Staff Photo: John Bohn Georgia linebacker Michael Gilliard (35) celebrates making an interception with teammate cornerback Jordan Love (10) during the third quarter of Saturday's game in Atlanta. Georgia defeated Georgia Tech 31-17.
ATLANTA -- The slogan jubilant Georgia players displayed on their whiteboards after Saturday's game with Georgia Tech -- "We run this state" -- was the same as it was the last time they visited Bobby Dodd Stadium two years ago.
But in reality, the No. 13-ranked Bulldogs' 31-17 win over the 25th-ranked Yellow Jackets before 54,925 fans Saturday was more a passing fancy.
Specifically, Aaron Murray completed 19 of 29 passes for 252 yards and four touchdowns against just one interception as Georgia claimed its third straight win -- and 10th in the last 11 years -- over its in-state rival.
"I'm proud of our young men and our coaches. They did a great job (Saturday)," said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose team now prepares for next week's SEC championship game against top-ranked LSU at the Georgia Dome. "We played pretty well in all phases -- offense, defense, kicking game."
While the offensive statistics were fairly similar between the two teams -- Georgia finished with 380 yards total offense to Tech's 355 -- efficiency was the key that swung the game in favor of the Bulldogs, who won their 10th straight game after starting the season 0-2.
They needed a total of just 13:11 on its five scoring drives, an average of just over two and half minutes each, while Tech (8-4) needed 14:46 on its three possessions with points, nearly five minutes per scoring drive.
"That's part of the different styles of offenses we're dealing with," Richt said. "We don't necessarily feel like we're a quick-strike offense, but at times, we can be if we are throwing and catching well."
With Georgia's running game hampered with freshman Isaiah Crowell held out with his ankle injury and Tech geared up to stop the ground game, much of the credit to that goes to Murray and the passing game.
The 6-foot-1, 211-pound redshirt sophomore hooked up with nine different receivers on the day, including four different receivers for scores.
"We were just going with what was working and what (Tech) was giving us defensively," Murray said. "We still mixed it up. I think we ran it a little bit more in the second half. ... We were just going with what was working."
Nowhere was the Georgia passing game working better than a key sequence late in the first half and early in the second that swung momentum permanently in the Bulldogs' favor.
Tech marched 80 yards-- all on the ground -- in 14 plays and drained 7:13 off the clock before David Sims willed his way into the end zone for a 5-yard TD to pull the Jackets to within 14-10 with just 1:13 left in the half.
But that was just enough time for Murray to whisk Georgia downfield, using both his arm -- 2-of-4 passing for 23 yards -- and legs -- two carries for 30 yards -- to put the Bulldogs at the Tech 24.
Initially, it looked like Tech might go into halftime with momentum after Blair Walsh's first attempt at a 41-yard field goal missed.
But the Jackets called timeout just before the snap, and given a second chance, Walsh's kick was true with 3 seconds left in the half, sending the Bulldogs into intermission with a 17-10 lead.
"It seems like sometimes, that's the way it goes," Tech coach Paul Johnson said of the timeout that ended up salvaging three points -- and halftime momentum -- for Georgia. "There's nothing you can do about it. Sometimes, it just goes that way. I've seen times when you call the timeout, the kicker makes the field goal, they have to kick it again and then they miss. If I'd known they would have had a bad snap, I wouldn't have called a time out.
"The other thing that's deflating is giving up a score before halftime after you just scored. I think that has happened three or four times this year. ... Even though it was just a field goal, it still affects the way things go."
If the end of the first half wasn't deflating enough for Tech, Brandon Boykin's 60-yard return of the second-half kickoff was.
It took the Bulldogs just three plays to find the end zone again, with Murray hitting Tavarres King for a 3-yard TD that pushed the lead to 24-10 just 1:36 into the third quarter.
"I don't think we ever broke (Tech's) will," Richt said. "They've got a heart of a champion as a team, and (Johnson) is a great leader, and he's a tough guy and his teams are tough. ... But the fact that we did get (points helped)."
"A lot of times, you could test the waters and maybe run the ball, and if it breaks out, then all of the sudden try to score. But I told (offensive coordinator) Mike (Bobo), I said, 'Look, let's try to be aggressive and get points on the board."
While Georgia wasn't able to capitalize on Mike Gillard's interception on the second play of Tech's next possession set the Bulldogs up at the Jackets' 25, it was able to cash in on Shawn Williams' pick of another Washington pass deep in Tech territory later in the quarter.
Murray threw his fourth TD of the game, a 3-yarder to Michael Bennett, to balloon the Georgia lead to 31-10 with 2:57 left in the period.
Tech did keep fighting, and closed to within 31-17 on Orwin Smith's 16-yard TD run with 6:32 to play.
But the loss was another bitter pill for the Jackets to swallow against their biggest rival, especially for seniors like running back Roddy Jones.
"We're definitely disappointed the way the game ended," said Jones, who was the game's leading rusher with 72 yards on 11 carries. "It's a pretty emotional game for us being the last game. I guess it was the main disappointment that that's the way we'll leave Bobby Dodd Stadium."