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December 30, 2011

Far, Far from Special

The Honey Badger's punt return for a score in the SECC
was one of eight touchdowns via returns allowed by the
Bulldogs this season - a school record you won't find
proudly listed in the Bulldog record book. 
It's certainly nothing new to declare that Georgia's special teams unit, on the whole, has been quite a disappointment this season.  Forecasted in the preseason by college football guru Phil Steele as having the best special teams in the nation, the Bulldogs, as recently mentioned by Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, currently rank in the bottom of the SEC in nearly every special teams category.   

Particularly, the amount of yardage Georgia has allowed per kickoff and punt return, its number of missed field goals, and total touchdowns yielded via return is each down-right distressing, especially historically speaking.

Two months ago, I posted how statistically the Bulldogs' defense was on pace to be one of the better defenses in Georgia football history.  Well, the exact opposite can be said for the same squad concerning the following aspects of its special teams unit:

AVERAGE YARDS ALLOWED PER KICKOFF RETURN (23.5): The 23.5 yards allowed per kickoff return this season is the 9th highest of any Georgia football team in 63 seasons of obtainable data (1949 through 2011).  Notably, the 1962 Bulldogs yielded a historical-high 28.9 yards, and just two years ago in 2009 (Remember that dreadful kickoff-coverage unit?), Georgia allowed 25.7 yards.  Historically, the Bulldogs have yielded a total average of 20.2 yards per the nearly 2,500 kickoff returns by opponents since 1949.  In addition, the 120 FBS teams have combined to average 21.7 yards thus far this season.      

AVERAGE YARDS ALLOWED PER PUNT RETURN (16.1): For the 2011 season, FBS teams have averaged 8.8 yards per punt return.  Since 1949, Georgia historically has yielded a similar average of 8.5 yards per return.  However, the 2011 Bulldogs are allowing a whopping 16.1 yards per punt return, or the 2nd-highest amount in school history, only behind the 18.4 average given up almost 60 years ago in 1953.

MISSED FIELD GOALS (13): The 13 combined missed field goals this season by Blair Walsh (12) and Brandon Bogotay (1) are tied for the most of any Georgia football team in 52 seasons of obtainable data (1960 through 2011).  The 1969 Bulldogs also missed 13 field goals; however, with all fairness to Jim McCullough (10) and Mike Cavan (3), their misses resulted during a time when your average major-college kicker was successful on just approximately 48 percent of his field-goal attempts. 

Since 1960, Georgia has averaged just 6.4 missed field goals per season.  Also, of the 100 FBS kickers who've made at least seven field goals this year, including Walsh, they've combined to make 74 percent of their field-goal tries while missing an average of less than five attempts for the season.  As indicated, Walsh has missed a staggering 12 attempts thus far while making only 61 percent of his field-goal tries.

TOUCHDOWNS ALLOWED VIA RETURN (8): This is likely the most startling of the four failed facets, and yes, I do realize it doesn't only concern Georgia's special teams, but whether by kickoff (2), punt (2), interception (3), or fumble (1), the Bulldogs have allowed 8 returns for touchdowns this season.  This figure is especially astounding since Georgia allowed NO returns for scores a year ago, and over the last 34 seasons (1978 through 2011), has yielded an annual average of just 1.6 returns for touchdowns.  The eight returns allowed for touchdowns is historically the most at Georgia with the five allowed by the 1994 Bulldogs coming in at a distant second. 

So, there you have it - four critical aspects of special teams play, where the 2011 Bulldogs rank as the 9th-worst (of 63), the next to worst, tied for the worst, and the worst in school history.  Similar results for two of the categories could perhaps be acknowledged as having little to no association and insignificant, but for FOUR?!? 

There lies a problem where something is undoubtedly amiss.  The solution? 

Do the Bulldogs need to hire an assistant responsible for only the special teams or, at least, should a number of high-quality players, even if they're already an offensive or defensive starter, play on kickoff and/or punt coverage as well?  Personally, I'm in favor of both, especially when the issue with Georgia's special teams, according to Alec Ogletree, is "guys kind of doing their own thing, not doing it the right way."

In Weiszer's article, Coach Richt mentioned that there will be more focus and a "high sense of urgency" on special teams come this spring, although it sure would be nice if some sort of solution came a little sooner, like by January 2nd.  This season, Michigan State has averaged 24.3 yards per kickoff return (15th in the FBS), 11.2 yards per punt return (25th), and has scored SIX touchdowns via return.

