Who would’ve believed special teams would play such a big part in Georgia beating LSU?
Entering Saturday’s game against the sixth-ranked Tigers, that was the one area in which the Bulldogs looked to be at a decided disadvantage. Georgia committed what are deemed “catastrophic plays” four times in the first three games, while LSU had made a handful of explosive ones in its favor.
But in the biggest game of the season, the Bulldogs came through with a 55-yard field goal, recovered a fumbled LSU punt return and cashed it in for a touchdown and didn’t let LSU’s slick kick returner Odell Beckham Jr., loose the whole game, which is a victory in itself.
“Every time we kicked off I was holding my breath,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said afterward. “I’m sure the fans were, too. … Punt team did a good job, getting on that ball when it came loose. That was big for our special teams. They actually made some plays that helped make the difference.
Georgia was clinging to a 24-20 lead late in the third quarter when it faced a fourth-and-3 from its 38. The thinking was that the Bulldogs would either go for the first down or try to pin the Tigers deep with a punt. Instead, Richt summoned Marshall Morgan into the game.
The beleaguered sophomore, who missed the first two games because of a disciplinary suspension, boomed the ball through with room to spare. It was a career long.
“I had a lot of faith he could make that kick,” Richt said of Morgan, who kicked three field goals in the game. “He came up to me before the game and said he made a 65-yarder with the wind. We wouldn’t have tried it going to other way.”
Holding Beckham to 175 yards on seven kickoff returns and minus-4 on punt returns might have been the biggest success. Beckham entered the game having averaged 27 yards per return, and he returned a missed field goal for a touchdown this season.
But after giving up a 99-yard kickoff return against North Texas last week, the Bulldogs put defensive starters Corey Moore, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson on the coverage team.
“It helped us,” Richt said.
Georgia’s long-snapping situation was unclear coming into the game thanks to some bad snaps in the first three games. Nathan Theus snapped on extra points but Trent Frix continued to handle punts. He took over midway through the North Texas game.
Huge day for Harvey-Clemons, defense: Sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons, one of seven first-year starters on the Georgia defense, had a huge day. He finished with a game-high 15 tackles and added a pass breakup and 1.5 tackles for loss.
“We didn’t want to be the reason we lost the game,” said Harvey-Clemons, who plays the strong safety and “star” positions for the Bulldogs. “We had been making plays all game. It’s just when we got to third down, we’d just have a letdown. For the most part, I think we did a pretty good job.”
The Bulldogs’ biggest slip-up came when LSU faced third-and-22 from its own 13. The Tigers converted with a 25-yard pass from Zach Mettenberger to Beckham, then went on to score what was a go-ahead touchdown.
But Georgia retook the lead and the defense rebounded. The Bulldogs forced the Tigers off the field when they got the ball back down three with 1:42 to play. The game ended on fourth-and-10 at the LSU 35. They ran six plays.
The Bulldogs also held LSU to 15 yards rushing. Tailback Jeremy Hill had 86 on 21 carries.
“It gives us great confidence,” Harvey-Clemons said. “We slipped up the first game. Now we’re proving not only to our fans but the rest of America that we can play in these big games.”
Fox shows colors: Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox went the extra mile Saturday to promote the program. He covered himself in body paint and watched the game from the student section among the “Spike Squad” that mans the front row there. The Bulldogs, who are coming off a 15-17 season, began preseason practices Friday.
Injuries: Georgia lost tailback Todd Gurley to a sprained left ankle at the 10-minute mark of the second quarter. The injury came when he was run out of bounds after a 23-yard gain. He had 73 yards on eight carries at the time. His status for Saturday’s game at Tennessee is uncertain.
Tight end Jay Rome played with his left ankle heavily wrapped. Receiver Jonathan Rumph (hamstring) and OLB James DeLoach (concussion), and safety Shaquille Fluker (unknown) did not dress out.
Etc.: Georgia has played 14 freshmen this season. … Freshman safety Quincy Mauger and and sophomore nose guard Chris Mayes got their first career starts. Senior Kolton Houston started for the third time at right tackle. Sophomore John Theus, who started all 14 games there last season, started at that position against South Carolina. … Former wide receiver Reggie Brown (2000-04) served as honorary captain for the Bulldogs.