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November 30, 2009

Bulldogs Salvage Season With Classic Win

I’ll admit it. I had basically given up on Georgia Bulldogs football for 2009, conceded a loss to Georgia Tech, and was already looking forward to next season.

The Dawgs had lost to Kentucky at home and were playing on the road at No. 7 Georgia Tech—a team who had suffered just one loss, was heading to the ACC title game, and still had slim hopes of contending for a national title.

For the past two years, the Yellow Jackets struggled only when faced against disciplined, mistake-free teams. Disciplined and mistake-free, Georgia certainly was not as one of the most penalized and turnover-prone squads in all of college football.

There was absolutely no chance for a Bulldog victory, I thought beforehand, but as long as they don’t get embarrassed…

Much to the surprise of many, Georgia led 17-3 at halftime. However, we had all seen this before.

Just a week before against Kentucky, the Bulldogs held a two-touchdown advantage at halftime and appeared to be headed for a romp. Instead, they fell apart in the second half and lost to the Wildcats in Athens for the first time in 32 years.

Just a year prior against Georgia Tech, Georgia led 28-12 at halftime but its defense allowed the Yellow Jackets to run rampant in the second half. Tech upset the Bulldogs 45-42—the Jackets’ first victory over their in-state rival in eight years.

Last Saturday, Georgia Tech made a game of it in the second half as expected, cutting its deficit to six points and having possession on the Bulldogs’ 46-yard line with just under two minutes remaining. That’s when Tech coach Paul Johnson, who has been labeled a play-calling genius, curiously called for three consecutive long passes—all incompletions.

On fourth down, Tech’s Demaryius “Bay Bay” Thomas, an extremely gifted receiver, a future top-10 NFL pick, and likely the last player on the field you’d expect to drop a pass, did just that. Bay Bay’s blunder would have given the Yellow Jackets a first down but instead it gave Georgia the ballgame.

In their 30-24 victory, the Bulldogs gave run-oriented Georgia Tech a dose of its own medicine, rushing for 339 yards—the most by a Georgia team in more than 21 seasons.

The dynamic duo of Washaun Ealey and Caleb King became only the third pair of Bulldog backs since 1988 to each rush for 100 or more yards in a single game. Ealey carried 20 times for 183 yards; King had 18 rushes for 166.

It was an offense Georgia fans had hoped to see back in September: a dominant offensive line anticipated as one of the best in the nation, a strong running game, and a quarterback in Joe Cox who was not necessarily suppose to win a game, just manage it.

It took Georgia’s offense a while to figure things out but it finally did in grand fashion, guiding the Bulldogs to their biggest victory in at least two seasons.

Notwithstanding, it was the lack of errors which ultimately benefited the Bulldogs—a team who had been plagued by the “little mistakes” all season.

Entering the game, Georgia was averaging nearly nine penalties for 73 yards and committing 2.4 turnovers per game. Its defense had forced only eight turnovers the entire season.

Against Georgia Tech, the Bulldogs were penalized just five times for 39 yards and lost just one turnover. Georgia’s defense, on the other hand, recovered a rare fumble, just its second of the year, and made an interception.

The victory does not erase all of the mistakes and inconsistencies made by the undisciplined Dogs in ’09; it doesn’t erase the pain of five losses. However, it definitely salvages a disappointing season.

This season’s Tech-Georgia game goes down as one of the Bulldogs’ greatest in a classic rivalry. I’ve seen, read about, and/or researched every one of Georgia’s 60 series victories and you’ll be hard pressed to find a dozen cherished more than this one.

This win was especially gratifying because Tech was undoubtedly up and Georgia might have been down, but the underdog Dawgs were the ones who came out on top. The Jackets might be heading to an ACC championship but the Bulldogs won the state championship and get to enjoy it for at least another year.

Speaking of which, Georgia Tech should have its hands full again next year when it plays the Dogs. Georgia returns 10 of 11 starters on offense, including its entire offensive line and one of the best players in the nation in A.J. Green, who did not play Saturday. Ealey is just a freshman, King only a sophomore.

Depending on any early departures, Georgia’s defense should return approximately half of its starters, while arguably the best punter and placekicker in college football, Drew Butler and Blair Walsh, are both only sophomores.

As was the case prior to the Georgia Tech game, I’m still looking forward to the 2010 season but it can take its time getting here. I want to enjoy this unexpected but classic victory as much as possible.

2 comments:

Dawg Stephen said...

Well spoken. I was just sitting there Saturday night smiling and looking at the team as they walked around and celebrated with the fans, and as the band played.

This one was indeed a very SWEET win for a team and staff that has endured a year that we will not want repeated any time soon.

I too will cherish this for a long long time. Go Dawgs

Patrick said...

Thanks, Stephen. Three days later, I'm still on cloud nine. Go Dawgs!