for this game

Stafford's second-half surge lifts Georgia past Michigan State

Jan 2, 2009 - 12:51 AM ORLANDO, Florida (Ticker) -- Matthew Stafford gave NFL scouts more reasons to salivate.

Stafford threw three second-half touchdowns, rallying 17th-ranked Georgia to a 24-12 victory over No. 18 Michigan State in Thursday's Capital One Bowl.

Widely considered one of the top collegiate quarterbacks, Stafford has not yet announced whether he will skip his senior season to enter the 2009 NFL draft.

But if his latest performance was any indication, Stafford appears ready for the next level. After getting off to a slow start, he finished 20-of-31 for 250 yards.

"It's going to be an extremely hard decision for me," Stafford said. "My time at Georgia has been great and it's been an awesome time. It's something that I am contemplating continuing."

"Of course Matt has done great things for us too and I am proud of him too," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. "This was a great victory."

Stafford indicated that he would make a decision on his future in the next week.

"Obviously there is the lure of the NFL but to tell you the truth, I am 50-50 right now and I really don't know what I want to do," he said. "I love playing for Georgia, and it has been an outstanding time.

"I am going to take this next couple of days - it's really not too much time - to think about it and figure out what I want to do."

The Bulldogs (10-3) took the lead for good on Stafford's first TD of the game, a 35-yarder to Michael Moore early in the third quarter. Stafford pump-faked to his left before slinging a sidearm throw over the middle to Moore, who broke a tackle before finding the end zone to make it 10-6.

After stopping the Spartans (9-4) on the ensuing possession, the Bulldogs gained excellent field position courtesy of Prince Miller's 37-yard punt return and a 15-yard penalty after the play.

Stafford showed off his touch on the very next play, lobbing a 21-yard TD to Aron White to give Georgia a 17-6 lead with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.

"Stafford did make the big plays in the second half," Michigan State safety Otis Wiley said. "If we eliminated those big plays, then it's a different ballgame. We gave them a fight and our secondary shut them out in the first half. In the second half, we had to answer and finish."

The Spartans fought back in the fourth quarter, as Javon Ringer's 1-yard TD run with nine minutes remaining capped a 10-play drive. But Michigan State missed the ensuing two-point conversion when Brian Hoyer's pass fell incomplete, leaving the deficit at 17-12.

With the game still in the balance, Georgia once again leaned on Stafford who made plays with his arm and his legs to secure the Bulldogs' third consecutive bowl victory. After rumbling for 10 yards down to the Michigan State 32-yard line, Stafford converted a 3rd-and-3 with a 4-yard pass to Demiko Goodman.

Stafford made his final NFL-caliber throw three plays later, lofting a perfectly-placed 21-yard TD pass to star running back Knowshon Moreno, who barely kept his foot in-bounds to give Georgia a 24-12 lead with 3:43 remaining.

"Just to watch those guys bounce back and get that 10th win for these seniors is awesome," Stafford said. "It's great to be a part of a team that wins 10 games in the Southeastern Conference because of how tough it is week in and week out."

It was an outstanding ending to a game that began in disastrous fashion for Stafford, who completed just 6-of-14 passes in the first half and nearly put Georgia in an early hole when his deflected pass was intercepted and returned to the Bulldogs' 6-yard line.

Georgia's defense, however, stood strong, stuffing Ringer twice before forcing an incompletion from Hoyer. Brett Swenson's 20-yard field goal forged a 3-3 tie.

Michigan State once again started a drive in favorable field position when Georgia's Brian Mimbs completely whiffed on a punt attempt, giving the Spartans the ball at the Bulldogs' 40.

But Georgia once again minimized the damage, repeatedly bottling up Ringer before Swenson's 32-yard field goal gave Michigan State a 6-3 lead.

"It's frustrating when you play a close football game, and it was a close game with the score being 6-3 at the half," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. "I guess you can point to missed opportunities in the first half, but give Georgia credit for their defense."

The game initially had been billed as a showdown between perhaps the best two running backs in the country in Moreno and Ringer.

But both players had minimal impact on the ground. Moreno, who also has been billed as a potential high pick draft next spring, rushed for just 62 yards on 23 carries. The sophomore did finish with 63 yards on six receptions, including his highlight-reel TD catch in the fourth.

Ringer, the nation's fourth-leading rusher, ran for just 47 yards on 20 attempts. Hoyer finished 18-of-34 for 169 yards and a late interception for the Spartans, who have lost three straight bowl games and seven of their last nine.