Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray notched his third SEC record in Saturday’s Homecoming game against Appalachian State, topping Florida’s Danny Wuerffel to take the conference career touchdown record with 115.
And next year’s presumed starting QB, Hutson Mason, finally got into a game and for the most part looked sharp with his passing in mop-up duty as the Bulldogs won the game by the kind of margin most people expected: 45-6.
But that’s not what fans were talking about as they departed Sanford Stadium on a cool, slightly overcast autumn afternoon.
No, the good things accomplished by the Dogs Saturday — which, frankly, were expected — were overshadowed by the sluggish performance Georgia gave in the first half, as the Dogs came out (somewhat predictably) flat and sloppy in the wake of last week’s big win over the Gators, leading the game at halftime by just 14-6.
It didn’t help matters that the flag-happy officiating crew seemed determined to raise the bar for the Dogs, even if that meant calling phantom pass interference infractions and blowing another targeting call.
Add to that a Georgia defense that was initially rocked on its heels a little bit by App State’s uptempo spread offense, which dinked and dunked its way downfield as Bulldog defenders sat back in a soft zone, allowing receivers to make way too many catches in the short-passing game. The Dogs has some trouble with option pitches, too.
And there were offensive misfires for the Dogs, as Murray threw an interception in the first quarter to end one drive and a sputtering offense failed to make a fourth-down conversion using receiver Reggie Davis as the ball carrier on another.
Still, give credit to the defense for only giving up two field goals in the first quarter. Particularly satisfying was a Mountaineers drive aided by numerous penalty calls that ended up producing no points when an App State field goal attempt failed. And another good thing arising from that drive: Outrage over the refs’ botched calls got the home crowd into the game, finally.
Even so, besides Murray’s impressive thread-the-needle touchdown pass to Michael Bennett in the second quarter that gave the Georgia QB the SEC record, the main highlight of the first half was a surprise on-field reunion between a UGA faculty member’s family and their uniformed Georgia National Guard son, just back from a year in Afghanistan. Next best thing before the second half was seeing a 960-strong combined Redcoat Band and Redcoat Alumni Band fill the field from end zone hedge to end zone hedge in celebration of the latter’s 40th anniversary.
Back on the field, the Dogs did much better after the intermission, playing the sort of game the crowd had come to see. Georgia’s defenders at last started jamming receivers at the line (did Todd Grantham suddenly discover a missing page from his playbook?) and the offense got on track, highlighted by a 23-yard Murray run (the best of the game) that saw the QB make a couple of nifty cuts to extend his gain.
In the air, Murray had a good day, completing 19 of 26 passes for 281 yards and two TDs. He and Todd Gurley, who looked good at times (running for the ball 13 times for 75 yards) but obviously still wasn’t back to full speed, took off the fourth quarter, and Mason looked smooth and confident directing the second-string offense as he completed 11 of 16 for 160 yards. Yes, Mason threw a pick when he tried to force the ball into coverage, but even senior starters occasionally do that (ahem).
Overall, Georgia’s offense racked up an impressive 568 yards (441 through the air), and the defense didn’t allow a touchdown, which normally would be considered a fine game. But the day was marred by yet another less than imposing first half against a lesser opponent (unfortunately, a hallmark of Mark Richt teams).
Let’s just hope the Dogs remember that next week’s opponent isn’t the same Auburn Tigers that Georgia wiped up the field with last year. Get off to a slow start against Nick Marshall and Co., and the Bulldogs might find themselves in a hole they can’t scramble out of.
Feel free to share your own views of Saturday’s Homecoming win.
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg