Mark Richt’s Bulldogs kept all their season hopes alive with Saturday’s 34-31 overtime win over Tennessee but, man, what a costly victory.
The fates seemed stacked against the Dogs as the UGA sideline looked like a triage area, with three key offensive playmakers — Keith Marshall, Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley — all helped off the field with demoralizing knee injuries, forcing Georgia to rely on a pair of relatively untested backs and a decimated receiving corps.
But with a gritty next-man-up attitude that saw little-used senior Rantavious Wooten catch six passes and score two TDs and true freshman tailback J.J. Green run for 129 yards, Georgia managed to pull it out before a noisy UT crowd, thanks in part to a sudden about-face by Lady Luck when the Vols’ Pig Howard lost control of the ball diving for the end zone in overtime, resulting in a touchback and Georgia’s ball.
But chiefly the Bulldogs won the game because of Mr. Cool, fifth-year senior quarterback Aaron Murray, now the Southeastern Conference’s all-time leader in career passing yards.
Even as Tennessee ate up clock driving to take a 31-24 lead, I was thinking, “We just need to put the ball in Murray’s hands.”
Richt and his staff probably were thinking the same thing, as it looked like possibly the Georgia defense was told to go ahead and let Rajion Neal waltz into the end zone untouched in order to preserve time on the clock for the Dogs’ comeback. If that was indeed the case, it was a very smart decision.
With 1:54 remaining on the clock, Murray brought his team down the field yet again, and the 75-yard, 10-play scoring drive culminating in a 2-yard touchdown pass to Wooten was exactly what we have come to expect of No. 11.
True, it was a much tighter game than it should have been, largely due to a couple of special teams mistakes (a field goal attempt bouncing off a goal post and a blocked punt for a UT touchdown) and the apparent inability of Todd Grantham’s defense to get off the field most of the time on third and fourth down.
In the end, however, placekicker Marshall Morgan, who earlier had set a Neyland Stadium record with a 56-yarder, came through with a clutch OT field goal and his delighted team swamped him in celebration. (My daughter was amused to see a UGA student’s tweet at that moment pleading with Morgan not to tear an ACL in the melee. It was that kind of day.)
If style points are awarded just for running up the score on a lesser opponent, the Dogs won’t be getting any for this win over the Vols. But Georgia probably impressed a lot of folks with the way it managed to earn a gutsy win under pressure on the road with a couple of starters not able to play and amid numerous new injuries.
There’s a lot of football left to play and the Dogs have a lot that needs fixing, particularly on defense. But on this day in Knoxville they got the kind of ugly victory that usually is a hallmark of a special season.
Feel free to share your own views on the nail-biter between the Dogs and Vols. …
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg