who ran to Virginia's 35. Three plays later, Hampton scored on a 21-yard run that made it 23-14 with 12:12 left.

"I was in good position," Griggs said. "The guy just made a great move."

Early in the game, though, it was Virginia making all of the moves.

After the teams exchanged punts, the Cavaliers went 80 yards in seven plays to take a 7-0 lead. Relying on running backs Kevin Morgan (83 yards rushing on 15 carries and 32 yards receiving on four catches) and Durwin Greggs, the former All-Met from Bishop McNamara, Virginia went from its 20 to its 44. Then, on a first down, quarterback Scott Secules made a marvelous play fake and pass to wide receiver John Ford, who split cornerback Greg Williams and safety Miles Smith for a 56-yard scoring play.

The touchdown gave Ford, a junior, the Virginia record for career touchdown receptions (13). He had been tied with Dave Sullivan and Ed Carrington.

The red-clad crowd was semi-stunned. Yet it settled smugly back into its seats as the Bulldogs converted a third-and-16 and a third-and-9 and moved the ball to Virginia's 9. But Griggs tackled Tate for a one-yard loss, safety Darryl Hammond broke up a pass in the end zone and, on the final play of the first quarter, Steve Crumley missed a 26-yard field goal attempt.

Virginia then drove the ball 80 yards on 11 plays for another score, this one a 29-yard pass from Secules to Ford, to make it 14-0. The crowd began getting itchy.

When a drive from Georgia's 30 to Virginia's 18 stalled, then went backwards and resulted in a 40-yard field goal by Crumley, a few boos could be heard.

Then a curious thing happened. Secules was replaced. Welsh had said earlier in the week he would start and then be alternated with redshirt freshman Shawn Moore unless Secules "took us on a couple of long scoring drives."

Under Moore, Virginia went nowhere. When the Cavaliers got the ball back, Secules threw a pass that was tipped and then intercepted at Virginia's 47. Tate made the score 14-10 four plays later with a 28-yard touchdown run off an option pitch from Jackson.

"I wanted Moore to play in the first half," Welsh said. "I don't think that had to do with anything."

Said Secules, who finished the game with 12 completions in 19 attempts for 205 yards, "The second I came off the field {after the second touchdown}, I heard him talking to Shawn. I couldn't figure it out. I knew what he had said. But I knew that he wanted to get Shawn some time and it's not mine to be questioning the when, where and how."

Still, the move, combined with Moore's ineffectiveness, Secules' interception and Tate's interception, seemed to take the edge off the Cavaliers.

Georgia opened the second half with a 13-play, 60-yard, six-minute drive for a 19-yard field goal that made it 14-13. Then Georgia turned a bad punt snap that gave it the ball on the Cavaliers' 36 into a 21-yard field goal for a 16-14 lead.

The Cavaliers didn't threaten again until their final score, a two-yard run by Marcus Wilson with 4:29 to play that completed an 80-yard, 10-play drive. Moore's run for a two-point conversion made it 30-22.

Virginia 7 7 0 8 22 Georgia 0 10 6 14 30

V -- Ford 56 pass from Secules (Inderlied kick)

V -- Ford 29 pass from Secules (Inderlied kick)

G -- FG Crumley 40

G -- Tate 28 run (Crumley kick)

G -- FG Crumley 19

G -- FG Crumley 21

G -- Hampton 21 run (Crumley kick)

G -- Tate 44 run (Crumley kick)

V -- Wilson 2 run (Moore run)

A -- 75,125.

Virginia Georgia First downs 22 28 Rushes-yards 40-158 57-394 Passing yards 237 89 Return yards 0 22 Passing 15-23-1 6-15-0 Punts-average 3-37 2-39 Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-0 Penalties-yards 2-10 4-30 Time

RUSHING -- Virginia: Morgan 15-83, Wilson 9-40, Moore 3-38, Greggs 10-19, Bryant 1-2, Dempsey 1-minus 11, S

PASSING -- Virginia: Secules 12-19-1, 205 yards, Moore 3-4-0, 32. Georgia: J. Jackson 6-15-0, 89.

RECEIVING -- Virginia: Morgan 4-32, Ford 3-94, Mattioli 3-40, Greggs 2-27, Dempsey 2-35, Wilson 1-9. Georgi