Georgia’s 45-21 win over Conference USA opponent North Texas was as messy as the day’s weather.
You know the drill: Mark Richt’s Bulldogs pulled it out in the end after making a contest against a designated loser a lot closer than it needed to be. But while the Mean Green tying the score at 21-21 early in the third quarter momentarily put a hush over a suddenly concerned Sanford Stadium crowd, the game — while certainly ugly — was not really as close as that might indicate.
The Dawgs’ offense amassed an incredible 641 yards to North Texas’ 245 and had twice as many first downs. Aaron Murray completed 22 of 30 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns (plus sneaked for another one). And Murray’s 100th career touchdown was something special — with Georgia backed up on its own 2 after a terrific North Texas punt, he hit freshman receiver Reggie Davis over the middle and the speedster then left everyone else in his dust. The 98-yard touchdown pass was Davis’ first college reception and the longest touchdown pass in UGA history.
Yes, Murray threw an early interception in the North Texas end zone and got away with a couple of other sloppy passes that probably would have been picked off by an SEC defense. And Todd Gurley, held to under a hundred yards (91 yards on 21 carries), had the day’s other Georgia turnover, a fumble. And there were again too many penalties by the offensive line, which didn’t revert to its poor level of play against Clemson but was nowhere near as good as against South Carolina, doing an especially mediocre job blocking for the running backs.
Overall, though, it was a pretty solid day for Mike Bobo’s offense, even if backup quarterback Hutson Mason didn’t get into the game until 2 minutes was left on the clock. (Well, not actually on the clock, which had quit working, leaving Bulldog Nation’s least favorite ref, Penn Wagers, keeping track of the time left on the field.) Once in, Mason led a brief scoring drive powered by freshman fourth-string tailback J.J. Green to tack on the Dogs’ final score with 1:46 remaining (according to Wagers).
It also was a solid day for Todd Grantham’s defense, which held the Mean Green to a measly 7 yards net rushing (up from minus 2 in the first half) and got its first interception of the year from Tray Matthews, who snagged an errant pass at the Georgia 5-yard line, defusing another Mean Green scoring threat. Georgia also got quite a few tackles for loss, and a couple of sacks courtesy of freshman linebacker Leonard Floyd.
So, how did the game wind up tied in the third quarter? The same old bugaboo that has played Richt teams in recent years: special teams play. It was a bad day for Georgia’s special teams, which gave up a 99-yard kickoff return and a blocked punt (the latter the result of long snapper Nathan Theus’ third errant snap of the season).
On the plus side, placekicker Marshall Morgan, returning from a two-game suspension, made all his PATs and one field goal, while missing another long one as the first half expired. And in the punting game, aside from the block, punter Collin Barber averaged 49.8 yards, and while punt returner Damian Swann only averaged 5.8 yards, he generally did a good job handling North Texas’ tricky rugby-style kicks and shows signs of breaking a long one before too much longer.
Still, there’s reason for concern: Ordinarily, giving up two easy touchdowns through special team miscues will get you beat. If that happens against LSU next week, even a big day by Murray and his fleet receivers and bruising tailback might not be enough.
Feel free to share your own views of Saturday’s game …
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg