Georgia coach Mark Richt may have surprised his defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, by calling a timeout with Georgia Southern driving late in the first half of Saturday’s game.
Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley (31) runs for a touchdown during the Bulldogs' 45-14 win over Georgia Southern on Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
But Richt wanted his offense to have one more opportunity to score before intermission.
“I made the decision as head coach to be aggressive and say, ‘Let’s go get it,’” Richt said. “I’ve got faith in our scheme and our quarterback.”
Following the timeout, a chop block penalty negated Georgia Southern’s third down conversion, and the Eagles lined up for a 39-yard field goal that kicker Alex Hanks missed.
Georgia took over at their own 22-yard line with just 63 seconds until halftime, and quarterback Aaron Murray went to work.
Murray connected with tight end Jay Rome on an eight-yard pass and benefited from a roughing the passer penalty on the next play. The junior signal-caller then hit Tavarres King and Rome on back-to-back passes to put Georgia on the 24-yard line.
The Bulldogs then took two shots to the endzone, but both of Murray’s passes fell incomplete.
“We thought there was time to throw it in the end zone,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “I thought we should have scored a touchdown the first play. … Fortunately, there enough time left on the clock to get another shot.”
Facing third-and-10 with just nine seconds remaining on the clock, Murray connected with Malcolm Mitchell for the 24-yard touchdown.
“We knew that we were going to have a chance to score,” wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell said. “We knew we would have to work it down the field quickly.”
The touchdown gave the Bulldogs a 10-point lead at halftime and set the tone for the second half.
“It was huge to get a 17-7 lead heading into halftime, getting a touchdown and gaining the momentum,” Murray said. “It was a huge momentum shift.”
Richt also stressed the significance of the last-minute drive.
“The offense did a beautiful job of getting down the field in less than a minute with no timeouts to use,” Richt said. “I thought that (drive) was, by far, the biggest turning point in the game.”
The drive was Georgia’s seventh scoring drive this season that has been in a minute or less, as the Bulldogs covered 78 yards on six plays in just 59 seconds.
Kicker Morgan makes kick, tackles
Georgia’s second possession of the game ended in rare fashion.
After driving to the Georgia Southern 29-yard line, Georgia’s offense stalled, and Richt sent out freshman kicker Marshall Morgan to attempt a 52-yard field goal.
“Before the game, I told Coach Richt my range was about forty-five or fifty yards against the wind,” said Morgan. “I hit it great but just a bit short.”
Because of the long kick, Georgia Southern’s Darreion Robinson, a former Clarke Central standout, was stationed in the end zone, poised for a return.
When Morgan’s kick fell short, Robinson returned it 59 yards to the Georgia 41-yard line, where he was met by Morgan, who made the tackle.
“I saw one of our managers freaking out because everyone thought the play was over,” said Morgan, who fought through a lineman’s block to make the tackle. “He kind of juked me, but then I got lucky and tackled him.”
Morgan also made a solo tackle on the opening kickoff, bringing down returner J.J. Wilcox at the Georgia Southern 29-yard line. The kicker said his two tackles brought back memories of middle school.
“I was a defensive end in middle school,” Morgan said. “So I went back to my roots and remembered how to tackle.”
Morgan nailed a 37-yard field goal to give Georgia a 10-7 lead in the second quarter.
“All my kicks were down the middle today, so I’m glad about that,” Morgan said. “I’m happy with my day.”
WR Conley snags two scores
Just one week after sophomore Chris Conley caught his first career touchdown pass, the wide receiver added two more scores Saturday against Georgia Southern.
“It’s been great,” Conley said of his last two games.
Conley finished the game with four catches for 76 yards and the two touchdowns.
“We didn’t want to come in and be complacent, so everyone was working just as hard for this game,” Conley said. “It really speaks to our coaches keeping us focused, and we were able to come out and execute.”
Conley has seen an increased role recently, after top wideouts Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett suffered season-ending injuries, and Conley’s quarterback likes what he is seeing from the young receiver.
“He’s been playing great,” Murray said. “It’s good to see him step up. We never like to lose players to injury, but [Chris] has shown that he’s able to step up and make plays for us.”
CB Smith sees time on offense
Cornerback Branden Smith made his season debut on offense in Georgia’s victory Saturday.
Smith took two direct snaps and finished with nine yards rushing.
“I had a good time,” said Smith, who ran for 100 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries last season. “It felt good touching the ball again.”
With Georgia selling out to stop Georgia Southern’s triple-option rushing attack this week, coaches decided to let Smith, a cover cornerback, receive practice reps on offense. When his number was called Saturday, he was ready to go.
“Since I wasn’t playing defense that much, (coaches) put in a little package for me,” Smith said. “I didn’t know how many carries I would get, but it didn’t really matter how many I got.”
While college and NFL teams have adopted similar formations, widely known as the “Wildcat,” Smith said the formation Georgia used has a simple name: “B. Smith’s package.”
“I’m just playing my role,” Smith said. “Whenever they need me, just call my name. I’m just here to help the team win.”
Along with the return on Morgan’s missed field goal, Robinson, a Bishop native, played a key role in Georgia Southern’s ground attack. The senior ran for 54 yards on 12 carries for the Eagles. … Sophomore quarterback Parker Welch and redshirt freshman receiver Justin Scott-Wesley on a 13-yard pass for Georgia’s final points of the game. The touchdown was Welch’s first passing score and Scott-Wesley’s first career touchdown catch. … Fullback Merritt Hall re-injured his right ankle in the first quarter against the Eagles. While his return looked unlikely, he was able to finish the game. Hall had missed the previous two games with the injury. … Senior linebacker Christian Robinson made his first start of the season and the 16th of his career Saturday. He finished with nine tackles, including two tackles for loss.