The Georgia Bulldogs gave Dawgs’ fans and viewers across the country quite the scare on Saturday, as the Bulldogs looked to be in real trouble against the North Texas Mean Green before outscoring their C-USA opponent 24-0 to finish out a 45-21 victory, giving the team a nice 2-1 record going into a huge matchup with the LSU Tigers.
The Bulldogs’ offense played as well as you could hope for, highlighted by an impressive 98 yard passing touchdown from quarterback Aaron Murray to freshman Reggie Davis with 14:46 remaining in the second quarter to push Georgia ahead 14-0. Murray was outstanding against a North Texas defense that did a commendable job against one of the best offenses in the Southeastern Conference, throwing for 408 yards and three touchdowns in a game that saw Murray throw his 100th career touchdown pass—he ended the game at 103—which leaves only Florida Heisman winner Danny Wuerffel (114) in front of him.
Although the passing game truly led the way for the Dawgs on a Saturday that was dampened by scattered rain showers for most of the afternoon, Georgia never could really establish a running attack against North Texas. Despite having some big games against the likes of Clemson and South Carolina, running back Todd Gurley was rather quiet against this inferior opponent, taking 12 carries for 91 yards (long run of 12 yards) and one touchdown in the wind. This is not to say that Gurley had a bad game against the Mean Green, but rather he did not display any of the big runs that seemed to be a given considering his own ability and the team that was lined up against him. The Dawgs were very determined in running the ball and making the most of consistent runs, which showed in both 191 yards on the ground and the truly hard-fought victory.
As good as the offense played yesterday, there were some very concerning plays that should have Bulldogs’ fans very anxious, namely on special teams. The Mean Green’s offense made some plays in this game, but would not have been in the game like they were had it not been for two huge mistakes by Georgia’s special teams: 1) allowing Mean Green returner Brelan Chancellor to take a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown to make it a 21-14 before halftime as well as 2) allowing the Mean Green to block Colin Barber’s punt in the third quarter (part of the problem was a high snap) and return it five yards to tie the game 21-21.
Although the aforementioned punt block seemed to “wake up” the Bulldogs and motivate them to outscore North Texas 24-0 the rest of the way, both plays were quite inexcusable and could have gotten Georgia beat had their competition been a little better, which brings up the topic Georgia fans absolutely hate: why does head coach Mark Richt still not have a special teams coordinator? The Bulldogs have over the years had their fair share of bad plays on special teams (botched punts, terrible holds on kicks, kickers who can’t keep their mind right), and although Georgia has their maximum number of assistants currently on staff, that does not mean that one of these coaches cannot take on this responsibility; for that matter, Richt could follow in the path of Frank Beamer and take on the job himself. Special teams’ miscues can get you beat, and it may take another tough loss for the Dawgs for a light bulb to go off on this subject.
While special teams played well below expectations, Todd Grantham’s defense only surrendered one touchdown to North Texas (a 20 yard pass from Derek Thompson to Darnell Smith in the second quarter) and forced one interception in the game, which is definitely all you can really ask for from any defense. The Mean Green did their part in exposing the Bulldogs’ defense by running a notable amount of bubble screens and running back screens to catch the cornerbacks flat-footed and out of position, and although this did provide the away squad with a handful of first downs, it never resulted in any plays of considerable length.
With the victory over the Mean Green, the Bulldogs move on to what looks more and more like the toughest game left on their schedule, as the team welcomes the #6 LSU Tigers to Sanford Stadium this Saturday. Already selected as College Gameday’s Game of the Week, Georgia must be ready to butt heads with a Bayou Bengals’ squad that looks like a real national championship contender. The Tigers sit at 4-0 this year and will be fresh off a nice 35-21 victory over the Auburn Tigers, which was highlighted by a 183 yard day from running back Jeremy Hill (no relation). This game very well could determine where both teams end up once conference championship and bowl season comes around, so it will be important for the Bulldogs to take the days leading up to the game to work on the mistakes that were exposed against North Texas and show up ready to move to 1-1 against Tigers’ teams in 2013.