Saturday, October 27, 2012
By David Ching DawgNation
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Your team is leading its biggest rival 10-9 in the fourth quarter and your quarterback is in the middle of one of the worst games of his career. What is the smart play for Georgia's coaching staff in such a situation?
Put the ball in the slumping quarterback's hands, obviously. And Aaron Murray delivered, somehow recovering from a horrendous first half to lead the Bulldogs to a crucial touchdown midway through the fourth quarter in Saturday's 17-9 win against No. 2 Florida.
"We wouldn't have done it if we didn't feel comfortable," Georgia coach Mark Richt said after the game when asked whether he had confidence that Murray could get the job done.
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray throws a pass as he is pressured by Florida defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd (73) during the first half.
It was a perfectly reasonable question, however, given that Murray had been so bad earlier in the game. He was clearly rattled in the first half, going 4-for-8 for 34 yards and three ugly interceptions -- so settling him down was job No. 1 for quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo in the halftime locker room.
"I told him, 'Hey, it's 7-6. We're winning the ballgame. It's Florida-Georgia, it's what you've dreamed about your whole life. Let's go play the game. Relax,' " Bobo said. "It didn't really resonate till the fourth quarter, but when the fourth quarter came around, he did a nice job of delivering the ball."
Somehow, that's what he did -- never more so than on the drive in which he and Malcolm Mitchell combined to finally give Georgia's defense some breathing room. And he did it by following Bobo's advice.
"I was disappointed but knew that we were still up 7-6 and had an entire half to play," said Murray, who finished 12-for-24 for 150 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. "I knew that we could come out and make some things happen in the second half."
Georgia's passing game had been ineffective throughout the afternoon, but Murray went 4-for-6 for 80 yards -- including a 45-yard scoring pass to Mitchell -- on a touchdown drive in which both teams hurt themselves with penalties.
Mitchell himself was the guilty party only three plays before his touchdown catch. He picked up a first down to the Florida 35-yard line only to receive a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting Gators cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, prompting Richt to immediately take him out of the game.
"I don't remember [what I said], but I said enough to make him think that he may not ever get in the game again," Richt said. "He started walking off, so I grabbed the back of his shoulder pads and said, 'Hey Malcolm, I'm only going to take you out for one play. You're going back in.' "
Sure enough, Mitchell was in two plays later to make a 5-yard catch to the Florida 45, and then caught a quick pass from Murray on the next play and zig-zagged through the Gators' secondary on his way to the end zone.
That the ball even made it to Mitchell was a minor miracle according to Richt, as blitzing Florida safety Josh Evans was in Murray's face as he released the throw.
"A guy came clean and was right in Murray's face and I don't even know how the ball got by him," Richt said. "I thought the ball was going to get batted down from the way it was looking."
Instead, the ball somehow got through and was on Mitchell just as he turned, enabling him to quickly break away from Purifoy and into an enormous patch of open field.
"When I turned around and saw the open field, I said, 'I gotta go.' I said, 'I can't ask for nothing better,' " Mitchell said. "I saw Artie [Lynch] coming across the field and I said, 'OK, it's time to cut it back.' It just happened."
Mitchell broke free from Purifoy at Florida's 39 and cut right back inside of lunging Gators safety Matt Elam at the 22. Finally he broke through tackle attempts by Jon Bostic and De'Ante Saunders at the goal line to set off delirium in the Bulldogs' half of the stadium and on their sidelines.
And just like that, two players who could easily have been considered goats if the Bulldogs had lost the ballgame played a key role in their notching their first back-to-back wins against Florida since 1988-89 -- before either of them were born.
"A lot of players came up to me and said, 'Listen, you're a good player. Just play your game and don't get into arguments with them,' because I think I'd been doing that all game. That's the first time they called me on it. And then the situation we were in, we really didn't need that," Mitchell said of the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. "The opportunity came right after that."
And when it did, Mitchell took advantage, creating a moment in the end zone that he'll never forget.
"That was the best feeling, just to know that everybody was so excited and happy off of a play that not just me, but Aaron and the O-line and the other receivers, Artie Lynch coming back across the field," Mitchell said. "Just to get that love at a time like that is a great feeling."