ATHENS — Aaron Murray threw four touchdown passes, Todd Gurley became only the second true freshman in Georgia history to rush for 1,000 yards, and the No. 5 Bulldogs bounced back from a sluggish start to blow out lower-division Georgia Southern 45-14 Saturday.
Georgia (10-1) reached 10 wins for the eighth time in Mark Richt's dozen seasons as coach. Georgia Southern (8-3) had a shot at the halftime lead, only to get scuttled by a penalty, and Murray took control from there.
He completed a 24-yard touchdown pass to Malcolm Mitchell with just 4 seconds left in the half, sending Georgia to the locker room with a 17-7 lead. In the third quarter, Murray hooked up with Chris Conley on a pair of scoring passes, sandwiched around a 43-yarder to Tavarres King.
Gurley scored Georgia's first touchdown on a 1-yard plunge. In the second quarter, he got to 1,000 yards on a 5-yard gain, joining Herschel Walker in 1980 as the school's only first-year players to reach that mark. Knowshon Moreno was a redshirt freshman when he rushed for more than 1,000 in 2007.
Georgia Southern (8-3) hung around for the first two quarters, causing some nervous groans in the predominantly red-clad crowd. But the Eagles, a Southern Conference powerhouse, were totally overwhelmed in the second half.
Murray went to Conley for a 13-yard touchdown that stretched the lead to 24-7. After going deep to King, Murray swung a short pass to Conley, who took it 33 yards for the score that send many of the fans heading for the exits.
Before sitting out most of the fourth quarter, Murray put up his third four-TD game of the season and seventh of his career. He finished 18 of 28 for 330 yards.
His counterpart, Jerick McKinnon, rushed for 109 yards and scored both Georgia Southern touchdowns.
The Eagles dropped to 0-20 against Football Bowl Subdivision schools, with five of those losses to Georgia. At least they picked up a nice paycheck ($475,000) for making a quick bus ride from Statesboro.
Georgia got a chance to work against the run-oriented option, the same scheme they'll see next week in the regular-season finale against Georgia Tech. Then it's on to the Southeastern Conference championship game for a likely meeting with No. 4 Alabama, and a possible shot at sneaking into the national championship race if the Bulldogs can win out.
Georgia Southern, co-champions of the Southern Conference, got some good news on the out-of-town scoreboard when The Citadel defeated Furman to give the Eagles the league's automatic berth into the FCS playoffs.
As expected, Georgia marched right down the field on its first possession. Murray connected with Arthur Lynch on a 49-yard pass, Zander Ogletree kept the drive going with a 4-yard run on fourth-and-1, and Gurley powered over from the 1 to give the Bulldogs a quick lead.
It got tougher from there.
The next time Georgia had the ball, they were in position to extend the lead on a 51-yard field goal. But Marshall Morgan's kick came up well short of the goalposts — so much so that Darreion Robinson, younger brother of Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson, was able to field the ball in the back of the end zone.
Catching the Bulldogs off guard, Robinson suddenly sprinted out of the end zone and might've scored if not for a saving tackle by Morgan along the sideline at the Georgia 41. McKinnon fumbled away that chance, losing the ball when he tried to pull back from throwing, but the Bulldogs fumbled it right back when Rhett McGowan took a big hit over the middle.
The Eagles strung together a tedious drive for the tying TD. Georgia Southern ran it 10 straight times, capped by McKinnon's 1-yard sneak that that drew big cheers from the small contingent in blue in the corner of an end zone.
Georgia answered with Morgan's 37-yard field goal, but Georgia Southern might have gone to halftime with the lead if not for a crucial penalty.
On fourth-and-1 at the Georgia 7, the Eagles appeared to pick up the first down on Dominique Swopes' 2-yard run. But guard Trevor McBurnett was called for a chop block, going at the legs of massive nose tackle John Jenkins while he was being held up by another Georgia Southern blocker. After 15 yards were stepped off, the Eagles attempted a tying field goal. Alex Hanks was wide right with a 39-yard attempt.
With 1:03 left, Murray quickly guided the Bulldogs down the field — thanks to another big call against the Eagles. Terico Agnew was flagged for a late hit on the Georgia quarterback after he delivered an incomplete pass. Jay Rome hauled in a 21-yard pass, allowing the Bulldogs to take three shots at the end zone in the closing seconds even with no timeouts left.
The first two were incomplete. But Murray went to Mitchell in the left corner for the score that essentially snuffed out any hope the Eagles had of pulling off a shocking upset.