Murray, Georgia get revenge against Auburn on road to SEC title game

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ATHENS, Ga. -- Aaron Murray is an easygoing guy by nature. He rarely loses his composure. Almost never gets angry.

But he does have a long memory.

Murray vividly remembers a couple of borderline hits from Nick Fairley when Georgia played at Auburn a year ago. Murray's teammates objected to Fairley's extracurricular activities with their quarterback and before the afternoon was over there was almost a bench-clearing brawl and two Auburn players were ejected.

Auburn stormed back from a 21-7 deficit to win that game 49-31 on its way to a BCS national championship. The game left a lot of bad blood between the oldest rivals in the South, who began playing in 1892.

"That game got intense and it got chippy," Murray said. "They beat us good in the second half. Nobody on our team forgot that."

So it was with much glee and a large dose of redemption that Murray and Georgia took the defending national champions to the woodshed Saturday afternoon in Sanford Stadium. Murray threw four touchdown passes in the first half to set a Georgia record as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 35-7 halftime lead and then coasted to a 45-7 victory.

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"We just played great," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. "I'm trying to think of another game where we played this well in a situation that was so important to us."

It was the eighth straight win for Georgia (8-2, 6-1 SEC) after an 0-2 start. Now the Bulldogs need only beat Kentucky (4-6, 1-5) next Saturday in Athens to win the SEC East and advance to the conference championship game for the first time since 2005. If Georgia loses to Kentucky then South Carolina will advance to Atlanta.

Murray, the redshirt sophomore from Tampa, had touchdown passes of 8, 27, 15, and 25 yards in the first half. That gives him 27 this season, which breaks Matthew Stafford's record of 25 set in 2008.

A week ago Murray had five touchdown passes in only one quarter against New Mexico State. Against Auburn he was almost flawless in the first half as he went 7 for 7 on third-down conversions and completed 13 of 16 passes for 216 yards and four touchdowns.

"He's as good as advertised," Auburn coach Gene Chizik said.

"That was as well as Aaron has thrown the ball since he has been here," Richt said. "He threw the deep ball well and gave our receivers great chances to catch the ball. That is the best we have executed our offense in a while."

Auburn (6-4, 4-3 SEC) continues to have problems on the road. The Tigers' previous three losses have come at No. 1 LSU (45-10), No. 8 Arkansas (38-14), and No. 9 Clemson (38-24). If not for a 16-13 win at South Carolina the Tigers would be 0-5 away from Jordan-Hare Stadium.

"We keep doing the things you can't do if you expect to win on the road," Chizik siad.

All season long Auburn has committed mistakes at the worst possible time on the road and Saturday was no different. The Tigers were very much in the game, trailing 14-7 with the ball at its own 45-yard line after a fumble by Georgia's Isaiah Crowell. But Michael Dyer fumbled it right back on Auburn's first play from scrimmage.

Six plays later Murray threw his third touchdown pass.

On Auburn's next possession Clint Moseley simply didn't see Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo, whose pick-six covered 24 yards and gave Georgia a 28-7 lead. Then Murray threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to freshman Malcolm Mitchell. Georgia had scored 21 points in less than six minutes to take the commanding lead at halftime.

Murray got a little frisky in the opening possession of the second half and took a hard hit at the knees that caused him to do a complete flip. From that point on Murray was content to hand the ball to Carlton Thomas and Crowell to milk the clock. Both backs had more than 100 yards and Georgia finished with 304 yards on the ground and 528 total yards.

"This was a great win for us," Murray said. "It seems like it all kind of just clicked for everyone today. All three facets of the game played great."

Georgia's No. 7-ranked defense limited Auburn to 195 yards of total offense. Auburn was the No. 2 rushing team in the SEC but gained only 51 yards on the ground.

"Offense, defense, special teams. Everyone played great today and it showed," linebacker Alec Ogletree said. "We wanted to come out and play a full game together and that's what we did."

Georgia's convincing win over Auburn did a couple of things:

 It will finally put an end to the speculation about the status of Richt, who has now won 104 of his 140 games as Georgia's head coach. When Georgia lost to No. 5 Boise State (35-21) and No. 15 South Carolina (45-42) to open the season, there were calls for Richt's head. Those calls will now cease.

 Georgia's play at the end of the season gives the SEC reason to hope that its conference championship game on Dec. 3 will be pretty competitive. If Georgia beats Kentucky next week, odds are the Bulldogs will play No. 1 LSU in Atlanta. LSU (9-0, 6-0) still has SEC games left at Ole Miss next Saturday and at home against Arkansas on Nov. 25.

Now it should be pointed out that Georgia has benefitted significantly from the quirks of the SEC schedule. Georgia is the only school in the SEC East that has not had to play No. 1 LSU, No. 3 Alabama or No. 8 Arkansas from the West. In fact, Auburn is the first team Georgia has played in 2011 with a winning record in conference play. Georgia's other five SEC victories this season have come against teams (Florida, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Mississippi State and Ole Miss) that were a combined 5-24 in conference play at the start of business on Saturday. Kentucky, next week's final SEC opponent, is 1-5 in the league after getting stomped by Vanderbilt (38-8) on Saturday.

But none of that seemed to matter Saturday night. Georgia's eight-game run is its longest streak under Richt and its longest since 1982, when Georgia started 11-0 and played Penn State for the national championship.

"This was a team that we knew would get better if everybody was patient and just kept working hard," Richt said. "The guys are gaining more confidence and they are playing hard and they are playing smart. Now we just have to do it one more time in order to get our ticket punched to Atlanta."

Watch the Tony Barnhart Show Wednesday at 8 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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