Because of poor kickoff and punt coverage, missed field goals, and/or allowing touchdowns on returns,  Georgia has already endured one loss this season (South Carolina) it otherwise would have won, while coming close to defeat on other occasions.  Simply put, let's hope there is some sort of urgency in not  giving away another ballgame to the opposition, beginning not this spring, but three days from now in Tampa. 

December 24, 2011

No Fun in the '69 Sun

Georgia's offense had a hard time moving the football,
and holding onto it, against Nebraska's "Blackshirts"
defense in the 1969 Sun Bowl.
I normally wouldn't post video footage from a 39-point Bulldog defeat, but I came across the 1969 Sun Bowl loss to Nebraska and felt the sheer fact the game is more than 40 years old made it somewhat intriguing.  Plus, the circumstances surrounding Georgia in its acceptance of the bowl bid, and how things have changed drastically since then regarding bowl invites, made for my opinion of a somewhat interesting subject (despite the second-worst setback for the Bulldogs over the last half-century).

The video below is of black and white coaches film while the audio is from Nebraska's KFAB Radio.  Except for a play here and there and clips from Georgia's lone touchdown drive, there were very few highlights, as one would imagine, from the Bulldogs' 45-6 blowout loss. 

Regarding the 1969 Georgia football team, Coach Vince Dooley would later say never had he ever witnessed a group which started so strongly struggle so mightily down the stretch.  Coming off an undefeated regular season and an SEC championship the year before, the Bulldogs opened the '69 campaign preseason ranked 8th in the nation.  After a 3-0 start, Georgia was defeated by an Archie Manning-led Ole Miss squad in Jackson, MS, but the Bulldogs responded with back-to-back wins and were sitting pretty with a 5-1 record and a No. 11 ranking entering their final four games of the regular season.

To start the month of November, Georgia could manage just a field goal in a 17-3 loss to Tennessee in Athens.  Next, the Bulldogs and the Gators battled it out in Jacksonville to what would be the last of only two ties in the rivalry's history (and come this summer, yes, you can read all about Georgia's infamous 1969 "Fifth Down" game against Florida).  The following week, the non-winning streak increased to three games with a 16-3 loss to Auburn at Sanford Stadium.  Suddenly, what once appeared to be a promising season was turning into one that was seemingly forgettable.

Yet, on November 16th - the day after Georgia's record dropped to 5-3-1 and the first day bowl bids could be extended - the Bulldogs were surprisingly invited to El Paso's prestigious Sun Bowl.  Georgia had figured that if it was going to any bowl game that year, it would be to Atlanta's second annual Peach Bowl.  In fact, following the Auburn loss, defensive coordinator Erk Russell gathered 15 seniors to vote on whether to accept an invitation if the Peach Bowl came calling.  Only about half of the voters accepted the expected invite from the Peach.  But when the Sun Bowl, which did not even scout the Bulldogs during the year, called upon Georgia, the vote was unanimous to take the trip out to El Paso for the December 20th bowl.

Based on stories they had heard from the Bulldogs' Sun Bowl trip five years before - Dooley's first team of 1964 - the players were absolutely thrilled to be playing their postseason in El Paso.  Georgia assumed it would win its regular-season finale against a Georgia Tech team that had lost six of its previous seven games.  With an expected and respectable 6-3-1 record, the Bulldogs would then play (again, in what they assumed) a winnable Sun Bowl against the winner of the upcoming Colorado (6-3) and Kansas State (5-4) game or versus WAC member Arizona State.

But you know what they say about assuming...

Dooley would say at the end of his coaching career that accepting the Sun Bowl invitation in 1969 may have been his "worst mistake" while at Georgia and had he known that Nebraska would be their opponent, the Bulldogs might have stayed home.

According to Dooley, back in those days when bowl invitations were extended prior to the end of the regular season and often with two, or even three games remaining on a team's schedule, you accepted a postseason invite as early as possible.  Take LSU, for example, in that very same season.  In 1969, the Tigers were SEC champions, finished with a 9-1 record and ranked 8th in the nation.  The Sugar Bowl had extended a bid but LSU turned it down; the Tigers did not want to appear in a bowl game so close to home and desired a legitimate shot to play for a national title.  By the time all the bowl invites had been given out, LSU was left empty handed and stayed home for the holidays with no bowl at all.

