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June 29, 2010

25 Years Ago: UGA Versus Its MOST Hated

If the strife between Georgia and Georgia Tech is recognized as clean, old-fashioned hate, the Georgia-Clemson football rivalry, at least from the late 1970s until the late 80s, was simply plain hatred

Although I was rather young, from what I remember during that time period, the Tigers were likely the most hated opponent on the Bulldogs' schedule.  I believe many other Dawg fans from that time, like Kyle King at Dawg Sports, would probably concur.

The 20-13 victory over Clemson in 1985 is especially distinctive for a variety reasons.

First off, the underdog Bulldogs weren't supposed to win the game.  Georgia opened the season by losing to Alabama at home and then was nearly defeated by Baylor in its second contest.  The Bulldogs hadn't won in Death Valley since 1976 and, for the first time in six meetings, faced the Tigers unranked.

Secondly, Georgia surprised onlookers by wearing its red britches for the first time in more than five years.

Coach Dooley debuted the red pants in 1978.  The Bulldogs would sport them for eight consecutive away games, whenever they would wear white jerseys, through the season opener of 1980.  When silver britches were introduced in '80, the red ones were discarded until the '85 clash at Clemson. 

The Tigers were the team that usually altered their uniform for important home games, wearing orange pants (instead of white) along with their orange jerseys.  On this day, however, it was Georgia willing to try, or wear, anything to change its recent misfortune in the Valley.

As evident, the game also featured something you don't see too often in football - an offensive lineman scoring a touchdown.  Besides Along with Bulldog lineman Don Hayes, who scored on a guard-eligible touchdown pass from Kirby Moore against Mississippi State in 1966, and lineman Jon Stinchcomb recovering a fumble for a score against Auburn in 2002, and Nick Jones recovering a fumble for a score doing the same against Georgia Tech in 2003, Peter Anderson's touchdown is one the of only a few times I can think of in the last 50 years a Georgia offensive lineman has scored.  

Nicknamed "Bell Cow" in 1984 by Dooley for his leadership, Anderson would eventually be recognized as a consensus All-American at center following his 1985 season - a senior campaign mostly remembered for his touchdown recovery against the Tigers.

In addition, as the video and Dooley explain, the Bulldogs were still unsettled at quarterback.  Redshirt freshman Wayne Johnson was the starter but sophomore James Jackson was a close second.  Apparently, even true freshman Joey Hester, according to Dooley, could see playing time.

Coach Dooley was known to exaggerate every once in a while.  Incidentally, Hester would redshirt in 1985 and, although he was the team's primary punter from 1987-1989, he would never attempt a single pass as a Bulldog.

For the third time in three games, Johnson started for Georgia under center while Clemson combated with Randy Anderson, who, like Johnson, was a young and large quarterback, standing at around six-foot-five.   

Nevertheless, it was a diminutive Jackson that stood out among all signal callers.  After a couple of possessions, he soon replaced Johnson and rallied the Bulldogs from a 10-3 fourth-quarter deficit.  In the final stanza, Georgia held the ball for more than 11 minutes while outscoring the Tigers 17-3.  The Dawgs finished the game with an impressive 360 yards rushing, 69 of which were gained by Jackson on 12 carries.

For Jackson, the '85 Clemson game was the beginning of a distinguished career at Georgia.  Following the win over the Tigers, he was named the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs, where he remained for 30 of the team's next 33 games.  

Upon his departure following the 1987 season, Jackson had thrown for the fourth-most yards in school history while his 1,359 career rushing yards still rank second all time among Georgia quarterbacks. 

Four weeks later and its first away game since the win over Clemson, Georgia, a 19-point favorite and wearing the red pants again, were tied 13-13 by Vanderbilt in Nashville.  Over the next three years, the Bulldogs would don the red britches only three more times - two losses and one tie - until the pants would be retired in 1988 and have not been seen since.

The Georgia-Clemson football series would soon fizzle out as well.  After meeting every year from 1897-1916 and all but twice from 1962-1987, the Bulldogs and Tigers will have played one another just four times in 25 years when the two meet in 2013.

King, an expert on the Georgia-Clemson encounter, is in the process of finding a publisher for his manuscript - Fighting Like Cats and Dogs - detailing the series.  Once published, it will undoubtedly be a must-read, reminding us older Dawgs while enlightening the newer ones of Georgia's one-time most hated rivalry. 

June 18, 2010

Bulldog Nuggets

Underdogs against Arkansas last season, the Bulldogs would win the game by 11 points.  Georgia's covering of the spread by nearly two touchdowns could easily be repeated (in my opinion) against the Hogs in 2010.

