In an effort Richt said did not compare with his team's recent strong play, No. 16 Georgia still was strong enough to put Houston away 35-7 with five straight touchdowns in the two middle quarters Saturday.
In a game everyone admitted provided an anticlimactic ending to the regular season, Georgia could not match the emotional high it reached in last week's win at Georgia Tech.
The players' mood reflected the fans' response. Though the game was a sellout and paid attendance was listed at 86,500, there were an estimated 20,000 empty seats at Sanford Stadium.
"It was not very representative of how we can play, but we did what we had to do to get the win,'' Richt said.
With scouts from the Citrus, Peach and Outback bowls watching, Georgia (8-3) completed its regular season with three straight wins. There are scenarios in which Georgia still could land in any of the three bowls, but the most likely destination for the Bulldogs is the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., despite the fact Georgia has played there two of the last four seasons.
Richt's parents, Lou and Helen Richt, traveled from Boca Raton, Fla., to watch the game and attended his postgame press conference. But it was Richt who sounded like the parent as he held the game ball that was saved for David Jacobs, the defensive tackle who is recovering from a stroke.
|Georgia's offensive line did a good job of controlling the line of scrimmage. (Photo: Ryan Sanderson)|
"That's number three for him.''
Georgia hopes to present Jacobs with a fourth game ball after its bowl game.
Georgia lost cornerback Tim Wansley to a broken leg in the first quarter.
Wansley's left leg was broken a few inches above the ankle at the end of his 52-yard punt return in the first quarter.
Though the performance was spotty, the results Saturday were good enough to give Georgia eight wins and a Top 20 ranking for a fifth straight season.
Never before has Georgia accomplished those feats in five straight years.
Georgia finished the regular season with three straight wins for the first time since 1982. It had not won its last home game of the season since 1996.
The Houston game was originally scheduled for Sept. 15 and was rescheduled after the Sept. 11 attacks on the nation. This was the first time since 1952 that Georgia ended its season with a team other than Tech, and through the scoreless first quarter it was clear many players had not switched their focus to winless Houston (0-11).
|Billy Bennett was 5 of 5 on extra points against the Cougars. (Photo: Ryan Sanderson)|
"No excuses,'' said Haynes. "I was disgusted when the score was 0-0 at the end of the first quarter, but we picked it up.''
Early in the game, a Georgia drive ended at the Houston 10 with an interception. In its first possession of the second quarter, Georgia was left frustrated again when David Greene completed a pass to Terrence Edwards for 29 yards, but Edwards fumbled at the Houston 1. The ball bounced into and out of the end zone for a touchback, giving Houston possession at its 20. (Watch this play.)
On its next possession, Georgia went back to Haynes to snap the early game blahs, and the senior continued his late-season leadership. Haynes had three straight runs for 8, 12 and 12 yards and then scored from the 2 for the first of five unanswered touchdowns for the Bulldogs.
Greene bounced back from his interception to throw touchdown passes of 12 yards to Fred Gibson, 49 yards to Edwards and 49 yards to tight end Ben Watson.
Cory Phillips, seeing his first playing time since the second week of the season, added a 10-yard scoring pass to Jarrett Berry — the third of three third-quarter touchdowns for Georgia. (Watch this play.)
Houston finally broke through with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Nick Eddy to Orlando Inglesias at the end of the third quarter.
Georgia held the Cougars to 237 total yards with the help of interceptions by Decory Bryant and Ryan Davis and a fumble recovery by Shedrick Wynn.
Defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan led the pass rush with two sacks. Senior Will Witherspoon led the defense with nine tackles.
"These guys have pushed through a lot of tough situations,'' said Witherspoon. "It was great to get out there and leave with a win for a change.''
Charles Odum can be reached at CEOdum@aol.com.