The Tigers, not the Bulldogs, probably should have been the SEC's representative to take on mighty Nebraska (the Cornhuskers and LSU would actually meet the following year in the 1971 Orange Bowl).  Nebraska was the Big Eight champion, ranked 14th in the country, and entered with an 8-2 record, where its two losses were to 5th-ranked Southern Cal and No. 7 Missouri. 

This '69 Cornhusker squad, which was unusually both massive in size and quick, would follow up its season performance with back-to-back national championships in 1970 and 1971.  Head coach Bob Devaney once indicated that Nebraska in 1969, by the end of its season, was actually a better team than his '71 Cornhuskers, which ended their year with a 38-6 win over Alabama in the Orange Bowl and a perfect 13-0 record.  Also, the 1971 Nebraska team years later would be recognized by The Sporting News as the greatest college football team of all time.

Georgia, on the other hand, would wind up being upset by Georgia Tech 6-0 and entered the Sun Bowl with a disappointing 5-4-1 record.  Down the stretch, injuries had dismantled the Bulldogs' offense, and was the primary reason the team averaged only 4.8 points per game in its final four contests of the regular season.  Georgia had lost senior end Dennis Hughes, at the time, the school's all-time career leading receiver and Dooley's opinion of the team's best player.  In addition, out for the bowl game were two of the Bulldogs' top three rushers - Bruce Kemp and Craig Elrod - and most detrimental, standout starting quarterback Mike Cavan was out with the flu.

Thus, the 1969 Sun Bowl mismatched, if you will, a Georgia team, which had not won a game in nearly two months and missing all of its primary offensive weapons, versus a Nebraska squad who, according to its head coach, was playing  better than arguably the greatest college football team in history.  Prior to the game, a major newspaper suggested the Bulldogs "bow out" of the bowl, and you can probably see why.  Still, the so-called "experts" out in Vegas figured Georgia as only a one-touchdown underdog.

Filling in for the ill Cavan against Nebraska was Paul Gilbert, who entered the game having thrown six interceptions in just 33 career pass attempts as a Bulldog.  Gilbert wouldn't fare much better in front of nearly 32,000 spectators at the Sun Bowl and a CBS national audience, completing just 10 of 30 passes for 116 yards and was intercepted five times.  The junior quarterback did score Georgia's lone touchdown on a 6-yard run late in the game.

Despite a gusty wind, Nebraska placekicker and game MVP Paul Rogers made four field goals - ALL four resulting in the first quarter.  But the Cornhuskers biggest benefit was Georgia's inability to hold onto the football; the Bulldogs lost two fumbles and threw six interceptions compared to Nebraska's two total turnovers. 

"We should have been home by the fire watching Nebraska whip up on somebody else," Dooley would later say.  "What a miserable afternoon."

December 13, 2011

An Outback Comeback

In the 2000 Outback Bowl, freshman
Terrence Edwards' 74-yard touchdown
run began a furious rally by the Bulldogs.
Leading up to Georgia's Outback Bowl appearance, I'll post some historical pieces on the Bulldogs' postseason past.  The first was a bowl from not too long ago which some of you may remember well, if you happened to stumble out of bed in time to catch the game.

Only hours after we celebrated the dawning of a new millennium, Georgia kicked off at 11:07 AM in Tampa against Purdue in the 2000 Outback Bowl.  The game billed itself as the first major sporting event of the millennium as it reportedly started four minutes and 50 seconds earlier than that year's Cotton Bowl.  That fact is great and all, but if you were like me, I didn't care much for a morning football game on a January 1st.

Undoubtedly, the Dawgs must have also had a late night on New Year's Eve and appeared to be asleep in the first half as the Boilermakers raced out to a 25-0 second-quarter lead.  Behind the arm of quarterback Drew Brees, Purdue scored four touchdowns on its first five possessions.  Georgia, on the other hand, could hardly muster any offense with sophomore Quincy Carter directing the team.

However, during what appeared to be an easy blowout win for Purdue, the Bulldogs actually caught some critical breaks.  After the Boilermakers' second touchdown, placekicker Travis Dorsch missed the PAT.  This caused head coach Joe Tiller to elect to go for the two-point conversion following the third touchdown, which Purdue missed.  After the fourth touchdown, the Boilermakers went for the two points a second time and again a Brees pass fell incomplete.  At the time, the missed opportunity for three extra points seemed insignificant, but would later prove costly.

