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Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Season recap: Georgia

By Edward Aschoff

GEORGIA

Record: 10-3, 7-1 SEC

After a 0-2 start, Georgia became one of the hottest teams in the entire country after reeling off 10 straight wins and capturing the SEC Eastern Division. The Bulldogs made it back to the SEC championship game for the first time since 2005, and while they lost to LSU, just getting back to the Georgia Dome was a major accomplishment.

Thanks to a pretty favorable schedule and a mental turnaround, Georgia came out of its losing streak swinging. Without LSU, Alabama or Arkansas on the schedule, Georgia found itself playing the favorite for most of the time. It didn’t hurt that quarterback Aaron Murray really went on a tear during that second half. In his last six games before the SEC title game, Murray passed for 19 touchdowns to four interceptions. Two true freshmen emerged on offense as Isaiah Crowell was one of the SEC’s leading rushers for part of the year and Malcolm Mitchell became a legitimate deep threat at receiver. If not for injury issues, Crowell could have been one of the league’s best. The second year in Todd Grantham's defense did the Dawgs well, as the unit became one of the best around, finishing third nationally (268 yards per game). Georgia was furious against the run, mostly due to its knack for getting into opposing backfields. USC transfer linebacker Jarvis Jones led the charge, as the Bulldogs finished the year with one of the top rush defenses.

The 10-win turnaround energized this program, and it might have saved coach Mark Richt’s job.

Offensive MVP: Murray: The sophomore didn’t start off the year like people expected, but he looked like the SEC’s best after the midway point. Murray made those around him better and led the SEC with a school-record 33 touchdowns and had 2,861 passing yards.

Defensive MVP: Jones: After sitting out a year because of transfer rules, Jones looked like a seasoned SEC vet. He might have been the SEC’s best linebacker and was an absolute menace for offenses, collecting a league-high 19.5 tackles for a loss and 13.5 sacks.

Turning point: Georgia’s 24-20 comeback win over Florida on Oct. 29 helped the Bulldogs get over their Gator anxiety. South Carolina fell the following week and Georgia clinched the East soon after.

What’s next: The 16th-ranked Bulldogs will play No. 17 Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. This one has the makings of a defensive struggle, as both teams are ranked in the top 5 nationally in total defense, but both are coming off losses in which they gave up 42 points.