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November 12, 2011

Knocking on the Dome

The Georgia Dome is knocking and the Georgia Bulldogs are about to answer the door.

After Saturday's 45-7 thrashing of No. 24 Auburn before a sold out Sanford Stadium crowd of 92,746, the 14th-ranked Bulldogs all but have their ticket punched for a date against the SEC West champ.

All that's needed - a victory next week over East bottom-dweller Kentucky - and Georgia (8-2, 6-1) will advance to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta for the first time since 2005.

"What a great game. I can't hardly think of another game, in this stadium, when we played as well as a team, offense, defense and special teams. Everybody kind of fed off each other," head coach Mark Richt said. "It's great right now to be a Georgia Bulldog."

A win next week over Kentucky and the Bulldogs will feel even better as an effort similar to the one displayed on this cool, crisp Athens night and a spot in the championship game will be assured.

"It's an amazing experience," linebacker Alec Ogletree said. "We're definitely enjoying the ride."

A 12-point favorite coming into play, Georgia showed the Las Vegas odds-makers knew their business as the Bulldogs dominated the defending national champs on both sides of the ball.

Quarterback Aaron Murray certainly picked a good time to have one of his more memorable games.

The redshirt sophomore was brilliant, completing 14 of 18 of passes for 224 yards and four touchdowns, giving him 27 for the year which established a new Bulldog single-season record.

Tavarres King, Michael Bennett, Bruce Figgins and Malcolm Mitchell were each on the receiving end of Murray's touchdown throws.

On the ground, junior Carlton Thomas and Isaiah Crowell both came up huge.

Thomas rushed 15 times for a career-best 128 yards with Crowell leading the way with 24 rushes for 132 yards and a touchdown for Georgia, which piled up 528 yards of total offense. It was the first time Georgia put two backs over the 100-yard mark since Washaun Ealey and Caleb King turned the trick against Georgia Tech in 2009.

That wasn't the only impressive statistic on the night.

Georgia picked up 30 first downs to just 9 for Auburn, and dominated the time of possession 40:55 to 19:05. The Bulldogs also converted 12 of 15 first downs while the Tigers made just 3 of 11.

"There's not a whole lot I can tell you that you didn't see," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. "It was a disappointing loss for us. We got beat at every phase of the game tonight. We didn't cover people all night, couldn't stop the run and turned the ball over. That's why we got beat 45-7."

The Bulldogs also showed once again why they're among the top 10 teams nationally in total defense.

Besides a 17-yard interception return by Bacarri Rambo for a touchdown in the second quarter, Georgia also forced a couple of fumbles to win the turnover battle for the eighth straight game after starting the season 0-2.

"I was really hoping we'd continue to improve as the season rolled along," Richt said. "The guys are gaining more confidence, they're playing harder and they're playing smart."

The Bulldogs started quickly.

After Auburn deferred the opening kickoff, the Bulldogs overcame a couple of offensive penalties to pick up a pair of first downs to their 45.

Then following a 45-yard pass to Mitchell to the Tiger 11, it took the Bulldogs three plays before Murray connected with King on a third-down pass of 7 yards for the game's first score.

The Tigers (6-4, 4-3) responded on their ensuing possession, and following a 45-yard pass from Clint Moseley to Emory Blake, tied the game four plays later when freshman C.J. Uzomah took a pitch back and tossed a 4-yard pass to tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen to tie the score.

But just as the Bulldogs did in last week's whitewashing of New Mexico State, Georgia was about to explode, which is what it did by scoring the next 38 points.

First, it was Murray completing a 27-yard touchdown pass to Bennett who made another amazing diving grab to put the Bulldogs back up 14-7.

The two teams then traded back-to-back fumbles - one by Crowell and one by Michael Dyer - the latter of which set up the Bulldogs' third score, a 12-yard pass to Figgins, enabling Murray to the new single-season mark for touchdown passes.

Georgia's defense would soon get into the act and did so in a big way when Rambo picked off Moseley and returned the ball 17 yards for the day's fourth score and the Bulldogs' first defensive score this year.

On the Bulldogs' next possession, Murray did it again, throwing his fourth touchdown pass of the half, a 26-yarder to Mitchell to make the halftime score 35-7.

Georgia would coast from there.

The Bulldogs added a 26-yard field goal from Brandon Bogotay in the third before Crowell scored from 10-yards out with 5:59 to go in the game.

"We wanted to come out together and play a full game together and that's what we did. We just worked hard all week and it paid off today in the game."

Anthony Dasher is the managing editor for UGASports and he can be reached via email at dash@ugasports.com.



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