For pure entertainment, Saturday was a near-perfect game, the rare collision of high-level quarterbacks who happen to be friends from the same recruiting class who battled for the starting Georgia job in 2010, throwing behind steady offensive lines that gave them time to throw, facing young secondaries at their mercy, prompting a back-and-forth of body blows that channeled prize-fight greatness inside a volcanic Sanford Stadium.
Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger were relentless. But Murray had a better better offensive line and a few more demons to exorcise. His 44-41 win over LSU officially squashes the rep that he shrinks in big games.
Georgia lost arguably the SEC's best player, Todd Gurley, to an ankle injury in the second quarter and still beat one of the country's best, surviving the September gauntlet of Clemson-South Carolina-LSU with a 3-1 clip and national title sights intact.
"I think everyone in the nation knows what Georgia football is about right now," Murray said. "We're a tough group of guys and we're fighters."
Mettenberger, a Georgia transfer who often looked clueless in 2012 as a first-year starter, is the best pocket passer LSU's had since JaMarcus Russell, who may still be eating somewhere. Somehow it felt like Mettenberger won Saturday, or at least deserved to. Both quarterbacks did. Murray was a little more clutch, but Mettenberger's offensive line allowed four sacks while Murray stayed clean.
In passing situations of third-and-7 or longer, Murray and Mettenberger combined for 7 of 12 completions for 201 yards, three touchdowns and Murray's interception in the first quarter on a screen pass that was gobbled up by defensive tackle Anthony Johnson.
Mettenberger went 4 of 6 for 137 yards and two scores on those downs, including a ridiculous third-and-22 conversion midway through the fourth, a play that looked hopeless from the start, with a Georgia defense playing the prevent of all prevents, showing a wall of six defensive backs 20 yards from scrimmage, begging Mettenberger to throw a dump-off.
Nope. Laser between a sea of red to Odell Beckham for 25 yards. Did we mention Beckham had 118 yards, which was nearly 40 yards short of his teammate, Jarvis Landry, who finished with 156 and a score? And that neither of those players had the most touchdowns on their team? That honor belonged to Kadron Boone with two scores in the first half.
It was that kind of game. But it's also that kind of season for Murray, who battled through three top 10 teams in one month and pumped out this stat: 16 of 26 on third and longs.
Aaron Murray wins big games. It's his thing now. The convenient argument that Murray can't win when it counts should be tucked away inside one of Les Miles' hats.
The critics were justified when considering his performance against LSU in 2011 and South Carolina in 2012, completing 27 of 71 passes for 272 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions.
Playing those two this month, both wins, he's 37 of 57 for 607 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception.
He capitalized on LSU mistakes. LSU coach Les Miles said his secondary blew the coverage on Georgia's final drive, resulting in a 25-yard touchdown strike down the sideline to a wide-open Justin Scott-Wesley with 1:47 left.
"For as much scrutiny as he gets as a record setting QB, it's unfair," said tight end Arthur Lynch, whose quarterback moved to No. 2 in Georgia history with 11,429 career passing yards. "If you could find me a better run that a quarterback's had, I'd like to see who he went up against."
Murray defers, naturally. He's aiming for more than a few touchdowns or conference wins.
"It's not about me. It's about this team," Murray said. "We've grown up a lot this month. It's been a great month to see where we're at."
But he was happy for Mettenberger, who clearly belongs in the conversation of top SEC quarterbacks.
His overthrow of Odell Beckham on fourth down in the final minute was a rare mistake. His bullet to Landry through triple coverage for 25 yards early in the fourth quarter was something LSU didn't have last year. No way he makes that throw a year ago. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has calmed Mettenberger and injected the Tigers with sensible route concepts in the passing game.
"[Mettenberger] had an awesome day today," Murray said.
Georgia coaches and players were generally happy for Mettenberger, whom Lynch said almost won the quarterback job in Athens three years ago.
Added Miles: "Was he perfect? No. But boy, was he damn good."
Georgia's been in two shootouts, which -- coupled with Alabama's 49-42 win over Texas A&M -- suggests the SEC isn't immune to the growth of prolific, up-tempo offenses.
But the conference probably has four high-level quarterbacks (five if we count South Carolina's now-injured Connor Shaw), and three of those teams (not Alabama) have young defenses. That leads to points.
If the offensive line plays this cleanly every week, Georgia can score on any team. Keith Marshall, who filled in for Gurley, might be the country's best backup. Georgia's defense misses assignments but showed big-play ability with two sacks and a forced fumble in the fourth quarter.
Georgia coach Mark Richt, who admitted to being more emotional than usual after the game, pumped both fists and screamed, "Yeah! Yeah!" to fans as he jogged through the tunnel.
His team is playing desperate football, because the Bulldogs' goals require it.
"When it came to the national championship hope, we couldn't afford it," Richt said of Georgia's hope, had the Bulldogs lost.
And they can't afford to slack. They might see LSU again.