ATHENS, Ga. - The biggest field goal of Marshall Morgan's career occurred Oct. 5, when he drilled a 42-yard attempt to allow Georgia to escape with a 34-31 overtime victory at Tennessee.
Who knew then what that kick would start?
Morgan has made 13 consecutive field goals entering the Bulldogs' New Year's Day matchup with Nebraska in the Gator Bowl. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound sophomore from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., recently earned All-Southeastern Conference honors after going 18-for-20 in the regular season on field-goal tries.
His kick in Knoxville provided a certitude he hopes will never go away.
"It definitely opened up a lot of different doors," Morgan said. "The teammates have a lot of confidence in me now, as do the coaches. They started to feel comfortable putting me out there for longer field goals and more field goals, and it feels great."
Morgan also has made all 46 extra-point attempts and leads the Bulldogs with 100 points. He connected on a 56-yard field goal in the first quarter at Tennessee, which wound up tying for the longest kick this season in the Bowl Subdivision.
His lone misses were from 52 yards out against North Texas and from 39 yards in the third quarter in Knoxville, with that attempt bouncing off the left upright. Morgan is the first Georgia kicker with 13 consecutive field goals since Billy Bennett made the final 13 of his career in 2003.
"When I saw Marshall's high school tape, I was convinced that he was one of the best in the Southeast," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "Of all the film I gathered and all the film from our recruiting crew in the Southeast and around the country, I looked at it all. I wanted to make the call on that one, and from what I saw on film, he was the best one.
"He's the guy we offered first, and thankfully he decided to come."
Morgan arrived in the summer of 2012 with the challenge of replacing Blair Walsh, a four-year starter who is now with the Minnesota Vikings. It was a turbulent debut, as Morgan made 8 of 14 field-goal tries and missed four extra-point kicks, though none of those PAT misses were in the back half of the season.
He had lofty goals for his sophomore season, including no more "pinballs" on extra points, but his aspirations were sidetracked by an arrest this past summer for boating under the influence, which resulted in a two-game suspension. Sophomore walk-on Patrick Beless replaced Morgan against Clemson and South Carolina and went 2-for-2 in field-goal attempts and 10-for-10 on extra points.
"He was perfect, and I knew I had to work hard," Morgan said. "I think that was one of the things that led to the success of my season. Patrick is a great kicker, and going up against a great kicker in practice is obviously going to make you better. I think it helped out a lot."
Richt was asked multiple times after those first two games if he considered letting Beless keep the job, but he never wavered in his decision of getting Morgan back on the field.
"Marshall had a tremendous offseason," Richt said, "and I saw in the spring the things that I was seeing in his high school film on a consistent basis. It carried through the summer and the fall, and he's been really good. I'm happy that he got to show everybody how good he can be."
Morgan's debut this season against North Texas included a 27-yard field goal in addition to his miss from 52 yards, and the Bulldogs also allowed a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He felt things were turning for the better in Georgia's fourth game against LSU, when he made field-goal attempts from 25, 55 and 38 yards as the Bulldogs pulled out a 44-41 thriller.
Next came the trip to Tennessee, where Morgan's game-winner catapulted him to this current surge.
"I didn't want to tell myself I had a great freshman season, because I didn't," he said. "It was a big motivator. I saw some things that I did wrong that were easily fixable. When it came to the extra points, I realized that I couldn't just worry about the long ones. Going from 2,000 fans in high school to 92,000 fans is a big adjustment, and you just have to block everything out.
"It's kind of like I'm expecting it out of myself now. I've always set high standards and had goals I've wanted to reach, and every day in practice I'm working a lot harder than I was."
Odds and ends
The Bulldogs practiced for 90 minutes Friday and worked on defending returns on field-goal tries that come up short, a play made famous last month by Auburn against Alabama. ... Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin sent Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray a get-well card and thanked him for being a "great ambassador" for college football.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.