Georgia pulls within one Game of East crown

ATHENS, Ga. - It comes down to one game. If Georgia is going to be the king of the East, it first must head west for one final regular-season conference showdown.

Overcoming sloppy play in the first half and the losses of two key players to injuries, No. 7 Georgia held the ball the final 10:46 of its 31-17 victory over Mississippi Saturday night.

Now only Auburn stands between Georgia and its first trip to the SEC championship game.

If Georgia wins at Auburn next Saturday, it claims bragging rights in the East for the first time since the Southeastern Conference was split into divisions in 1992. If Florida loses to South Carolina next week, Georgia automatically will represent the Eastern Division in the Dec. 7 game at the Georgia Dome.  

The kickoff time of the Georgia-Auburn game will be announced today. It may be claimed by CBS for its 3:30 p.m. ET time slot.

Georgia (9-1 overall, 6-1 SEC), leaned heavily on the running of Musa Smith and the passing of David Greene to bounce back from last week's loss to Florida.

Greene completed 12 of 22 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns, and Smith gained 148 yards on a career-high 37 carries.

Georgia's normal two-quarterback system was modified Saturday night. When D.J. Shockley lost a fumble on his only first-half possession in the second quarter, he did not return to the game.

Instead, Greene avoided turnovers in the second half and directed a late drive that put the game away and used up the final 10:46 on the clock.  Greene completed third-down passes Gibson and Bryan McClendon to keep the drive going.

As has become his custom, Georgia coach Mark Richt kept the offense on the field on a fourth-and-3 call from the Ole Miss 33, and Smith rambled for the first-down yards.

On fourth-and-1 from the 5, Smith again took the handoff from Smith and powered over a defender for the first down. Georgia didn't score on the drive, but it made its point by keeping the ball from the Rebels for almost 11 straight minutes.

Ole Miss (5-5 overall, 2-4 SEC) was more effective running the ball than expected, but Tremaine Turner's two first-half rushing touchdowns were negated by Eli Manning's two interceptions - one returned for a touchdown by Tim Jennings.

As soon as Georgia regained the services of one big-play threat, receiver Fred Gibson, it lost two other top play-makers, linebacker Boss Bailey late in the first half to a knee injury and receiver Terrence Edwards early in the fourth quarter.

Bailey, who blocked a field-goal attempt in the first quarter, limped off the field after spraining his right knee. Bailey had the knee wrapped in ice in the second half, but he spent some of the half standing without crutches.

Edwards caught a 32-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter for a 31-17 lead, but a few minutes later he was walking  slowly to the locker room with a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. Edwards returned minutes later, his left arm in a sling.

Edwards' father, Robert, and younger brother, Chris, were on the Georgia sideline during the game, each wearing No. 8 Georgia jerseys. The status of Edwards and Bailey for the Auburn game is not known. Gibson, meanwhile, made a huge impact as a receiver and kickoff returner as he returned after missing two games with a thumb injury.

In just the first half, Gibson caught two passes for 70 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown, and returned three kickoffs for 95 yards.

Plagued by missed tackles, seven penalties and two turnovers - an interception by  Greene and the fumbled snap by Shockley - Georgia was fortunate to lead 21-17 at halftime.

A key to the half was a defensive stand by Georgia with the score tied 7-7 in the first quarter. Under pressure on a third-down play, Greene was picked off by Ole Miss safety Wes Scott at the Georgia 32. The Rebels drove to a first down at the 4, but from there the defense gave up only two more yards. Boss Bailey delivered his second blocked field goal of the season.

On his first possession of the game, Shockley also gave the ball to Ole Miss deep in Georgia territory when he fumbled a snap at the Georgia 27. This time, Ole Miss quickly took advantage of the gift, as  Turner rushed for his second touchdown of the half, this time from the 1.

Big plays boosted Georgia in the first half. Gibson returned the opening kickoff 44 yards to set up a touchdown drive capped by a plunge from the 1 by fullback J.T. Wall. Gibson added a 53-yard gain on his first reception, but that drive ended with a missed 42-yard field goal by Billy Bennett.

Finally, Gibson gave Georgia a 21-14 lead late in the half with a great cut to break free on a 17-yard scoring pass from Greene. The big play of the half for Georgia was a 64-yard interception return for a touchdown by Jennings, giving the Bulldogs a 14-7 lead.


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