ATHENS, Ga. — The bad taste still remains for Georgia, but it’s nowhere near as bitter as it was a week ago.
An inability to convert in red zone scoring opportunities proved to be Georgia’s downfall in a loss to South Carolina last week. But in Saturday’s 45-16 win over Western Carolina, the Bulldogs were a perfect 5-for-5 — including four straight touchdowns — once they drove inside the Catamounts’ 20-yard line.
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"That’s what we’re looking to do every game," Georgia offensive lineman Scott Haverkamp said. "But I think this will get our mindset going in a positive direction after putting some points up and proving to ourselves that we can do it."
Yes, Saturday’s scores came against a lowly Division I-AA opponent, but a productive day in the red zone was exactly what Georgia’s offense needed with Nick Saban and Alabama waiting in a week.
A handful of overthrown and dropped passes were costly in the narrow loss to South Carolina, shaking the offense’s confidence after an impressive performance in the opener against Oklahoma State.
Saturday’s win re-established that momentum.
"We were talking all week about coming out and getting that ‘W’ and getting the ball back rolling for the rest of the year, and just carrying the momentum over to Alabama," said tailback Thomas Brown, who caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford and ran for another from 4 yards out.
The Bulldogs resorted for a 37-yard Brandon Coutu field goal on its first drive after reaching the Catamount 20. But after that, each time Georgia made it inside the red zone, it came away with a touchdown. Brown and Sean Bailey caught second-quarter touchdowns in the red zone, and Brown and fullback Brannan Southerland scored on runs from inside the 5 in the third quarter.
Everything wasn’t pretty, however.
The score was actually tied 3-3 at the end of the first quarter, after Gene Singletary sacked Stafford and forced a fumble that Meko Watson recovered at the Georgia 14. The sack and turnover led to a 29-yard Jonathan Parsons — the first of three he would kick in the first half.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said after the game that Stafford called the wrong protection on the play, creating the situation where Singletary blew between left tackle Trinton Sturdivant and guard Chris Davis nearly untouched.
"(Stafford) ended up kinda booby trapping himself on that one," Richt said. "The line responded properly, but I think he had them sliding in the wrong direction on that one."
The Bulldogs’ lead was only 17-9 with a minute left in the first half, but a near-perfect three-play, 65-yard touchdown drive, capped by Knowshon Moreno’s 23-yard scoring run, extended Georgia’s halftime lead to a more comfortable 24-9.
Moreno again sparked Georgia’s offense, totaling more than 100 all-purpose yards for the third straight game. He rushed for 94 yards on 13 carries, scoring his first career touchdown, and caught two passes for 33 yards.
Georgia pushed its lead to 45-9 with Brown and Southerland’s touchdown runs and Joe Cox’s 34-yard scoring pass to Demiko Goodman on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Western Carolina finally reached the end zone in the fourth quarter, with Georgia playing its reserves. With just less than five minutes left, Mike Malone capped a 69-yard drive with a 2-yard plunge.
But by that point, Georgia was more interested in emptying the bench — 71 Bulldogs saw the field in total — and looking ahead to Southeastern Conference opponents in each of the next five games.
Putting the ball back in the end zone again — after Georgia failed to score a touchdown for the first time in six years last week — was a valuable confidence-builder with that all-important stretch approaching.
"It got the train back on the track and now the train’s moving," Georgia offensive lineman Chester Adams said. "We’ve got to just keep momentum every week now. Once the train’s moving full-speed, it’s hard to stop."
Contact David Ching at 706-571-8571
MISS LARRY ALREADY?
Are you a Georgia fan — or just a Larry Munson fan — who's going to miss the voice of the Dogs when he sits out the upcoming Alabama game in Tuscaloosa? We'd like to know why you think about Larry, and what you're going to do without him next Saturday. Call Dimon Kendrick-Holmes at 706-571-8510 or Michael Owen at 706-571-8570 or e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com