Saturday, November 5, 2011
Georgia doesn't back down
By David Ching DawgNation
ATHENS, Ga. -- Who needs scholarship running backs?
Georgia had only one available in Saturday's homecoming game against New Mexico State, but the Bulldogs still cruised to a record-setting 63-16 rout of the Aggies.
The Bulldogs' point total is the greatest for a Mark Richt-coached Georgia team, and their 49 first-half points are the most in one half for a Georgia team dating to 1950. The Bulldogs scored 42 points in the second quarter alone -- their most in one quarter since at least 1960.
Georgia scored nine touchdowns, each by a different player.
Former walk-on Brandon Harton rushed for 98 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
"Our team definitely has a lot of playmakers," tailback Brandon Harton said. "We have talent everywhere. When you come out and have a game like this where multiple people score, it shows other teams that you can't just focus on one person or one threat. We have multiple threats that you have to worry about."
Harton, a 5-foot-6, 174-pound former walk-on, proved he can be one of those threats.
Harton made the most of his first extensive playing time while filling in for injured tailback Richard Samuel and suspended backs Isaiah Crowell, Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome. He rushed 15 times for 98 yards and his first career touchdown, caught two passes for 14 yards and returned a kickoff 30 yards.
"There's not much to him. He's small and he's not flashy," backup quarterback Hutson Mason said. "He'd probably be the last guy picked to be on anybody's team, but he just flat out gets the job done. He has such a huge heart and runs with such passion."
The only lowlight came on his first carry, when he broke several tackles before fumbling near the New Mexico State goal line. The ball rolled into the end zone and was recovered by Aggies safety Donyae Coleman for a touchback.
"I thought Brandon Harton played well," Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "He ran hard, he protected well except for the one fumble, which I think he was just trying to run over everybody, prove he wasn't 150. But he did a nice job. I wish we would have got him 100 yards. Somebody told me he had 100, so we took him out."
But that one mistake is surely overshadowed by one of the most dominant offensive showings in Georgia football history.
Quarterback Aaron Murray went 18-for-23 in the first half, tying a school single-game record with five touchdown passes. Mason followed, going 8-for-10 for 131 yards and another touchdown.
Nine different Bulldogs scored touchdowns -- including the first career scores for Harton, Chris Conley, Kyle Karempelis and Rhett McGowan. Nine different Bulldogs caught a pass. Seven players had at least one rushing attempt.
By halftime, the Bulldogs already had 438 yards of total offense -- 238 passing and 200 rushing -- and they finished with 627 total yards.
Even without the presence of leading rusher Crowell, the Bulldogs rushed for 258 yards, including 63 from freshman walk-on Karempelis, a lifelong Georgia fan who made his first college appearance.
"My best friend and I would come out here most weekends and cheer on the Bulldogs, so it's really neat to be between the hedges on the field," Karempelis said.
Karempelis was able to run behind his high school center, David Andrews, who blocked for him last year when both players starred at nearby Wesleyan in Norcross, Ga. They celebrated just like in old times after Karempelis' 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
"He's been great making it feel like high school," Karempelis said. "We actually got to celebrate in the end zone together, so that was cool. He lifted me up like normal, and it was cool to experience that."
Crowell, Thomas and Malcome will return to the rotation next week, but the Bulldogs showed Saturday that they have plenty of offensive weapons beyond their star freshman tailback.
Regular cornerback Branden Smith started at tailback and scored on a 56-yard touchdown run. Cornerback Brandon Boykin lined up in the backfield in the second quarter and went 42 yards for a touchdown off a swing pass. True freshman Chris Conley caught passes of 47 and 46 yards en route to a career-best 126 receiving yards.
It's possible that no Bulldogs offense ever has fared better in one period than the this one did in the second quarter, when they scored 42 unanswered points to push their halftime lead to 49-3.
"I think we were in the zone. I think that's safe to say," offensive lineman Austin Long said. "We finally started making checks and stuff, and they couldn't pick it up and couldn't stop us. I think that was the best quarter we've played this year."
David Ching covers University of Georgia sports for DawgNation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.