ATHENS — Aaron Murray was pacing up and down. He couldn’t take it. He couldn’t watch.
Finally the Georgia star quarterback got a scolding from Faton Bauta, one of his freshman backups.
“Stop being such a baby and watch the damn game,” Murray recalled Bauta saying. “So I turned around and watched.”
In the end, Murray finally saw something that made him happy — Georgia’s defense at last stopping Zach Mettenberger and the LSU offense.
In an immediate classic of a game, No. 9 Georgia outscored — the only proper way to put it — No. 6 LSU by a 44-41 total.
“I’m about to pass out,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “I mean what a game. What a game.”
It was a shootout between Murray and Mettenberger, the two players who competed for Georgia’s starting quarterback job three years ago. Murray won again, although this meant far more.
When Mettenberger’s final pass hit the ground uncaught — actually, even as it was in the air the sellout crowd at Sanford Stadium roared — the Georgia sideline celebrated as if it had a national championship.
“That’s what it feels like,” Georgia receiver Michael Bennett said.
Georgia thus finished its brutal opening-season stretch at 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the SEC. It sits in prime position in the SEC East and added to its national-title hopes by knocking off LSU.
Murray led the way, passing for four touchdowns and running for one more. His game-winning pass to Justin Scott-Wesley came with 1:42 left.
Mettenberger, dismissed from Georgia three-and-a-half years ago, did almost everything in his power to overcome Murray and the Bulldogs. Mettenberger passed for 372 yards and three touchdowns. He was huge on third downs, helping LSU convert all but four times out of 14. He converted a third-and-22 on his second-to-last drive, leading to a score that put LSU up 41-37 with 4:14 left in the game.
“We’re like, ‘Oh my God, this can’t be happening,’ ” Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch said. “But good thing for us, we had a guy who was just as good taking the snaps, too. Aaron was like, ‘All right boys let’s do this again.’ ”
And finally, the Georgia defense held, forcing Mettenberger into four incompletions to finish the game.
“I talk about the moment of truth a lot,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. “You’ve got to make the play when it’s the moment of truth; you’ve got to make the play when it means the most. We’ve been able to do that defensively. Sometimes all you need is one stop to win the game. We got this one stop against South Carolina; we got this one stop (Saturday) to win the game, when it looked like nobody was gonna stop anybody.”
Still, it was a game in which Georgia rode its offense, just as it did three weeks before in knocking off then-No. 6 South Carolina.
Georgia opened Saturday’s game with a textbook drive, scoring on a Murray touchdown pass to Bennett. LSU answered, and with the help of Murray’s lone interception, the Tigers took a 14-7 lead. But the Bulldogs rallied and led 24-17 at the half.
Then it truly became a pinball affair. Mettenberger and Murray kept one-upping each other. Murray had to do it without star tailback Todd Gurley, who sprained his ankle after rushing eight times for 73 yards. Keith Marshall subbed in very nicely, finishing with 96 yards on 20 carries.
But it was still mostly Murray, required to answer over and over in the second half as Mettenberger kept tying it or putting LSU ahead.
“I looked at Arthur and said we’ve gotta start saying some Hail Marys and praying,” Murray said.
Georgia’s secondary struggled mightily, picked apart by Mettenberger and his star receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham. Down the stretch there were a series of third-and-long conversions, negating some sacks and strong pass rushing by Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and the defensive line.
“I thought we got too caught up in some emotional plays,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “Meaning we get a sack, and it’s third-and-22, and we’re all there jumping up and down, and we’ve gotta play the next play. Because when you play a good team, they’re gonna have a play and be ready to play it.”
LSU scored its final touchdown on an 8-yard run by Jeremy Hill. It came two plays after another long conversion.
There was 4:14 left. It would be up to Georgia’s offense, one more time.
Murray passed the team to the 43. Then freshman J.J. Green, on his first touch of the game, went 18 yards. One play later Justin Scott-Wesley got open down the right sideline, and Murray hit him for the touchdown.
“I mean, what a game. What a performance by (Murray),” Bobo said. “What a performance by everybody, our whole football team. I just thought he was very calm (Saturday) every time I talked to him on the phone. He responded, he knew what they were doing, he was going to the right place with the ball.”
“If you could find me a better run that a UGA quarterback’s had, I’d like to see who he went against if he had that run,” Lynch said. “He continues to rewrite the record books, or rewrite his legacy, and if he keeps winning you can’t put any negative lights on him as a player.”
Georgia led 44-41 with 1:47 left, but the question loomed: Had Georgia left too much time on the clock?
Mettenberger and LSU took over with 76 yards to go, and 102 seconds left. They had one timeout left.
It was used quickly: Floyd burst through the middle and barreled into Mettenberger, throwing him down for a 7-yard loss. This time Mettenberger converted on second down. But it would prove to be his final completion. The Bulldogs finally held.
“The bottom line is we were resilient enough to stop them in a two-minute drill,” Grantham said.
And as a result, Georgia lives on in the national title hunt, a survivor of a brutal opening stretch.
“It was stressful for us a little bit,” Murray said. “But for fans, I don’t think a fan could’ve asked for a better game, that’s for sure.”