I just noticed that this entire game is being aired on ESPN Classic today at 1:00 PM. Check it out to witness Georgia's memorable comeback in its entirety.  Of course, you might want to wait until midway through the second quarter when the Bulldogs finally awoke from their stupor.

I was looking over Georgia's defense of 1999 and checkout these standouts: 

Orantes Grant, Tyrone Robertson, Jamie Henderson, Kendrell Bell, Marcus Stroud, Demetric Evans, Richard Seymour, Tim Wansley, Terreal Bierria, Josh Mallard, Charles Grant, Will Witherspoon, and Boss Bailey - all major contributors that season and all would eventually play in the NFL. 

Yet, this group of defenders, statistically, is one of the worst in Georgia football history.  In 1999, the Bulldogs ranked last in the SEC in total defense (382.6) and pass defense (278.1) and next-to-last in scoring defense (25.9).

Many blame the Bulldogs' defensive woes of '99 on Kevin Ramsey.  Remember him?  He was Tennessee's much-acclaimed secondary coach, who left the Vols following their national championship season of 1998 to become Georgia's defensive coordinator.  Ramsey's hire by Coach Jim Donnan demoted former-DC Joe Kines (the best bowl coaching clip of all time) to "Assistant Head Coach."

After the defense's performance in 1999, it was Ramsey who Donnan tried to demote to secondary coach.  And as you're likely aware, legend has it Donnan's decision would eventually cost the head coach a punch in the face during a confrontation with Ramsey.  Needless to say, the 2000 Outback Bowl was Ramsey's final game as a Bulldog, and as of this season, his last game as a defensive coordinator in college football.

Be that as it may, Ramsey's troops showed their potential the final two-and-a-half quarters against the Boilermakers, holding a team that entered ranked 8th in the nation in total offense scoreless in its final eight possessions of the game.  Meanwhile, the Bulldog offense woke up, scoring three unanswered touchdowns and two field goals en route to a 28-25 comeback win.  It remains the largest deficit in history that Georgia has rallied for a victory in a football game.  

Albeit in defeat, Brees was named the bowl's MVP, passing for 378 yards and four touchdowns on 36 of 60 passing.  Although, as far as Georgia was concerned, an argument could have been made for placekicker Dorsch as the most valuable Bulldog.  The Purdue sophomore placekicker, who ironically would eventually be a first-team All-Big Ten honoree, was 0 for 3 on field-goal attempts and, as mentioned, missed the all-important PAT try with the Boilermakers leading 13-0.

Evidently, even a placekicker can struggle and have the shakes the morning of a New Year's Day. 

November 24, 2011

One Durable Freshman

With all the talk concerning Isaiah Crowell's status for this Saturday's game against Georgia Tech, I was reminded of a time long ago when another true freshman Bulldog tailback encountered the Yellow Jackets for the first time.

From Keith Henderson to Rodney Hampton to Garrison Hearst to Washuan Ealey, there has been a number of true freshman running backs in Georgia history to produce fine first seasons; however, only one - the legendary Herschel Walker in 1980 - reached the 1,000-yard rushing mark. 

Crowell enters the Tech game just 168 rushing yards shy of 1,000.  If he can hold up, barring a physical (or mental) ailment, one would think that surely the newcomer from Columbus will join an exclusive group with Walker over the final three games of 2011.  One would think... 

Speaking of the durability of a freshman back, including the Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame, Walker averaged a whopping 26 carries per game in 1980.  His season was not without injury.  A sprained ankle limited him to 20 combined carries in Georgia's fourth and fifth games - the only two games of 12 Herschel would not run the ball 21 or more times.  Most notably, against the Fighting Irish in New Orleans, he had 36 carries in a game where he suffered a separated shoulder on the bowl's second play.

Like Crowell, Walker entered his regular-season finale against hated Tech within reach of a milestone.  Herschel had topped the 1,000-yard mark long before - a full month earlier against South Carolina.  Instead, he was 176 yards from breaking the NCAA freshman record of 1,586 rushing yards set by Pittsburgh's Tony Dorsett in 1973.

And, if anyone could break a record (or a long run), it was Herschel:

Following the greatest pep-talk in the history of Georgia football, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead on the Yellow Jackets.  Tech's offense would come alive in the second half, and score its first points on a touchdown pass early in the third quarter.

