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September 24, 2010

Starkpatch's 'Gimme A Break' of '82

Get the picture now...In front of a soldout Scott Field packed with 33,158 spectators (yes, I said "soldout" and "33,158" in the same breath), Georgia leads Mississippi State 29-22 in 1982 with just over three minutes remaining in the game. 

The Bulldogs from Athens had the ball around midfield before quarterback John Lastinger lost a fumble recovered by Starkville's Bulldogs.  Now, Miss. State's wishbone offense is on the move and knocking on the door.

We're needing a play of some kind, a break of some kind...

After decades of annually being at or towards the bottom of the SEC, Miss. State football finally became relevant with the start of the 1980s.

Head coach Emory Bellard arrived in Starkville in 1979 and instantly installed the wishbone offense, which he invented in 1968 for his first year as offensive coordinator at Texas (interestingly, after being the Longhorns' linebackers coach the season before). 

It took Bellard's Bulldogs only one year to be a major player in the conference.  In 1980 and 1981, Miss. State won more combined games (17) than it had since 1939-1940 while making consecutive bowl trips for the first time ever.  In 1982, MSU was at it again, ranked 18th in the UPI Poll with a 3-1 record entering its game with the SEC's other Bulldogs.  

The highly-anticipated Bulldawgs-Bulldogs matchup of '82 was, among other things, a game of firsts (or firsts in a long while). 

Georgia was playing in Starkville for only the second time in history.  For years most of Miss. State's "big" home games were held in Jackson, MS.  Georgia had played MSU in Jackson on three occasions - 1966, 1970, 1974 - since its lone appearance in Starkville in 1951.

In addition, the '82 contest was televised by CBS, making it the first televised football game, nationally or regionally, EVER in Starkville. 

It was also thought to be the first time in SEC history high school teammates faced off as opposing quarterbacks in a conference game.  Junior quarterbacks John Lastinger of Georgia and MSU's John Bond had both gone to Valdosta High School and played on the Wildcats' Georgia state championship team of 1978; Lastinger was the starting signal caller, Bond his backup.

At Georgia, Lastinger played on the JV team as a freshman in 1979, was redshirted the next season, and backed up another Valdosta native at quarterback - Buck Belue - in 1981.  Finally in 1982, it was the Bulldogs' offense for Lastinger to run. 

Bond, whose father John Sr., had been a standout halfback at Georgia during the mid-1930s, had chosen to go to Miss. State in 1980 because he wanted to immediately see significant playing time. And play Bond did, starting at quarterback for MSU all four of his years (1980-1983) while running the wishbone.

Bellard's wishbone was fairly foreign to Georgia.  When the Bulldogs hosted Auburn in 1981, it marked the first time since playing Alabama in the mid-1970s Georgia had faced the unconventional offensive formation.  The Bulldogs allowed Auburn's running attack to ground out nearly 300 yards; nevertheless, Georgia won the ballgame 24-13 in clinching Coach Dooley's fifth SEC title.

Against MSU a season later, the sixth-ranked and 3-0 Bulldogs once again were victims of the wishbone, yielding 260 yards on the ground.  However, Georgia had a potent rushing attack itself in the form of Herschel Walker.  On 39 carries, Walker rushed for 215 yards - his first 200-yard rushing performance of the four-game season and seventh of Herschel's collegiate career.  

As he had so many times before, Walker carried the Georgia offense, but it was the Bulldogs' opportune, bend-but-don't-break defense which allowed Georgia to escape from Starkville with the seven-point victory.

Anyone remember many of those Erk Russell and early Bill Lewis defenses at Georgia?

The opponent would seemingly go up and down the field between the 20-yard lines all afternoon.  Regardless, once it came knocking at the door, the Bulldogs would often rise up and make a play, keeping the opponent out of the end zone.

John Bond found this out on his game-deciding miscue.  Occurring after a mix up on a handoff, the quarterback's unforced bobble popped up in the air, hit Georgia safety Jeff Sanchez in the shoulder pad, bounced off linebacker Tommy Thurson's facemask, then out of Thurson's grasp, and finally into the hands of defensive guard Kevin "Catfish" Jackson for the critical fumble recovery.

Talk about Georgia getting, as the legendary Larry Munson would say, "a break of some kind"...something recent Bulldog football teams have had a difficult time catching, or forcing.


Anonymous said...

Patrick--it's great to see this video and read your "historic" piece. After last nights beatdown in Starkpatch, all I see on the blogs and sites are depressing posts, which are probably warranted. But it's good to see a blog with a different perspective, that offers something other than what's going on 'in the now.' Thanks for taking me back to a better time of UGA football... Go You Silver Britches!

Anonymous said...

I was at that game and both offenses put on a show, especially Herschel for Georgia and John Bond and Michael Haddux worked the option to perfection for MSU. If not for the unforced fumble by Bond at the end of the game, I feel quite certain 29-29 would have been the final score which would have been fitting, considering both teams fought on very even terms the entire day. A truly great college football game on a beautiful day!