A Georgia team quite capable of making their own way took added advantage of multiple Mississippi State mistakes, and ground out a comfortable 24-10 victory. The host Bulldogs improved to 3-2 with a third straight win, and are 2-1 in SEC play. The visiting Dogs fell back under break-even at 2-3 and are 0-3 in league action.
Mullen didn’t need to wait for tomorrow’s review to know how it happened, either. The numbers were right there on the stat sheet.
“We had eight penalties and three turnovers,” Mullen said. “We had opportunities to do things and didn’t. We gave them opportunities, three of their four scoring drives were really short fields to make life easy on them.”
Georgia indeed find it relatively easy to score touchdowns on first-quarter series covering just 33 and 22 yards, and seven total snaps. Their other ten points came after Bulldog turnovers, with a second-quarter interception turned into a really long touchdown drive; and a fumbled punt snap setting up a field goal.
That in no way diminished what UG’s offense was able to do presenting promising situations. Georgia mustered a workman-like 315 total yards, including 188 on the ground to keep the clock moving and net almost nine more minutes of possession time. Still Mullen had a fair point; Mississippi State did some generous stage-setting for all of Georgia’s scores.
And in the process made life far too hard on themselves.
“I don’t know, just little things,” said frustrated TB Vick Ballard. “I couldn’t say it was one thing, it was everything.” Or a little bit of everything in all aspects of the game. Whether a shanked punt, bad-bounce interception, missed tackle, MSU was missing a little something far too often to cope with a home team weekly gaining confidence and wins.
Which put Mullen in mind of a comparable case. “It’s a very similar game to what happened last year, just the absolute reverse,” he said. That harked back to State’s 24-12 victory in Starkville last year when Georgia made some untimely mistakes and the MSU Dogs took advantage.
“It’s frustrating at times,” said OC Quentin Saulsberry. “But you have to adjust to it.”
No Dog could be more frustrated than Chris Relf. The quarterback had 19 completions, one short of his career high, in 31 attempts. But the caught balls went for just 156 yards, he was sacked four times, and two passes were picked. One absolutely stood out as key juncture of the entire game as State trailed 14-3 but had just take the ball away on an interception by LB Cameron Lawrence midway into UG territory.
After hitting WR Chris Smith for a seven-yard gainer Relf returned to his favorite target, a step shy of the goal line 21 yards away. The ball was right on Smith’s hands, and right off them where Sanders Commings could intercept the carom at his three-yard line.
“I just tried to get the ball out of my hand quick. Chris (Smith) just has to focus in on the ball,” Relf said. “It could have been 14-10.” Mullen agreed.
“It was a huge momentum point. Chris throws a great pass, makes a great read, good fake, the guy is open, we don’t make the catch and turn the ball over.” With just over three minutes left to halftime, too, plenty time for Georgia to entirely swing momentum back their way. Quarterback Aaron Murray directed a backbreaking drive of 81 yards in eight plays, capped by Carlton Thomas’ seven-yard touchdown run.
That decisive drive had its interesting moments, such as a catch by Malcolm Mitchell at MSU’s 25 he fumbled and fell on in the same motion to keep possession. It was a rare lapse for Mitchell who tormented MSU with five catches and 60 yards, a couple of key third-downs included during Georgia’s first half dominance.
It wasn’t a brilliant day for Murray, 13-of-25 for 160 yards and a longest play of 21 yards. He even had three of his passes picked, one for State’s only touchdown. But he delivered when it mattered and that longest heave was good for the first touchdown as tight end Orson Charles got behind MSU linebacker Brandon Wilson for a goal-line grab barely three minutes after kickoff. And Georgia didn’t even have first turn with the ball.
State did, after the home team won the toss and deferred, and even got a first first down. But the MSU Dogs had taken the end of the field facing a stiff wind, too, contributing to the early troubles such as a modest punt by Baker Swedenburg that UG record-setting returner Brandon Boykin brought back 30 yards for that short field.
Later in the period Swedenburg, forced to boot from his end zone, hit it out of bounds just 11 yards beyind the snapping point. That set up the second Georgia touchdown as Murray hit Mitchell for a six-yard score and 14-3 lead. Mississippi State had driven 56 yards before stalling at the 16, taking Relf’s first sack, and settling for a field goal by Derek DePasquale.
Considering how the 21-3 halftime lead felt more like 42-3, the Bulldog defense deserved second-half credit. They allowed Georgia only 78 yards the remainder of the afternoon. The three other points surrendered came after consecutive three-and-throughs, too. The defense couldn’t be blamed for a field goal after Swedenburg dropped a low punt giving UG possession on the 15-yard line. They did prevent a touchdown, hard as the home team tried.
Maybe more impressive was how splendid freshman back Isaiah Crowell was, relatively speaking, kept in check. He did get 104 yards on 22 rushes, but none longer than 16 yards or that reached the goal line. And the Dog defense put up the lone touchdown when CB Darius Slay got his hands on Murray’s third interception and took it 72 yards back at 8:31 of the fourth quarter.
“We played a real good second half, the defense stepped up,” Slay said. “Cam Lawrence is the coach of the defense and knew everything was coming, and we just did what he said.” Lawrence topped his team with 12 tackles while fellow linebackers Deonte Skinner and Wilson had 10 and nine.
“We just made a couple of little adjustments,” Mullen said. “I’m really pleased with the way our defense played the second half.”
He could not say the same for his offense. The proud State ground game was held to 56 net yards and just 1.6 per attempt. Sack-losses, four by Relf and another by substitute Dylan Favre, took 38 off the total. But Ballard was held to 23 yards on his 103 average and kept out of the end zone.
It was no one thing, Ballard said. “It was just us. It was always somebody messing up something.” Too often it was lack of blocking as an again-rebuilt line struggled with a three-man Georgia defensive front weighing not much under half-a-ton. The home team did blitz on occasion but usually got sufficient push from the front and a few linebackers to do the job.
And most of Relf’s completions were of the short, out variety or dumps underneath. None threatened to break long and the longest toss of his day was under pressure, in the pocket, and penalized for grounding to boot.
“We planned on throwing it,” Relf said. “It’s just my ability and guys have to catch the ball and offensive line has to block. And I had a lot of throws I missed. It’s a matter of all 11 guys executing on offense.”
Interesting? In a clinical way, probably. Mullen and staff will certainly have much they can point to tomorrow as the Bulldogs re-set their sights for a non-conference game at UAB (11:00am) next Saturday. Speaking of re-setting, the coach had an interesting outlook on how 2011 objectives are being adjusted.
“We’re trying to get six wins, get ourselves to a bowl game, and continue to build this program into the future,” Mullen said. “We’ve got to find a way to get a win next week and 3-3 at the halfway point of the season.”