On the touchdown, a Yellow Jacket was flagged for some rough play with senior cornerback Scott Woerner.  Tech was forced to kickoff from its own 25-yard line, instead of the 40, and ironically Woerner received the kick.  On a kickoff that likely would have been downed in the end zone if not for the Jackets' buffoonery, Woerner caught the kick at his own 6-yard line and streaked 71 yards to Tech's 23.  On the next play, Herschel rushed for his second touchdown of the game.

Leading 31-20 and the Bulldogs just 9:30 away from a perfect regular season, and the freshman phenom 52 yards from Dorsett's mark, how fitting was it that Herschel broke the record and clinched a win over Georgia Tech on one of his patented long runs.  The 65-yard touchdown play was, according to Coach Dooley, Herschel's favorite play, the draw - "Slot Right Fly 24 Draw" to be exact.

The touchdown was remarkably Walker's seventh and final rush of the season of 48 yards or more and transpired in front of Sanford Stadium's final collection of "track people," as construction to close off the stadium's east end would begin immediately following the game.

Herschel finished the contest with 205 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries - his sixth (of what would be seven) straight game carrying the ball 23 times or more.  In comparison, Crowell has yet to carry the ball 23+ times in consecutive games this season.  

There has been no true freshman running back quite like Herschel Walker, and seemingly, there will never be.

November 21, 2011

Dawg Nation Loses Legend, One of Us

Like all of you, I was deeply saddened to hear the news that legendary announcer Larry Munson had past away last night from complications of pneumonia.  I've always believed that Munson was as much a part of Georgia football's celebrated history as Coach Vince Dooley, Herschel Walker, silver britches, the hedges, you name it... 

Munson was undoubtedly a Bulldog legend.  When a four-year old, like my son as recently as a week ago, thanks to television clips and YouTube, asks his daddy what "my God, a freshman" is, you know the individual that first uttered those words is likely some sort of iconic figure. 

Furthermore, besides being an icon, Larry Munson was probably more so - and simply - one of us.  In describing the action, he seemed to be speaking to each individual member of the Bulldog Nation in full detail, filled with just as much passion and a desire to win than anyone else.

Personally, I didn't know Larry like many of the people did in my line of work.  In fact, I came in contact with him only a few times for one thing - the foreword of my first book.

Early in 2007, I had been informed by my publisher that if I knew of an appropriate individual, I could ask him (or her) to write the foreword to the book.  If not, they could find someone to do so.  Well, I didn't know Larry Munson, and he certainly didn't know me.  However, as a passionate Georgia fan who had imitated the man's legendary voice as early as at five years of age, there was no one better I could think of to write my first foreword on a book about UGA football.

Now, all I had to do was ask him.

As nervous as I had been back in second grade when I approached Herschel Walker for an autograph, a quarter-century later, I anxiously reached out to another one of my Bulldog football heroes.  I'll never forget that familiar, gravely voice, answering "Hello," on the other end of the phone while a TV blared in the background of what sounded like ESPN's SportsCenter.  I then went into a long request (way too long), asking him if he would be so kind to write my foreword and how honored I'd be if he did so. 


As I waited for an answer, I heard absolutely nothing on the other end, not even the television that had been blaring just seconds before.  "Well, that's just great, he hung up the phone,"  I thought to myself.  "What's Plan B?" 

Suddenly, in that same voice I had been so familiar with since I could remember, I heard an answer - something on the order of, "Yeah...sure thing.  What do I need to do?" 

Come to find out, the long pause on the phone was only because Larry had gone to turn his TV down to talk.  In the "foreword-writing process," which might not be as simple of a request as it sounds (I know from experiences that would follow), Larry was more than gracious, going above and beyond of what was asked of him.

Larry Munson didn't know this unknown writer from Adam's house cat, but I'd like to think he simply heard a fellow Bulldog in need, and obliged to my request.  The Bulldog Nation undeniably lost a legend last night, but more so, we lost a friend and one of our own.

November 8, 2011

Speaking of "Special Teams"

Neither rain, nor James Brooks (No. 21), nor orange
jerseys on the Plains could keep Jimmy Payne
(No. 87) and the Dawgs from a championship in '80.
As the Auburn game looms and the chatter of a championship game persists, along with  Georgia's hopeful improvement on special teams, I was reminded of a particular and very critical game from long ago pitting the rival Tigers against perhaps the most special of Bulldog teams.

Led by Herschel Walker, an extraordinary bend-but-don't-break defense, spectacular special teams play, and aided by a little miracle from the week before, the Bulldogs ventured to the Plains of Auburn in 1980 ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time in 38 years.

