While a lot of attention in the Southeastern Conference has been on the impressive start by Alabama and LSU in the SEC West and Florida in the SEC East, there’s one team that seems to have escaped notice for its hot start: the Georgia Bulldogs.
Mark Richt’s Bulldogs are ranked No. 5 in the latest Associated Press poll and sixth in the Coaches poll and Lindy’s rankings, so somebody has noticed. They just haven’t generated a lot of enthusiasm outside of the state of Georgia. But the Bulldogs should be opening eyes around the SEC, and in particular, the defensive coordinators who have to figure out a way to slow down Georgia’s potent offense, which is headed by coordinator Mike Bobo.
Georgia has beaten Buffalo, 45-23, Missouri, 41-20, and Florida Atlantic, 56-20. Other than the hoopla surrounding Georgia’s win in Missouri’s first SEC game, the other two games were not against top-notch competition. That is perhaps why nobody has paid a lot of attention to Richt’s team.
But the Bulldogs are 3-0 and have outscored their opponents 142-63, which is the most explosive output by a Georgia team since 1910. Georgia opened that season by beating Locust Grove 101-0, Gordon 79-10 and Alabama 22-0 for a total of 202 points.
The catalyst for the offense has been junior quarterback Aaron Murray, who actually graduated this past year with a degree in Psychology and is now in graduate school. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder from Tampa, FL., is having a banner season. He’s completed 51 of 80 passes for 842 yards and eight touchdowns with only two interceptions. He’s also rushed for two touchdowns.
“Aaron was very accurate and his stats are pretty sporty,” Richt said after Murray was 14 of 19 for 34 yards and two touchdowns against Florida Atlantic. “It was a group effort with protection and with route running, but Aaron really delivered the mail tonight.”
He’s been doing it all season. In Georgia’s historic win at Missouri, Murray was 22 of 35 for 242 yards and three touchdowns. He led the Bulldogs back from a 17-9 third-quarter deficit to the victory after a slow start in the first half.
“It was just a tremendous second half. Our defense, the way they fought all day long, especially in the first half when we were making mistakes offensively, kept us in the game,” Murray said. “Then in the second half I’m just proud of the way we stood up, came back, and closed it out.
“It was just that we figured out what worked in the second half. We started doing it, and Coach Bobo was calling great plays.”
Murray has started 19 games in his career and has 47 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions. He is the SEC’s leading active player in total offensive yards (7,314), completions (498), TD responsibility (75), TD passes (67) and passing yards (7,040).
Murray’s quarterbacking and Bobo’s play-calling have helped the Bulldogs return to a place of challenging for the SEC East title. Georgia is averaging 47.3 points per game and 517.7 yards of total offense even though the Bulldogs lost their leading returning rusher from last season when Isaiah Crowell was dismissed from the squad this spring.
In his place, two freshmen and a sophomore have filled the void. True freshman Todd Gurley has stepped up and averaged 9.9 yards per carry by rolling up 276 yards and four touchdowns on 28 carries. Fellow true freshman Keith Marshall had 182 yards on 32 carries and a touchdown, while redshirt sophomore Ken Malcome has 111 yards on 20 carries and one score.
As impressive as Georgia’s offense has been, the defense has also brought back a Junkyard Dawg mentality.
Georgia’s defense has held the first three opponents to 63 points, but many of those points came late in the Buffalo and Florida Atlantic games after Georgia’s front-line players had retired to the bench. And don’t forget the Bulldogs have been shorthanded because of suspensions and injuries.
Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones is the defensive leader. He missed the Florida Atlantic game but is hoping to be back this week when Georgia hosts Vanderbilt.
In his first two games, Jarvis has logged 17 tackles, 4½ tackles for losses of 28 yards, three sacks, an interception, three forced fumbles, two passes broken up and 11 quarterback hurries.
“I would be hopeful that Jarvis could play,” said Richt. “Sometimes the pulled muscles can set you back. You just never know how long it takes for something to heal, so we’ll just have to wait and see. We would definitely like for him to play, that’s for sure.”
Vanderbilt comes to Sanford Stadium Saturday fresh off a 58-0 win over Presbyterian. The Commodores started quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels after Jordan Rodgers started the first two games, both losses. Carta-Samuels went 13-for-20 with 195 yards and a touchdown, while running back Zac Stacy carried the ball eight times for 174 yards and a touchdown.
“I think they’ve got really good athleticism,” said Richt. “When you watch the film, they’re playing as hard, as fast and as physical as anybody. It’s not like they’re doing something no one else is doing, but they believe in it. You can see it. (Head coach James) Franklin isn’t afraid to take a calculated risk to put his team in position to win games, and I think it’s really paying off.
“We’ll be ready for Vanderbilt,” said Richt on Sunday. “We have a lot of respect for them, and we know it will be a battle. They have a lot of belief, and they’re playing to win it. They’re doing a good job of it.”
Georgia edged the Commodores 33-28 last year in Nashville.