And everyone thought the LSU game last week was dramatic!
Overcoming one catastrophic injury after another Saturday at Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium, the Georgia Bulldogs staged a dramatic 75-yard, 10-play touchdown drive with 1:54 remaining to get the game into overtime at 31-31 and then, stayed unbeaten in the SEC on a 42-yard field goal by Marshall Morgan.
In overtime, the Vols had the ball first at the 25. Tennessee drove down to the 10 and then “Pig” Howard headed for the goal line and appeared to have scored diving for the corner flag with the ball extended. But as replays would shortly show, Howard didn’t have control of the ball before it broke the plane of the goal line. Thus, it was a touchback and the Bulldogs then had their turn at bat from the 25.
Three plays went nowhere and then here came Morgan to drill the game-winner for the 34-31 win, thus enabling the Bulldogs (4-1, 3-0 SEC) to survive in a game that they seemingly had won, then lost and, finally, won again in the overtime.
Despite losing tailback Keith Marshall early in the game with a knee injury and then also seeing receivers Michael Bennett and Justin Scott-Wesley sidelined with right knee injuries as well, the Bulldogs simply wouldn’t be denied in a game where all hope seemed lost in the waning minutes of regulation play.
After the Volunteers rallied from a 17-3 first half deficit to finally take their first lead of the game at 31-24 with just the 1:54 remaining, the Bulldogs, following the ensuing kickoff, took over at their own 25 and Aaron Murray quickly drove the Bulldogs 75 yards to a dramatic tying touchdown with five breathless seconds left. After two penalties on UT placed the ball at the two, Murray, on third down, hit Rantavious Wooten with a low pass just across the goal line. Morgan’s PAT kick then sent the game into OT at 31-all. Freshman J.J. Green, who would run for 129 yards on 17 carries in Marshall’s absence, had a 17-yard run on the clutch drive and also freshman Brendan Douglas rambled 32 yards down the left sideline on a pass from Murray, to the Tennessee 13 to keep the drive alive.
It was a record-breaking night for Murray, the senior quarterback who firmly kept his name in the race for the Heisman Trophy and All-America honors. Although he didn’t approach his 300-yards plus per-game passing average, Murray was deadly under pressure again in completing 19-of-35 attempts for 196 yards and three touchdowns and leading the last minute drive that caught Tennessee and enabled the Bulldogs to survive in the extra period. Murray finished the game with a career SEC and school record passing total of 11,625 yards, surpassing the previous record of 11,528 yards held by former UGA great David Greene. Murray, thanks to a 57-yard run, also was the Bulldogs’ second-leading rusher with 53 net yards on three carries.
“I’ve got to watch this again to see what happened,” said a relieved and happy Mark Richt, Georgia head coach. “There were a lot of exciting things happened, obviously. It was just a beautiful drive by our young men, not quitting and fighting to the very end … I mean to the very end. We talk about fighting for 60 minutes and beyond because we know things can go to overtime. It’s just that kind of league and playing here was very tough. You have to give tremendous credit to Coach (Butch) Jones and getting those guys prepared. They rallied with their fan base just like we did last week and there’s something about that. It’s very special playing at home in this league and it’s very hard to beat somebody at their place. All victories are great ones.”
“I’m not really in the celebrating mood so much,” added Richt, “just thankful to escape here with a victory considering what happened.”
With all the Georgia injuries (punter Collin Barber also got a concussion) in the game, the Bulldog coaching staff stayed busy making rapid adjustments to the lineup.
“A lot of things were going on,” said Richt. “A lot of guys got hurt, a lot of guys couldn’t finish the game. I can at least say that. It was obvious to everybody in that regard. So players had to step up, young players had to step up. Mike Bobo, the play caller, he’s trying to figure out who is in, who can do what, what they know, and it handcuffed us just a tad bit, but we just kept playing, kept fighting and found a way to win.”
Richt said he had never seen as many injuries to key players, over the course of one ball game.
“Not like that,” he said. “It’s just such a shame. Guys work so hard, and we really went through camp overall pretty good and really had one of our best camps as far as injuries are concerned. Now I just don’t know what the carnage is right now. We’ll just have to wait and see. I purposely didn’t talk to Ron Courson yet before talking to you because I just didn’t want to say anything to anybody. I’m just not in the mood to talk about it right now. Soon enough we’ll find out what it is and we’ll let you all know.”
Richt said he was particularly happy with the way Murray responded once again with the game squarely on the line in the final two minutes.
“I’m so proud of him,” the coach said. “When you come back for your senior year after having a chance to go pro, you come back for games like this, you come back for your teammates, and you come back to try to win a championship. He’s done everything he could do at this point. I’m really proud of him; he just played like a champion today.
“We had to move it down the field to score (at game’s end) and quite frankly the touchdown throw, the play really called for a fade to the outside and Aaron didn’t like what he saw out there so he just jammed it in there, just stuck it in there,” said Richt. “I didn’t know where he was throwing it when he threw it but I was glad that he saw what he saw and put it on him (Wooten).”
The Bulldogs received the opening kickoff and drove to a career-long 56-yard field goal by Morgan, his kick from the Vols’ 46 bettering the 55-yarder last week against LSU. Thus, Georgia led 3-0 with 12:12 left in the opening period.
