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July 6, 2009

Great but Obscure Game #5

OCTOBER 19, 1956:
After Georgia football's successful run during the 1940s, the Bulldogs did an about-face the following decade. Shockingly, from the start of the 1951 season until mid-November of 1959, Georgia recorded a lowly 0-20-1 mark against ranked opposition. The lone non-defeat, a tie in 1956, came against Coach Andy Gustafson (photo--University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame), halfback Don Bosseler, and the rest of the mighty Miami Hurricanes.

PREGAME: Georgia and Miami of Florida faced one another 12 times in a 30-year span from 1937 to 1966. All 12 games were played at Miami's Orange Bowl at night with every contest held on a Friday. Such was the case when the Bulldogs met the 11th-ranked and undefeated Hurricanes in 1956 in front of a crowd of 42,682. Entering the game, Georgia had a record of 2-2 and struggled offensively to average just nine points per contest. The Bulldogs of '56 would eventually finish the campaign averaging less than 200 yards per game (194.0)--still a school-record low since statistics began being kept nearly 70 years ago. Led by first team All-American Bosseler, Miami was a two-touchdown favorite over a Bulldog squad regarded by the press as the "pore lil Georgia boys."
DETAILS: In the opening quarter, Georgia halfback J.B. Davis fielded a Miami punt at his own 42-yard line. Faking and twisting his way through defenders, Davis sped 58 yards into the end zone and the game's first points. Ken Cooper kicked the PAT. Soon thereafter, Bulldog sophomore guard Cicero Lucas sidelined Bosseler with a bone-crushing tackle; Miami's All-American would be lost for most of the game due to the injury.
During the fourth quarter, just when it appeared the "pore lil Georgia boys" would pull a huge upset, the Hurricanes drove 84 yards to Georgia's 1-yard line. On first and second downs, fullback Bill Sandie was dropped for no gain by the Georgia defense. On third down, an incomplete pass was thrown. Finally, on fourth down, Sandie bulled his way into the end zone for a touchdown. Ed Oliver kicked the PAT and tied the game 7-7 with less than eight minutes remaining.
Georgia's offense, which, as predicted, struggled all day and would do so throughout the season, finally began to mount a drive with the score tied. The Bulldogs moved 39 yards to Miami's 30-yard line before calling on Cooper to attempt a game-winning field goal. Cooper's try was blocked by Bosseler. The injured halfback had returned from the bench and with his block, preserved a tie with the visiting Bulldogs.
PLAYER OF GAME: J.B. Davis was a small halfback from Alabama, weighing just around 150 pounds. However, what he lacked in size, he more than made up with his punt returning skills. In 1956, Davis would return two punts for scores in only six attempts while averaging nearly 30 yards per return. Two weeks following his scoring return against Miami, Davis returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown against his native Alabama and provided the winning margin in a 16-13 victory in Birmingham. Davis, who was named captain of the team the following season, indicated his return against 'Bama was the "greatest thrill of [his] life."
RUNDOWN: Miami would rebound from its upset tie with Georgia and easily win its next five games, including a 20-7 victory over rival Florida (pretty cool vintage video). Although the Hurricanes dropped their season finale against Pittsburgh, they would finish the '56 season with an 8-1-1 record. Miami's #6 final ranking in both major polls would be its highest ranking to end a season until winning its first of five national championships in 1983.
With the help from Davis, the win over Alabama gave Georgia a 3-3-1 record heading into its games against the final "big three." Nevertheless, the Bulldogs would be dismantled by Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech by a combined 83 to zero score. The Bulldogs finished last in the 12-member SEC with a 1-6 conference record--the only time in Coach Wally Butts' 22 years at UGA he would end the year at the very bottom of the SEC.
Part of the Great but Obscure games in Georgia football history... Previous games in series: #4 1940 vs. Georgia Tech, #3 1986 vs. Auburn, #2 1974 vs. Florida, #1 1936 vs. Fordham

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