Georgia - The road to the Dome
by Jeff Dantzler
photo by Rob Saye
September 1 – Athens
Georgia – 45, Buffalo – 23
On a scorching Saturday in Athens, the Bulldogs were far from impressive in a 22-point win over Buffalo. Georgia needed a goal line stand to lead 24-16, instead of 24-19 at the half. But the Bulldogs pulled away in the second half. The highlight of the game was the debut of sensational freshman tailback Todd Gurley, who ran for 100 yards and a touchdown and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score that gave the Dogs a 14-7 lead.
September 8 – Columbia
Georgia – 41, Missouri – 20
In the Tigers first intra-league game as a member of the Southeastern Conference, with a rocking stadium, they led the Bulldogs 3-0, 10-3, 10-9, 17-9 and 20-17. They burned the Bulldogs defense,
depleted by suspension, injury and attrition, for a couple of long strikes.
But in the final minute of the third quarter, Aaron Murray hit Marlon Brown
for the go-ahead touchdown. Marshal Morgan hit his second big field goal
to put the Dogs up 27-20. Then Gurley had a big run and the great linebacker Jarvis
Jones delivered. In the first of his two dominating performances of the year, Jones
put the Tigers away in the fourth quarter. He returned an interception to the oneyard
line that gave the Dogs a 34-20 lead. He then forced a fumble that Georgia recovered
inside the 10, which set up the finishing score. Over the final 16 minutes of
this game, the Bulldogs showed they had a chance to be really good.
September 15 – Athens
Georgia – 56, Florida Atlantic – 20
It was 14-14 in the second quarter. Georgia’s defense was again giving up too many
big plays. But Murray hit Michael Bennett for a long bomb with under two minutes
remaining in the first half to give Georgia a 28-14 lead. Gurley hit the 100-yard
mark again, and the Bulldogs dominated the second half to put overmatched FAU
September 22 – Athens
Georgia – 48, Vanderbilt – 3
In what is undoubtedly one of Georgia’s top performances of the year, the Dogs
completely dominated the ‘Dores, racing to an eye-opening victory. The Bulldogs
scored four first half touchdowns to take a 27-0 lead and held Vandy to a field goal
in the red zone inside the final minute. Gurley and fellow freshman tailback Keith
Marshall both had over 100 yards rushing and highlight-reel touchdowns. Jones had
a monster fourth down sack which sent the crowd into a frenzy. Murray had a big
night throwing, though the Bulldogs had several passes deflected or batted down,
which would come back to bite Georgia in the following weeks. This Vanderbilt team
went 5-3 in SEC play. The Commodores three losses were 17-13 to South Carolina,
31-17 to Florida and this blowout in Athens. Like in the final 16 minutes at Missouri,
the Georgia team on display this Saturday night looked like a championship caliber
September 29 – Athens
Georgia – 51, Tennessee – 44
In one of the wild shootouts in Sanford Stadium history, in a game filled with emotional
swings, the Bulldogs pulled it out to beat Tennessee for a third straight season.
It was 7-0 Georgia, then Tennessee returned an interception for a tying
touchdown. Marshall raced 75 yards to put the Dogs back on top. Gurley had a
spectacular touchdown run and the Dogs took a 27-10 lead. Both rushed for over
100 yards. Everything then turned. Poor special teams and a myriad of turnovers
were cashed in by the Big Orange and Tennessee took a 30-27 second quarter lead.
Morgan hit a 51-yard field goal to end the half and tie it at 30-30. Murray and
Michael Bennett connected to put the Dogs back on top. Georgia’s struggles with
extra points continued, and Marlon Brown, who had a tremendous season, caught a
clutch two-pointer. Tennessee got its offense cooking against that Georgia defense,
which had the suspended players back, but clearly, the unit was far from complete.
With the Bulldogs clinging to a seven point lead, Georgia came up with turnovers on
Tennessee’s final three possessions to pull it out. It was clear that the Bulldogs were
a talented team, but also an unsound one.
October 6 – Columbia
South Carolina – 35, Georgia – 7
A defense that got gashed on South Carolina’s first possession, an interception off a
tipped pass, a defense that again got gashed and then a Gamecocks punt return for
a touchdown. It was 21-0 in the first quarter. Georgia couldn’t score from the South
Carolina two in the final two minutes of the first half and went to the locker room
down by that same count. The Gamecocks went up 35-0 and Georgia was embarrassed
on national television. It was a 10th straight loss for the program against a
team that would wind up in the final national rankings (assuming that South Carolina
will). It was a third straight loss to South Carolina, a series first. Steve Spurrier was
grinning big. This was not the way Georgia wanted to head into its open date.
October 20 – Lexington
Georgia – 29, Kentucky – 24
A really bad Kentucky, a 26-point underdog, went back and forth with Georgia. It
was scary for the Bulldogs. On the heels of that embarrassing performance at South
Carolina, the Dogs were on the brink of one of their biggest upset losses in program
history. But Murray had a big night, throwing for four scores and the Bulldogs other
No. 11 – Connor Norman – recovered a Wildcats on-sides kick that saved the day. A
win is a win, but this two-game stretch was far from championship level. The Georgia
faithful weren’t exactly brimming with confidence heading to Jacksonville. The
Gators had routed South Carolina 44-11 earlier in the day to move to No. 2 in the
country with a 7-0 record. It was the Gamecocks second straight loss, as they fell at
LSU the week prior. So the door was open. For a Georgia team with such talent and
great expectations, any chance to have a special season depended on the following
October 27 – Jacksonville
Georgia – 17, Florida – 9
It was the Bulldogs biggest win in at least five years. Georgia’s defense pulled together,
forcing six turnovers, Gurley scored and topped the century mark, the electric
Malcolm Mitchell – who began the year on defense – made the offensive play of the
game on the Bulldogs lone third down conversion, and Jones capped off a Lawrence
Taylor-esque performance by forcing a fumble that put the Gators away. Jones
forced two fumbles, recovered two fumbles chalked up three sacks, five and a half
tackles for loss and 13 stops. Georgia overcame three interceptions thrown by Murray
and 14 penalties. Gurley’s ten yard touchdown put the Dogs on the board.
