(LAST UPDATED: 12:18 a.m.)
ATHENS – For as much as Mark Richt prefers his Georgia players focus on opponents (Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech) and not acronyms (SEC, BCS) in these final two weeks of the regular season, it was difficult not to notice what was scrolling on the Sanford Stadium video board before Saturday’s game.
First came the screen shot with large bold letters screaming: “BCS STANDINGS.” Then came the screen shot listing the nation’s top ranked teams, from No. 1 Kansas State to No. 5 Georgia.
The topic is impossible to ignore. It’s why, even in games with seemingly foregone conclusions like Saturday’s against Georgia Southern, some will look at the way things started for the Bulldogs on this day and think, “Uh-oh.”
But don’t overthink this.
Did Georgia come out a little flat, a bit sloppy and probably unfocused against an FCS opponent? Clearly. When a team is one of the nation’s top ranked clubs and just before halftime it is clinging to a 10-7 lead over an inferior opponent — which resides in a full neighborhood to the south of college football’s power structure — it’s a problem.
But after what the Bulldogs have overcome in the past few weeks, a letdown should not have come as a surprise. Most importantly, they recovered. Aaron Murray’s touchdown pass to Malcolm Mitchell with four seconds left in the first half keyed a 31-0 string and Georgia went on to bury Georgia Southern, 45-14.
And who could’ve expected this scenario? Hours after the Bulldogs’ win, the BCS’s No. 1 ranked team, Kansas State, was hammered by Baylor 52-24, and No. 2 Oregon lost at home in overtime to Stanford 17-14. This means No. 3 Notre Dame is certain to take over the No. 1 spot when the new BCS rankings come out Sunday night and, more importantly, the door to a potential seventh straight national title has swung back open for the SEC.
Simplifying this from Georgia’s viewpoint: If the Dogs win their next two games over Georgia Tech next week and Alabama in the SEC championship game, they likely will wind up in their first BCS championship game. Entering the week, Alabama ranked fourth in the BCS and Georgia was fifth.
ESPN’s Brad Edwards projects that the top five in the new BCS rankings will be: 1) Notre Dame; 2.) Alabama; 3.) Georgia, 4.) Florida, 5.) Oregon
After Stanford’s win in overtime, several Georgia players celebrated on Twitter, with Murray sending out the message: “Yesssssssssssss!!!!!! The Murray household just went crazyyyyy!!!!!!”
Richt has tried his best to steer the talk away from the BCS. Most of the first half of the Georgia Southern game showed us why. As Richt said of the first half, “We were fortunate to come out of there even with the lead.”
No kidding. With Georgia leading 10-7, a personal foul/chop block penalty by an Eagles’ lineman negated a first-and-goal situation from the Dogs’ five-yard-line. That set up a 39-yard field goal attempt that Georgia Southern missed. It set the backdrop for a touchdown drive going in the
other direction. Instead of facing a potent halftime deficit of 14-10, Georgia led 17-7.
“I feel like that swung the mood in the stadium and on the sideline,” wide receiver Tavarres King said.
From that point on, it was Aaron Murray-to-anybody. He threw touchdown passes on four straight possessions.
Should Georgia have let an FCS opponent hang around that long? No.
But in the end, poll voters and BCS computers will see the lopsided final score. This certainly isn’t the first time the Dogs have played to the level of their competition. But the objectives Saturday were to win and use the Eagles’ option offense as a scout team for next week’s game against Georgia Tech. In that sense, mission accomplished.
“I don’t know how the BCS does things,” nose guard John Jenkins said. “But if that (45-14) looks good on style points, hey, we’re styling.”
There was no stylin’ early. After an opening touchdown drive, Georgia scored three points on the next possessions (fumbling once) against a Georgia Southern defense that had given up 88 points to your basic non-BCS outfits: UT-Chattanooga, Appalachian State and Howard.
Pick your cliche:
“We were shooting ourselves in the foot,” Murray said.
“Self-inflicted wounds,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.
Georgia defensive linemen were getting upset by what they perceived as Georgia Southern’s intentional chop blocking. They were penalized only once, knocking down Georgia’s Kwame Geathers, but Jenkins said, “I felt like I was sliced and diced that game.”
But both the defense endured and Murray began shredding the Eagles’ secondary.
Actually, Murray has torn everybody apart lately. Since the fourth quarter of the Florida game, he has completed 62 of 88 for 1,005 yards, 12 touchdowns and zero interceptions. “Is he eating Wheaties or something?” King said.
The Dogs continued attacking to the final minutes, even after putting in the second-string defense. The last touchdown pass came by Parker Welch with 3:13 left. The thought occurred that they were trying to impress voters and computers. But Richt and Bobo both denied that.
“We had three runs called but they kept bringing both safeties on blitzes,” Bobo said. “On third down I was like, ‘OK, we’ve got to throw it. We have to protect our backs, too.’”
Richt never has been a pour-it-on coach. If anything, he has been accused of being just the opposite. So nobody is going to complain. And by next week people will only remember the score.
By Jeff Schultz
Recent ramblings from the digital jukebox