Athens — Back in August, the thought of Georgia, ranked No. 19 in the preseason Associated Press poll, taking a three-touchdown lead on Mississippi State, then No. 20, would have stirred the senses. On Saturday, the sight of Georgia with an actual 21-point lead on Mississippi State had, if you can believe it, a dulling effect.
The home Bulldogs led by 21 points and won by 14, but it might have been the most lopsided 14-point game in the history of humankind. “We could have scored way more points,” said Isaiah Crowell, the freshman tailback. “At least three more touchdowns.”
Which would have meant Georgia winning by 35 or even 42 points, which would have been something even if the Starkville Bulldogs are the leaders in the clubhouse for Most Overrated Team of 2011 dishonors. This game never looked close, never felt close. Georgia was clearly the better — nay, the dominant — team.
The only reason this was reduced to a two-touchdown game for its final 8 1/2 minutes was because Georgia kept tripping over Georgia. It had three turnovers — all Aaron Murray interceptions, each worse than the one before — and eight penalties. It botched two more field goals. (At Ole Miss, it had botched three.) Mississippi State could have worked a dozen more quarters and not managed a touchdown against Todd Grantham’s defense, but in the end State wound up scoring against Georgia’s offense.
“We’ve got to finish games,” said Murray, who has in five games thrown nearly as many interceptions (six) as in a full season as a freshman (eight). “We’ve gotten good leads, but we’ve got to continue piling it on.”
Georgia led 21-3 at the half. The margin could have been more, but 18 points is a healthy spread. Not so healthy was the sight of Georgia scoring three second-half points against State the week after it managed three second-half points against Ole Miss. It had 237 yards in the first half, 78 in the second.
Crowell rushed 12 times for 90 yards in the first two quarters, 10 times for 14 yards in the next two. “I take myself out,” he said. “Sometimes I’m tired or have an ache or something like that.”
Really? And that explains why understudies Richard Samuel and Carlton Thomas had 12 second-half carries between them, why the third-stringer Thomas was on the field for the series after State cut Georgia’s lead to 14 points after returning Murray’s last interception to score?
Er, no. Said Mark Richt, Georgia’s coach: “We have a certain [tailback] rotation. We’re not really interested in getting Isaiah 30 carries a game.”
Students of history will recall that Georgia did something similarly confounding with Knowshon Moreno, and Moreno also would appear to remove himself for some reason or another. The idea is sound enough — keep a fresh back in the game — but the effect, now as then, is to give the opponent a chance. (Let the record show, however, that Thomas did convert two third downs that enabled Georgia to exhale.)
Afterward, Richt said MSU coach Dan Mullen told him he was impressed with Georgia’s team, and we all should be. These Bulldogs have steadied after the Boise State and South Carolina losses, and they’re showing the surpassing talent — in Crowell, in receiver Malcolm Mitchell, in this suddenly ravenous defense — that Richt has gathered. They’re also doing enough silly stuff to remind us that this is Georgia.
Richt: “In order to keep winning, we’re going to have to play on offense for 60 minutes, not 30.”
Perhaps Tennessee will offer stiffer opposition in Knoxville next week. Perhaps the true test won’t come until Georgia heads to Jacksonville at October’s end. For now, all we can know is that the Bulldogs haven’t suffered the crushing loss that would have quashed any thought of recovery and declared open season on speculation regarding possible Richt successors. There’s enough time and surely enough talent for Georgia to make something of this season.
For now, an odd commanding-yet-halting victory in the bank, Richt was thankful for smaller favors. “It’s good to be above .500,” he said of his 3-2 team. “It’s been a while since we’ve been there.”
By Mark Bradley