We've journeyed through another long season, and for once, the hopes we carefully calculated in our minds after the South Carolina loss came to fruition. We've one ten in a row and we're headed to the Dome with an Eastern crown, the first goal of every season. People may look at the score from yesterday and not think much of it, but anyone who watched the game particularly the second half will know it was a dominating performance by Georgia. Mark Richt is now 10-1 versus Tech, and amidst many noted struggles against other rivals he's certainly solidified UGA's dominance in this series.
It certainly took UGA a little while to get going, but throughout the second half it was evident that this was a dominating performance. A quick peek through the stat box can give some good insight, especially with a unique offense like Tech. I think the first stat that I notice is the time of possession which was split almost 50 / 50 between the two teams. This is a great stat for UGA. Tech is a ball control offense that usually edges their opponents in this category and in turn leads to alot of their success. While UGA and Tech shared almost equal first down conversions, UGA was able to keep a hold on the pace and tempo of the game, not letting Tech get into their rhythm. Keep in mind as well for ball control purposes, we were without the aid of a true running back who could control the time of possession. Murray was able to be incredibly efficient through the air and keep the UGA offense moving. While Tech mustered a good number of first downs, they also had a large number of drives that were stopped by UGA's defense. While Tech was able to gain their standard amount of around 250 yards on the ground, this was not converted in to points. They had a late game back door touchdown to garner 17, but amidst all their yardage that had numerous drives quelled prior to reaching the endzone. This has been a strength of the UGA defense all year in red zone stops, especially not allowing six points to be put on the board.
The key turning point and breakaway in the game came at the opening of the second half. I love getting the ball back to start the second half, stemming back to my NCAA 2002 days. Sure UGA struggled a little bit in the first half getting points on the board, and got a break with Walsh's rekick to end the half, but the opening to the second half set the tone for the rest of the game. As long as Boykin gets cracks to return, he will do something to swing the field position at some point in the game. His opening kick return in the second half set the tone for field position putting it out past the 50. Murray quickly worked the offense down for a touchdown. The kick coverage team penned the Jackets deep, and the defense was then able to execute a quick turnover deep in Tech territory. Murray took a costly sack on the next drive, but the UGA punt team was able keyed by Drew Butler was able to once again pin Tech deep with a nice sand wedge effort. Georgia was unable to cash in immediately, but more punts were exchanged and Butler kept the pressure on with another great effort to pin Tech deep. The result was another quick Georgia Tech turnover deep in their own territory on a great athletic play by Shawn Williams on a subsequent drive. Georgia had distanced themselves with another touchdown and the game was all but over. The ability of UGA to keep Tech deep in their own endzone for the majority of the third quarter ignited by Boykin's return and Butler's skill was the turning point to this game.
Let me brag on Aaron Murray for a little bit. I've always stated that Murray is not Stafford, but more Colt McCoy. We have to accept this. He's not going to throw cannon shots downfield, but as we've come to know at this point he will efficiently move an offense down the field to control the game and put points on the board. He utilized his legs well yesterday to keep drives going. He once again spread the ball around to a plethora of personnel to keep the Tech defense guessing. His 2nd quarter TD pass to Conley was a perfect example of his understanding of the game. He ran a play action fake, followed by a pump fake, and then delivered a great pass over the defense to the corner of the endzone for a score. When he had his only mistake of the game on an arm deflected interception, he came out the next drive and went 4/4 for 66 yards and a TD. He threw accurate strikes to Orson Charles over the middle all day long which were the catalysts of keeping the pedal down on offense. His touch passes for the TD strikes were also great balls, one short to Bennett allowing him to run over the catch, Kings short fade, and then throwing a nice touch over the defense for the last score to Aron White. Murray has 32 TD's this year, which breezed pass the UGA single season record. Sure he's had a large number of picks, misthrows, and other mistakes, but the bottom line is that he's a winner and he's got us in the Dome with some good stats to back it up. He's not the sexiest guy from a skill standpoint, but in the end he's a guy who has the heart and toughness to get the job done, and this year he's done just that.
The defense played a disciplined game against a unique offense. The players for the most part were in position to cover the many facets of the triple option. I was happy to see the key turnovers executed by the two guys who I feel have been the keys to the UGA defense this year. Michael Gilliard and Shawn Williams were not key names we thought of at the beginning of the year, but have proved to be the keys to this defense all year long. Gilliard was thrown into the mix due to key injuries and has gone on to lead the team in tackles. Williams has been a sure tackler in the secondary and garnered a few picks for himself. The defense proved that even though Tech throws the ball more this year, they still really can't "throw the ball". Tech is going to amass yardage, but the defense did an effective job of not letting Tech get into their groove and dictate the tone of the game.
A few other key notables from the game come to mind. Michael Bennett has done an incredible job this year. He's been a quiet necessity in the offense. On the first scoring drive he executed a key block on the drives biggest play, and then provided a nice run after the catch to provide the opening score. Orson Charles is an absolute mismatch for any defense he faces. He was the focus of South Carolina's defense which allowed others to step up offensively in that game. Against Tech he proved that if you don't decide from the onset to contain him, he will eat you up for yardage over the middle all game long with some sure hands. The running game wasn't that effective, but Murray made sure this wasn't an issue. Zander Ogeltree's key run was the shinning point, but UGA found other outlets to provide yardage on the ground such as the Mitchell reverse, Murray's legs, and most importantly the ball control and security that was absent in the Kentucky game. There were some personnel struggles early in the game in terms of delay of games, substitution mishaps, and a defensive offside jump. Georgia caught a few breaks on potential fumbles, but in the end made sure that their mistakes were not capitalized on by Tech. In turn, they made sure Tech's mistakes were costly and resulted in points.
This was a game (as noted by Herbstreit and Corso) where UGA could have had their eyes fixated on the Dome. They even picked against them. Even with a major portion of their offense missing, early game struggles, and the loss of Tyson early in the game, Georgia was able to effectively dominate the game. This kept the domination of the Tech series in tact. Grantham showed improvement in his second year against Tech. Aaron Murray and the offense built momentum after the struggles against Kentucky. Richt and company have come a long way, and this result is something we could have only dreamed of after the opening two losses. Hopefully this shows that the heart of the UGA team is back, and we've risen up from the dark place we feared our program was heading. While it wasn't the toughest schedule and there were some scary moments, we've done what was set out before us, giving Richt his 7th 10 win season in 11 years. 10 straight wins, a solid defense, and a ticket to the Dome will make this to be considered a very successful season. Even more impressive is the youth on this team that has taken Georgia back to the Dome. Let's hope we can at least have an effort that we can be proud of next week versus LSU, and that we can remain confident in the direction this program is heading.
On to the Dome. It has a nice ring to it after the feelings I had the last time we walked out of that building.