Two years before in 1978, the circumstances had been eerily similar.  The undefeated Wonderdogs team had traveled to Auburn only a victory away from an SEC championship and a trip to the Sugar Bowl.  The Tigers tried the psychological ploy of warming up in their customary blue jerseys but switched donned in orange by kickoff. 

Whether it was the ploy or not, something worked for the five-point underdog Tigers that day as they ran all over Georgia to the tune of 430 rushing yards.  The Bulldogs were fortunate to return home with a 22-22 tie; however, because of the draw, there would be no conference title nor trip to New Orleans in '78, but an invite from the Bluebonnet Bowl instead. 

Just prior to the 1980 game, Coach Dooley spoke to his troops about the Tigers' tactic from two years before:

Now, they are probably going to do what they did in '78. ... It doesn't matter, men, what kind of jerseys they wear.  You can whip their ass in any color jerseys.  Let's show 'em what a championship team is made of!
For a team to become special and of championship caliber, it quite often must do the "little things" right to succeed.  This was certainly the case for the '80 Bulldogs who, faced with a steady rain at Auburn and a second Tiger mind-trick attempt, executed the little things en route to a championship:

Remarkably, after not scoring at all in the game's first 23 minutes, Georgia tallied 31 consecutive points in just 16 minutes of play to take a 31-7 lead with just under six minutes remaining in the third quarter. 

Notably, the game's biggest play – a 27-yard return of an Auburn blocked punt for Georgia's initial touchdown – was carried out by the unlikeliest of Bulldog heroes (0:25 of video).  The "blocker" of the punt, Greg Bell from Birmingham, was a seldom-used senior cornerback, who totaled just 14 career tackles while at Georgia, but made one of the biggest plays in a championship season on his return home to his native state.  The "returner" of the block,  defensive end Freddie Gilbert, was a mere true freshman, had an excellent spin move as evident by the video, and was just beginning to make a name for himself in a career that would conclude with All-American honors three years later.        

The second big play resulted just before halftime with Georgia possessing the ball on Auburn's 1-yard line  (1:33).  With just nine seconds remaining and the Bulldogs leading 10-7, quarterback Buck Belue fumbled and, presumably, the time would run out.  However, Georgia caught a huge break when an official decided to stopped the clock momentarily, leaving the Bulldogs just enough time to take another snap with one second remaining, and score on a Belue-to-Norris Brown touchdown pass. 

If you recall, 12 years later in the same stadium, Georgia would catch a break when officials decided not to stop the clock.

Besides the rain, fortune continued to fall upon the Bulldogs as well at Jordan-Hare in '80 (2:10).  In an enraged reaction to the official stopping the clock following Belue's fumble, long-time Auburn assistant Paul Davis was flagged 15 yards, which was enforced on the opening kickoff of the second half.  Kicking from Auburn's 45-yard line instead of his own 40, Dooley decided to gamble with an onsides kick, which was recovered by Will Forts at the Tigers' 33.  A few plays later, Belue scored from a yard out to give Georgia a 17-point lead.

I'd be remiss if I didn't include Herschel's 18-yard touchdown, which in actuality, covered at least twice that many yards (2:40).  Although he had a number of great scoring jaunts in his three years as a Bulldog, especially as a freshman in 1980, Herschel's reverse-the-field touchdown against Auburn was one of his greatest runs.  

And, just imagine, playing in only your 10th game as a Bulldog, having your name chanted by fans loud and clear, and most impressively, on the road at an opposing stadium (1:15).

Following Herschel's touchdown, Auburn scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns, but it mattered little as Georgia's 16-minute scoring spree was too much for the Tigers to overcome.  Following the victory, the Bulldogs were invited to the same game that had eluded them just two years before – the Sugar Bowl, who would also invite Notre Dame that same afternoon (and, speaking of championships, we all recall what would happen in that matchup).

November 1, 2011

Grantham's Guard Dawgs

Prior to the start of this football season, the general consensus regarding the outlook on Georgia's defense was that there was only room for improvement.  By year two of Todd Grantham's scheme, surely and hopefully, his defenders could only get better from the previous year.

Through the first eight games of the 2011 season, you could certainly say the Bulldogs' defense has improved.  In fact, the unit has generated some noteworthy figures in which few defenses in the nation, and even in Georgia's football history, are comparable.