teams hit second half field goals and Georgia led 10-9 midway through the first
quarter. Finally, Georgia converted a third down, and Mitchell raced to the left
hash, split two defenders and struck paydirt for a 45-yard score that put the Bulldogs
ahead 17-9. Florida was driving with a chance to tie with a TD and twopointer.
Jordan Reed hauled in a Driskell aerial, and while pushing for extra
yardage was stripped on the five. The ball rolled right to Sanders Commings in
the back of the end zone. A big Gurley run and critical Florida penalty let the
Dogs take that precious victory formation. It was two in a row over the Gators
and suddenly Georgia had control of the SEC East race.
November 3 – Athens
Georgia – 37, Ole Miss – 10
There was concern over a letdown. And it showed. Ole Miss pulled ahead 10-0
and Georgia was in trouble. But Murray connected with Brown for a 66-yard
touchdown on a trick play. The teams exchanged four turnovers on five plays.
The Bulldogs were going backwards and chewing up clock on a two minute drill.
Then Murray rolled right and hit Tavarres King for a 40-yard touchdown in the
closing seconds. Somehow, Georgia led 14-10 at the half. Damian Swann and
Jordan Jenkins, both of whom have given the Bulldogs defense a huge lift, both
had excellent days. Swann recovered two fumbles. Brown made a great play to
extend the Bulldogs second half opening drive. Murray then hit Mitchell for a
touchdown. The Bulldogs would pull away with one of their halves of the season
– scoring the final 37 of the game and outdistancing the Rebels 23-0 after intermission.
Alec Ogletree recorded a safety. Twin brother Xander Ogletree ran for a
touchdown. The downer – Brown was lost for the season with a knee injury.
Georgia was a win away from a berth in the SEC Championship Game.
November 10 – Auburn
Georgia – 38, Auburn – 0
In this rivalry which has featured so many upsets and season-spoiling shockers,
the Georgia people were leery of the Tigers, despite the Bulldogs 8-1 record and
Auburn’s 2-7 record. Well Georgia put on a clinic. The Bulldogs scored on four
straight long first half scoring drives, while the defense and special teams excelled.
It was 28-0 at the half. Surreal. Georgia added a long third quarter field
goal drive and Marshall broke off a 62-yard touchdown dash to put the finishing
touches on this rout and clinch a berth in the SEC Championship Game. Gurley
and Marshall both ran for over 100 yards and Murray was magnificent through the
air. It was the Bulldogs sixth win in the last seven meetings with the Tigers. Over
the past two seasons, Georgia has pounded the Tigers by counts of 45-7 and 38-
0. That’s 83-7 in 2011-2012 over Auburn. As for Georgia’s defense, it had surrender
9, 10, and 0 in wins over Florida, Ole Miss and Auburn – allowing just one
touchdown. But before a date in the Dome, there would be the two in-state foes
to deal with.
November 17 – Athens
Georgia – 45, Ga. Southern – 14
This was scary for the Bulldogs in the first half. The Eagles famed triple option
was cutting through Georgia’s defense. With the Dogs on top 10-7, Southern was
marching deep in Georgia territory. But a chop block penalty pushed ‘em back on
a converted 4th-and-1 inside the five. The Eagles would miss a tying field goal.
Georgia then drove, and Murray hit Mitchell for a 29-yard touchdown with three
seconds to go in the half, pushing the lead to 17-7 at intermission and allowing
the Bulldogs faithful to exhale a bit. Murray tossed three more touchdowns in the
third quarter as the Dogs pulled away – including one to Chris Conley, his second
score in as many weeks. It was the second straight home game where the Bulldogs
hit a critical touchdown with under five seconds to go in the first half. The
record was now 10-1, and on deck – Tech, in the biggest game of all.
November 23 – Athens
Georgia – 42, Tech – 10
Make no mistake, the play of the game was Baccarri Rambo’s strip and return from
the Georgia two to midfield with the Bulldogs leading 7-0 in the first quarter. The
Bulldogs offense kept pouring the points on, led by tremendous line play, great
running from Gurley and Marshall, and a Murray and Mitchell-led passing attack.
The defense gave up a bunch of yards, and Tech had seven possessions inside
Georgia territory. But the Bulldogs turned the Yellow Jackets back time and time
again. Rambo also had a clutch interception that led to the Bulldogs fourth score
and a 28-3 halftime lead. Gurley’s freshman season is the second greatest ever by
a Bulldog tailback. This one goes down with the 44-7 victory on the flats in 1981
and 51-7 triumph between the hedges in 2002 as one of the most impressive
Georgia victories in this series over the last 50 years. The tackling lacked at
times, but there’s no way to call this anything but an “A-Plus” performance. It will
take that and more for the Bulldogs to topple the Crimson Tide in Atlanta.