ATHENS, Ga. — There weren’t many encouraging signs for Georgia’s offense on the night it opened the season in the Georgia Dome.
Three months later, the Bulldogs return there for the Southeastern Conference Championship game with arguably the most prolific offense in coach Mark Richt’s 11 seasons.
Georgia ranks in the top four in the SEC in passing offense (second) total offense (third), scoring offense (fourth) and rushing offense (fourth). Only the 2005 SEC champion Bulldogs finished the season in the top four in those categories and this year’s team has put up better numbers than that squad.
“We usually don’t look at any national stats when you play in this league,” offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. “You try to get up in the upper half of our league.”
Georgia is averaging 34 points and 180.6 rushing yards per game, the most ever under Richt. That offense will face a Louisiana State University team that ranks second in the nation in total and scoring defense.
Quarterback Aaron Murray has thrown 32 touchdown passes, seven more than Matthew Stafford’s previous program record.
“I thought we’ve improved every week,” Bobo said. “I thought we got better in a lot of areas and just continue to add things, add new wrinkles and expand the playbook as the guys got older and Aaron got more comfortable.”
It started rather rocky against Boise State in a 35-21 loss.
“We had a lot of stuff to work out and smooth out,” said redshirt freshman receiver Michael Bennett, who was “shaking in my shoes” in his first college game.
Unveiling a no-huddle offense, Georgia had four first downs at halftime and 80 of its 115 rushing yards off a Brandon Boykin touchdown run.
“We were very young,” Murray said. “We had a lot of guys at new positions on the offensive line, some new running backs, young guys at receivers. … All season long we’ve been getting better and better and maturing and I think that’s why you’ve seen the progress.”
Boise State opened a 28-7 third-quarter lead before Georgia hit touchdown passes of 36 yards to Orson Charles and 51 to Maclolm Mitchell.
“We made some plays,” Richt said. “Malcolm Mitchell made some plays. That was encouraging. Orson had a pretty big day. That was encouraging. We just didn’t execute down after down after down very well.”
Georgia was a miserable
2 of 13 on third downs.
“I wasn’t discouraged,” Richt said. “I wasn’t like, ‘Oh, man, we’re in trouble.’ ”
Georgia doubled its point production in a 45-42 loss to South Carolina the next week, but was undone by the Gamecocks’ defense turning three turnovers into touchdowns.
“We just went back and challenged our guys that we’ve got to believe in what we’re doing, we’re going to stick with it,” Bobo said.
“I feel like we’re playing our best football,” Bennett said, “and that’s a really good thing to be saying coming into the SEC Championship.”