ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia has come a long way since a meltdown against Kentucky two years ago, when the Bulldogs committed four turnovers in the second half of a 34-27 home loss.
Or since the Bulldogs’ second loss this season, when South Carolina outlasted Georgia 45-42 after the Gamecocks scored touchdowns on an interception return, a fumble return and off a fumble that set up another score.
Turnovers have turned Georgia’s way during its eight-game winning streak.
The Bulldogs now need to only beat Kentucky on Saturday in Sanford Stadium to win the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title thanks in large part to not losing the turnover battle in any of those games.
“I think that’s really the reason why we’ve won,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “Our defense has done a great job of getting turnovers, getting us great field position and we really haven’t turned the ball over as an offense that much.”
Georgia is plus-19 in turnover margin since Todd Grantham became defensive coordinator prior to the 2010 season. The Bulldogs are tied for ninth in the nation in turnover margin this year.
The Bulldogs went from 118th out of 120 FBS teams in turnovers gained (12) in 2009 to 30th last year (26) to tied for 14th this season (23). Meanwhile, the Bulldogs’ offense has 30 combined turnovers the past two seasons after it had 28 in 2009.
“It’s something we stress as a team and an offense – end every possession in a kick, whether you’re kicking an extra point, a field goal or a punt,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “Sometimes it’s OK to punt. Don’t give them a short field.”
In the loss to Kentucky in 2009, quarterback Joe Cox threw two second-half interceptions and his pitch on a toss sweep to Washaun Ealey was fumbled away.
“I don’t think we have an effort problem, we have a problem respecting the ball,” coach Mark Richt said after that game.
The beards that Murray and tight end Aron White are sporting these days shows how much respect for the ball these Bulldogs have.
Georgia players are allowed to go scruffy when they don’t lose the turnover battle.
“I can’t grow facial hair so it doesn’t bother me as much,” center Ben Jones said. “They want to have the nastiest beard on the team.”
White says he hasn’t shaved since after the South Carolina game. Murray’s razor has gone unused since the bye week before Florida.
White is one of five starters remaining from that 2009 Kentucky game.