The Golden Nugget Casino recently released its 200 "College Games of the Year" for the upcoming season.  Five of Georgia's 12 games are featured:

GEORGIA  -3  Arkansas
GEORGIA  -7  Tennessee
GEORGIA  +6  Florida
GEORGIA  +3  Auburn
GEORGIA  -4  Georgia Tech

These early lines help support my notion that if the Bulldogs were to play any of their games tomorrow, I believe Vegas would consider them underdogs against only two opponents - Florida and Auburn.  At South Carolina is going to be nearly a toss-up but I'd be willing to bet Georgia will be a slight favorite. 

Last season, the Golden Nugget's GOYs featured seven Bulldog games (Georgia's actual closing line is in parenthesis following each opponent):

GEORGIA  +3  Oklahoma State (+5')
GEORGIA  -2'  Arkansas (+2')
GEORGIA  -14  Arizona State (-12)
GEORGIA  -4  LSU (-3')
GEORGIA  -3'  Tennessee (+1')
GEORGIA  +16  Florida (+14')
GEORGIA  -10'  Auburn (-4)
GEORGIA  +1  Georgia Tech (+7')

The average difference between the Golden Nugget's early line compared to the actual line at kickoff was just a little more than four points.  That's not much of a difference considering the Bulldogs weren't near the team in November they were presumed to be entering the season. 

Based on the aforementioned five early lines for 2010, I've identified my Bulldog Best Bet and another game I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole:

GEORGIA -3 Arkansas: Factored very little, if at all, in this game being played in Athens is that Arkansas was a much, much better team at home last season than on the road.  While the Hogs averaged 126 more yards per game than their opponent at home, they averaged 91 yards less in away and neutral-sited games.  Quarterback Ryan Mallett's numbers last year were remarkable overall (seventh-best passing rating in nation); however, in games on the road at Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss, and LSU, Mallett completed just 39 percent of his passes.

Although Georgia was only 18-26-2 against the spread during the 2006-2009 regular seasons (second worst in SEC, tied for 10th worst in nation), the Bulldogs played extremely well in their games immediately following South Carolina, covering each of the three lined games (2006- UAB, 2008- Arizona State, 2009- Arkansas) by an average of 13.5 points. 

An already tested Georgia team, who will have been toughened the week before in Columbia, will have the tremendous advantage of welcoming the Hogs to Sanford Stadium.  A three-point spread should be more like seven.

GEORGIA +6 Florida: Not only does Georgia have a dismal 3-17 record against Florida since 1990 but the Bulldogs have also struggled against the number, covering just six of the 20 contests.  The 2010 Gators may be the most difficult to figure in the SEC during the preseason; they might run the table, or they could lose as many as four games, who knows?  Considering this uncertainty, Georgia's two decades of misfortune in Jacksonville, plus a spread of less than seven points, and I would stay far, far away from this game.

Starting tomorrow, I'll be on vacation for the next week.  Soon after I get back and for the two months leading up to the start of the season,  I'll be posting more old videos, providing a historical perspective, and plenty of outlooks and previews regarding the 2010 Dawgs.

June 15, 2010

When the Georgia Dogs Were Guinea Pigs

When we had our SEC meeting in Biloxi, Mississippi, in May, Tennessee didn't mention anything about the possibility of putting in this [turf].
- Coach Vince Dooley in July 1968

If it wasn’t bad enough that Georgia had to open its 1968 season at Tennessee – the SEC champions and number two-ranked team from the year before – the host team would have a home-field advantage quite like no other.

During that summer, the University of Tennessee had suddenly and almost secretly removed its natural grass from Neyland Stadium and became only the second college football team in the country to install artificial turf. The specific type of surface – Tartan Turf – had never been used before by any athletic team.

The Bulldogs would serve as so-called “guinea pigs” for perhaps “one of the biggest experiments in the history of Southeastern Conference football.” Georgia officials weren’t necessarily upset over the installation of the controversial turf but outraged of Tennessee’s handling of the situation.

Evidently, Tennessee made advanced plans to put in the Tartan Turf but, at first, didn’t tell anyone about it, especially the Volunteers’ opponent in the season opener. No mention was made at the summer SEC meetings. Only a telegram was sent to the rest of the nine conference members just a couple of days prior to a late meeting by Tennessee’s athletic board.

Tennessee officials were quoted as saying Georgia was the only member of the conference to object to the installation. That was not true, according to Coach Vince Dooley and Athletic Director Joel Eaves.

