ATHENS — Well, it’s not 10 to 9 in Texas anymore.
Ten to 9 has been the punchline of a favorite joke of the Georgia Bulldogs for the last 34 years. It begins with “what time is it in Texas?” and ends with “still 10 to 9,” a reference to Georgia’s winning score over the No. 2 Longhorns in the 1984 Cotton Bowl.
The two teams met for the first time since then late Tuesday night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and it was Texas that prevailed this time, 28-21, before 71,449 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Georgia falls to 1-4 all time against the Longhorns, who completed their second season under coach Tom Herman at 10-4.
Coming into the game, there was concern over the level of motivation the No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (11-3), who were disappointed in their last-minute loss to No. 1 Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and subsequent omission from the College Football Playoff semifinals. That was further exacerbated by the decision of senior cornerback and All-American Deandre Baker to skip the bowl for fear of injury before the NFL draft. He was one of three defensive starters to miss the game for Georgia, joining outside linebacker D’Andre Walker (groin) and nose guard Jordan Davis (back).
Sam Ehlinger was the difference-maker for the Texas Longhorns Tuesday night in the Sugar Bowl.
Texas indeed seemed to have a motivational edge jumping out to a big lead early while playing before a mostly pro-Longhorn crowd. And the Bulldogs definitely missed their defensive standouts as they could not contain Longhorns’ quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who scored 3 rushing touchdowns and also had 169 yards on 19-of-27 passing. Ehlinger finished with 64 yards on 21 carries and his three scores tied a Sugar Bowl record for rushing TDs by a quarterback.
The deciding moment of the game was when Texas, after getting stopped on three straight Ehlinger runs from the 1, was finally signaled a touchdown on fourth down. It was close, but it held up in video replay review. Ehlinger then completed a pass for a 2-point conversion, and the Longhorns led 28-7 with 11:49 to play.
Georgia’s offense finally got moving and cut the deficit in half when Jake Fromm’s 3-yard pass to Mecole Hardman capped off a 67-yard scoring drive that took just 1:15 to complete. But the comeback ended there and the Bulldogs season was completed with an 11-3 record.
The sophomore Ehlinger earned MVP honors. But as good as he was, so was the Texas defense. The Longhorns held Georgia to 72 rushing yards through its first 10 offensive possessions. At that point, the Bulldogs had to punt the ball — and the game — away from its own 11-yard line.
Off for much of the night, Fromm finished with 212 yards on 20 of 34 passing with 3 touchdowns and an interception. But the final score was mostly moot, coming with 14 seconds to play. Texas fielded the subsequent onside kick one second later.
Georgia had only 72 yards rushing in the game. Elijah Holyfield led the Bulldogs with 62 yards rushing on 12 carries, and D’Andre Swift had only 12 on 8 attempts.
Georgia couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. The Bulldogs quickly fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter and trailed 17-0 just seven seconds into the second quarter. That was thanks to a fumble by D’Andre Swift at the Georgia 9-yard and a 67-yard swap of field position when Jake Camarda’s knee was ruled to be down before he released a punt that Georgia fielded at the Texas 6-yard line. Instead, the Longhorns got the ball at the Bulldogs’ 27-yard line.
Meanwhile, Georgia struggled on both sides of the ball in the early going. The Longhorns outgained the Bulldogs, 101-8, in the opening quarter. The Bulldogs steadied themselves in the second quarter and put together a 12-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a 17-yard TD catch by Brian Herrien. But after Texas had to settle for another field goal later in the half, Georgia should’ve felt thankful going to the locker room down only 20-7 at halftime.
No doubt, Kirby Smart reminded the team that they were down by more than that — 31-17 — against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl just last year. The Bulldogs rallied to win 54-48 in double overtime.
But there would be no comeback this time. Fromm was intercepted on Georgia’s first possession of the second half and would never get closer in the game.