Key player: Aaron Murray
The freshman quarterback wasn’t at fault during Georgia’s four-game losing streak, but Murray figured in it ending. He accounted for four of the team’s five touchdowns, sparking the offense with his running ability, and didn’t commit a turnover.
If Tennessee had a rally in it, that got snuffed out when Eric Gordon muffed a punt in the first quarter. Georgia was leading 17-7, but the Volunteers were coming off their first score and had forced a second-straight three-and-out. Instead of decent field position, Georgia’s Blake Sailors caught Gordon’s muff in the air and went down at the Tennessee 37. Four plays later, the Bulldogs scored a touchdown, and it was never a two-possession game again.
Murray deciding to run for it, and the result being a touchdown, on Georgia’s first drive. Murray has at times hesitated before taking off, but he made very quick decisions on Saturday, with that first touchdown run setting the tone for the rest of his day. Said offensive coordinator Mike Bobo: “He went from one to two to three, if they were covered he ran. If two was open he hit it. It was good to see.”
Quote of the game
“Aaron is such a special guy. I’ve been saying that since day one. Some of the stuff he can do is just amazing, stuff that some older quarterbacks can’t even do.”
- A.J. Green on Murray
By the numbers
6-for-6 – Georgia’s scoring rate in the red zone, turning around its struggles in that area.
Mark Richt's Comments…
Moments after Georgia had finished off a 41-14 win over Tennessee, star A.J. Green, whom everyone usually wants a piece of, was giving an interview with a lone TV crew. A few feet away the media was surrounding Aaron Murray.
The story of Georgia’s day was illustrated in that moment: The player whose performance was steady throughout its four-game losing streak had led them out of it.
“Aaron is such a special guy. I’ve been saying that since day one,” Green said. “Some of the stuff he can do is just amazing, stuff that some older quarterbacks can’t even do.”
The Bulldogs (2-4, 1-3 in the SEC) got their first win for a lot of reasons, but Murray did most of the damage. The redshirt freshman quarterback ran for two touchdowns, passed for two more, and accounted for 266 yards passing and 41 rushing.
“He don’t look like a redshirt freshman to me,” said receiver Rantavious Wooten, who caught Murray’s first touchdown pass.
The Georgia victory spoiled the homecoming for Tennessee’s Derek Dooley. The son of Vince Dooley is in his first year as the Volunteer’s head coach.
“It wasn’t too special today. It was ... it makes you not want to come back,” Dooley said. “But hey, give them credit. And I mean that. I know those coaches, and they’re good coaches. They’re catching a lot of criticism right now, but you just saw what they’ve got.”
Dooley was alluding to the focus on Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who during the week was asked whether he felt like he was playing for his job.
By beating Tennessee, Richt probably put off the talk for at least a week. Perhaps more if the Bulldogs can win a second straight home game, against Vanderbilt.
“I never lost hope, I never lost faith,” Richt said. “I never felt like we’ve got a tremendous amount of problems. I knew that we weren’t finishing. I knew that we were so close to having a much better record than we did, but we didn’t finish a couple games.”
Starting had been a problem too, but that changed Saturday. Tennessee got the ball first and had to punt. It was the first time since the opener that the other team didn’t score a touchdown on the first drive.
“It was a big lift,” said Georgia linebacker Justin Houston, who had two sacks. “I felt like that was what we built our confidence on. We stopped them on the first drive, so we just went from there.”
From there, it was Murray’s show.
The performance wasn’t totally new for the freshman, who entered the week ranking third in the SEC in passing yards and fourth in total offense. But this time the game ended with a victory.
It started on Georgia’s first drive, when Murray ran 35 yards for a touchdown. His other rushing touchdown, a 5-yarder in the third quarter, actually seemed longer, as Murray barely avoided a sack then ran across the field and to the left end of the end zone.
Murray said neither play was a designed run.
“The coaches have given me a little more freedom to take off when nobody’s open downfield,” Murray said. “They just say be smart, and make sure I protect the ball, and protect my body.”
Richt called it Murray’s best game of his young career.
“We knew he was a good athlete,” Richt said, before adding: “I didn’t think he’d be able to make as many plays with his wheels. I didn’t think he would run for that many yards across the line of scrimmage.”
It wasn’t all Murray.
The mistakes by Tennessee certainly helped. The Volunteers turned it over three times, and committed a couple late hit penalties.
Georgia’s defense did its part, recording four sacks. And Green was his usual self, hauling in six passes for 96 yards.
“We knew that we were capable of coming out and playing like this,” Murray said. “We’ve played like this before, but we haven’t been able to get it into the end zone. Today, we were able to put some good drives together and score, which is big for us.”