“We found that at least two other schools objected and wanted Tennessee to wait [a year to install the artificial grass],” said Dooley. “We want the University of Tennessee to know that we do not like the way they went about their dealings with us on the matter, and it certainly makes the relationship between the two schools very poor.”

Alas, the Bulldogs’ paws were tied. Tickets had already been sold and a commitment to play before a national television audience had been made, so Georgia decided to honor its September 14th meeting in Knoxville. While the Volunteers had nearly a month to prepare and practice on the newly-installed turf, the Bulldogs had only a single day – the traditional light workout the day before the game.

Announced by ABC-TV’s Chris Schenkel and coaching legend Bud Wilkinson, the game coverage featured not only Georgia’s renowned mascot “U-G-A Number Two,” but an appearance by Lester McClain, who like the Tartan Turf, was nearly a controversy himself.

McClain, according to Schenkel, was “the first negro football player to be on a varsity team in the Southeastern Conference.” Actually, Kentucky’s Nat Worthington had played the year before, becoming the first African American football player in the conference, but McClain would be the first to earn a varsity letter.

The video above is from only the game’s first half; two quarters featuring an ineffective and error-prone Bulldog offense. Whether it was the new playing surface or opening-game jitters, Georgia lost four fumbles in the first half alone but trailed only 7-0 at halftime.

On the contrary, the second half was filled with much excitement, including two Georgia touchdowns covering 80 yards or more (I’ll post video from the second half in the near future), finishing with yet another controversy that enabled the Volunteers to tie the game.

The meeting between Georgia and Tennessee in 1968 began with a controversial installation of artificial turf and would later end with arguably the biggest disputed play in the history of UGA football.

June 10, 2010

The Bulldogs' Hogs

If it's true that an offense is only as good as its offensive line and games are won and lost in the trenches, Georgia should be in very good shape when it begins its 2010 season in less than three months.

First, consider that the Bulldogs apparently had, statistically, one of the better offensive lines in the SEC a year ago.

I've blogged before about the Defensive Hog Index. The guys at The Cold Hard Football Facts have also formulated an Offensive Hog Index, which is the same as the defensive index but calculated instead for a team's, well, offense.

I've tweaked their Offensive Hog Index calculation a bit, removing sacks from rushing statistics, adding the number of sacks to pass attempts for a total number of passing plays, and considering fourth-down conversions along with third-down conversions.

Last season, Georgia averaged 5.03 yards per rush (7th in SEC), 8.1% of its passing plays resulted in a sack or interception (5th), and had a 40.88% success rate (5th) on third and fourth down combined. The Bulldogs’ 5.7 average ranking was tied for fourth best in the conference:

1. Florida (3.0)
2. Alabama (3.3)
3. Auburn (4.3)
4. Georgia (5.7)
Kentucky (5.7)
Tennessee (5.7)
7. Ole Miss (6.3)
8. Arkansas (6.7)
9. Miss. State (8.0)
10. Vanderbilt (9.0)
11. South Carolina (9.7)
12. LSU (10.7)

Tied for fourth out of 12 teams is rather respectable, especially considering Georgia’s running game, or lack thereof, and insufficient line play the first six to eight games of 2009. There is a tremendous difference in the three aforementioned statistics that constitute the Offensive Hog Index when the Bulldogs’ first eight games of last season are compared to their final five:

Games 1-8:    4.07 YPA    8.87 NPP%    39.13% 3&4down
Games 9-13:  6.14 YPA    6.36 NPP%    43.94% 3&4down

It is apparent the offensive line finally gelled by early November and the result was an efficient and potent Bulldog rushing attack.

Secondly, consider Georgia returns seven offensive linemen in 2010, who have each made at least 10 starts in their careers, totaling an extraordinary 155 total starts:

37- Chris Davis, C/G
36- Clint Boling, RT/LT
23- Cordy Glenn, LG/LT
23- Ben Jones, C
14- Trinton Sturdivant, LT
12- *Justin Anderson, RG
10- Josh Davis, RT
*Anderson has been switched to defense for 2010.

In addition, the Bulldogs return four tight ends who’ve started at least one game, totaling 20 career starts; two of which – Orson Charles and Aron White – are considered among the SEC’s, if not the nation’s, best at their position.

The 155 starts along the offensive line easily ranks first in the conference:

1. Georgia (155)
2. Auburn (111)
3. Florida (87)
4. Miss. State (85)
5. Arkansas (77)
6. South Carolina (72)
7. LSU (52)
8. Alabama (46)
9. Kentucky (31)
10. Ole Miss (22)
11. Vanderbilt (20)
12. Tennessee (13)

In fact, 155 ranks first among all 120 FBS teams, ahead of Florida State (146), Utah State (126), Minnesota (114), North Texas (113), and Auburn (111), rounding out the top six. That many returning starts at offensive line, arguably, the most important unit in football, should bring assurance, if not certainty, regarding Georgia’s offense.

