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November 5, 2009

A Look Back: Dogs vs. Division I-AA

Of the 10 games Georgia has played against FCS/Division I-AA opposition entering Saturday, the Bulldogs have faced Georgia Southern the most, hosting the Eagles on four occasions. (Photo: Ashley Connell of Georgiadogs.com)

The Bulldogs will host the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles this Saturday at Sanford Stadium--the 11th time Georgia has played a Division I-AA or, as it is now considered, FCS foe.

In 1978, the NCAA divided Division I college football teams into subclassifications: I-A, I-AA, and I-AAA. The differences between the subdivisions are based on a number of things, primarily the "sponsorship" and the number of scholarships allotted for each individual football program. Two years ago, Divisions I-A and I-AA were respectively renamed the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) and the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

Leading up to the reclassification more than 30 years ago, the Bulldogs had just played future I-AA opponents--Richmond in 1977 and VMI in 1978; however, these schools, like Georgia, were still considered undividedly "Division I" teams. The Dogs would not face their first I-AA opponent until 1986. More than two decades later, Georgia has faced a full slate of FCS opposition with, as one would expect, tremendous success:
1986: Richmond, Won 28-13
1988: William & Mary, Won 59-24
1991: Western Carolina, Won 48-0
1992: Georgia Southern, Won 34-7
2000: Georgia Southern, Won 29-7
2002: Northwestern State, Won 45-7
2004: Georgia Southern, Won 48-28
2006: Western Kentucky, Won 48-12
2007: Western Carolina, Won 45-16
2008: Georgia Southern, Won 45-21
The 12 current members of the SEC have combined to play 120 games against FCS opponents since the reclassification, recording a 115-4-1 (.963) mark. South Carolina and Ole Miss have played the most games at 17 while Tennessee has faced just one lower-division opponent and that occurred 26 years ago (1983 vs. The Citadel). The Gamecocks have lost two games to I-AA teams but both defeats (1982 vs. Furman, 1990 vs. The Citadel) happened when they were an Independent and not part of the SEC.

Only twice has a team from the SEC suffered defeat to a Division I-AA opponent. In 1992, Arkansas opened its season by losing to The Citadel, 10-3. The loss was the Razorbacks first game as a member of the SEC and would cost Coach Jack Crowe his job... the very next day. Crowe would never coach again in I-A football.

In 2004, the Sly Croom regime at Mississippi State continued its inauspicious start by dropping its third game of the season to I-AA Maine, 9-7. The Black Bears were only playing Mississippi State in the first place because Baylor backed out of a home-and-home series with the Bulldogs. Mississippi State had twice the amount of first downs and nearly double the total yardage; however, it was Maine who stole a victory in Starkville and collected a $350,000 check, to boot.

The other Mississippi team in the conference kissed its sister with a tie against I-AA Arkansas State (moved up to I-A in 1991) in 1986. The Indians, who held Ole Miss to 14 yards rushing and recovered four Rebel fumbles, actually had a chance to win with nine seconds remaining but missed a 47-yard field goal.

In its 10 games against Division I-AA opponents, Georgia never came close to losing but did have a scare or two.

Against Richmond in 1986, the game was tied 7-7 at halftime. In the second half, the Bulldogs and tailback Lars Tate took over and scored 21 straight points. Tate rushed for 131 yards, caught six passes for 60 yards, and scored all four of Georgia's touchdowns, tying a modern-school record.

The 1988 meeting with William & Mary was intriguing, to say the least. Visiting quarterback Craig Argo was a hometown boy from Athens who had attended local Cedar Shoals High School. In addition, William & Mary's record-breaking receiver, Harry Mehre III, was grandson of the late Harry Mehre--Georgia's head coach from 1928-1937. Argo shredded the Bulldogs' secondary, passing for 308 yards and accounting for three touchdowns. However, Georgia's offense was unstoppable, scoring 59 points and gaining 626 total yards, which still remain the fifth-most in school history.

Following a lowly 4-7 mark in 1990, Georgia began "Operation Turnaround" with a 48-0 thumping of I-AA Western Carolina. True freshman quarterback Eric Zeier made his first appearance in a Bulldog uniform, relieving starter Greg Talley during the second quarter. Zeier completed 15 of 22 passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns in the first game of a stellar, award-filled collegiate career. Sixteen years later Georgia hosted the Catamounts for a second time, turning a 3-3 tie early in the second quarter into a 36-point lead late in the game. Matthew Stafford, likely Georgia's greatest quarterback since Zeier, completed 14 of 20 passes, including two touchdowns.

