ATHENS — Georgia took out four weeks worth of frustration on Vince Dooley’s boy and bumbling Tennessee.
Aaron Murray ran for two touchdowns and threw for two scores, including another to A.J. Green, as the Bulldogs snapped their longest losing streak in two decades with a 41-14 rout of the Volunteers on Saturday.
Georgia (2-4, 1-3 SEC) had been looking for this sort of performance ever since a season-opening win over Louisiana-Lafayette. The Bulldogs thoroughly dominated against a team that helped out by committing three turnovers, allowing four sacks and rushing for just 9 yards.
“I’m very proud of our team. We played beautifully,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who’s been under fire for the poor start. “We played extremely hard from the opening kickoff to the very end. I can’t ask much more than what they gave.”
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, the son of former Georgia coach and athletic director Vince Dooley, returned to the city where he grew up and graduated from law school. His father did not attend the game, electing to watch from home because he didn’t want to root for a visiting team between the hedges.
He shouldn’t have worried. Derek’s team didn’t give dad much to cheer about.
“We ran into a motivated team today,” said Derek Dooley, whose squad trailed 17-0 at the end of the first quarter and never made a game of it. “We are just not stopping anybody right now. I’m not sure if that’s just growing pains. I just think we are not very good right now.”
Murray, a redshirt freshman, had the best game of his young career. He completed 17 of 25 for 266 yards and ran seven times for 41 yards.
“I’m no Denard Robinson or Michael Vick,” Murray said. “But if things open up, I can make some plays with my feet here and there. I just have to be smart when I’m running.”
Green had six catches for 96 yards, giving him 13 catches for 215 yards in the two weeks since he returned from a four-game suspension for selling his bowl jersey to a person considered an agent.
“When I’m back in there, I draw a lot of double teams,” Green said. “That means other guys are open. We’ve got a lot more playmakers besides me.”
On a warm, sunny day, Georgia’s four-game losing streak led to noticeable chunks of empty seats at Sanford Stadium, even though it was officially a sellout of 92,746.
But the Bulldogs set a promising tone right away by holding Tennessee without a score on the opening possession — they gave up scores right away in each of their four losses — and marching down the field the first time they got the ball.
Caleb King broke off a 14-yard run, Murray completed a 12-yard pass to Green, then the quarterback took matters into his own hands. Or feet, that is.
Looking to his left and finding no one open, Murray spotted a huge opening to the right and took off. He didn’t stop running until he dove into the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown.
Then it was time for Tennessee to start making mistakes. Matt Simms lofted a pass that was deflected and picked off by Bacarri Rambo, who managed to get one foot down just before he flew through the bench area and actually leaped over the famous hedge that surrounds the field.
The first of the turnovers led to Blair Walsh’s 42-yard field goal, but the Volunteers were just getting warmed up with their hapless ways. On the ensuing kickoff, Eric Gordon had the ball knocked loose and Derek Owens recovered at the Tennessee 41. Murray struck right away, hooking up with Green on a 33-yard pass.
After King was thrown for a loss, Murray hooked up with Rantavious Wooten on a 9-yard touchdown in the left corner to give the Bulldogs a 17-point cushion.
The Volunteers looked totally deflated after their last-play loss to LSU the previous week, when they surrendered the winning touchdown after time ran out because a penalty for too many men on the field allowed the Tigers to run an extra play.
Tennessee’s only bright spot in the first half came after Simms appeared to headed for yet another sack, but managed to slip away from two defenders and loft a 38-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hunter. But any hope of the Vols rallying was snuffed out by Gordon’s second turnover and the third overall.
On a Georgia punt, the ball popped out of Gordon’s hands and right into the arms of Blake Sailors at the Tennessee 37. Murray went to Aron White with a 30-yard pass and, even after an illegal block penalty backed up the Bulldogs, Green hauled in a 22-yard touchdown pass down the middle that made it 24-7.
Walsh added a 20-yard field goal for a 27-7 halftime lead.
“These were two teams that obviously wanted to win,” Simms said. “Perhaps we were too focused on winning and lost sight of what it takes to win.”
Just about everything went Georgia’s way. On the opening possession of the second half, Murray spun away from a would-be tackler in the backfield, took off running again to his left and managed to stick the ball over the goal line just before stepping out of bounds.
The officials initially ruled him out at the 1, and Walsh kicked through a chip-shot field goal. But the replay booth signaled down to the field just before the snap, took another look at the play and ruled that Murray should get credit for a 5-yard touchdown run.
“He’s played beyond his age,” Green said. “He’s smart, he’s got a good arm and he knows how to make things happen. He’s a special guy.”