Former Seminole County star Bacarri Rambo trips up MSU quarterback Chris Relf during the third quarter of UGA’s win.
ATHENS -- If last year's upset loss to Mississippi State wasn't enough motivation for Georgia to get some payback in this year's Bulldog Battle, a pregame incident in which the teams had to be separated before kickoff should have given it even more incentive.
And it did -- at least, for a half.
The Bulldogs, wearing red, got a measure of revenge over the ones in white, as Georgia built up an 18-point halftime lead before holding on in a much less spirited second half for a 24-10 victory before an announced crowd of 92,746 Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
"Great victory," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I'm really proud of the entire football team. I'm especially proud of how the defense played all day. The first half, I loved how we came out. We came out with a lot of passion. We came out with a lot of spirit, and we were determined to set the tone early, and the guys did that, really in all phases of the game."
Georgia's defense was led by Michael Gilliard's nine total tackles, while three players were tied with six, including former Seminole County star Bacarri Rambo, who leads Division I in interceptions this year with four. Ex-Early County star Shawn Williams had five, plus he ended MSU's last gasp by intercepting MSU QB Chris Relf at the Georgia 23 with 1:11 to play, sealing Georgia's third straight win.
Indeed, Georgia (3-2, 2-1 in the SEC) came roaring out of the gates, perhaps fueled not only by the memory of last year's 24-12 loss in Starkville, Miss., but also a perceived slight when the visiting Bulldogs huddled up near midfield on Georgia's "G" logo at the end of the presume warm-up.
The two squads were separated by game officials before anything got out of hand, but to the host Bulldogs, the gauntlet had been thrown down.
"If you're going to come and jump on our symbol, you're making a mistake," said junior linebacker Christian Robinson. "We just had a lot of bundled up energy waiting to be released."
Fellow linebacker Cornelius Washington released a little of that energy by immediately sacking Relf -- the first of five Georgia sacks on the day -- to force a punt on the opening possession, which Brandon Boykin returned 30 yards to the MSU 33, allowing the offense to go to work.
And it took just three plays for Aaron Murray to find Orson Charles on a slant pattern for a 21-yard touchdown pass, and the Bulldogs had a 7-0 lead just 3:07 after the opening kickoff.
Mississippi State tried to answer with a 42-yard Derek Depasquale field goal to make the score 7-3 with 7:53 left in the opening quarter.
But after letting one opportunity to extend the lead slip away, Georgia wasn't about to let another escape its grasp.
After pinning Mississippi State inside its own 10 and then getting a break on an 11-yard punt by Baker Swedenberg, Georgia got another chance by taking over at the MSU 22.
Murray then connected with a crossing Malcolm Mitchell on a 6-yard scoring strike to push the Georgia lead to 14-3 with 1:58 left in the first quarter.
The game remained close thanks to two interceptions of Murray in the second quarter, the latter of which by Cameron Lawrence set up Mississippi State at the Georgia 28.
But a Relf pass that would have set up MSU with a first and goal bounced off the shoulder pads of receiver Chris Smith and wound up in the hands of Sanders Commings, who returned it 16 yards to the 19.
Georgia then drove 81 yards in eight plays, with Carlton Thomas running in from 7 yards out with 1:03 left in the half to push the lead to 21-3 heading into intermission after a half in which the Bulldogs tallied 237 of their 315 total yards, including 90 of freshman Isaiah Crowell's 104 yards on the ground.
The energy that defined the first half wasn't quite the same for Georgia in the second half, as the Bulldogs managed just 78 yards of total offense, and managed just Blair Walsh's 28-yard field goal with 2:29 left in the third quarter to stretch its lead to 24-3.
"We started out hot putting points on the board and moving the ball," said Murray, who finished 13 of 25 for 160 yards and two TDs on the day. "We stalled a little bit in the second half and (didn't) do as well. We just have to have a better mentality that we're going to play all 60 minutes. ... I think we've just got to really get that feeling like, 'Hey, we're up. Let's just continue beating them down. Don't give them any life.' We definitely gave them live (in the second half)."
MSU did have life, but the Georgia defense made sure that life was short-lived.
First, Cummings came up with his second turnover of the day coming up with a loose ball after Boykin stripped Arceto Clark of the ball after a completion and returning it seven yards to the Mississippi State 15 to lead to Walsh's third quarter field goal.
"It was definitely a whole defensive effort," said Commings, who finished with three total tackles and two pass breakups in addition to the two turnovers. "The offense gave up the turnover and we said, 'That's all right. We'll get it back. And the guys up front did a great job of getting pressure (on Relf) and allowing us in the back to make plays."
Still, Mississippi State had life when Darius Slay picked off a Murray pass at the Mississippi State 28 -- the third interception of the day for the UGA quarterback -- and dashed 72 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown to cut the Georgia lead to 24-10 with 8:31 remaining. But it was too late, this one was all Bulldogs -- the ones from Athens, of course.