After a month away from home, the Georgia Bulldogs returned to Sanford Stadium on Saturday for a game that was at once typical of what fans have come to expect and a deviation from the norm.
What was unusual was that the ‘Dawgs, who have made a habit of dominating on the stat sheet games they have won only narrowly on the scoreboard, flipped the script on homecoming. Due largely to the fact that the Red and Black so dominated the New Mexico St. Aggies in the first half that they were free to empty the bench in the second half, the numbers were misleadingly even. The visitors from the Land of Enchantment converted seven of 16 third downs, moved the chains 19 times, amassed 402 yards of total offense, and won the time of possession battle, holding onto the ball for 30:05.
The deceptiveness of those figures cannot be overstated. Despite not playing a down in the second half, Aaron Murray connected on 18 of 23 attempts for 238 yards and five touchdowns. Hutson Mason took over after intermission, completing eight of ten passes for an additional 131 yards and a touchdown. Eleven Bulldogs scored points in the course of the afternoon, including four guys named Brandon: Branden Smith (two carries for 58 yards), Brandon Harton (15 carries for 98 yards), Michael Bennett (three catches for 22 yards), Brandon Boykin (one catch for 42 yards), Chris Conley (five catches for 126 yards), Orson Charles (five catches for 60 yards), Aron White (one catch for six yards), Kyle Karempelis (13 carries for 63 yards), and Rhett McGowan (four catches for 51 yards) scored touchdowns, while Blair Walsh and Brandon Bogotay added extra points.
This brings us to the aspect of the game that was familiar; namely, winning. Georgia, which now has won seven straight, did not miss a beat in the absence of Isaiah Crowell, Ken Malcome, Richard Samuel, and Carlton Thomas. The Bulldogs’ opening drive covered 66 yards in ten plays, seven of which were over the top. The second Red and Black possession was made up entirely of running plays, while the third featured five straight passes as the offense continued shifting its emphasis, devoting less effort to being balanced than to keeping the opposition off-balance. It was back to the ground game on the Athenians’ ensuing drive, which saw Harton take the handoff six times in seven plays.
The sixth of those carries ended on the far side of the goal line, staking the Classic City Canines to a 14-3 lead and opening the floodgates in a 42-point second quarter. That the home team scored six touchdowns in 15 minutes was more than slightly surprising; when the Bulldogs got the ball back with 4:22 remaining in the half and a 28-3 edge, it seemed likely that Georgia would go into clock-killing mode. They did not. Instead, the Red and Black went 58 yards in four plays and 107 seconds, scoring on a 47-yard strike from Murray to Conley.
Walsh drove home the extra point, Bogotay kicked off, and Bacarri Rambo picked off Matt Christian’s pass on the next snap, setting up a single-play possession on which Murray found Charles for 19 yards and another touchdown. When the pigskin was returned to the host squad’s hands with 32 seconds left until halftime, Murray and Mike Bobo again made the most of their opportunity, as the offensive coordinator called four pass plays, and the quarterback completed three of those attempts, finally finding White on the route that carried him through the end zone and into the hedge. That made the score 49-3, and made the last 30 minutes as unrepresentative as they were unimportant.
The Bulldogs’ 63 points are the most they have scored since routing Louisiana-Monroe, 70-6, in 1994, back when the ULM Warhawks were the Northeast Louisiana Indians. The Athenians’ 627 yards of total offense are the fifth-most in school history, surpassing the 626 collected against William & Mary in 1988, and the most the Classic City Canines have amassed since tallying 667 against the Southern Miss. Golden Eagles in 1993, back when Eric Zeier was the quarterback on the field instead of the color commentator in the broadcast booth.
This was, in short, a skunking of the sort Georgia fans expected and the Bulldogs needed. For the fourth time in as many series meetings with the Aggies, the Red and Black came away from the New Mexico State game with a convincing win while staring straight into the face of a significant showdown with an SEC West opponent seven days later. Now that the Arkansas Razorbacks have given the Athenians sole possession of first place in the Eastern Division, it is up to the Classic City Canines to take care of business against their oldest rivals. Here, kitty, kitty, kitty. . . .