In 1988, Georgia Southern University's athletic director asked his head football coach and former Georgia defensive coordinator Erk Russell to request from Vince Dooley a Georgia-Georgia Southern meeting. Four years later, the game came to fruition. Personally, I remember seeing a GSU student during the spring of 1990, or more than two years before the game, already wearing a Eagles-Bulldogs matchup T-shirt. GSU fans were certainly excited about playing the major football program to their north and they came in droves to Athens in October 1992 to show their support.

I recall taking a friend to the game and, because we had to take the SAT that morning, showing up several minutes late following the opening kickoff. As we were entering at the stadium's floor in the southwest corner, suddenly, the crowd above us went wild. Unable to see the field, I said to my friend, "I bet Garrison Hearst just broke off a long run!" We ran to the hedges, peered over and observed GSU's quarterback sprinting down the south sideline into Georgia's end zone. Much to our dismay, it was Charles Bostick, not Georgia's Hearst, who had broke off the long run while the throng of Eagle fans went berserk.

Southern's 7-0 lead was short-lived as Hearst scored on a 75-yard run the following possession en route to a 173-rushing performance in a 34-7 Bulldog win. From 2000-2008, Georgia hosted the Eagles three additional times, winning all three despite surrendering 152 rushing yards to GSU's Adrian Peterson in 2000, just under 300 team rushing yards in 2004, and allowing an average of nearly 20 points for the three contests.

In February 2002, I-AA Northwestern State was a last-minute replacement on Georgia's '02 schedule when Tulane backed out of an agreement less than eight months prior to the game. Quarterback David Greene (four touchdowns) and Cory Phillips (one) combined to pass for a school-record five touchdowns in a 45-7 Bulldog victory. Only five weeks later, Greene (four) and D.J. Shockley (two) would break the record at Kentucky with six passing touchdowns.

The season opener of 2006 against Western Kentucky (an FBS team as of 2007) witnessed one of the most remarkable and unbelievable moments in Georgia football history. Junior Mikey Henderson had played very seldom in his first two seasons as a Bulldog, had never returned a punt, and was the team's punt returner only because the projected returner, Thomas Flowers, was serving a suspension. Early in the game, Henderson received his first collegiate punt and broke free. Just as he was about to cross the goal line for an apparent 66-yard touchdown return, Henderson extended the ball in premature celebration. The ball fell out of his hand and was regained but Henderson was standing on the end line. The ball was awarded to Western Kentucky as a touchback and there was no touchdown.

Just over a minute later, the Hilltoppers were forced to punt again. Embarrassed but ready for redemption, Henderson, now suffering from an injured hamstring, was set to return his second punt. Miraculously but a suitable aftermath, Henderson's return carried him 67 yards into the end zone. This time, however, Mikey held onto the football tightly as he scored Georgia's first points of the season while tallying his first Bulldog touchdown.

There you have it--10 games against FCS/Division I-AA opponents and 10 reasonably easy victories.

Team statistics (per-game averages) for Georgia's 10 aforementioned games:

There are similarities between Georgia in 2009 and the first team of Bulldogs to take on a Division I-AA foe. Against Richmond 23 years ago, in front of Sanford Stadium's lowest attendance since the previous stadium expansion, the team was booed off the field by some spectators at the half.

Amidst a disappointing season, the 2009 Bulldogs have also caught their fair share of booing and unfortunately will likely hear more before the year is over. In addition, expect to see a record-low number of empty seats this Saturday at Sanford Stadium since its last expansion; Georgia's 4-4 record and the FCS opposition will deter many fans from showing up.

Currently, Coastal Carolina in 2011 and Appalachian State in 2013 are FCS opponents on Georgia's future schedules. As have been the results against FCS opponents in the past, Bulldog victories should occur over Tennessee Tech on Saturday and any other lower-division opposition in the near future. Nevertheless, Georgia should not count on it or celebrate just quite yet. The end result could be the Bulldogs "dropping the ball," just like Arkansas did in 1992, Mississippi State in 2004, and as Mikey Henderson did three years ago.

In addition, this year's Bulldogs have demonstrated to be, at times, displeasing, so almost anything is possible. Just ask mighty Michigan about its game against an FCS squad in 2007.


Deanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deanna said...

Hi Patrick! Just discovered your blog. Good stuff! Thanks!

Patrick Garbin said...

Thanks, Deanna. I appreciate you reading...

Unknown said...

I remember going to that Ga. Southern game. My firts GA game. Awsome.

Georgia Southern UniversityGeorgia Southern University said...

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