A brisk autumn afternoon in Sanford Stadium started out well enough for the Georgia Bulldogs, who received the opening kickoff and, sparked by consecutive receptions by Arthur Lynch that together covered 64 yards, marched 79 yards in ten plays to punch in the contest’s opening score on a one-yard Todd Gurley touchdown run. The Eagles’ initial possession, despite beginning with a Georgia penalty and covering 38 yards, ended with Georgia Southern being stopped short on fourth down. So far, so good.
Then, though, Marshall Morgan missed a 51-yard field goal attempt, an Eagle fumble promptly was fumbled right back, and GSU tacked on the tying touchdown. A subsequent Bulldog first down at the visitors’ 13 yard line gave way to fourth and long following two short runs and a sack, so the Red and Black were forced to settle for a 37-yard field goal to make it 10-7. What had looked like a budding rout was developing into a dogfight.
That perception persisted, and was augmented, during the ensuing drive. The Eagles threatened on their next possession, finding themselves facing fourth and short inside the Georgia ten before a penalty for an illegal block pushed Georgia Southern back to the 22. Alex Hanks proceeded to miss the three-pointer that likely would have knotted the score at intermission but instead led momentum to don a red jersey. The home team, playing with no time outs, flew down the field in the closing seconds of the first half as Aaron Murray connected with Tavarres King for ten yards, with Jay Rome for 21 more, and with Malcolm Mitchell for the final 24 on third and ten to make it 17-7 at the break. At that point, the drama was done and the ballgame was finished.
Georgia Southern got the ball back to start the second half, but Todd Grantham’s defense produced a quick three-and-out. Gurley carried the load on the Bulldogs’ ensuing possession, which covered 69 yards in a dozen plays and culminated in a 13-yard touchdown pass to Chris Conley. Another GSU three-and-out followed, after which Georgia wasted no time before Murray found King for 43 yards and a touchdown on third down.
Alec Ogletree’s recovery of a Georgia Southern fumble on the next series effectively sealed the deal, but the third quarter had not yet expired, so Mike Bobo continued to let his charges run the offense. The result was another scoring strike from Murray to Conley, this time covering 33 yards. By the time the Eagles tacked on the trash touchdown that made the margin 38-14, the final period was more than half-elapsed, yet there were style points to be considered, so Ken Malcome, Rhett McGowan, Justin Scott-Wesley, and Parker Welch were allowed to direct a 47-yard scoring march on which the last two hooked up for the first touchdown pass thrown by Welch or caught by Scott-Wesley in either of their collegiate careers.
The Eagles, as expected, got their yards (302 of them on the ground) and their points, but the Bulldogs settled into their rhythm and cruised to victory. Led by Alec Ogletree’s twelve tackles, the first-string defense did not surrender a second-half point, while Aaron Murray put together an 18-for-28, 330-yard, four-touchdown, no-interception day. Three Athenians had at least 60 receiving yards apiece, and, while the Red and Black ground game generated just 120 yards, 68 of them came from Todd Gurley and another 29 were provided by Keith Marshall. Both rookie tailbacks averaged more than four yards per carry, and Gurley joined Herschel Walker in 1980 and Knowshon Moreno in 2007 as the only freshmen in Georgia history to have rushed for more than 1,000 yards. Also, the Bulldogs beat by more than 30 points a team they have become accustomed to outdueling by margins in the twenties. I’m going to call that a good day.
For the record, when the Alabama Crimson Tide faced the Eagles last year, Georgia Southern rushed for 302 yards and scored 21 points against ‘Bama. I’m just sayin’.