The No. 4 Bulldogs held on to beat Arkansas 23-20 in Sanford Stadium despite losing senior quarterback D.J. Shockley to a sprained left knee early in the second quarter. Georgia suffered injuries throughout its lineup but remained unbeaten and can clinch the SEC’s Eastern Division with a win next week against Florida
Junior quarterback Joe Tereshinski almost certainly will lead Georgia (7-0, 5-0 SEC) against the Gators. Richt said he was told Shockley’s injury is not season-ending, but he called his quarterback doubtful for the Florida game.
“We’ll have to prepare as if Joe is our starter right now,” Richt said.
That was good enough against the Razorbacks (2-5, 0-4 SEC) but not by much. The Bulldogs gained just 133 yards after Shockley went out five plays into the second quarter.
“We talk so much about team, and I asked them (at halftime), ‘Guys are we a team or not? Are we one guy or two guys or three guys or are we a team?’” Richt said. “Regardless of who’s in there, we’re the Georgia Bulldogs.”
The No. 18 Gators (5-2, 3-2) didn’t play Saturday, meaning they will have had two weeks to prepare for the Bulldogs by the time the teams meet at 3:30 p.m. in Jacksonville, Fla.
“The open date is a tremendous advantage,” Richt said. “They’ll be more rested. They’ll be a fresher football team. They’ll probably have a better plan than they would have had with a week’s notice.”
Georgia has a two-game lead in the East and can afford to lose to Florida and still control its own destiny in the division, but no one in the Bulldogs’ locker room was thinking in those terms after the game.
“The people that expect this run to end aren’t on this team so they don’t concern me,” said defensive tackle Ray Gant, who played through neck and thigh injuries. “The only people who concern me are the people with the ‘Gs’ on the side of their heads.”
The Bulldogs’ defense gave up 190 rushing yards, including a 70-yard touchdown run, to sensational Arkansas freshman Darren McFadden, but it still gets the game ball for Saturday’s win. McFadden, who set Arkansas’ freshman rushing record during the game, had the most yards on the ground against the Bulldogs since LSU’s Justin Vincent ran for 201 in the 2003 SEC Championship Game.
Georgia began the game without starting defensive tackles Kedric Golston and Gerald Anderson and starting middle linebacker Tony Taylor. It lost defensive tackle Dale Dixson to a concussion during the game and still held up despite being on the field 11 minutes and 28 seconds longer than the Razorback defense.
“I know this, we’re 7-0, and, whoever we have, we’re going to line up and fight,” defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said.
Georgia led 17-7 at halftime, but Arkansas kept chipping away and eventually cut the deficit to three on a 1-yard run by McFadden that made the score 23-20 with 4:53 left.
Gordon Ely-Kelso’s final punt pinned Arkansas at its 7-yard line, and Georgia stopped the Razorbacks’ final drive by forcing Robert Johnson to throw incomplete on a fourth-and-21 with 55 seconds remaining.
Georgia’s only points came in the second half came on two Brandon Coutu field goals, one from 48 and another from 27. Arkansas’ Chris Balseiro also hit two second-half field goals but missed a 45-yarder in the fourth quarter that might have forced the game into overtime.
The Bulldogs’ offense, which also lost tight end Martrez Milner to a hand injury, managed just 217 yards of total offense, one more than the Razorbacks had on the ground alone. It was the offense’s lowest output since gaining 203 against Clemson in 2002.
Tereshinski was 5-of-9 for 91 yards, one interception and no touchdowns, and Georgia rushed for just 52 yards on 30 carries.
“I think we most definitely have to get the running game going,” said Thomas Brown, the team’s leading rusher with 39 yards on 12 carries.
After Shockley’s injury, the next 10 Georgia possessions involved four or fewer plays.
“We found a way to win,” quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo said. “Now we have to find a way to move the football next week.”
Finding a way will be the motto for the Bulldogs until their quarterback returns.
“That was enough adversity for a team without a lot of character and leadership to fold up,” Richt said, “and they never did.”