Athens — Back to Auburn, another SEC East title on the line. Back to Auburn, where Mark Richt’s Bulldogs clinched the SEC East and knocked the lid off Georgia football in 2002. Back to Auburn, and then back to the SEC championship game.
“We wish we hadn’t lost to South Carolina, but they took it to us,” said Alec Ogletree, the splendid linebacker. “But we came out every week still playing like we were going to get to the (Georgia) Dome. And now we control our own destiny.”
Back to Auburn for the clincher, back after a difficult beginning to this post-Florida letdown game. Back, not incidentally, off the strength of a play not unlike 70x Takeoff, the play that spawned the David Greene-to-Michael Johnson that won at Auburn 10 years ago.
Inside the final 30 seconds of this first half, the clock ticking after consecutive sacks, Georgia trying not to burn its final timeout, Ole Miss trying to hold a 10-7 lead. Aaron Murray took the snap, pumped one way and looked another, just as Greene had done that cold day at Jordan-Hare, only this pass was complicated by an onrushing Rebel. Murray had to dodge to his right, and when he did he found Tavarres King running free down the right sideline, waving at his quarterback to throw the darn ball already.
And then the ball was in the air and soon in King’s hands. And then King was in the end zone and his team had taking a lasting lead and he was handing that football to some of the members of the assembled Redcoat Band.
“I tried to flick them the ball,” King said. “I thought they would like to see what it felt like to hold it.”
From there it was easy, these gifted Bulldogs winning 37-10 after spotting the visitors a 10-point lead. Usually it takes a while for Georgia to get going, but when it does it’s a sight to behold.
“We might not win by a lot,” said the freshman Todd Gurley, who gained 117 yards rushing. “But we get the win.”
They head now to Auburn, and the Tigers haven’t won a conference game this year. This victory wasn’t 10 minutes old before Richt was trying to turn his team’s gaze westward, telling the Bulldogs: “Get your minds right right now; get your jaw set. In seven days, we’ve got a chance to finish.”
This hasn’t been the easiest of seasons, but to look at Georgia’s record is to see a team in the position it figured to occupy. The rise of Florida complicated matters, but Georgia took care of the Gators, and now only one of Auburn’s worst-ever teams stands between the Bulldogs and another chance to win the SEC, something this program hasn’t managed since D.J. Shockley and Co. upset LSU in December 2005.
Maybe you’re recalling what happened last December, when Georgia led No. 1 LSU by 10 points only to lose by 32. Maybe you think this year’s title game will be a similar wipeout. But maybe you were among those who believed these Bulldogs would have no chance in Jacksonville. A team this talented will always, always have a chance.
Some will carp about this first half. Go ahead. Indeed, there was a moment late in the first quarter when Ole Miss had outgained the home side 100 yards to 16. But here was the yardage count after 60 minutes: Georgia 533, Ole Miss 234. That’s domination on a day when everyone knew the Bulldogs would be looking back to the Jacksonville and ahead to Auburn. Once they got their minds right and jaws set, however, it was set and match.
And that has become the Georgia Way. Said Todd Grantham, the defensive coordinator: “Even when we weren’t playing as well early in the season, we got better as the game went along.”
We can say the same of the season. Georgia is better than it was in September, loads better than on that dark night in Columbia and that strange evening in Lexington. This isn’t a perfect team, but when it’s in trouble it will fight long enough for Grantham and the offensive coordinator Mike Bobo to think of something. And when they do …
We move again to the first half, the Bulldogs down 10-0, facing third-and-1 at their 34. To fail to convert is to risk falling into a serious hole. The safe play would be to run it. Bobo had Murray fake a handoff and hide the ball and sling it long to the ridiculously open Marlon Brown for the touchdown that got Georgia going. “That call,” Richt said, “takes a little bit of nerve.”
The Bulldogs held their nerve this day, same as they’d done against Florida, and now they’re one game from the Dome. And back to Auburn they go, back to finish another lap of another drill.
Further reading: On Aaron Murray, the TO binge and those scoring Ogletrees.
By Mark Bradley