Georgia 30, Arkansas 3
For long-waiting Georgia fans, today's Southeastern Conference championship game was a formality. It was to be an overdue coronation, as 20 years had passed since their last conference title -- so long ago that Herschel Walker played on that 1982 Georgia team.
The No. 4 Bulldogs made it just that, building a 17-point first quarter lead and overwhelming Arkansas, 30-3, before 74,835 at the Georgia Dome.
The win puts Georgia (12-1) in the Sugar Bowl against either No. 5 Southern California or No. 16 Florida State.
Earlier in the day, Georgia's lean hopes for a berth in the Fiesta Bowl and the right to play for the national championship were erased. The Bulldogs needed Virginia Tech to beat Miami and hope the Hurricanes would plummet in the rankings. Only then could Georgia surpass Miami in the Bowl Championship Series. But the Hurricanes came away with a 56-45 win.
"We didn't have any luck, but, hey, you know what? We're SEC champions tonight," said Bulldogs wide receiver Fred Gibson, who had five catches for 93 yards.
Nonetheless, Georgia fans showed no less enthusiasm, traveling the 65 miles from the Athens campus to give the evening the feel of a home game.
Throughout the week leading up to the game, fans of Bulldog Nation gobbled up additional tickets the league office made available beyond the school's original allotment, making the dome a sea of red and black. When Georgia defenders waved an exhorting arm, the crowd responded with a deafening frenzy.
"It was like a home game, and the dome, I think, it even magnifies it a little bit, the sound," Georgia defensive end David Pollack said. "Every time the defense was out there, they were pumped up and yelling and screaming."
That pumped-up defense held No. 22 Arkansas, the SEC's top rushing team at 243 yards per game, to 65, tying a season low. The Razorbacks (9-4) also had success creating turnovers this year, tying for second in turnover margin nationally. But Georgia blocked a punt early that set the tone for the game and then failed to turn over the ball.
Decory Bryant's dive smothered Richie Butler's punt, and a pack of Bulldogs recovered at the Razorbacks 2 on the game's first possession.
Musa Smith (19 carries, 106 yards, 2 touchdowns) scored on a two-yard run on the next play for a 7-0 lead 3 minutes 2 seconds into the game.
By the time Arkansas notched its first first down -- on a personal foul against Georgia -- the Bulldogs led 17-0. Georgia scored on its first five possessions to build a 23-0 halftime lead.
Arkansas's defensive backfield was no match for Georgia's wide receivers of Gibson and Terence Edwards (seven catches, 92 yards). Sophomore quarterback David Greene, the game's most valuable player, eagerly picked the Razorbacks apart, completing 17 of 29 passes for 237 yards and a touchdown.
For the game, Georgia outgained Arkansas 381 to 139.
With longtime nemesis Steve Spurrier gone from Florida to the Washington Redskins, Georgia fans believed this was their year and they were right.
"I always felt that if we played Florida State for a bowl, it would be a BCS bowl," said second-year Georgia coach Mark Richt, a former offensive coordinator for the Seminoles. "That's where Florida State plays. I'm going to try to enjoy the experience. Coach [Bobby] Bowden has meant so much to me and my life. I still know a lot of the players.
"In a way I'm glad it's not for the national championship because then I couldn't enjoy that camaraderie as much."