ATHENS, Ga. - One down, one to go, and Georgia football coach Mark Richt insists the final test won't be easy.
The No. 6 Bulldogs took another step toward a second consecutive Southeastern Conference East Division title by routing Ole Miss 37-10 on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon at Sanford Stadium. Georgia (8-1, 6-1) can wrap up a December trip to Atlanta with a win this week at Auburn, which is winless in league play.
"We are playing Auburn, a fierce rival, and it will be at their place," Richt said. "They will be playing out of their minds and playing their tails off, so we know we've got to get ready. We know what's at stake."
Georgia struggled early against the Rebels following last week's upset of Florida but then poured it on with 37 unanswered points. Bulldogs junior quarterback Aaron Murray completed 21 of 28 passes for 384 yards and four touchdowns, including a 40-yard scoring strike to Tavarres King with three seconds left in the first half.
Murray scrambled before finding King to give the Bulldogs a 14-10 lead, and the Bulldogs opened the second half with a six-play, 79-yard drive to up their lead to 11.
"They blew coverage," King said of the go-ahead score. "A guy thought he had safety help, and he didn't have safety help. It was one of those plays where Aaron and I saw each other and our eyes connected."
Said Murray: "It was huge to get the lead. We love the lead, because we know the defense is going to do their part and shut offenses down."
The Rebels (5-4, 2-3) racked up 173 yards in the first 19 minutes but were held to 61 yards the rest of the way. Ole Miss tailback Jeff Scott entered having rushed for 612 yards and 5.4 yards a carry, but he had 13 carries for only 21 yards against the Bulldogs.
Georgia's defense has been dominant in consecutive games for the first time all season.
"We're finally coming together," senior nose tackle John Jenkins said. "I know it happened late in the year, but as long as it's happening. We're hungry, and we have a lot at stake."
The Bulldogs collected 10 turnovers in the first seven games and nine the past two weeks. Sophomore conerback Damian Swann had two fumble recoveries totaling 49 yards, while junior inside linebacker Alec Ogletree had an interception in addition to his third-quarter safety that made it 30-10.
"We had a lot of caused fumbles in those first few games, but we just didn't get on them," Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "The thing is, you've just got to keep trying to rip it out, and if you do that, you've got a chance to get some. I think our guys have continued to do a good job with that, and I thought our guys played with energy.
"I think we shut down a really good offense today. Their pace can be an issue, but I thought we addressed that."
The Rebels outplayed Georgia in the first quarter until the final play, when Murray found tight end Arthur Lynch alone for a 31-yard gain to the Ole Miss 41-yard line. Ole Miss had outgained the Bulldogs 103-17 until that play, which failed to provide the Bulldogs any points when freshman kicker Marshall Morgan missed badly on a 47-yard field-goal attempt.
Georgia and Ole Miss combined on four turnovers in five plays during a one-minute span (6:58 to 5:58) of the second quarter, but neither team capitalized with points. Bulldogs safety Bacarri Rambo caused a fumble and Ogletree had his interception during the series of gaffes, while Ole Miss freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche forced fumbles by Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley.
"Every game we have lost, we haven't taken care of the ball," Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said. "We survived that by making them turn it over, but we threw it right back to them."