Or so it seems.

Last season, the Bulldogs returned 99 career starts along their offensive line, ranking first in the SEC and tied for 10th in the FBS. However, and as mentioned, the line struggled the first half of the season as Georgia surprisingly averaged just 3.39 yards per rush and less than 100 rushing yards per the first six games of the year.

Nevertheless, the Bulldogs’ offensive line, as was the case with the entire team, was an improved and different group by the end of the 2009 campaign. If Georgia can ride that momentum into the upcoming season and take advantage of perhaps the best offensive line and tight end units in college football, offensive and overall success will likely be certainties for 2010.

One thing is for sure: there can be no slow start offensively like a year ago. The Bulldogs must run a gauntlet of formidable opposition – at South Carolina, Arkansas, and at Mississippi State – to close the month of September after opening with Louisiana Lafayette.

An unfortunately slow start for Georgia’s offensive line and running game would probably translate to a disappointing 2-2 record heading into October.

This blog entry can also be found linked from Phil Steele's Georgia team page.

June 7, 2010

THE Game

I still can't get over these people going wild.  The whole town is about crazy.
- Georgia tailback Hal Bissell, several days prior to the 1971 Georgia-Auburn game

Ask some older Dawg fans about the 1971 Georgia-Auburn game - "The Game" according to Tigers play-by-play radio man, Gary Sanders - and they remember it for the atmosphere more so than the contest itself (and especially the outcome).

According to many, it remains the most highly anticipated and hyped Georgia football game in Athens in recent memory, encompassed by an immeasurable pre-game party.  Perhaps only the 1976 Alabama game was bigger.    

In front of 62,891 spectators at Sanford Stadium, the largest crowd ever to see a sporting event in the state at that time, the Bulldogs were down 14-0 early but rallied and trailed only 21-20 with 11:46 remaining in the game.  Nonetheless, Auburn added two fourth-quarter touchdowns for a 15-point victory.

The Bulldogs rushed for 311 yards (passing for just 18), led by sophomore quarterback Andy Johnson's 163 on 23 carries.  Tailback Jimmy Poulos added 83 yards on 21 rushes.

Georgia entered the game with arguably the best defense in the nation, yielding only 212 yards and 5.9 points per game.  Against the Tigers and their star quarterback Pat Sullivan, the Bulldogs surrendered 367 and 35, respectively.

Georgia's efforts on pass defense against Sullivan were futile, similarly to Auburn's attempt to give "Shug" Jordan a victory ride following the game.  Sullivan likely clinched the Heisman Trophy that day, completing 14 of 24 passes for 248 yards and four touchdowns.  His favorite target, Terry Beasley, caught four passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns.

As they prepared to board the game bus trip back to McWhorter Hall, the disheartened Bulldogs, realizing that their chance for an undefeated season had ended, moped around their locker room.

Perhaps the only assured individual in the room, defensive coordinator Erk Russell, suddenly boomed, "Hold your head up, men!" 

The Bulldogs responded, winning their final two games against Georgia Tech and North Carolina (Gator Bowl) by four points each to finish with an 11-1 record and number-seven ranking. 

Auburn, on the other hand, lost its last two contests, ending the Tigers' 1971 campaign with a 9-2 mark and ranked below Georgia at 12th.  

June 3, 2010

Murray Should Have Opportunity for Rare Feat

There has been some discussion concerning Aaron Murray - a quarterback who has yet to take a collegiate snap - facing South Carolina on the road in Georgia's second game of the upcoming season.  If the young quarterback and the Bulldogs can escape Columbia with a victory, it is assumed, Georgia and Murray could very well be on their way to a successful year. 
I immediately think of Quincy Carter in 1998.  Entering the season, he had yet to play on the college level and, in his first true "test" of the season, faced South Carolina on the road.  Carter and Georgia (primarily its defense) had seemingly no problem handling the Gamecocks that night and the Bulldogs went on to a respectable 9-3 campaign. 

With Murray in mind and including Carter, I went back in recent Bulldogs history and discovered the occasions when a new quarterback, who would start the season opener after never having taken a snap at Georgia, faced his first true test of the year.  

