Bulldogs Power Past Spartans With Strong Second Half
Jan. 1, 2009
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Matthew Stafford gave the type of performance in the Capital One Bowl that'd make a fitting finale to his excellent Georgia career.
Whether this was his last game with the Bulldogs, the junior quarterback hasn't decided.
Stafford threw three touchdown passes in the final 18 minutes against No. 19 Michigan State, hitting Knowshon Moreno for the clinching score in the 16th-ranked Bulldogs' 24-12 victory Thursday.
"It's going to be an extremely hard decision," Stafford said of his decision to enter the NFL draft. "My time at Georgia has been great, and the allure of coming back is something I'm considering. I'm 50-50 right now and I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm going to take these next few days and figure it out."
Ranked No. 1 to start the season, the Bulldogs (10-3) gave coach Mark Richt his sixth bowl win in eight tries and put a happy ending on a season that didn't live up to expectations.
The first half was ugly for Stafford, projected to be an early first-round NFL draft pick, and Georgia.
He was just 6-for-14 and an interception in the first half and Michigan State (9-4) led 6-3. In the second half, he looked more like the quarterback NFL teams covet. He completed 14 of his final 17 throws, including three TD passes.
Figuring out Stafford proved to be a tough task for the Spartans in the second half.
Stafford started the comeback by directing a 10-play, 96-yard drive midway through the third quarter. He went 6-for-6 for 92 yards and capped it with 35-yard touchdown toss to Michael Moore.
"The biggest thing was eliminating mistakes," Stafford said. "The whole first half, first drive of the second half, we were making foolish mistakes - me not hitting guys, us not picking up blitzes, not finishing off drives."
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Georgia made a very effective adjustment in the second half.
"We blitzed well in the first half, got after them," Dantonio said. "They went to a more controlled passing game against our blitz package."
Stafford was picked as the game's MVP, completing his performance by showing a nice touch in threading a 21-yard TD pass to Moreno late in the fourth quarter. Stafford set a single-season school record with 25 touchdown passes.
Georgia's defense helped keep the Bulldogs in the game in the first half. The Bulldogs had four sacks and held an opponent to the fewest points since Sept. 30.
"We played with our hair on fire, great emotion," tackle Corvey Irvin said. "When we play with emotion, you can't stop it."
The Bulldogs were able to make Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer hurry his throws. Hoyer completed 16 of 31 passes for 159 yards with an interception and gave way to backup Kirk Cousins on a couple of first-half series. He threw 21 yards to Mark Dell on fourth-and-22 late in the fourth quarter, and followed that with an interception in the final 40 seconds.
"I love to get pressure without blitzing," Richt said. "That's what makes us tick, baby."
The expected showdown between star running backs Javon Ringer and Moreno never materialized. Moreno ran for 62 yards on 23 carries; the All-American Ringer had 47 yards and a TD on 20 carries.
"We wanted to put some hats on Javon and make Hoyer throw," Richt said. "If he had hit some big plays passing, it could have softened us up, give them more room."
Moreno, a third-year sophomore, is also facing a decision on whether to turn professional.
"I celebrate the victory now and make my decision later, after I've had time to talk to my family and my coaches."
Stafford and Aron White hooked up on a 21-yard TD toss with 9 seconds left in the third quarter to put Georgia up 17-6.
Ringer scored on a 1-yard run midway through the fourth quarter - his school-record 22nd - to make it 17-12, but Hoyer's pass for a 2-point conversion was long.
Balmy, 67-degree temperatures were near perfect but a 24-mph cross wind at the Citrus Bowl was a major factor, as both teams depended first on their ground games and star tailbacks with little to show for it.
The Spartans got a pair of first-quarter turnovers in Georgia territory but could only turn them into a field goal to tie it at 3. Michigan State took a 6-3 lead with just over two minutes left in the first half on Brett Swenson's 32-yard field goal.