ATHENS — Georgia Southern rushed for 302 yards against No. 5 Georgia, but the Bulldogs had Aaron Murray.
The UGA quarterback passed for 330 yards and four touchdowns as Georgia ran away with a 45-14 win Saturday at Sanford Stadium.
The Eagles (8-3), ranked sixth in the Football Championship Subdivision, stalled in the second half while Murray went wild. He had 325 yards through the air and all four of his touchdowns before the third quarter ended.
"We were going to have to play a great football game, a nearly perfect game if we were going to have a chance to beat them," GSU coach Jeff Monken said. "We didn’t do that."
The Eagles went blow for blow with UGA (10-1) until the end of the first half, when a wild string of events flipped the momentum.
Trailing 10-7, GSU had the ball at the UGA 7-yard line with just over a minute remaining in the second quarter, and went for it on fourth-and-1.
Dominique Swope (17 carries, 92 yards) gained 2 yards up the middle, but offensive lineman Trevor McBurnett was flagged for a 15-yard chop block.
Several of Georgia’s defenders spent the week leading up to the game complaining about GSU’s style of blocking, and what appeared to be a legal play took the Eagles out of a first-and-goal situation.
"On that play, (UGA nose tackle) John (Jenkins) came towards me and I scooped him, just like it’s legal in the rule book," McBurnett said. "I haven’t seen the play or anything, but if the ref called it, you’ve got to live with it."
Monken said it was exactly like a play he reviewed with the officials before the game, on video taken from Georgia Tech’s game against Georgia in 2011. He said the refs agreed that the play they reviewed on tape was legal.
Monken was surprised how much attention was paid by the media to GSU’s blocking during the days leading up to the contest.
"I’ve never heard so much talk about blocking below the waist, and cut blocks, and oh my God," Monken said. "We coach our guys to play legally. Blocking below the waist is legal. I don’t think it’s any more dangerous than tackling below the waist. In fact, tackling below the waist might be more dangerous."
The penalty made it fourth-and-16, and instead of taking a 14-10 lead, the Eagles settled for a 39-yard field goal attempt.
Alex Hanks missed the kick, wide right.
The Bulldogs took quick advantage, marching 78 yards on six plays and scoring on a 24-yard pass from Murray to Malcolm Mitchell to put UGA up 17-7 at the break.
"They’re one of the best teams in the (Southeastern Conference)," GSU safety J.J. Wilcox saod. "They’re going to make plays. That’s what they do."
The first half was sandwiched with Georgia touchdowns, after the game’s opening drive resulted in a 1-yard score by Todd Gurley (15-68).
The Eagles had a handful of mistakes in the first half but held off the damage, for the most part.
On their first drive of the game, they gained 38 yards on the ground, but Swope was stuffed on fourth-and-3, turning it over on downs at the UGA 33-yard line.
The Bulldogs couldn’t capitalize. On fourth-and-15 from the GSU 34, Marshall Morgan missed a 51-yard field-goal attempt that stayed in play and was fielded by Darreion Robinson in the back of the end zone. Robinson returned it 59 yards down the right sideline to put the Eagles on the UGA 41, but McKinnon fumbled three plays later. It was a called passing play, and McKinnon went to pump fake and lost handle of the ball.
That miscue didn’t hurt GSU either, because the Bulldogs gave it right back.
Murray hit Rhett McGowan with a 20-yard pass over the middle, GSU’s Deion Stanley stripped it loose and Dion DuBose pounced on it at the GSU 45.
The Eagles marched 55 yards on 10 plays, all on the ground, and quarterback Jerick McKinnon scored from a yard out to knot the game at 7-7.
McKinnon (19-109), scored both GSU touchdowns.
The second-quarter touchdown was set up by a 12-yard run by Swope.
"Slowly but surely, we made a lot of those tough 4-, 5-, 6-yard runs," McKinnon said. "We got good push and made some good plays, but they made their adjustments. They started making plays and flying around."
The Bulldogs answered the 7-7 tie by working down to the GSU 12-yard line, but on third-and-9, Murray was sacked for a 7-yard loss by Patrick Flowe, and Morgan kicked a 37-yarder to give the Bulldogs a 10-7 lead.
Georgia iced the game in the third quarter when Murray threw a 43-yard scoring pass to Tavarres King and two touchdowns to Chris Conley to pull ahead 38-14.
Conley’s second score was a pass to the flat that went for 33 yards and was sprung off of a cut block by flanker Rontavious Wooten.
McKinnon added a score on a 23-yard run in the fourth quarter, and backup UGA quarterback Parker Welch hit Justin Scott-Wesley for the game’s final score.
The Bulldogs only punted once, and it didn’t happen until 13:05 remained in the game.
The Eagles, which won the Southern Conference automatic bid to the FCS playoffs by virtue of a 42-20 win by The Citadel over Furman on Saturday, left the game knowing it was assured a spot in the tournament.
The FCS playoff selection show will reveal the 2012 playoff bracket at 1:30 p.m. today on ESPNU.
NOTES: Georgia Southern’s 302 rushing yards were more than the Bulldogs gave up over the last three combined games against Florida (75 rushing yards), Ole Miss (46) and Auburn (57). … The Bulldogs snapped a nine-game scoring streak by Swope. … Monken challenged a UGA fumble in the third quarter that was ruled an incomplete pass. The ruling on the field was confirmed. It was the first challenge issued in GSU history. … Senior defensive tackle Brent Russell, who was suspended during the previous week’s senior day game against Howard, returned to the field on Saturday. … Announced attendance was 92,746.
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.