Georgia's Path to the Dome

ATHENS - Georgia entered the 2012 season as a favorite in the SEC East and potential national championship contender. Twelve games in, the Bulldogs sit one win away from hoisting the SEC Championship trophy, and thus, a trip to the BCS national championship game in Miami.

Dawg Post looks back at Georgia's regular season and how the Bulldogs found themselves in such a favorable position.

Game 1: Georgia 45, Buffalo 23

Todd Gurley bowls into the end zone (Dean/Dawg Post)

Storyline: In Georgia's opening game of the season, all eyes were on the Bulldogs' defense that was one of the best in the country in 2011, quarterback Aaron Murray and the tailback position, left vacant after the dismissal of 2011 leading rusher Isaiah Crowell. The Bulldogs would also begin the season without four probable starters on defense, as Bacarri Rambo, Alec Ogletree, Sanders Commings and Chase Vasser were suspended for multiple games.

What Happened: Freshman tailback Todd Gurley quickly became a household name for Georgia fans, scoring the first two touchdowns of the young season. Gurley's second score was a 100-yard kickoff return. Murray completed 15 of 26 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns, and Tavarres King caught six passes for 117 yards and a score. Buffalo's offense tallied 347 yards against the depleted Georgia defense, and the Bulls surprisingly held it close for a half, with Georgia leading 24-16 at halftime. Georgia played 13 true freshmen, the most ever by head coach Mark Richt, and those freshmen would prove to be major contributors as the season wore on.

Player of the Game: Todd Gurley – 8 carries, 100 yards, 2 rushing TD; 1 return, 100 yards, 1 TD

Game 2: Georgia 41, Missouri 20

Jarvis Jones ends the game at Missouri (Dean/Dawg Post)

Storyline: Georgia traveled to Missouri to welcome the Tigers to the SEC. Leading up to the week, Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson had labeled Georgia's style of play as "Old Man Football," a mantra that served as bulletin board material for Georgia.

What Happened: An expected shootout, Missouri's inaugural conference game turned into a defensive stalemate in the first half. Freshman kicker Marshall Morgan booted a season-long 52-yard field goal but missed an extra point near the end of the half to leave Missouri with a 10-9 halftime lead. The Tigers led 20-17 in the third quarter, but Georgia overwhelmed the Mizzou with a flurry of scores late in the game. The Bulldogs scored 24 unanswered points to prevail. After Georgia took a 24-20 lead—its first of the game—Richard Samuel made a key tackle on a Missouri fake punt, and in the fourth quarter, Jarvis Jones wreaked havoc on Missouri quarterback James Franklin, notching an interception and forcing a fumble to seal the victory. Murray passed for 242 yards and three touchdowns.

Player of the Game: Jarvis Jones – 9 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception

Game 3: Georgia 56, Florida Atlantic 20

Keith Marshall takes off against the Owls (Wes Muilenburg /Dawg Post)

The Storyline: The seventh-ranked Bulldogs returned home after an emotional win over Missouri for a night game against an overmatched Florida Atlantic squad.

What Happened: The Bulldogs scored early and often against the Owls, and despite allowing two early touchdowns, the Bulldogs held a 28-14 halftime lead. Georgia scored 21 points in the third quarter before giving way to backups in the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs tallied a school-record 713 yards, and Todd Gurley (111) and Keith Marshall (104) each rushed for over 100 yards.

Player of the Game: Aaron Murray – Completed 15 of 19 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns; rushed three times for 20 yards and two touchdowns

Game 4: Georgia 48, Vanderbilt

No where was safe for Vanderbilt in late September in Athens (Wes Muilenburg/Dawg Post)

The Storyline: Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham exchanged choice words following Georgia's 33-28 win at Vanderbilt in 2011.

What Happened: Georgia put together a complete performance against the Commodores, scoring 27 points in the first half en route to a blowout win. Aaron Murray completed 18 of 24 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns, and Marlon Brown caught five passes for 114 yards and a score. Georgia racked up 567 yards of offense, and Jarvis Jones finished with seven tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack.

Player of the Game: Todd Gurley – 16 carries, 130 yards and two touchdowns

Game 5: Georgia 51, Tennessee 44

In the third quarter, with the Vols surging, Mark Richt screams for the crowd to make noise (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

The Storyline: Undefeated Georgia played host to 3-1 Tennessee, who was upended by Florida two weeks before. Georgia would return its final defensive pieces—Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo—against the Volunteers.

What Happened: Georgia's rushing attack spearheaded the Bulldogs early scoring outburst, as Georgia jumped out to a 27-10 lead in the second quarter before a shootout ensued in the final minutes of the first half. Tennessee scored three touchdowns to take a 30-27 lead, but Marshall Morgan kicked a field goal to tie the game at halftime. In the third quarter, Georgia rattled off 21 straight points. Aaron Murray, who finished 20-of-26 passing for 286 yards, threw two touchdown passes, and Keith Marshall scampered 72 yards for a touchdown. Georgia benefitted from a blocked punt by Marc Deas and two Sanders Commings interceptions and held the Vols to two scores in the final half.

