ATHENS, Ga. — The message, according to one Georgia player, was succinct. After a week of concentrating fully on Georgia Tech, and then quickly dispensing with Georgia Tech, the locker room talk finally turned to the subject everyone on the outside had been discussing for weeks.
“Atlanta. On to Atlanta. Alabama,” sophomore receiver Malcolm Mitchell said. “On to the next game.”
That would be the SEC championship, which is shaping up to be the biggest game in recent Georgia football history. It means a chance to play for a national championship.
But first, Georgia had to deal with its in-state rival. It did so quickly and easily, running away with a 42-10 win on Saturday.
“Man it’s amazing,” Georgia senior defensive end Cornelius Washington said. “It’s been a long trip. A long season. But we earned it man. We’ve earned it. It’s definitely a blessing.”
The feeling was quite different in the other locker room. Georgia Tech also has a chance to play for a BCS bowl, having backed into an appearance in next week’s ACC championship game.
But the Yellow Jackets (6-6) suffered a loss to Georgia for the 11th time in 12 games, and if it weren’t for the Bulldogs pulling their starters the score may have been more lopsided. The Bulldogs led 42-3 with six minutes left in the third quarter.
“If you watched the same game I did, it was a pretty good thumping,” Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson said.
Quarterback Tevin Washington put it another way: “We just went out there and laid an egg.”
Georgia (11-1) continued its turnaround from when it had its egg-laying game, the 28-point thumping at South Carolina on Oct. 6. Since then the Bulldogs have improved in every facet, and will enter the SEC championship having won the past four games by an average of 26.5 points.
“We’ve been on a streak here and we’ve been rolling,” Washington said. “The defense has been playing well and the offense has been playing well. We’ve been priding ourselves in being a physical, dominant team. We’ve been priding ourselves on being a second-half team.
“We feel like our chances are pretty good. And as you can see, Alabama can be beaten. You just gotta go out and execute your gameplan, and give yourself a chance. And that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Georgia got off to a quick start on Saturday: Malcolm Mitchell returned the opening kickoff 47 yards to the Tech 44. Four plays later, the Bulldogs were in the end zone, via a 3-yard Todd Gurley run. Gurley touched it three times on that quick opening drive.
Georgia Tech was on the verge of answering on its first drive, notching four first downs and reaching the Georgia 20. But then Bacarri Rambo came up big for the Bulldogs: The senior safety took the ball away from Georgia Tech rusher Robert Godhigh, and Rambo returned it 49 yards up to midfield.
It was a huge break for the Bulldogs, as Godhigh was inside the 5 – although a holding call was about to push the Yellow Jackets back anyway and the play wasn’t going to count. But Rambo’s strip had Georgia gladly declining the penalty.
A couple minutes later, it was Gurley scoring again, this time on a 1-yard run.
“It was almost like déjà vu,” Johnson said of Rambo’s strip. “The same kid made a play against us two years ago when he took the ball out of our guy’s hands. You have to give him some credit because that play was a killer.”
Still, Georgia Tech managed a field goal on its second drive. But Georgia answered right back, Murray connecting with Malcolm Mitchell on a 57-yard pass on the drive’s first play. Keith Marshall ran for 13 and then 15 yards, and the three-play, 85-yard drive ended with Georgia leading 21-3.
From there, the rout was on.
Once again, the freshmen tandem of Gurley and Marshall racked up the yards: They each had two touchdowns, and Gurley had 97 yards on 12 carries while Marshall had 66 on seven carries.
Murray passed for 215 yards, completing 14-of-17 passes, including touchdowns to Jay Rome (for 24 yards) and Rhett McGowan (for 11).
Georgia set a program record for points in a season. (It was 456 as of 42-3). The previous record was 454 in 2002, over 14 games.
But Georgia’s defense continued to be a major point of success: Dating back to the Florida game, the team has returned to its form of last year, and on Saturday the first-team didn’t allow a touchdown.
“I thought our guys really dominated the game,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “We chose to get our guys out, from a big picture standpoint, play some younger guys and move on.”
And so they moved on.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt had been fanatical about only talking about Georgia Tech this week. He said after the game that he didn’t see any signs of his team looking ahead to Alabama.
Now, however, the focus can be on the Crimson Tide, Atlanta and all that winning next week would entail.
“That’s something exciting to think about,” Richt said. “But again, SEC championships are hard to come by. And the bottom line is we’re just excited by the opportunity to do that too.”