Athens, GA – With the SEC Eastern Division title wrapped up, the fifth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs step out of conference play on Saturday afternoon to take on the Georgia Southern Eagles.
Georgia Southern is fresh off a blowout victory of Howard University (69-26), giving the team eight wins on the year. The Eagles appear to be in good shape to make the FCS playoffs.
"It was critical for us to get to eight wins. We all know what's at stake," head coach Jeff Monken said following his team's last game. "Two seven-win teams made the playoffs a year ago out of 20 total teams in the tournament. We couldn't afford to wait and cross our fingers at the record we were at."
With a 38-0 win at Auburn last week, Georgia locked up the SEC East and will play for the right to be crowned SEC champion for the second straight season. This game as well as next week's matchup against Georgia Tech hold no baring in the standings, but the Bulldogs would still undoubtedly like to end the regular season on a high note.
"I'm very excited about winning the East," head coach Mark Richt said. "I'm very excited about going to Atlanta. There's no doubt about that. There's a lot of work to be done between now and then. We have a couple of games to be played. I think we've been improving as we go, and hopefully we keep it going."
Georgia has beaten Georgia Southern in all four previous meetings between the squads, the most recent of which being a 45-21 decision on Aug. 30, 2008.
Behind a fantastic rushing attack that accounts for more than 400 yards per game, Georgia Southern has pieced together a very potent offense this year with a scoring average of 37.6 ppg.
There are plenty of touches to go around in the backfield, but the most utilized rusher is actually the quarterback Jerick McKinnon, who has run for 1,053 yards (6.8 ypc) and 11 touchdowns. Dominique Swope has missed a few games due to injury, but when he's in the lineup he is lethal as well with 827 yards and 14 touchdowns. Swope gained 98 yards last week against Howard on only four carries.
McKinnon has just 26 pass attempts on the season, completing 14 of them for 396 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. Ezayi Youyoute (14-29, 229 yards, TD, 467 rushing yards) also sees action under center.
Zach Walker has just seven receptions, but they've gone for 256 yards and three scores.
The Eagles defense has performed admirably as well, allowing just 313.9 ypg and 18.9 ppg.
John Stevenson is the team's leading tackler with 83 stops and he also has two fumble recoveries. Javon Mention has 6.5 sacks and Lavelle Westbrooks and Valdon Cooper each have two interceptions.
Georgia's offense has been one of the most high-flying in the SEC with 471.1 ypg and nearly 37 ppg, and it possesses some of the best balance of any offense in the country.
Aaron Murray is UGA's leader under center and he is putting together another outstanding season by completing 65.8 percent of his passes for 2,656 yards with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Murray has piled up a number of big stats during his career, one of the most significant being his 83 career passing TDs, which ranks fifth in SEC history.
A pair of freshmen running backs have been equally important to the Bulldogs' success. Todd Gurley (973 yards, 11 TDs) and Keith Marshall (625 yards, six TDs) have been about as good a one-two punch as there is in the nation. Both backs went over 100 yards a week ago, doing so for the third time this season.
Malcolm Mitchell (405 yards, three TDs), Tavarres King (624 yards, seven TDs), Marlon Brown (469 yards, four TDs) and Michael Bennett (345 yards, four TDs) have all at one point or another this season been Murray's favorite receiving target. Brown is lost for the season with a knee injury.
Georgia's defense (18.8 ppg) has really stepped up in recent weeks, having allowed just 19 points (6.3 ppg) over the last three contests.
Despite missing two games due to injury, Jarvis Jones is putting together perhaps the best season of any defensive player in the nation with 56 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, 28 QB hurries, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and an interception. Offenses keying in on Jones allows for big plays to be made elsewhere by Bacarri Rambo (two INTs), Damian Swann (two INTs, two fumble recoveries), and Jordan Jenkins (seven TFL, four sacks).