JOE BIDDLE: Georgia lives to stay in SEC East race

JOE BIDDLE: Georgia lives to stay in SEC East race (Image 1)

It is often called the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and Saturday's version in Jacksonville's Gator Bowl stadium offered plenty of reasons for even the sturdiest of teetotalers to go bar hopping.

In past years the winner of this game stood a good chance to go on and win the SEC's Eastern Division and punch their ticket to the SEC Championship Game. This one came with no guarantees.

This one wasn't the famous “Run, Lindsay, run'' call of the late Bulldogs legend Larry Munson when quarterback Buck Belue hit Lindsay Scott on a short pass over the middle. It was a third down play from Georgia's eight yard line, trailing with only 90 seconds left in the game. Scott's 92-yard touchdown run set half of the Gator Bowl fans on fire and the Dawgs would go on to beat Notre Dame for the national championship.

No, these were just two of four SEC teams battling to stay alive in the SEC East chase. This was trench warfare. Yellow flags were flying all over the place. Florida was hit with seven flags for 70 yards and Georgia lost 45 yards on six penalties. That didn't include all the offsetting unsportsmanlike penalties on both sides. You got the hint these two teams really don't like each other.

These were two so-so teams waging war on the banks of the St. John's River. It marked only the second time since 1980 that both teams entered the game unranked.

Georgia may have jumped out to a 23-3 lead in the first half, but this one was far from done. The Dawgs held on for dear life, being blanked 17-0 in the second half, but leaving with a 23-20 win and remaining alive in the race to Atlanta.

Georgia had two distinct advantages when you boil it down to bare bones. Senior quarterback Aaron Murray and the return of running back Todd Gurley proved to be too much for the Gators defense.

Murray's experience paid off. After all, this was Murray's third straight win in the series. He preserved the win by holding the football for the final 8:17 minutes.

Gurley had missed the last 3½ games with a high ankle sprain. He ripped off 100 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown and added a crucial 87 yards on three pass receptions. One was good for a 73-yard quick six.

Georgia Coach Mark Richt somehow remained cool and confident on the sidelines as the Gators were breathing down the Dawgs' necks.

Richt had some words for Murray as he left the sidelines on what would be the game's final possession.

“He told me to go out there, let it rip and let's go win it,'' Murray said on a post-game TV interview on CBS.

Murray finished 16 of 25 for 258 yards and a touchdown. It was enough. Barely.

“I know it was just a ball game, but it seemed like a lot more than that, Richt said. “Just to see our players and fans celebrate in this place especially was awesome. Thankfully, we got a couple of turnovers in our territory and both of our touchdowns came on fourth down calls. It takes those types of plays to win this ball game.''

The SEC East is still up for grabs. It's down to leader Missouri, South Carolina and Georgia. Florida seems out of it now. The Gators visit South Carolina in two weeks. Georgia has to go to Auburn on the same Saturday. Missouri has only one loss in the league, but the Tigers finish with Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. The first two are on the road.

And it has been well documented that the SEC road presents a lot of twists, turns and no guardrails.

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at

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