Player(s) of the Game: Todd Gurley – 24 carries, 130 yards, 3 TDs; Keith Marshall – 10 carries, 164 yards, 2 TDs (both scores of 70+ yards)

Game 6: South Carolina 35, Georgia 7

It was a long night for Aaron Murray and his offense in Columbia, SC (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

The Storyline: No. 5 Georgia traveled to No. 6 South Carolina in one of the top-billed games of the first half of the college football season. The primetime matchup featured two top defenses and was the first ever top-10 matchup between the two schools. Georgia lost one its leading receiver Michael Bennett to a torn ACL in practice the week of the game. The winner of between the Bulldogs and Gamecocks would have an upper hand in the SEC East division race.

What Happened: From a Georgia standpoint, everything went wrong. The Bulldogs were overwhelmed by three quick touchdowns, including a backbreaking 70-yard punt return by Ace Sanders that seemed to finish taking the wind from the Bulldogs' sails. Georgia was unable to contain Connor Shaw's ability to throw on the run and struggled to slow tailback Marcus Lattimore. Shaw tallied 162 yards and two touchdowns on just six completions, and Lattimore ran for 109 yards on 24 carries. On the other hand, Jadeveon Clowney and his Gamecock defenders stymied Aaron Murray (11-for-31 for 109 yards) and the Georgia offense. The Bulldogs were stopped on four downs inside the South Carolina 5-yard line in the first half and didn't reach the endzone until South Carolina led 35-0 in the fourth quarter. Amarlo Herrera led Georgia with 11 tackles, and Jarvis Jones added another sack to his season total.

Player of the Game: Malcolm Mitchell – 3 catches for 52 yards, 2 kickoff returns for 71 yards

Game 7: Georgia 29, Kentucky 24

Murray and the offense had to save the day against the Cats (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

The Storyline: Georgia had a week off before traveling to Lexington to face a hapless Kentucky team, but the Bulldogs were without an injured Jarvis Jones against the Wildcats. By the time the Bulldogs took the field against the Wildcats, South Carolina had fallen from the driver's seat in the SEC, losing to LSU and Florida, putting the Gators in the lead of the division and giving Georgia new life.

What Happened: Georgia leaned on quarterback Aaron Murray to survive a Kentucky team that proved more pesky than the Bulldogs may have expected. Tavarres King caught two first half touchdowns and finished with nine catches for 188 yards, but The Bulldogs trailed 14-13 late in the second quarter before a Marshall Morgan field goal gave Georgia a 16-14 halftime advantage. Kentucky would regain the lead on a field goal in the third quarter before a pair of touchdown passes gave Georgia a 29-17 lead it would not relinquish. Connor Norman recovered Kentucky's onside kick late in the fourth quarter to help preserve the victory.

Player of the Game: Aaron Murray – Completed career-high 30 of 39 passes for a career-high 427 yards and 4 touchdowns.

Game 8: Georgia 17, Florida 9

Malcolm Mitchell runs to glory as Georgia tops Florida 19-7 (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

Garrison Smith is on the wrong end of the rivalry in this one (Wes Muilenburg/Dawg Post)

The Storyline: With Florida leading the SEC East, the Bulldogs would need a win in Jacksonville to regain control of their own destiny and have a chance to play in the SEC title game. Florida, ranked No. 2 in the country, was coming off a 44-11 shellacking of South Carolina, and the Gators had defeated No. 4 LSU just three weeks prior. On Monday before the game, safety Shawn Williams publicly challenged his fellow defenders, calling the defense's play "soft."

What Happened: Georgia's defense wasted no time establishing itself as anything but "soft," turning in its most physical performance of the season. Cornerback Damian Swann sacked Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel on the opening series, forcing him to fumble and leading to a Todd Gurley touchdown run. The Bulldogs forced six turnovers and limited the Gators to 266 yards. Aaron Murray struggled mightily in the first half, throwing three interceptions, but Gurley's touchdown and an interception by Bacarri Rambo in the end zone helped Georgia establish a 7-6 halftime lead. The two teams exchanged field goals in the second half before Murray connected with Malcolm Mitchell on a 45-yard touchdown pass for the final score of the game. Gurley finished with 118 yards and the lone touchdown. Swann intercepted a pass that lead to Georgia's second half field goal, and Jarvis Jones punched the ball from Jeremy Reed's hands just four yards from a Gator touchdown on Florida's final possession. Sanders Commings recovered the fumble in the end zone, and the Bulldogs held on to move back to the top of the SEC East standings.

