It all comes down to a showdown Saturday for No. 3 Georgia against No. 2 Alabama.
Win the Southeastern Conference championship game against the Crimson Tide in what’s essentially a national semifinal and the Bulldogs finally have their spot in their first BCS title game.
Georgia assured that Dec. 1 will be perhaps the most momentous day in decades for the program by doing what it has done on a now nearly annual basis — beat Georgia Tech.
This one came with all the pressure on, but the Bulldogs didn’t play like it in a 42-10 dismantling of their rivals Saturday in Sanford Stadium.
“This is everything,” senior linebacker Christian Robinson said. “This is everything we’ve set out since January to do. One game to win. It’s that close.”
The Bulldogs (11-1) have beaten the Yellow Jackets 11 out of 12 times under coach Mark Richt.
Alabama (11-1) later locked up its spot as SEC West champion as expected by pounding Auburn 49-0.
“It’s a big-time game,” Georgia All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “Everybody in the nation is going to be tuned in to watch it.”
Georgia won the most regular season games in Richt’s 12 seasons, matching the 2002 team with an 11-1 record. It has scored 456 points, breaking that SEC champion team’s school record for points in a season in two less games.
Georgia players tapped the Governor’s Cup during their Dawg Walk — receiver Tavarres King even kissed it — and Robinson had corralled it on the floor between his legs in the postgame locker room.
The Bulldogs will play for a bigger prize — the Waterford Crystal trophy that goes to the BCS champion — if they win the SEC title in the 4 p.m. game in the Georgia Dome. The SEC winner will go up against unbeaten Notre Dame in the Jan 7 game in Miami after it beat Southern California , 22-13 Saturday night.
“That’s something exciting to think about, but SEC championships are hard to come by,” Richt said. “The bottom line is we’re just excited about the opportunity to do that, too.”
Georgia players didn’t tiptoe around what being where they are means.
“We want to go out and win and give ourselves a place in Miami,” defensive end Cornelius Washington said. “We’ve been talking about it the entire season. We’ve been training for it since the beginning of the year — I’m talking January. We really do feel we have a good shot at it and we’re definitely going to give it everything we have.”
Bacarri Rambo, another senior, made sure his last game in Sanford Stadium was a memorable one by snatching away a pair of first-half turnovers near the goal-line, which the Bulldogs turned into 14 points. The safety stripped the ball out of hands of Georgia Tech’s Robert Godhigh at the 1-yard line at the end of a 19-yard run and returned it 49 yards. Rambo later picked off a pass and returned it 27 yards.
Quarterback Aaron Murray completed 14 of 17 for 215 yards with two touchdowns on a day when freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley (97 yards on 12 carries) and Keith Marshall (66 yards on seven carries) each rushed for a pair of touchdowns.
Murray couldn’t have more momentum heading into Atlanta. He’s completed 71 of 97 passes (73.2 percent) for 1,137 yards with 13 touchdowns and no interceptions in the last four games.
Georgia scored touchdowns on all but one first-half possession to run out to a 28-3 halftime lead, the largest halftime deficit for the Yellow Jackets since it trailed LSU 35-3 in the Chick-fil-A bowl at end of the 2008 season. The lead grew to 42-3 with six minutes left in the third quarter.
“We did what we needed to do,” Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “We needed to drive the ball and get touchdowns. We took a different approach. We wanted to play fast, stay in a rhythm and keep them on their heels. … You know, you’ve got to try to score points against them and get them behind.”
Georgia Tech, which plays Florida State for the ACC title next week, scored its only touchdown on a 9-yard David Sims touchdown run with 7:25 left after most of the Bulldogs’ starters were pulled. The Yellow Jackets outgained Georgia 426-379 and held the ball for 39:56 but those numbers couldn’t have been more deceiving.
“If you watched the same game that I did, it was a pretty good thumping,” said Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, whose team was held to a season-low point total. “We could not slow them down and we could not finish drives offensively.”
Richt’s biggest complaint might have been that he went too fast posing for photos with families of the 21 players honored on Senior Day before the game.
“I should have slowed down,” Richt said.
Georgia has finished fast with six straight wins.
“We’ve been on a streak, we’ve been rolling,” Washington said. “Defense has been playing well. Offense has been playing well. We’ve been priding ourselves in being a physical, dominant team. We’ve been priding ourselves in being a second half team. We feel our chances are pretty good. As you can see, Alabama can be beat. You’ve just got to go out and execute your gameplan and give yourself a chance. That’s what we’re going to do.”
Georgia hasn’t won a national title since 1980. Alabama has won two of the last three national titles.
“We play this game just like they do,” Jarvis Jones said. “We put on our pads and shoes and everything just like they do. It’s definitely respect. They’re a good program. We respect them. I guess they respect us. We’re just going to go out there, we’re going to play ball, we’re going to enjoy doing it.”