Defense led the way as the 19-year drought between championships, the longest in school history, finally ended.
"I could get used to this,'' said sophomore defensive end David Pollack during the on-field celebration after the win. Added Pollack: "It's good to be champions. We might not be national champions, but you have to start somewhere, and this is a start.''
Said receiver Fred Gibson, who caught five passes for 93 yards: "We wanted to come in here and show people we could finish the drill. It's been a long time. We're bringing the Herschel Walker days back.''
Georgia (12-1) is expected to play Florida State or Southern Cal in the Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Official bids will be released today.
"It's been a great season and there is more to come,'' said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who won the long-awaited conference title in only his second season.
After the game, Georgia players emptied sugar packets on each other and circled the field in delirious celebration, slapping hands with fans and jumping into each other's arms. At one point, receiver Michael Johnson was lifted into the stands. His index finger raised, Johnson was swarmed by fans before he climbed back down to the on-field celebration.
Georgia had hoped an impressive win might earn it a spot in the national championship game. With Miami's 56-45 win over Virginia Tech earlier Saturday, the Miami-Ohio State Fiesta Bowl matchup for the national championship is set. There had been concerns that Georgia's focus might be affected by interest in the Miami game, especially if Miami won and thereby ended the Bulldogs' national championship hopes.
But there was no lack of focus by the Bulldogs, who had the support of the large majority of the Georgia Dome crowd of 74,835. Ignited by an early blocked punt by Decory Bryant less than three minutes into the game, Georgia grabbed momentum and did not let up. Though it settled for two field goals in the second quarter, Georgia's 23-0 halftime lead was the largest in the history of this game.
"The most important thing about the game is special teams came up big first and set the rhythm of the game and we just kind of kept the pace,'' said Georgia quarterback David Greene, named MVP of the game after completing 17 of 29 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown.
Bryant lined up outside as if he planned to follow a receiver down the field on the punt, but as the ball was snapped he instead cut away toward punter Richie Butler.
Bryant said assistant coach Jon Fabris had worked with the punt coverage team on the block every day in practice but had not used the play in the regular season.
"I knew the block could happen; I just didn't know when Coach Fabris would call it,'' Bryant said. "We were very fortunate he did call it. It was a big momentum boost for the team.''
Arkansas never recovered.
Georgia outgained Arkansas (9-4) 381-139 in total yards.
Georgia's defense dominated the Razorbacks, who boast the SEC's top rushing attack. Arkansas' only points, a third-quarter field goal, were set up by two personal foul penalties by the defense. Arkansas was held to 65 yards rushing on 35 carries.
"It looked like they were playing 12 people most of the night,'' said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt of the Georgia defense.
Added Arkansas running back Fred Talley, who rushed for 51 yards on 17 carries: "They've got a great defense, probably the best we've faced. They really swarmed to the ball and had our number today.''
Bryant's blocked punt set the pace. Bert Jones recovered the ball at the Arkansas 2, and on the offense's first play of the game, Musa Smith scored standing up.
Momentum established, Georgia turned up the pressure on defense. Arkansas did not manage a first down until its fourth possession, but by that time Georgia led 17-0.
Georgia's second possession covered 62 yards in only five plays and ended with Smith running through a huge hole on the right side of the line from the Arkansas 17.
Smith had 19 carries for 106 yards with two touchdowns.
All week Richt had insisted Georgia can't brag because it doesn't win big, but it led 23-0 at the half and appeared to be on the verge of turning the game into a rout.
Georgia's only bad quarter of the game, a sloppy third period, helped keep the final score respectable. Arkansas' only points — a 27-yard field goal by David Carlton — were set up by two personal fouls by Georgia.
The Bulldogs returned to form in the fourth quarter, icing the win with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Greene to tight end Ben Watson.
"It started good and ended good," Pollack said. "It's great to send the seniors out with a ring and get these fans a championship. It's been a long time.''
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