The notion that Georgia Southern would serve as a warm-up for what’s coming this week from Georgia Tech was getting ripped apart with less than two minutes to play in the first half Saturday in Sanford Stadium.
The Eagles and their triple-option offense were driving for a go-ahead score against fifth-ranked Georgia.
The Southeastern Conference Eastern Division may have been clinched, but the Bulldogs needed to swat away the pesky Eagles.
They did and grabbed control.
Quarterback Aaron Murray began shredding the Georgia Southern secondary. The defense clamped down. And the rout finally came as Georgia pulled away for a 45-14 victory.
“They were on our heels,” said Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, who had a game-high 12 tackles and a fumble recovery. “Going into the half we were kind of like, ‘Dang, we’ve got to do something to make a play.’ They missed a field goal and kind of gave us a little breathing room.”
Georgia took advantage of a chop-block penalty and Murray went on to throw four touchdown passes in a span of 12:25 to “really just take the life out of them,” as the quarterback put it.
The Bulldogs scored 31 straight points and scored six touchdowns total, giving them 56 this season, a school record.
“I didn’t think they could stop us if we just went out and did our thing,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said.
The Bulldogs (10-1) posted back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time since 2007-08 and kept alive a chance of reaching the BCS title game.
“I don’t know anything about how the BCS does things, but I’m just glad that we got the W,” Georgia nose guard John Jenkins said. “I guess if that looked good in style points then, hey, we’re stylin’”
Georgia Southern (8-3) still earned the Southern Conference’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.
The Bulldogs now get double the fun of defending the triple-option against the Yellow Jackets next Saturday at noon.
“It’s not fun to prepare for, I can tell you that,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I don’t know if everyone’s looking forward to doing it again, but bottom line is we’ve got to go hook it up in practice again and do our best.”
Georgia Tech (6-5) has won four of its last five after a 42-24 victory over Duke on Saturday.
“Actually seeing the game speed and stuff live, it really helped out for us,” Ogletree said. “Next week it will be just much easier to basically know what to do and basically get to the ball.”
The game swung late in the second quarter with Georgia Southern trailing 10-7, but with a fourth-and-1 on the Georgia 7-yard line.
The cut-blocking visitors were called for a chop-block — one player blocking high and another blocking low — after a 2-yard run by Dominique Swope. Left guard Trevor McBurnett was called for a 15-yard penalty.
“It was a huge turn of events,” Richt said.
Jenkins said nose guard Kwame Geathers was the player who got chopped.
Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken gave an earful to umpire Johnny Hibbett.
“I was chopped blocked and brought it to the ref’s attention, and Kwame got the call off of it,” Jenkins said. “Kwame and I, the whole D-line, everybody was just getting cut left and right. Going full pads all week was probably a good idea.”
The penalty wiped out a first down, pushed the Eagles to the Georgia 22, and Alex Hanks was wide right on a 39-yard field-goal attempt with 1:03 to go in the half.
Georgia took advantage, driving 78 yards in six plays covering 59 seconds. Murray hit Malcolm Mitchell for a 24-yard touchdown in the left side of the end zone.
Murray (18 of 28 for 330 yards) added third-quarter touchdown passes of 13 to Chris Conley, 43 to Tavarres King and 33 again to Conley.
Georgia Southern rushed for 149 yards on 29 carries in the first half but was held to 32 yards on its first 14 attempts in the second half.
“I think it was a little bit more quicker reads,” said linebacker Christian Robinson, who had nine tackles in his first start of the season. “The line held off the blocks that were coming for our knees and we were able to run and make plays in the alley.”
Georgia forced three-and-outs on the Eagles’ first two possessions of the third quarter.
Players said they had to adjust to the speed and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said the Eagles “had a little bit of formation there that we had to adjust to. Once we did that and understood what was happening, it was pretty much over.”