Player of the Game: Jarvis Jones – 13 tackles (12 solos), 4.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries

Game 9: Georgia 37, Ole Miss 10

Aaron Murray waits on the statue-of-liberty play against the Rebels (Wes Muilenburg/Dawg Post)

The Storyline: No. 6 Georgia entered the matchup needing to win against the Rebels and Auburn the following week to clinch its spot in the SEC Championship game. Ole Miss needed a win over Georgia or its next three opponents to be bowl eligible, and the Rebels had just beaten division foes Auburn 41-20 and Arkansas 30-27.

What Happened: Aaron Murray was sacked a season-high five times, including three times in the first quarter, and the Rebels jumped out to a 10-0 lead. However, the Bulldogs began to roll after Murray hit Marlon Brown 66-yard touchdown pass on a play-action fake. Georgia took a 14-10 lead just before halftime on a 40-yard touchdown pass from Murray to King. Murray threw four touchdown passes to four different receivers, and Georgia's defense held Ole Miss scoreless in the second half. Alec Ogletree recorded a safety in the third quarter after his twin brother, Zander, scored on an 8-yard fullback run. Todd Gurley had another 100-yard game, rushing 18 times for 117 yards. Brown finished with three catches for 113 yards but tore his ACL when being tackled after his third catch.

Player of the Game: Aaron Murray – Completed 21 of 28 passes for 384 yards and 4 touchdowns

Game 10: Georgia 38, Auburn 0

An Auburn cheerleader doesn't have a crowd to cheer to (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

The Storyline: A win over Auburn would clinch the SEC East for No. 5 Georgia, who defeated the Tigers 45-7 in Athens in 2011. Auburn was in search of its first conference win, entering with a 2-7 overall record with six SEC losses.

What Happened: Georgia shutout the Tigers for the first time since 1978, and Aaron Murray threw three touchdown passes as Georgia punched its ticket to the SEC Championship game for the second consecutive season. Murray connected with Chris Conley and Malcolm Mitchell for two first quarter touchdowns. In the second quarter, Murray threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King, who made a twisting grab and managed to get a foot in bounds for the score, and the Bulldogs led 28-0 at halftime. Keith Marshall capped the scoring with a 62-yard touchdown run in the third quarter as Georgia played its backups on offense in the final quarter. Todd Gurley carried 11 times for 116 yards and a touchdown, and Marshall tallied 105 yards on eight carries. Murray finished 18 of 24 for 208 yards and the three scores. Defensively, Alec Ogletree finished with 10 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack. Jarvis Jones had two sacks, Shawn Williams forced a fumble and Bacarri Rambo notched an interception.

Player of the Game: Tavarres King – 3 catches for 73 yards and one touchdown.

Game 11: Georgia 45, Georgia Southern 14

Captains meet before Georgia beats Georgia Southern (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

The Storyline: With an SEC title matchup looming on Dec. 1, No. 5 Georgia looked to round out its season by winning the mythical "state championship" by beating both FCS powerhouse Georgia Southern and rival Georgia Tech.

What Happened: For Georgia's offense, less was more. Aaron Murray and company got limited touches against Georgia Southern, who employs the triple option offensive attack. After leading 17-7 at halftime, the Bulldogs exploded for 21 points in the third quarter, and Georgia's defense was able to bend but not break against the Eagles' ground game. Chris Conley had a career day with four catches for 76 yards and two touchdowns, while Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King also caught touchdown passes. Todd Gurley passed the 1,000-yard mark on the season and finished with 68 yards on 15 carries and a touchdown against the Eagles. In the final quarter, Georgia's backup quarterback Parker Welch threw his first career touchdown pass to Justin Scott-Wesley, his first career touchdown catch.

Player of the Game: Aaron Murray – Completed 18 of 28 passes for 330 yards and 4 touchdowns

Game 12: Georgia 42, Georgia Tech 10

Bacarri Rambo steals the ball from Tech and takes off (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)

The Storyline: The No. 3 Bulldogs entered the final regular season game looking to enter the BCS National Championship picture with a win over Georgia Tech and an SEC Championship victory. Georgia Tech would play in the ACC Championship with Miami forfeiting its right to play due to NCAA violations. Georgia aimed to complete a four-year sweep of the Yellow Jackets on the Bulldogs' senior day.

What Happened: Much like the Auburn game, Georgia overwhelmed the Yellow Jackets early and cruised to a lopsided win. Todd Gurley rushed for first quarter touchdowns, and the Bulldogs established a 28-3 lead by halftime. Georgia scored touchdowns on each of its first two possessions of the second half to lead 42-3. The Bulldogs' defense bullied its rivals from Atlanta, limiting the Yellow Jackets to its lowest scoring output all season. Georgia Tech crossed the goal line for the first time only after Georgia put in the second string defense. Gurley finished with 97 yards on 12 carries and the two touchdowns, while his classmate Keith Marshall tallied 66 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries. Aaron Murray completed 14 of 17 passes for 215 yards and two scores. Bacarri Rambo notched his 16th career interception, tying him with Jake Scott for the Georgia record.

Player of the Game: Alec Ogletree – Career-high 15 tackles and one tackle for loss

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