ATHENS, Ga. — Forget all that cupcake talk or thinking Saturday’s game was merely a tune-up for next week’s showdown with No. 6 Louisiana State.
Georgia’s season at one time looked dangerously close to being on the brink early in the third quarter against North Texas.
Yes, North Texas.
The Mean Green tied the No. 9 Bulldogs by recovering a blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown 43 seconds into the third quarter. It was Georgia’s second major special teams disaster of the day – it had surrendered a 99-yard kickoff return for touchdown in the second quarter.
The Bulldogs (2-1) survived all that on a rain-drenched day in Sanford Stadium when it had to work harder than expected to walk away with a 45-21 win.
“We got ourselves into a fight,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It could have got really ugly, but it didn’t. We continued to settle the game down by playing great defense and continuing to move the ball and get some points and we were able to finish the game without some drama.”
North Texas (2-2) showed it wasn’t content just to cash a $975,000 paycheck for the game.
A team that entered 1-44 all-time against ranked opponents was going toe-to-toe with a team that nearly played for the national title last season and would have had its national title hopes this year smashed.
As rain got heavier in the second half, Georgia began to pull away by scoring the game’s last 24 points.
“I was thinking we need to step up, put these guys away,” outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said. “That’s not Georgia. We needed to pick it up and get it done like we should.”
Quarterback Aaron Murray went 22 of 30 for 408 yards with three touchdown passes and one interception. He scored on a 1-yard sneak with 7:11 left in the third quarter and freshman safety Tray Matthews picked off a pass by North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson at the Georgia 5 for his first career interception.
The Bulldogs then drove 95 yards to get a little breathing room, getting a 4-yard touchdown pass from Murray to Chris Conley in the right corner of the end zone, Murray’s third TD pass of the day.
“We’re a veteran group of guys,” said Murray, who now has 102 career touchdown passes, second most in SEC history. “We know not to panic or stress, just keep playing.”
The Bulldogs defense yielded one touchdown and seven yards rushing in the game.
“I thought those guys played their tails off,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said, noting his unit has given up 13 points in the past six quarters dating back to the South Carolina game.
Georgia led 21-14 at halftime after a 99-yard kickoff return for touchdown by Brelan Chancellor and an interception thrown by Murray in the end zone after Georgia reached the 3-yard line. Murray was forced out of the pocket and his pass over the middle was picked off by Will Wright.
That was the only incompletion Murray threw in the first half when he was 11 of 12 for 232 yards.
He threw career touchdown passes 100 and 101 in the first half.
Freshman Reggie Davis’ first career catch, of 98 yards, was one to remember.
It set a Georgia record for longest passing touchdown in program history.
Davis blew past cornerback Zac Whitfield and hauled it in at the Georgia 40 and the high school track speedster was gone for a 98-yard touchdown.
The previous long scoring pass for Georgia was 93 yards. That was done three times, including the famed Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott touchdown play in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1980.
Davis’ score wasn’t even the longest of this game, though.
Chancellor’s kickoff return with 7:12 left in the second quarter took some life out of Georgia after it went ahead by two TDs on a Murray to Arthur Lynch 16-yard scoring pass to cap a six-play, 75-yard drive.
Georgia was forced to punt on its next two possessions, leaving offensive coordinator Mike Bobo irate in the coaches’ box, but he was more than satisfied in the postgame locker room.
“I was proud of how we came back and played when the score got tied up,” he said.
Georgia was a 32½-point favorite but it couldn’t get backup quarterback Hutson Mason into the game until 2:08 left.
Fixing special teams will be a high priority this week with LSU coming to town.
“There’s nothing wrong,” Richt said, “with having a sense of urgency for a whole week.”