Bulls fall short of “special” in Athens
Bulldogs capitalize on Buffalo mistakes to foil Bulls’ upset bid
Published: Saturday, September 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
ATHENS, Ga. – In order to defeat an opponent as strong as the team the Bulls faced on Saturday, everything has to be perfect. It has to be a special effort by a group of players that believe they can win.
That effort was apparent in all but one phase of the game: special teams.
Georgia (1-0) took full advantage of the Bulls (0-1) special teams’ woes, as it was able to eventually pull away in the second half, defeating Buffalo by the score of 45-23 at Sanford Stadium.
The Bulls’ miscues on that unit were aplenty, especially early on. Buffalo responded to an early Bulldog touchdown with a 75-yard drive of its own, capped off by a 16-yard touchdown pass from the arm of junior quarterback Alex Zordich to junior wide receiver Alex Neutz.
But then came the mistakes.
A missed PAT by sophomore placekicker Patrick Clarke kept the Georgia lead at 7-6. Moments later, freshman running back Todd Gurley woke Sanford Stadium up with a breathtaking 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that extended the lead to 14-6. Gurley finished the game with 227 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns.
“That electrified the fans and it electrified me, too,” said Georgia head coach Mark Richt. “That was fun to watch. You need a guy with bravery to hit it up in there full speed, the ability to break some arm tackles and the speed to take it to the house. He looks like he will be a pretty good return man.”
In all: two bobbled kick returns that were eventually handled by the return man, one missed PAT, one touchdown given up by the Buffalo kickoff coverage and a blocked kick that led to a Georgia touchdown.
It was very disheartening to head coach Jeff Quinn, who preached the importance and the progress of the special teams unit all spring and summer long, before Saturday’s contest.
“Conditions were tough and they were able to make some plays, especially on special teams and that’s disappointing from my perspective because we have spent a great deal of time working on special teams,” Quinn said. “They played fast, smart and physical.”
Despite the woes, Buffalo put an early scare on the Bulldogs in the second quarter, thanks to the play of Zordich. He was able to locate receivers for most of the second quarter and when the play broke down, he was unafraid to run and used his feet to convert crucial third-down plays.
He led two scoring drives of 75 yards and 95 yards during the game, and he finished 14-for-14 with 148 yards and a score. He nearly ran for the century mark as well, coming short with 83 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown.
With the Georgia lead at 24-6, the Bulls racked off 10 unanswered points on consecutive drives, capped off with junior running back Branden Oliver’s two-yard rush on the first drive and an 18-yard field goal by Clarke to bring the score to 24-16 at halftime. Oliver hit the century mark again, rushing for 112 yards after rushing for 100 yards or more eight times last season.
The crowd of 92,446 was not happy with Georgia’s effort, and they let them know as they showered the team with boos late in the half.
It wasn’t enough to derail the No. 6 Bulldogs, who regained their composure early in the second half and forced the Buffalo offense to struggle. The Bulls punted on their first five possessions of the second half with no drive lasting over 20 yards.
Meanwhile, previously struggling quarterback Aaron Murray – Georgia’s Heisman hopeful – started to open up a Buffalo defense that was missing arguably its best defender, suspended junior linebacker Khalil Mack.
Murray finished 15-for-26 with 258 yards and three touchdowns.
Despite all evidence for a moral victory, the Bulls’ players don’t feel positive after the loss.
“There are no moral victories,” Quinn said. “We line up, we play, we want to win. That being said, there are things that we can take away from this game. We saw some tremendous play at big times. We play these games for national exposure, to be able to play against a great team. I’m proud that these players fought hard and made some plays.”
The Bulls will go from heavy underdog to heavy favorite in a week’s time, as they turn around to play FCS foe Morgan State (1-0) this Saturday in the friendly confines of UB Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m.