Georgia clinches, eyes bigger things

semerson@macon.comNovember 10, 2012 

AUBURN, Ala. – The immediate celebration was spirited, but short: Georgia players hopped on the small brick step in front of their fans, dancing and waving their arms. And then they got down. They did not linger.

For a second straight year, Georgia is the SEC East champion. And unlike last year, the Bulldogs didn’t back into it. They scored a 38-0 resounding victory over Auburn in a game that was never close.

The team’s reaction, however, seemed more subdued.

“We had fun celebrating the victory and winning the East,” head coach Mark Richt said. “But I think there’s a little different feeling in everybody’s spirit about Atlanta is not the end of the road, we hope.”

Senior receiver Tavarres King put it another way, saying, "We're not satisfied. We know we've got bigger things ahead of us. Not to look past Georgia Southern or Georgia Tech, (the final two regular-season opponents), but we know what lies ahead. We wanna win that thing. I think last year, getting there was kind of our destiny, kind of where we wanted to be. This year it's winning. We want to win. We want to be the SEC champions. And hopefully that's what'll happen."

Georgia (9-1 overall, 7-1 SEC) looked like a team that could do that. The Bulldogs clinched the East on Saturday while playing their best football of the season.

Last year Georgia’s division-clinching win came in a closer-than-expected win at home over Kentucky. This year the opponent was worse – Auburn’s record dropped to 2-8 – but the Bulldogs (9-1) never let it be a game.

Georgia’s offense established control right away, scoring touchdowns on its first four drives and taking a 28-0 lead into halftime.

Once again, Georgia’s freshman tailback tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall each rushed for 100 yards. Gurley’s was his seventh 100-yard game of the season, and he will enter this week’s game 27 yards away from a 1,000-yard season.

Quarterback Aaron Murray had a nearly perfect night, starting the game with 10 straight completions. He finished with 208 passing yards and three touchdowns, each to a different receiver. Murray was able to excel despite the season-ending injury of senior receiver Marlon Brown, a month after losing another top receiver (Michael Bennett) to a knee injury.

“We’ve had two games this year when we weren’t at our best, and the rest of them have just been great,” Murray said. “I think we have a very talented offense, even with two of our top players out. We’re still playing great.”

It was a clear-cut rout for the Georgia offense over Brian VanGorder, who guided Georgia’s defense from 2001-04 and is in his first season as Auburn’s defensive coordinator. The final score probably could have been worse if the offense didn’t pull its starters for the final quarter. But it still might have put in further jeopardy the job of VanGorder and his secondary coach Willie Martinez, who was Georgia’s defensive coordinator until 2009.

“I’m a huge fan of Brian VanGorder and Willie Martinez,” Richt said. “I love both those men and their families. They started the journey to Georgia with me, and that new staff (in 2001), that was a great staff, and they were a great part of it. Football, you never know what a week’s gonna bring, what a season’s gonna bring.”

The Georgia defense, meanwhile, played its key starters almost to the end, seeking its first shutout of the season. The Bulldogs got it, with star Jarvis Jones again leading the way. The All-American from Columbus had two sacks, bringing his SEC-leading total to 10.5.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham played it coy afterwards when asked about keeping the starters in so late.

“Did you ever see Buffalo play Houston in the (NFL) playoff game when it was 31-0?” he asked.

It was actually 35-3.

“Or whatever it was. I just knew it was a lot,” Grantham said. “So I always have flashbacks. We're not having any flashbacks here."

The defensive players clearly appreciated the chance.

"We wanted to get a shutout,” junior linebacker Alec Ogletree said.

Afterwards, Richt had trouble finding something to criticize. He mentioned pass protection – Murray was sacked twice – but that has been an issue all year. Even the special teams play, a source of season-long frustration, fared well.

Following Georgia's season-turning win over Florida on Oct. 27, the Bulldogs have defeated their next two opponents by a combined score of 75-10. It’s a stark improvement from where the team was after its 35-7 rout at South Carolina, which led to critics writing off the Bulldogs.

“After the South Carolina game, people made it seem like we were in the dark. But we still had a mission, we still had a plan,” Mitchell said. “And we stuck to that mission as much as possible. So after that game, we just took a step back and looked at each other and figured out what we had to do to fix things. And that’s what we’ve been doing.”

"Things didn't go our way the South Carolina game, but we didn't let that bother us,” Gurley said. “The defense found their spark, and everything's been good since then."

Next up is Georgia Southern, followed by Georgia Tech and then the SEC championship game.

“We’ve achieved one of our goals, which is to win the SEC East. But our work’s not done,” Grantham said. “We need to continue to improve and we’ve got a lot of things left to play for. The big thing is that we put this in its place and continue to work and develop.”

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