The #10 Mustangs (8–2) had won the Southwest Conference (SWC) championship (6–1) for the first time since 1948, led by fifth-year head coach Hayden Fry. They had won all five games that season at the Cotton Bowl, their home stadium through 1978. Fourth-ranked Georgia (9–1) had shared the Southeastern Conference (SEC) title (6–0) with Alabama, with only a one-point loss to Miami their only blemish. They were led by Vince Dooley, in his third season of 25 seasons as head coach of the Bulldogs, and were a seven-point favorite. Kickoff for the game was 1:30 p.m. CST and it was televised by CBS.
Kent Lawrence scored the first points of the game for the Bulldogs on a 74-yard touchdown run in the early seconds of the game. SMU responded with a field goal later in the quarter, but Georgia would score 10 straight points (highlighted by a Billy Payne touchdown catch from Kirby Moore) to lead 17–3. Mike Richardson of SMU scored a touchdown to narrow the lead, but the kick was blocked, and it was 17–9 at halftime. It was SMU's last points of the game as Georgia held SMU in check the rest of the game and scored once more on a Ronnie Jenkins touchdown run to seal the game. Ultimately, it was Georgia's rushing attack that won the game for the Bulldogs, who had 244 more rushing yards than the Mustangs, who could only muster 40.
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