Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray passes against the North Texas Mean Green during the second half of Saturday’s game. Murray finished with 408 passing yards and four total TDs in the 45-21 win. (Reuters)
ATHENS — No doubt a nation’s collective eye was focused squarely on a rainy Sanford Stadium on Saturday when North Texas was thinking upset midway through the third quarter against ninth-ranked Georgia.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Aaron Murray had other plans, accounting for two second-half touchdowns that helped Georgia pull away with a 45-21 win.
Murray completed 22-of-30 passes for 408 yards and three scores, while adding another touchdown on a 1-yard run.
“Everybody’s going to play ‘Monday Morning Quarterback,’ but at the end of the day it’s a win,” Murray said. “We’re not going to apologize for winning the game. I thought our team stumbled here and there, but I’m really proud of how we fought through it and the way we finished. We preach ‘Finish the Drill,’ and we definitely did that today.”
Still, the game was too close for coach Mark Richt’s comfort, especially after a couple of special-teams breakdowns — a 99-yard kickoff return by Brelan Chancellor and a blocked punt that Zach Whitfield recovered in the end zone — had the score tied at 21 eight minutes into the third.
However, that’s when the Bulldogs (2-1) were able to regain their mojo, scoring 24 straight points and finishing with 641 yards of offense, the fourth-most in school history.
Murray scored on a 1-yard run before hitting Chris Conley for a 6-yard touchdown pass to put Georgia up 35-21 in the final minute of the third quarter.
A 27-yard field goal by Marshall Morgan and a 1-yard run by freshman J.J. Green in the final two minutes of the game accounted for the final score.
“I never got the sense that it was David vs. Goliath with this game. It was North Texas vs. Georgia,” North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. “They have been winning a lot and we haven’t. We are taking positive steps, but they aren’t big enough and we aren’t taking them fast enough for me.”
Richt was impressed with what he saw from the Mean Green.
“I wasn’t kidding when I was trying to explain to everyone that this was a good football team,” Richt said. “The only thing I saw different was an inch or two in height. These guys are really good players and they are well-coached. They gave us a heckuva game.”
From Georgia’s perspective, the first half was lackluster, to say the least.
Georgia came into the contest as a 33-point favorite, but when the halftime buzzer sounded, North Texas was very much in the game — trailing just 21-14.
The Bulldogs started well enough, jumping in front 14-0 on a 12-yard run by Todd Gurley (21 carries, 91 yards) and a school-record 98-yard touchdown pass from Murray to Reggie Davis on the first play of the second quarter. Not only was it the longest touchdown pass in Bulldog history, it was the 100th scoring toss of Murray’s career.
But Bulldog breakdowns kept breathing life into the Mean Green.
In the first quarter it was an interception in the end zone by outside linebacker Will Wright after Georgia had driven to the 3-yard line.
Later, a blown coverage left tight end Drew Miller open for a 26-yard gain, setting up Derek Thompson’s 20-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Darnell Smith on the next play. That cut the lead to 14-7.
Georgia went back up by 14 on a 16-yard pass from Murray to tight end Arthur Lynch, but on the ensuing kickoff Chancellor returned the ball 99 yards to cut the lead down to seven again.
“The kickoff return guys gave me great blocks and we finally executed,” Chancellor said. “I ran to where it was open. It was a big momentum shift.”
The Bulldogs had two more opportunities to answer in the first half but failed to respond, including a 52-yard field goal attempt by Morgan that fell short as the buzzer sounded.
Next week, the Bulldogs host LSU, which could be a matchup of Top 10 teams. LSU played Auburn later Saturday.
“I’m sure everyone will be watching that game,” Murray said. “We’ll pick up a couple of things watching it, then get in the film room (Sunday) and start breaking it down.”
NOTES: The 98-yard touchdown pass from Murray to Davis beat the old mark of 93 yards accomplished three times, including the famous pass from Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott to beat Florida in 1980. The reception was also the first of Davis’ career. … Georgia junior safety Corey Moore received his first career start on defense when he opened at strong safety. … Senior flanker Rantavious Wooten completed his first career pass, a 42-yarder to Lynch after taking a pitch from Murray.