ATHENS — First Aaron Murray sprinted over to the corner of the stadium to find his family. He hugged his mother and sister and gave his mom a kiss on the cheek. Then he ran the length of one sideline, slapping hands with Georgia fans.
It wasn’t Murray’s final home game. But the senior quarterback still treated it as a valedictory, after setting yet another record and after finally leading Georgia to a relaxing victory.
Georgia finally got its first blowout of its chaotic season Saturday, overcoming a lackluster first half to run away from lowly Appalachian State 45-6. The Bulldogs ran away with it after only leading 14-6 at the half.
“We were just a little unfocused in the first half,” tailback Todd Gurley said.
In the end, Georgia at least had a relaxing fourth quarter and can move on to this week’s showdown at No. 7 Auburn. The final margin of victory was easily Georgia’s largest of the season; its biggest lead of the year had only been 24, the final margin against North Texas.
“We just have not been the team that lines up and rolls anybody,” head coach Mark Richt said. “We haven’t been that team. We haven’t been consistent enough in our execution to do that. So we’ve gotta get better.” Murray passed for two touchdowns, the second of which gave him 115 for his career, passing Danny Wuerffel for the most in SEC history.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play four years here,” Murray said. “I think that’s the biggest thing. You’ve gotta be able to go somewhere and play for a significant period of time. I’ve had that opportunity here.”
Murray has been the only Georgia starter at an offensive skill position to stay healthy this year. That’s a big reason the Bulldogs (6-3) are only now bowl eligible, rather than two or three games earlier.
Even with Gurley, their sophomore star, back for a second game, it took the offense some time to get rolling. Murray tossed an interception to snuff out the second drive, after Georgia had taken a 7-3 lead. Gurley (75 yards on 13 carries) did not have his normal explosiveness, and the passing game still seems limited by absences at receiver. It also didn’t help that starting tight end Arthur Lynch sat out with bruised ribs, and then tight end Jay Rome, the replacement starter, suffered a foot injury.
“We’ve pretty much gotta execute and be on the top of our game, because we’ve lost a lot of our bullets, so to speak,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “When you’re not executing, not catching the ball and turning it over, you’re gonna only end up with 14 points.”
It also didn’t help that Georgia was only on offense for 12:29 in the first half. Appalachian State (2-8) managed to get 145 passing yards in the first quarter before Georgia’s defense finally clamped down.
But Richt and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham were not apologizing for the final results.
“When the whole game was over, they had around 250 yards of offense and six points. That’s a good day, defensively,” Richt said.
“Any time you can hold a team to no touchdowns, I think it’s a good thing,” Grantham said. “I think we’ll build on it. We’ve gotta make some corrections on a few plays that happened early in the game, because I’m sure we’ll see those as we move down the season. But other than that the guys played hard. We got to play a lot of guys in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter. It’s a win, and we’ll move on and get better from it.”
The Bulldogs quickly pulled away in the third quarter, when Murray passed for 126 yards, setting up 2-yard touchdown runs by Gurley and J.J. Green. The defense also stiffened, holding the Mountaineers (2-8) to 50 yards in the third quarter.
The result was backup quarterback Hutson Mason finally getting his first extensive action of the season. It had been an impossibility until Saturday.
Mason entered on the second play of the fourth quarter, after Georgia’s defense forced and recovered a fumble. Mason immediately attempted - and completed - his firsts pass of the season, and it went 24 yards to Jonathan Rumph, his first career reception. A few plays later Mason completed a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kenneth Towns, the walk-on receiver’s first career touchdown.
Now the matchup with Auburn looms, with CBS likely to pick the game for its featured 3:30 p.m. time slot.
A victory would go a long way towards salvaging Georgia’s injury-marred season, and keep alive the fleeting SEC East hopes.
“I know Nick Marshall’s gonna try and ball out game,” Georgia linebacker Jordan Jenkins said of Auburn’s starting quarterback, who was dismissed from Georgia before the 2012 season. “All my folks from home are talking about how Auburn’s gonna beat us. It’s definitely gonna be an intense game, because their fans want redemption from last year.”