Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray high-fives fans following their 45-7 win against Auburn on Saturday in Athens. Murray threw four touchdown passes to surpass former No. 1 NFL Draft pick Matthew Stafford’s all-time school record.
ATHENS -- A Georgia player flung his helmet in the air and took off toward the student section, waving his arms. At the other end of Sanford Stadium, the band played and the red-clad fans chanted "SEC! SEC! SEC!"
Yup ... the Bulldogs are one win away from playing for the championship.
Aaron Murray threw four touchdown passes to surpass Matthew Stafford's school record and No. 14 Georgia, with a dominating first-half performance, romped past No. 24 Auburn, 45-7, on Saturday between the hedges.
The Bulldogs can clinch the SEC East next weekend with a win vs. Kentucky at home.
Quite a comeback from last year's losing record and an 0-2 start to this season.
"We came out with an edge, with a chip on our shoulder," said safety and former Seminole County standout Bacarri Rambo, who returned an interception for another Georgia touchdown thanks to a block from another former Southwest Georgia star, Shawn Williams of Early County, to give Rambo a team-high seven interceptions on the season. "Hopefully we made a statement with this game."
They'll get no argument from the defending national champions. The Bulldogs (8-2, 6-1 SEC) won their eighth in a row with a dominating performance in the Deep South's oldest rivalry, racing to a 35-7 halftime lead against the stunned Tigers (6-4, 4-3).
Georgia finished with its biggest win in the series since a 41-0 triumph in 1946.
"We feel great," Murray said. "We control our own destiny. But we've still got to win next week to get back to Atlanta."
The Bulldogs will be looking to clinch their first division title in six years and completely snuff out any talk about Mark Richt's coaching future. He was under fire after Georgia went 6-7 a year ago, its first losing season since 1996. The criticism only intensified when the Bulldogs opened this year with losses to Boise State and South Carolina.
"Even though we lost those first two games," Rambo began, "we knew we still had a chance."
Murray threw all his scoring passes by halftime, giving him 27 TDs on the season and nine in the past two weeks. He broke the school mark of 25 set by Stafford in 2008 before he was picked No. 1 overall in the NFL draft.
With 92,000-seat Sanford Stadium as loud as it's been in years, Georgia scored on four of its first five offensive possessions -- the only glitch was the first of two fumbles by freshman Isaiah Crowell. Auburn fumbled right back to Georgia on the next play.
Murray threw touchdown passes of 8 yards to Tavarres King, 27 yards to Michael Bennett, 15 yards to Bruce Figgins and 25 yards to Malcolm Mitchell.
Auburn briefly tied the game at 7 with a bit of trickery. Clint Moseley handed off to freshman C.J. Uzomah, who flipped a 4-yard pass to Philip Lutzenkirchen, the Georgia native's third TD catch in two years against the Bulldogs.
That was it for the Tigers, who have gone through major rebuilding pains after winning the national title with Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton at quarterback. They have lost four SEC road games by a combined 111 points, and this was the ugliest performance yet. Auburn turned it over three times and was outgained in total yards 528-195.
"This was a complete team loss," Moseley said. "I can't pinpoint one thing or even two things. There's too many things. It was just bad."
Fortunately for Georgia, the Tigers did win one game away from Jordan-Hare Stadium -- a 16-13 upset of South Carolina back on Oct. 1. That could turn out to be the difference in the SEC East.
The Bulldogs fell behind in the division with their 45-42 loss to the Gamecocks in the second week of the season. Georgia hasn't been beaten since, while South Carolina dropped another conference game at Arkansas last week to clear the way for Georgia to take the East.
One more win will do it.
"This is my first year," Crowell said. "An SEC championship sounds great to me."
Crowell and Carlton Thomas, both suspended from Georgia's previous game after reportedly failing a drug test, gave Georgia its first pair of 100-yard rushers since 2009. Crowell gained 132 and scored the Bulldogs' final touchdown, while Thomas had 127. Murray was 14 of 18 for 224 yards.
There was none of the nastiness that marked last year's game, when Auburn rallied from an early 14-point deficit and romped to a 49-31 victory on the way to a perfect season. Nick Fairley delivered two brutal hits on Murray, there were 10 personal fouls and two Auburn players wound up with suspensions for throwing punches.
Of course, this one was over so quickly no one had a chance to get too mad.
Moseley was 11 of 22 for 140 yards, spending most of the day running for his life. He was sacked five times. The Tigers were held to 51 yards on the ground -- compared with 304 for Georgia.
"It was pretty evident what we couldn't do," coach Gene Chizik said, "and that was a lot."
Auburn's most devastating turnover came with Georgia up 21-7. On third down from his own 17, Moseley threw over the middle, Rambo streaked in front of the receiver to pick it off, then produced a 24-yard return that was even better than his seventh interception of the season. The safety cut to his right, picked up several key blocks and soared into the end zone over a pile of players.
He was spurred on by some good-natured ribbing from defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.
"They said all I do is get interceptions, but I never get to the end zone," Rambo said. "I had in my mind that the next interception I get, I'm going to take it to the house."
That he did. Rambo was pummeled by his teammates against the famous hedges and the Georgia bench went wild, drawing a penalty for excessive celebration.
The Bulldogs didn't mind that flag a bit.