In the first ever meeting between the Appalachian State Mountaineers (2-8, 2-4 Southern) and Georgia Bulldogs (6-3, 4-2 SEC), UGA had to break open a closer than expected first half in order to defeat their FCS foes, 45-6.
Going into Saturday’s contest, the Bulldogs were trying to regain the form that once saw them ranked No.7 in the nation before plummeting from the polls after three losses.
Last week’s 23-20 win against the Florida Gators may have given Georgia just the right boost to keep them in contention in the SEC Eastern Division, but another victory Saturday was necessary to keep postseason hopes alive.
Little was known of UGA’s opponents’ nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, other than maybe one minor claim to fame. The Mountaineers, who won three straight Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) titles from 2005 to 2007, began its last championship season with a historic 34-32 win over the No. 5 ranked Michigan Wolverines.
Appalachian State looked to use their game against Georgia in 2013 as preparation for future major FBS opponents, as the team will join the Sun Belt Conference in 2014. The Mountaineers were able to do just that by keeping up with the Bulldogs early in the game, riding the hot hand of quarterback Kameron Bryant, who went 13 of 16 for 145 yards in the first quarter.
Appalachian State managed to score on their first two possessions, including a 49-yard field goal by kicker Drew Stewart, the longest of his career, but a third field goal attempt resulted in a block by Georgia outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins.
Throughout the first half, the Bulldogs offense displayed poor play with dropped passes, bad line play and even a failed fake punt.
“The whole team appeared distracted,” said offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. “We had some trouble getting the run off and there were some dropped passes, but we made up for it.”
A number of penalties kept Appalachian State in the game along with poor perimeter blocking and tackling troubles. An ejection from the game for targeting against Georgia strong safety Corey Moore kept the Bulldog defense at bay, and the pass rush did not record a sack until the third quarter.
Georgia senior quarterback Aaron Murray managed to have another record-breaking performance amidst the early turmoil.
A 23-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Michael Bennett and Murray’s second touchdown on the day would be all he needed to surpass former Florida Gators quarterback and 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel for the SEC record for career touchdown passes at 116.
“I guess you could say he’s the best now that he has the record,” said sophomore tailback Todd Gurley. “To be on the team and with a leader like him, it feels good.”
Although up 14-6 at halftime, the Georgia fans and alumni in attendance for Homecoming were not pleased with their team’s performance.
The Bulldogs apparently got the message upon at the start of the third quarter.
“You always want to go out and execute,” said junior quarterback Hutson Mason, a Marietta native, who relieved Murray of his duties in the second half. “I kept preaching to guys to the keep the gas pedal on and don’t settle for just running the clock out. We took pride in that and moved the ball and put it in the end zone.”
The Bulldogs relied on Gurley, recovering from a left ankle sprain and junior wide receiver Michael Bennett, fresh off arthroscopic knee surgery, in their second games back from injury after rejoining the team during last week’s win over Florida, to restore the offensive presence.
Gurley would finish the day with 75 rushing yards and one touchdown on 13 attempts, as Bennett went for 85 receiving yards and a touchdown catch off five receptions.
“It’s just another game, nothing major, just taking it a game at a time,” said Gurley. “We can’t really worry about anybody else’s record, we just have to play ball.”
Georgia is 73-17-2 in Homecoming contests and 36-1 at Sanford Stadium against non-conference opponents.
Next up for the Bulldogs will be the No. 9 ranked Auburn Tigers in Auburn, who rallied for a 55-23 victory against SEC East opponent Tennessee on Saturday.
Georgia is now hoping for a Missouri stumble, knowing that victories during the remainder of the season could send the team to the Georgia Dome for the SEC Championship Game, possibly against two-time defending national champions, the No.1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.