As will probably be the case of Georgia's 2010 meeting with South Carolina, a first "test" isn't necessarily always the first game of the year but (as defined by me) the first contest where the Bulldogs were the underdog or favored by less than 10 points, whether playing at home or on the road.  I started with 1973 - the first season college football point spreads are readily available.  

After starting and performing well in Georgia's season-opening game of 1974 against lowly Oregon State, sophomore Dicky Clark struggled in his first test as a Bulldog against Mississippi State at night in Jackson, MS.  Georgia, four-point favorites, were soundly defeated 38-14 in the team's worst conference loss in more than 10 years.  Clark was 3-of-5 passing for 66 yards and rushed for a touchdown; however, he was constantly pressured, getting sacked several times, fumbling once and throwing an interception. 

Along with fellow sophomore quarterback Matt Robinson, Clark's performance incited a teammate following the loss to declare, "our quarterbacks looked like s--t."  Not only was the game Clark's last start at quarterback but he would never throw another pass at Georgia, playing sparingly under center for the rest of the season in favor of Robinson and another sophomore, Ray Goff.  In the off-season, Clark was moved to defensive end, where he would eventually earn All-SEC honors as a senior in 1976. 

Like Dicky Clark just three years earlier, sophomore Jeff Pyburn, never having taken a varsity snap from center, started a season at quarterback for the Bulldogs against a substandard team from Oregon.  And, like Clark, Pyburn played well in victory (a 27-16 win over Oregon) before losing the next week to a quality opponent.

Pyburn and the Bulldogs entered their second contest of 1977 versus Clemson as 9.5-point favorites and having not lost to the Tigers in Athens in 17 consecutive games and since 1914.  In Georgia's 7-6 loss, Pyburn passed for only 69 yards, threw two interceptions, lost a fumble, and was stopped for no gain on 4th down and short from the Tigers' 13-yard line.  He did pass for the Bulldogs' only score with just seconds remaining but then threw incomplete on a two-point conversion attempt for the win. 

By default, redshirt freshman Wayne Johnson started the 1985 season opener against Alabama when Georgia's top three quarterbacks were all injured.  The Bulldogs - 1.5-point underdogs at home - trailed 13-3 when Johnson, who had been benched earlier in the game for an injured James Jackson, was reinserted and rallied the team in the fourth quarter. 

In one of Georgia's most heartbreaking losses in recent memory, the Bulldogs took a 16-13 late lead only to allow Alabama's Bell to toll.  In defeat, Johnson completed 8 of 13 passes for 82 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.  He would start Georgia's next two games - victories over Baylor and Clemson - only to be benched again for Jackson.  

Following a blowout win over Kent to begin the 1998 season, Georgia and relatively unproven Quincy Carter took on South Carolina at night and on the road as 5.5-point favorites.  Carter completed only half of his 18 passes for 133 yards, no touchdowns, and was intercepted once.  However, the freshman quarterback rushed for both of the game's only touchdowns while gaining 53 yards on 12 carries in a 17-3 win.

More impressive than Carter, was Georgia's defense, which held the Gamecocks to only 132 yards of total offense. 

After an easy win over Arkansas State, Georgia hosted South Carolina as two-point underdogs.  Since 1996, it remains one of only three games the Bulldogs have been underdogs at Sanford Stadium.

Georgia's could muster only three field goals in a 14-9 loss to the Gamecocks.  In his brilliant four-year career, David Greene, a redshirt freshman at the time, had one of his worst performances as a Bulldog, completing 21 of 33 passes for just 169 yards, and throwing one interception.  Greene would bounce back and, like Carter three seasons before, would later be recognized as the conference's freshman of the year.
What do the aforementioned first true tests for Bulldog quarterbacks have in common?

Four of the five games were Georgia losses.  And the one victory versus South Carolina in '98 was against a team that would eventually finish its season with a 1-10 record.  The four setbacks were against good teams; teams that would win a combined 75 percent of its games, all go to bowls, and finish their seasons with an average ranking of nearly 15th in the AP Poll. 

South Carolina should be pretty good this season.  Maybe not good enough to win three-fourths of its games or finish 2010 ranked, but a more than decent team, who likely won't just hand a victory to the Bulldogs when they venture into Williams-Brice Stadium on September 11th. 

If Murray starts against the Gamecocks (barring injury, he most likely will), he'll definitely have his work cut out for him in Columbia.  With a win, he'll join Quincy Carter as the only two Georgia quarterbacks in the last 38 seasons with no experience entering the year, who were victorious in their initial true test.

In addition, in victory, Murray will become the first, inexperienced Bulldog quarterback since 1973, who guided his team to a win versus a worthy opponent.