Aaron Murray leads shorthanded Dogs over Georgia Tech

Who needs tailbacks when you have a quarterback like Aaron Murray?

That was Georgia’s response to its backfield quandary on Saturday against Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs’ sophomore quarterback provided all the offensive fireworks they would need as Georgia rolled a 31-17 win over the Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

Already the UGA record holder for touchdown passes in a season, Murray added four more against the Jackets and threw for 252 yards to pace Georgia to its third consecutive win over its archrival and 10th in 11 years under coach Mark Richt.

The victory was the Bulldogs’ 10th in a row after losing their first two games. That’s the longest win streak in the regular season since Georgia went 11-0 in 1982.

“We’re very happy with that,” said Murray, who has 32 touchdowns this season, 56 in his career. “But we’ve still got two more games to go. We love what we’ve done, and we’re feeling great with the momentum we’ve built, but we’ve taken these steps all year long in order to be in this position, and we know we still have work to do.”

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With their in-state nemesis out of the way, the 13th-ranked Bulldogs (10-2) can now concentrate on the task of facing No. 1-ranked LSU in the SEC championship game next Saturday in the Georgia Dome. The Tigers (12-0, 8-0) wrapped up their spot in the title game Friday with a 41-17 win over Arkansas.

It will mark the third time the Bulldogs have met LSU in the championship game, with the teams splitting the other two. Georgia lost to the eventual national champions in 2003. The 13th-ranked Bulldogs knocked off No. 3 LSU 34-14 in 2005.

“We’ve got an unbelievable challenge,” said Richt, who will lead the Bulldogs into the title game for the fourth time. “Anybody who has watched LSU understands that they are one of the most physical teams that there is in college football, if not the most physical. In all the years I’ve watched football I don’t know that I’ve seen a team that big and strong and physical.”

Georgia was well below full strength Saturday. Isaiah Crowell remained sidelined with an ankle injury suffered the previous week and backup Carlton Thomas remained in Richt’s doghouse as a habitual violator of team rules. As a result, redshirt freshman Ken Malcome got his first career start at tailback, and cornerback Branden Smith spent most of his day playing offense in the Bulldogs’ backfield.

Turns out it didn’t really make much of a difference. Georgia leaned instead on the steady Murray and his band of big-play receivers. The normally balanced Bulldogs passed twice as often as they ran it in the first half (18 to nine), which led to two touchdowns, a field goal and a 17-10 halftime lead. They ended up passing for 66 percent of their 380 yards of offense.

“That wasn’t the total plan coming in,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “We were going to try to be balanced. But I just felt like after the first series, even though we gave up a couple of pressures, I felt like we could get open in their secondary. We just kind of opened it up from there.”

Georgia essentially wrestled away control of the game in the minutes immediately before and after halftime.

The Bulldogs held a slim 14-10 advantage after Tech scored a touchdown with 1:13 left in the first half. But rather than rest on their laurels and count on getting the ball to start the third quarter, Richt told Bobo to keep his foot on the gas.

“I told Mike to be aggressive,” Richt said, and Bobo complied.

Starting at its own 18, Georgia got 30 yards in runs from Murray and 23 yards in passes. The key throw went to Tavarres King for 9 yards and set up a 42-yard field goal try with nine seconds remaining. Tech’s last-second timeout bailed out Blair Walsh, who missed on a poor hold. He made good on the next try to expand the lead to 17-10 at intermission.

Brandon Boykin took the kickoff to start the second half 60 yards to the Tech 36. Three passes later — including a 28-yard catch and run by Orson Charles — and Murray connected with King on a 3-yard fade route to put the Bulldogs ahead 24-10 just 1:36 into the second half.

Murray actually cooled off a little after that and missed some opportunities that would have expanded the lead. But by then the damage was done.

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