Then came a beautiful 80-yard, 12-play drive that ended with a 1-yard scoring pass to Chris Conley, who made a brilliant, diving, one-handed catch in the left corner of the end zone. But this was the drive Marshall incurred the knee injury, being hit from behind while trying to reach for a swing pass from Murray. But Green and Douglas filled in nicely with Green reeling off a 17-yard run and Douglas bulling for nine yards inside the Tennessee 13, his last run placing the ball at the UT one-yard line. Murray, who had completed four passes along the way, then connected with Conley for the score. That made it 10-0 with 3:53 to go in the quarter.
Tennessee would then get on the board, driving from its own 33 to the Georgia 4-yard line before the Bulldog defense and a 5-yard penalty forced the Volunteers to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Michael Palardy, with 10:15 left until halftime.
Georgia then came back and marched 75 yards on 11 plays with Murray and Conley hooking up for key completions on the drive. Facing a fourth-and-four at the UT 39, the Bulldogs went for it with Murray hitting Conley with a clutch 24-yard strike, to the Vols’ 15. Green, in two carries, took the ball down to the Tennessee 4, from where Murray drilled the ball to Wooten, slanting across the middle, in the end zone. Morgan’s kick was again true and Georgia was now up 17-3, with 5:09 remaining. And, that would be the halftime tally.
Behind a 32-yard run by Green, the Bulldogs marched to the Vols’ 17 in the third quarter only to come up short. Morgan’s 39-yard field goal attempt then hooked and hit the upright and Georgia had wasted a golden scoring opportunity. And the failure to score would prove costly as Tennessee responded with its first touchdown drive of the game, Justin Worley passing to a diving Marquez North, who barely kept his feet in bounds, on a 19-yard scoring catch. With the PAT, the Vols were then within seven, at 17-10 with 7:10 to go in the third.
Things then got worse for Georgia as when the offense couldn’t move inside its own 20, Tennessee blocked Collin Barber’s punt and Devaun Swafford scooped the ball up at the 15 and raced in for the touchdown. Just over a minute showed in the third quarter when Palardy’s kick tied the game at 17-17 and had old Neyland Stadium awash in noise.
But with the Big Orange faithful roaring against them, the Bulldogs weren’t ready to roll over just yet. After a 10-yard pass from Murray to Rhett McGowan gained 10 and Green went five more to the 40, the Georgia quarterback dropped back to throw but then kept up the middle and hit the open field and amazingly outran Volunteer defenders for 57 yards – by far the longest of his storied career – all the way to the Tennessee 3. Then, on the first play of the final quarter, Douglas took a pitch left and scored at the flag. Morgan’s kick made it 24-17, now 14:55 left in the game.
But when it looked as if the Bulldog defense had made a key stop on the Vols’ next possession, Georgia was assessed a damaging delay-of-game penalty on a fourth-and-six at the Tennessee 33. Now faced with a fourth-and-one at the 38, the Vols went for it and Rajion Neal raced around the left side and sped 39 yards, all the way to the Georgia 23. Five plays later, Neal went over from the 1 to enable the Vols to tie it at 24, 11:15 left.
Minutes later, after a Bulldog drive stalled at midfield, Adam Erickson punted into the end zone and the Vols took possession at their 20. Again converting two fourth-and-one plays along the way, Tennessee surged 80 yards for its first lead of the day at 31-24, Neal scoring from seven yards out.
Then came Murray’s second great directed drive in the last two weeks to send the game into overtime and provide Morgan the opportunity to superbly atone for his earlier missed field goal.
Just a team’s refusal to buckle under when seemingly everything was going against them down the stretch and more than 100,000 fans dressed in orange screaming against the Bulldogs. And an ability to reach down and keep fighting after losing three of its best offensive players due to those devastating knee injuries. A team with less mettle and yes, guts, than these 2013 Bulldogs would have certainly lost this football game.
The Bulldogs kept this game closer than it should have been by committing costly penalties, getting a punt blocked for a Tennessee touchdown, not being able to stop the Vols on key fourth-down gambles and simply allowing Tennessee to get back in the game when Georgia took all the momentum into the halftime break. Hard to believe Georgia can keep giving up more than 30 points every game and continue to win.
Murray, as mentioned, was magnificent under the pressure gun. Wooten had his best game ever at Georgia with six catches for 38 yards and the two touchdowns, and Conley had five receptions for 64 yards and the score. Green, the former Camden County standout, stepped up big-time with his 129 yards rushing and Douglass also had some fine runs and of course his long jaunt on the pass reception on the game-tying drive. Defensively, junior end Ray Drew recorded two huge QB sacks and had five tackles while Georgia’s steady junior linebackers, Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera, again enjoyed big nights with 15 and 11 total tackles, respectively. Of course, Morgan had his game-winning 42-yard field goal as well as his career-best 56-yarder.
The Bulldogs will indeed be happy to be back between the hedges next Saturday when they will encounter the unbeaten Missouri Tigers, who went to 5-0 (1-0 in SEC) by spanking the Vanderbilt Commodores 51-28 Saturday night in Nashville.