Georgia Southern-Georgia Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 13, 2012
Mark Richt was stunned. During a break only minutes after Georgia scored its first touchdown early in last Saturday night's game, Auburn fans suddenly cheered. Richt said at first he didn't know what led to the roar from the home fans at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Then he realized the Auburn fans were cheering top-ranked Alabama's loss to Texas A&M. "After a little bit of thinking, I thought that might have been it," Richt said with a smile. The Alabama loss also could be big for No. 5 Georgia, though Richt said he didn't take time to consider the ramifications for his team. "I didn't get too caught up in it," Richt said of the Alabama loss. "I really was most concerned about this one." Richt's players followed his lead and kept their focus on Auburn. The result was the Bulldogs' most complete effort of the season in a 38-0 win that clinched Georgia's spot in the SEC championship game, likely against Alabama, on Dec. 1. With a little help, Georgia could have more on the line than its third SEC championship under Richt. Georgia could move into the national championship picture if the Bulldogs keep winning, including in the SEC championship game, and more undefeated teams lose. Richt said Sunday he hasn't talked with his players about possible national championship hopes. "Quite frankly we're not doing that right now," Richt said. "We know we're playing in Atlanta. We know that's settled right now. We know there's a lot of work to do in the meantime." Georgia (9-1) is rolling with four straight wins heading into Saturday's matchup with FCS foe Georgia Southern. Aaron Murray has returned to form after throwing three interceptions in Georgia's key 17-9 win over Florida. Since that game, Murray has passed for seven touchdowns with no interceptions in back-to-back wins over Mississippi and Auburn. Murray completed 18 of 24 passes for 208 yards and three touchdowns - all in the first half - against Auburn. Georgia led 28-0 at halftime. Murray led two more scoring drives in the third quarter then sat out the final 15 minutes. "Aaron was very sharp," Richt said. For the season, Murray has 24 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Murray's play-action passes were set up by the running of freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Gurley ran for 116 yards and a touchdown, including a long run of 49 yards. Marshall added a 62-yard scoring run and had 105 yards on only eight carries. Georgia's overwhelming balance on offense and strong defense convinced most Auburn fans to leave in the third quarter. "It was awesome," Murray said. "We looked up midway through the third quarter and I was like, 'Man, we've got more fans here than they do right now.'" Georgia fans celebrated a second straight trip to the SEC championship game, chanting "SEC! SEC!" "It's a great feeling," said linebacker Jarvis Jones, who had two sacks, giving him 10 1/2 for the season. Jones, a third-year sophomore in 2011, and other top underclassmen decided to return this season instead of entering the NFL draft. Jones said the players returned for another shot at the SEC title after losing to LSU in last year's conference championship game. "We've been training all year for it," Jones said. "Everybody decided to come back and focus and put the work in. It started in the spring. The leaders on the team have been at the forefront, making sure everybody takes care of business. We've been reaching our goal every week." This week's goal is stopping the prolific triple-option offense of Georgia Southern. The Eagles (8-2) are ranked sixth in the FCS Top 25, coming off a 69-26 win over Howard in which they rushed for 529 yards. Led by quarterback Jerick McKinnon and fullback Dominique Swope, Georgia Southern is averaging more than 400 yards on the ground. It has the top-ranked running game in the FCS, although the team has attempted only 65 passes all season. The attack has proven tough to stop even against some elite FBS competition. The Eagles gained 302 yards on the ground in a 45-21 loss at then-No. 3 Alabama last season. The Bulldogs, though, have won all four meetings with Georgia Southern, averaging 39.0 points. They'll face a similar triple-option scheme again to close the regular season against Georgia Tech on Nov. 24.
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