Without the perspective of watching the entire game, Georgia’s 45-21 victory over North Texas on Saturday hardly will raise an eyebrow in the national conscious. But those who endured all 60 minutes of the rain-drenched contest know there was a lot of drama involved.
The No. 9-ranked Bulldogs (2-1, 1-0 SEC) found themselves in a war against their expensive visitors from Conference USA. The Mean Green (2-2) — who received $975,000 from Georgia for what was supposed to a stress-free win — used a pair of special-teams play to tie the score at 21-21 early in the third quarter. That hushed an already muted crowd and sent the Bulldogs’ bench into a period of self-evaluation.
But Georgia dug deep and responded. North Texas would not score again, the Bulldogs’ offense got busy and the national pollsters will peer unsuspectingly at a 24-point final margin.
“We got ourselves into a fight,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said afterward. “It could have gotten real ugly, but it didn’t. We settled the game down by playing great defense and continued to move the ball and get some points. We were able to finish the game without a lot of drama.
“It could have been very dramatic. It WAS very dramatic until we pulled away.”
The Bulldogs were still steamed from having allowed a 99-yard kickoff return in the second quarter that sent them to the locker room with a skinny 21-14 lead. But Georgia got the ball to start the second half intent on building on their 326-yard first half.
Instead, the Bulldogs went 10 yards backward on their opening possession. On fourth down, a high snap from Nathan Theus contributed to a blocked punt by North Texas defensive back Marcus Trice and a touchdown recovery by Zach Whitfield. Just 43 seconds into the third quarter, the score was tied at 21, and the Georgia crowd was hushed as the soft rain started almost on cue.
But the Bulldogs bowed up from that point on. Georgia’s defense forced four three-and-outs and an interception on the Mean Green’s next five possessions. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs scored twice in its next three possessions, the second touchdown coming at the end of the 95-yard drive, to re-establish control of the game.
The final score of the game came from the Bulldogs’ backups with 1:46 to play.
“I said it on Tuesday, this was a pretty good team,” said Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray, who logged another record-setting day between the hedges. “We knew we were going to have a fight on our hands. But we came out with the right mentality. Nobody was slacking. They just came out and made some plays and made us fight for the entire game.”
Murray made a few plays himself. The fifth-year senior added another line to his long list of Georgia records. His 98-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Reggie Davis was the longest in school history and was the 100th of his career. Now with 102 to his credit, only Florida’s Danny Wuerffel (114) has more in SEC history.
“It was an honor to catch Murray’s 100th,” said Davis, a speedster from Tallahassee, Fla., who was inserted into the game specifically to run the play. “I knew if I did everything right and just caught the ball, I’d have a pretty good chance of scoring. I didn’t even have to break stride.”
Murray finished with 408 yards on 22-of-30 passing to pace the Bulldogs on 642-yard day. Murray also had a good day running (seven attempts for 37 yards and a touchdown), and his 445 yards of offense gives him a school record 11,352 yards in his career. He passed former Bulldog David Greene (11,270) to move into third place all-time in the SEC in that category.
Georgia’s offensive performance was marred by two turnovers, an interception by Murray in the end zone and a fumble by Todd Gurley. The Bulldogs managed 191 yards rushing, but they came on 43 carries at an average of 4.4 yards.
“I never felt like we got in a groove running the football,” Richt said. “We never got comfortable running the ball. We earned everything we got.”
It was the Bulldogs’ defense that was getting all the praise in the Bulldogs’ locker room. It held a North Texas team that came in averaging 465 yards and 30 points per game to 238 yards and 13 first downs. The Mean Green scored their only offensive touchdown in the second quarter.
Now Georgia will prepare for another game against a top-10 opponent. This time it’s No. 6 LSU coming to town. It will mark the homecoming of quarterback Zach Mettenberger, a Watkinsville resident who ended up with the Tigers after being dismissed from UGA. His mother, Tammy, is a longtime employee of the UGA Athletic Association.
But for the Bulldogs, there is much work to be done before then.
“We’ve definitely got some things to clean up,” Richt said.
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