ATHENS -Hutson Mason was the last one to walk off the field, walking to the locker room to shouts from happy Georgia football fans.
“Hutson! Great game! Hutson!” yelled fans, crowing for a quarterback whom many fans had wanted benched earlier this season.
A bit earlier, cornerback Damian Swann had snuck a look at the scoreboard, which was displaying an important game statistic. He saw affirmation that his defense hadn’t taken this game lightly.
“They had 98 yards of total offense,” Swann said. “We pretty much picked up where we left off last week.”
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There was an all-around feeling of satisfaction about the Georgia football team Saturday after its 55-9 trouncing of Charleston Southern. Now the question is whether the Bulldogs (9-2), playing their best football of the season, will get more than just a pat on the back for it.
They departed the field Saturday not knowing whether they would play in the SEC championship game, left at the mercy of Missouri. And leaving aside the conference title, there’s the matter of next week’s looming showdown with Georgia Tech, a suddenly resurgent and formidable foe.
“We didn’t do what was necessary to control our destiny. This is the predicament that we’re in right now,” senior receiver Chris Conley said, sitting in the locker room after the game. “The only thing that we can control is how we play these games from here on out.”
Georgia certainly did that Saturday. Yes, Charleston Southern (now 8-4) was only an FCS team. But the danger for the Bulldogs showed no sign of a letdown after last week’s rout of Auburn, nor any sign of looking ahead to next week’s big game.
“I thought we did a very good job of respecting our opponent (Saturday) and playing very well,” head coach Mark Richt said.
It was total domination by the Bulldogs, who scored on their first, third and eighth plays from scrimmage. They ended up dominating in total yardage, by a nearly 5-to-1 margin.
Freshman tailback Nick Chubb rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns, including an 83-yard run in the first quarter, Georgia’s longest in 29 years. Chubb only carried the ball nine times, with the offensive starters being pulled at halftime. But he cemented his spot as Todd Gurley’s more-than-able replacement.
Gurley was at the game, walking with crutches and wearing sunglasses. Chubb was playing for the first time since knowing it was his show the rest of the way. He said he was ready.
“I had a four-week head start when he got in trouble,” Chubb said. “I miss Todd. He’s a very good kid. I’m sad that happened to him.”
Mason made good use of his only half of action, passing for three touchdowns and 187 yards. Conley had two of the touchdowns, including a leaping 23-yard grab in the back of the end zone.
Georgia is now averaging an SEC-best 43.3 points per game, the program record being 37.8 two years ago. The Bulldogs are also within reach of the program record for touchdowns, also set in 2012. It was 72 that year, and this year’s team is up to 63.
“Offensively, we are playing our best ball and our most consistent and most balanced ball we’ve played all year,” Mason said. “I think we’ve been throwing the ball this second half of the season much better than we started off. It’s been kind of up and down, it’s been a weird year, frustrating sometimes thinking you can’t get stuff going. But that’s just why you stay the course and keep working on it, and sometimes things just take a little longer than you want.”
Georgia is now one win away from the ninth 10-win season of head coach Mark Richt’s 14-year tenure. But bigger goals remain in sight.
Richt said he planned to multi-task Saturday night, watching film of Georgia Tech while also keeping an eye on the Missouri-Tennessee game. But he claimed his main focus would be on the Yellow Jackets.
“I don’t know if I’ll watch the whole thing,” Richt said of the Missouri game. “I don’t want to live or die with it.”
The Missouri game wouldn’t have been an issue if Georgia had beaten either Florida or South Carolina, a couple teams that are having down seasons. Those losses could end up being the reason the Bulldogs don’t get a shot in the national playoff, even if they were to win out, including in Atlanta.
It’s something that bites at the team, but players said they’re proud of the way they’re playing right now.
“We had some kind of mishaps with Florida and South Carolina,” Andrews said. “But we’ve grown and we’ve gotten better every week. And I think that’s kind of a trend I haven’t seen every year since I’ve been here. But this year it’s been different. We’ve just gotta keep doing what we’ve been doing, and everything will fall into place.”