November 10, 2007

Gimmicks work again for Richt, Bulldogs

Georgia coach Mark Richt came up with another motivational gimmick for Auburn, and this one worked just as well as the end zone celebration against Florida.

Of course, it didn't hurt having Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno.

With the No. 10 Bulldogs donning black jerseys for the first time in the modern era, Stafford threw a pair of touchdown passes and Moreno broke 100 yards rushing for the fourth straight game, leading Georgia past 18th-ranked Auburn 45-20 Saturday.

The Bulldogs (8-2) remained on top of the Southeastern Conference East division with a 5-2 mark, but they'll need a little help to reach the Dec. 1 championship game in nearby Atlanta. Tennessee has only two SEC losses, too, and holds the tiebreaker over Georgia.

Whatever the outcome in the league race, the Bulldogs will long savor this win over their longest-running rival. In the 111th meeting between the schools, Stafford threw a 58-yard TD pass to Mohamed Massaquoi and a 13-yarder to Sean Bailey. Moreno, a redshirt freshman, had another big game with scoring runs of 24 and 2 yards, finishing with 101 yards on 22 carries.

Thomas Brown finished off the Tigers (7-4, 4-3) with a 53-yard run to the Auburn 1 early in the fourth. Brannan Southerland powered over on the next play, and the celebration was on for the black-clad Bulldogs and all their fans wearing the same color.

Georgia scored the final 28 points against an Auburn defense that was leading the SEC and ranked fifth nationally in points allowed, just 14.5 per game. Georgia has eclipsed 40 points in three straight games, the first time that's happened since 1942.

Auburn rallied for the lead in the third quarter but couldn't overcome four interceptions by Brandon Cox.

Richt, who gave up the offensive play calling late last season, apparently has more time to sit around thinking up ways to fire up his players. Against Florida, he ordered his team to get a celebration penalty after their first TD, then watched the entire roster storm the end zone.

While Richt had to apologize to the SEC commissioner for his tactic, it sure seemed to work -- Georgia rolled past the Gators 42-30, only its third win in that bitter series over the last 18 years.

Auburn had beaten Georgia in 12 of their last 15 meetings at Sanford Stadium, so Richt went looking for another motivational edge. He found it when the seniors put out the request for all fans to wear black, and the coach decided to have the players join the "blackout."

Richt spent most of the week dancing around the jersey issue, and the Bulldogs came out for warmups wearing their normal red home attire.

When the four captains walked out of the locker room still in red, there was a bit of a groan from the crowd. But it was all a ruse.

The rest of the team charged out through the main entrance wearing black jerseys, sending the 92,000 fans into a tizzy, the massive stadium rocking out to the AC/DC anthem "Back in Black."

Then it was time to take care of business on the field. Kelin Johnson snatched the first of his two interceptions on the very first play from scrimmage, setting up Brandon Coutu's 32-yard field goal and sparking Georgia to a 17-3 lead by early in the second quarter.

But the outcome was very much in doubt after Auburn, still smarting from a 37-15 loss to the Bulldogs a year ago, ripped off 17 straight points and took the lead on Wes Byrum's 33-yard field goal with just less than 7 minutes left in the third quarter.

Georgia dominated the rest of the way, reclaiming the lead with two big plays. First, Stafford went deep down the right sideline for a 45-yard pass to Bailey. Then, Moreno ripped off a brilliant run, sprinting through a big hole over left tackle and, just when it looked like he would head for the corner, cut back to his right and left Auburn safety Zac Etheridge grasping at air. Moreno posed in the end zone with both hands on his hips, proud of his work.

When it was over, the Bulldogs sprinted toward the student section, dancing along with one more playing of "Back in Black."


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