Georgia makes an SEC Statement

ATHENS -- Georgia proved Saturday that, like last year, it must be considered a frontrunner for the SEC's Eastern Division title. It also proved that, again like a year ago, it struggles to put away a staggering foe.

In the end, the No. 11 Georgia Bulldogs made the 92,058 fans in Sanford Stadium a little uneasy but came away with a 37-23 victory over Alabama.

Georgia played its most inspired 30 minutes of the season in the first half, scoring 37 points, the most in one half by an opponent in the recorded history of Crimson Tide football.

"That's good," Coach Mark Richt said. "Thankfully, it was enough to win the ball game."

The Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1 SEC) led 37-10 at halftime, topping their highest point total ever against Alabama. It was Georgia's highest halftime score since it scored 49 against Northeast Louisiana in 1994.

Alabama (2-4, 1-2 SEC) was down 30-3 by the time it managed a first down and lost its third in a row for the first time since midway through the 2001 season. It was the first time the Crimson Tide has lost two straight to Georgia since 1955-56.

"We felt as low as we could feel at halftime," Crimson Tide coach Mike Shula said.

Then came the second half, when Alabama gained 119 of its 209 total yards and Georgia's offense managed only 73 of its 370. The Bulldogs advanced only one second half drive past their 38-yard line and didn't put the game away until they stopped the Crimson Tide, which played most of the second half with third-string, freshman quarterback Brandon Avalos, with less than two minutes left in the game.

"I don't know about y'all but the second half was a downer for me," Richt said. "It took a lot of enthusiasm out of what happened in the first half, but I'll get over it.

"It's easier to get over it when you win."

Georgia faces No. 7 Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., next Saturday. The Bulldogs and Volunteers are the only Eastern Division teams with fewer than two conference losses and the winner of that game will be the favorite to represent the division in the SEC title game. The Volunteers were 2-0 in the league entering Saturday's late game against Auburn.

"Everybody is going to be disappointed in the way they played in the second half, but I don't think it will affect our confidence," said quarterback David Greene, who was 21 of 38 for 252 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

"It could have been a blowout, but a win is always good," linebacker Odell Thurman said. "We're going into Tennessee feeling real good."

Georgia was without starters Ken Veal (defensive tackle), Daniel Inman (offensive tackle), Josh Brock (offensive guard) and reserve Quentin Moses (defensive end) due to injury in the second half, but that didn't earn them any sympathy from their head coach.

Midway through the third quarter, Richt called the entire offense together for a reprimand. He said his halftime speech focused mainly on maintaining enthusiasm and was upset his offense hadn't heeded him. Four of the Bulldogs' eight drives in the second half resulted in negative yardage.

"I think the defense heard me, but I don't think the offense did," he said. "I just called them in and said, 'This isn't my idea of intensity.'"

It didn't have the desired effect though, as, on the ensuing drive, Alabama safety Charles Jones intercepted Greene and ran it back 30 yards for a touchdown with 1:06 left in the quarter. Kicker Brian Bostick missed the extra point, leaving the score 37-16.

Georgia again failed to move the ball on its next drive and then punter Gordon Ely-Kelso dropped a low punt snap, which Alabama's Juwan Garth picked up and ran 10 yards for a touchdown to pull the Crimson Tide to within two touchdowns with 14:05 left in the game.

"I think it's obvious we just stalled out," Georgia kicker Billy Bennett said. "Some things were just awful. Thank God it wasn't enough to let them back in it."

Richt said he thought his offense had "answered some things" in the first half after it rolled up 297 yards. After the Bulldogs' turned the ball over on the second play of the game and gave the Crimson Tide an easy three points, Georgia scored 30 points in the next 23 minutes with the help of two Middle Georgia products.

Wide receiver Jarrett Berry of Toombs Academy blocked a Bo Freeland punt that safety Thomas Davis recovered and returned 7 yards for a touchdown with 12:32 left in the second quarter to give Georgia a 16-3 lead. On the Bulldogs' next possession, backup quarterback D.J. Shockley threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to fullback Jamario Smith of Mary Persons to extend the lead to 23-0 with 7:55 remaining in the first half.

Freshman running back Kregg Lumpkin, who led Georgia with 55 yards on 14 carries, scored on a 1-yard run with 6:54 left in the half to put Georgia up 30-3. After Alabama scored its only offensive touchdown of the game, Greene threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ben Watson with 1:02 left in the first half.

But that's where Georgia's scoring stopped.

"Anytime you win it's a good thing and I'm going to remind myself of that when I watch the second half (on film)," Richt said. "We just have to build on the good things and continue to search for why we can't maintain it."

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