November 26, 2011

Exclamation point!

ATLANTA - Larry Munson would have been proud.

No. 13 Georgia put a capper on what's been a remarkable 2010 regular-season campaign Saturday, rolling past No. 25 Georgia Tech 31-17, the Bulldogs' 10th straight victory that sets the stage for next week's challenge against top-ranked LSU for the Southeastern Conference crown.

"It's been unbelievable, just unbelievable," said quarterback Aaron Murray, who completed 19 of 29 passes for 252 yards and four touchdowns on the afternoon. "I really don't know what to say. It's just been amazing year, from where we started, to what we've now got in front of us - it's really very amazing."

What a turnaround it's been.

After starting the season with losses to Boise State and South Carolina, it's a safe bet that not many expected the Bulldogs to be in the position they're in, coming off a huge victory over their instate rival and now one step away from a possible SEC title.

The stakes will be high.

For the Tigers (12-0), a spot in the BCS national title game while the Bulldogs (10-2) can earn a trip to New Orleans and the Sugar Bowl.

But Richt knows beating the Tigers won't be easy.

"We're still on a journey so I'm not real reflective right now," Richt said. "I know we've got more work to do; I know we've got more things to accomplish, we've got two more ball games so right now I just want to try and keep my focus."

Georgia certainly had no trouble focusing on Georgia Tech (8-4), improving to 10-1 over the Yellow Jackets in Richt's 11 years as the Bulldog head coach.

The game was never really in doubt.
Georgia jumped out to a 14-10 halftime advantage, and despite the absence of Isaiah Crowell, who remained out with an ankle injury, led by as much 31-10 before the Yellow Jackets tacked on a meaningless touchdown with 6:32 left in the game.

Defensively, after rushing for 411 yards against Georgia last fall in Athens, the Bulldogs' held the nation's top-ranked rushing team to a 243 yards, some 60 yards below their season average, while intercepting Yellow Jacket quarterback Tevin Washington to stop a pair of would-be drives.

"As a defense, we don't look at a team average and what we're trying to hold them to," nose tackle Jonathan Jenkins said. "We just try to play our game and the outcome is the outcome. We just try to play the defense as a whole and try to make stops."

Ken Malcome led the Bulldogs' ground game with 12 carries for 39 yards, while tight end Orson Charles caught five passes for a team-high 95 yards.

Murray, who has now thrown for 32 touchdowns, connected with four different receivers against the Yellow Jackets for Saturday's scores - Michael Bennett, Tavarres King, Chris Conley and Aron White.

Leading 17-10 at the half, Georgia jumped right on Georgia Tech to start the third and never looked back.

A 60-yard kickoff return by Brandon Boykin put the Bulldogs in excellent position to start the quarter, and from there it took just three plays for Georgia to score its third touchdown of the day, on a three-yard lob King for a 24-10 lead.

Georgia had a chance to sew up the game moments later when Mike Gilliard intercepted Washington, but a sack pushed the Bulldogs out of field goal range and Georgia was forced to punt for the first time all afternoon.

But the Bulldog defense would give the offense the ball right back.

This time, it was safety Shawn Williams who stepped in front of a Washington pass, picking it off at the 24, before an excessive celebration call on the Bulldog junior pushed the ball back to the 39.

This time, the offense wouldn't let the defense down, driving 38 yards, including 21 on a run by Zander Ogletree - the first carry by a Bulldog fullback all year - setting up a four-yard touchdown pass from Murray to White.

"I give Georgia a lot of credit, they have a good football team and they showed up and played very well," Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. "For us, the margin of error was small and we didn't take advantage of a couple of opportunities we had early and we could never claw ourselves back in the game."

Mistakes hurt both team on their opening drives.

First it was Georgia Tech, which was called for a chop block on second down to negate the Jackets' first possession.

But the Bulldogs were in a giving mood themselves.

After picking up a pair of first downs to the 41, Murray lofted an ill-advised pass that hung in the air too long and fell right to cornerback Louis Young who picked off the ball at the Georgia 37.

However, Georgia's defense would hold again, and after forcing a second Yellow Jacket punt, the Bulldog offense went to work.

First, it was Murray who hit Charles with an 18-yard pass, followed by a 28-yard catch-and-run by King.

On the next play, Malcolm Mitchell took an end-around 25 more yards to the 10, and despite a holding penalty on Charles, Georgia still found the end zone for the game's first touchdown on a 15-yard pass to Bennett, who caught the football at the eight before running in the rest of the way.

Georgia Tech would answer on its next drive with a 22-yard field goal by Justin Moore, although it might have been more had Garrison Smith not made a key stop on a fourth-and-goal from the 2.

"That was a big play," defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "It was a huge play in a big part of the game."
Georgia Tech's defense wasn't having quite the same success.

On Georgia's next drive, the Bulldogs marched 80 yards in just eight plays, eventually scoring on a 15-yard pass from Murray to Conley midway through the second for a 14-3 lead.

Georgia Tech scored its first touchdown on its next possession, a 5-yard run by David Sims with 1:13 in the half, but that was still plenty of time for the Bulldogs to mount one final drive of their own.

A 22-yard run Murray keyed the possession, before bogging down at the Yellow Jacket 24 with 15 seconds to play.

That brought out Blair Walsh for a 41-yard field goal attempt, which was wide left. But hold on.

Right before the kick, Johnson called a timeout for Georgia Tech giving Walsh another chance. This time, he didn't miss as he drilled 41-yarder to send the Bulldogs into half with a 17-10 lead.

"Our goal all year was just to try and improve every single week," Richt said. "I thought the guys bought into that pretty good. I'm just real pleased with what's going on right now. We've got an unbelievable challenge next week."