January 2, 2012

Collapse in the Outback



TAMPA, Fla. - This one hurt. For members of the Georgia football team, what else was there to say?

Not much.

After jumping out to a 16-0 halftime lead in which the Bulldogs controlled every facet of the game, a second-half collapse culminated by a missed field goal in a third overtime by senior Blair Walsh enabled 12th-ranked Michigan State to win Monday's Outback Bowl by a 33-30 count.

"It stings, I'm not going to lie to you, it hurts," said quarterback Aaron Murray, whose pick-6 by MSU cornerback Darqueze Dennard in the third quarter accounted for one of the Spartans' scores. "All we can do is move on and get ready for next year."

Where does one begin?

Walsh, who earlier in the first overtime missed a 42-yarder that would have given Georgia the victory, probably summed it up best from the Bulldog perspective.

"It sucks that it had to go down that way," Walsh said. "But that's how it ends."

No one in red and black will argue with that.

Georgia appeared to have the game well in hand with its 16-0 lead, a half which despite some offensive hiccups, the Bulldogs were able to dominate with apparent ease.

Not so fast.

Michigan State would score the game's next three touchdowns to jump in front 20-19 before a 13-yard pass from Murray to Brandon Boykin with 6:44 left enabled Georgia to reclaim a 27-20 advantage.

After an exchange of possessions, the Bulldogs punted back to MSU (11-3) with just 2:48 to play in regulation although that was more than enough time for quarterback Kirk Cousins to engineer a 10-play, 85-yard drive which was capped by Le'Veon Bell's 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game with 14 seconds left in the fourth.

Momentum was on the Spartans' side but that quickly disappeared during the first possession in the opening OT period when Bacarri Rambo intercepted Cousins giving the Bulldogs the ball.

Needing just a field goal to win, Georgia elected to try a 42-yard field goal on third down, but Walsh pushed his kick wide right giving MSU new life.

Both teams then traded field goals (a 47-yarder by Walsh and a 35-yarder by Dan Conroy) before MSU went back on offense and converted a 35-yarder by Conroy after the team's traded possessions.

But with one final crack, the Bulldogs couldn't convert.

After two incompletions, Murray was sacked by William Gholston bringing out Walsh to try a 47-yard attempt.

The ball never had a chance.

Walsh's kick was low, into the line of scrimmage, and bounced away as the Spartans poured onto the field to celebrate the win.

"It's a tough pill to swallow, anytime you lose a game - period," head coach Mark Richt said. "I guess it hurts worse because it was in overtime. I know we hurt pretty bad."

Offensive miscues helped do the Bulldogs in.

Georgia turned the football over three times, including two interceptions by Murray who otherwise completed 20 of 28 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns, one going to Tavarres King who led all receivers with six catches for 205 yards and one score.

Unfortunately, the Bulldogs' run game was virtually non-existent.

Ken Malcome started and rushed 12 times a respectable 51 yards, but freshman Isaiah Crowell managed just four carries for three yards before leaving with an ankle injury in the second quarter, never to return.

Boykin was able to do his part.

Besides accounting for Georgia's first two points with a safety on MSU's first offensive play, the senior returned a punt 92 yards before catching the 13-yard pass from Murray late in the fourth to put the Bulldogs up 27-20.

Boykin earned MVP honors despite the team's losing effort.

"It's great, but I'd trade it all for a win," Boykin said. "It's kind of hollow right now."

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio was obviously on the other end of the emotional spectrum.

"We've been waiting for one of these trophies for five years now, so we're thrilled to have it," said Dantonion, whose team snapped a five-year bowl losing streak. "Georgia has a great football team, and obviously played hard as well."

Just not good enough.

Leading 16-0 at the half, Georgia started the third by forcing a Michigan State but soon gave the Spartans the ball right back when Murray was intercepted by the Georgia native Dennard at the Bulldog 48.

Nine plays later, the Spartans would score, getting an 18-yard run by Bell before Cousins found a wide-open Brian Linthicum for the two-point conversion to cut the lead in half.

Murray's troubles would continue.

Later in the quarter, the Spartans punted the Bulldogs back at the 1. Georgia would grind the ball out for a first down with four straight runs by Malcome, but on Murray's first pass attempt, the bal was slightly deflected right in the hands of Dennard who returned 38 yards for the touchdown. The pick-six was Murray's fourth of the year. MSU went for the two-point play but Cousins' pass missed its mark.

As the game moved to the fourth quarter, Georgia was able to answer with a 32 yard field goal by Walsh, extending the lead to 19-14.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the Spartans weren't done.

On MSU's next possession, a 50-yard tight end screen to Linthicum put MSU in business at the Georgia 9. Three plays later, Cousins hit Keith Nichol on a 9-yard pass for a 20-19 lead. The two-point attempt failed.

Georgia certainly was at least able to get off to a fast defensive start.

How fast?

Try Michigan State's first offensive play when Cousins slung a quick pass wide to KeShawn Martin, who was met in the end zone by Boykin for the safety and a quick 2-0 lead.

Boykin would be heard from again later in the second quarter.

But first it would be Georgia's defense which made some noise, holding the Spartans to 72 first-half yards and just two first downs.

Offensively, the Bulldogs weren't doing much better early on.

Georgia did get an early 60-yard pass from Murray to King after being backed up deep inside MSU territory , but it wasn't until late in the second quarter that the duo hooked up again, this time on an 80-yard pass for the Bulldogs' first offensive score.

The 80-yard touchdown was a Georgia bowl record topping the previous mark was a 67-yarder in the 1947 Sugar Bowl from Charley Trippi to Dan Edwards.

Boykin would usher Trippi from the record books a second time just a few minutes later.

After the defense forced its sixth punt of the half, Boykin took the ball and returned it 92 yards, weaving through would-be tackler, picking up a key block from Rambo to give Georgia a 16-0 lead.

The 92-yarder ties for second in Georgia history for a punt return touchdown, matching Prince Miller against Alabama in 2008. The previous bowl mark for a punt return was 68 yards by Trippi in the 1945 Oil Bowl.

Unfortunately, after the game, there was no room for celebrating any records that were broken.

"It's sad when you lose, you hate to lose," Richt said. "Right now we're definitely not too thrilled. In time this one will heal. We'll get back on the road recruiting and our guys will take a little break and get back in town, go to school and get prepared for the next one. That's just the way it is in college football."