Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray (11) celebrates a touchdown in the first half against the LSU Tigers at Sanford Stadium. (USA TODAY Sports: Daniel Shirey)
ATHENS — Sixth-ranked LSU and No. 9 Georgia stood toe to toe Saturday at Sanford Stadium, trading haymakers that would have made Floyd Mayweather proud.
In the end, Georgia landed the final blow, scoring with 1:47 left and holding on to beat the Tigers 44-41.
“In the moment of truth we took care of business,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “That had to be fun for America to watch (and) for our fans. You don’t get many opportunities like that and have it come out the way it did.”
Fans from both sides never got time to grab their breath, and after Jeremy Hill gave LSU a 41-37 lead with an 8-yard run with 4:41 to play, Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray was the man thrust in the spotlight.
He drove the Bulldogs back for the winning score: a 25-yard touchdown pass with 1:47 remaining.
The victory was the Bulldogs’ second over a sixth-ranked team; the beat South Carolina 41-30 three weeks ago.
“Congratulations to Georgia. They did a very good job and have a very good football team,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “We were a mistake or two from winning what was a very competitive game.”
For all the grief Murray has received over the years for his failure to beat Top 10 teams, this victory was particularly satisfying. Especially with the way the Bulldogs (3-1, 2-0) were able to pull it out.
It took just 2:27 for Murray to drive Georgia 75 yards as he never faced a third down before hitting a wide-open Justin Scott-Wesley for the winning score.
“We knew that we had plenty of time and there was no reason to panic,” Murray said. “We knew today was going to be a fight, and we were up to it.”
With the crowd roaring, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger completed a first-down pass to the Bulldog 35, but four straight incompletions by the Athens native enabled Georgia to hold on and remain in the chase for the national title.
“We gave up some plays that we shouldn’t have given up, but I think coming out there with those plays behind us was really a comforting feeling for the whole unit,” Georgia cornerback Damian Swann said. “I think we’re going to be fine, but we’ve obviously got more work to do.”
Murray and Mettenberger were the big stories all game.
Murray completed 20 of 34 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns, while Mettenberger hit 23 of 37 for 372 yards and three scores.
“I want you to know something: Zach came here to play quarterback for the Tigers and to try to lead his team to victory,” Miles said. “And that is what he did. Was he perfect? No. But he was good. We like him as our quarterback.”
The track meet that many anticipated didn’t take long to develop as each team tallied a pair of first-quarter touchdowns.
Murray tossed touchdown passes of 5 yards to Michael Bennett and 25 to Chris Conley, while Mettenberger connected twice with Kadron Boone, first on a 48-yarder and again from 4 yards.
Mettenberger’s second touchdown pass to Boone came seven plays after defensive tackle Anthony Johnson intercepted a Murray pass at the Bulldog 38.
Both defenses started to settle down in the second, with the teams trading field goals — 24 yards by Marshall Morgan and 49 yards by Colby Delahoussaye.
Tied at 17-17 with 3:51 left in the half, Georgia had time to find the end zone one more time. The Bulldogs drove 66 yards, scoring on a 1-yard run by Murray with 20 seconds remaining.
LSU took the second-half kickoff and drove almost 60 yards before settling for a 39-yard field goal by Delahoussaye.
The Bulldogs answered, getting a career-long 55-yarder from Moran to push the lead back to seven, 27-20.
But back came the Tigers.
This time, LSU found the end zone, driving 80 yards before scoring on a 39-yard pass from Mettenberger to Jarvis Landry with 3:40 left in the third.
It appeared the Tigers were about to regain the momentum after forcing a quick three-and-out. But Odell Beckham Jr. fumbled the punt, which Georgia’s Connor Norman fell on at the LSU 20. Three plays later, Murray’s second touchdown pass to Bennett — a 21-yarder — enabled the Bulldogs to surge back in front 34-27.
“We had some trouble getting the calls in and called the wrong calls sometimes,” LSU linebacker Lamin Barrow said. “It was just a little bit of miscommunication that we go over in practice over and over. We’ve got to keep working at it.”
NOTES: The Bulldogs lost running back Todd Gurley with an ankle injury in the second quarter. Gurley ran for 73 yards on eight carries. … Georgia’s 7-0 lead in the first quarter marked the first time LSU has trailed in a game all year. … Georgia’s win snapped a streak of 34 straight games won by LSU when the Tigers scored 30 or more points.