Now, I realize the Bulldogs have been fortunate to face several near-stagnant offenses thus far, and there is still lots of football yet to be played.  Georgia must still defend against a Georgia Tech offense which currently averages a staggering seven yards per play, a bowl opponent, and possibly the champion from the SEC West.  Of course, the Bulldogs also have New Mexico State to play and two offenses - Auburn and Kentucky's - which both currently rank in the bottom one-third of the FBS.     

Regardless, what Georgia's defense has achieved thus far in 2011 is rather remarkable, specifically when compared to Bulldog teams from yesteryear. 

For the following defensive statistics, unless indicated, considered are Georgia teams from 1969 to the present.   I chose to start at that particular year to keep yardage comparisons on somewhat of an even keel.  Around that time, because of a couple new rule changes in the game, offenses went from averaging roughly 60-to-65 plays per game to 70-to-75.    

3rd-Down Defense (Since 1979)
1) 2011- 25.7%
2) 2004- 27.3%
3) 2006- 27.4%
4) 2003- 27.5%
5) 2000- 31.5%

Rushing Defense
1) 1981- 72.5
2) 2011- 86.8
3) 1971- 98.0
4) 1985- 99.5
5) 2003- 102.4

Tackles For Loss per game (Since 1980)
1) 1985- 11.1
2) 2002- 8.3
3) 1989- 8.1
4) 2011- 8.0
5) 1999- 7.9

Total Defense
1) 1971- 234.3
2) 2006- 258.2
3) 1981- 262.1
4) 1970- 264.2
5) 2011- 267.0

Yards Per Carry allowed
1) 1981- 2.0
2) 1985- 2.49
3) 1971- 2.54
4) 1970- 2.7
5) 2011- 2.8

Pass Efficiency Defense (Since 1976)
1) 1982- 84.1
2) 1980- 92.9
3) 1992- 94.8
4) 1981- 97.6
5) 2011- 98.9

To me, the first thing that stands out is the Bulldogs' stop percentage when their opposition is facing third down.  Remember, it was only last season when stopping opponents on third down was a major Achilles heel of this team.  Suddenly, only one year later, Georgia is forcing fourth down to a greater degree than ever before (or at least since the school began keeping the statistic 32 years ago). 

In addition, notice the Bulldogs' defense has had success in both stopping the run and defending the pass.

Temple is shutdown by Georgia's defense of 1981 - one
the greatest defensive units in Bulldog history. 
No other Bulldog defense from the past ranks in the top five with the 2011 defensive unit in all six categories.  The 1981 defense is ranked in the most categories with four.  Notably, the 1971 defense is present in all three of the categories it could possibly be ranked in.

Besides being two of the greatest Georgia defensive units of all time, what else did the '81 and '71 defenses have in common?  Simply, they were integral parts of very successful Bulldog teams, each achieving a 10-1 regular-season record.

As they say, defenses do win championships.

To some, all of this could mean very little.  As indicated, there are still as many as six games left to be played and the ideal comparison would come in early January instead of November 1st. 

Nevertheless, what many hoped would be merely just an improvement of Grantham's defense from 2010 has been undeniably more – more like an inconceivable advancement, which possibly could result in the 2011 Georgia defense eventually being distinguished as one of the best in school history.

October 26, 2011

A Gator Bowl Beatdown

I thought I'd take a look back to a time when it was the Bulldogs who owned the Georgia-Florida series, and one of the sweetest of these victories was the 44-0 rout over the Gators in 1982:

The '82 Cocktail Party was suppose to be as close as its two preceding and thrilling 26-21 Bulldog victories.  Georgia entered as one of the country's best, although Florida was 6-2 and ranked 20th in the nation; the oddsmakers determined the Bulldogs to be just a 3½-point favorite.  As it turned out, the so-called experts would be a little off. 

In watching the game,  particularly the second half, the one thing that really stuck out were the numerous Georgia reserves that saw playing time.  Man, did Coach Dooley really empty the bench. 

At the skilled positions, Herschel Walker played for just 2½ quarters (and with the flu!) but still managed to rush for 219 yards and three touchdowns.  Nearly all of the playing time tailback Keith Montgomery and quarterback Todd Williams  both freshmen and future starters – saw in 1982 came in this one game.  Tailback Tommy Spangler, the current defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech, even got to carry the football – his lone rush in his Bulldog career.

What a thrill it must have been for the seldom-played freshmen, walk-ons, former scout-team members, etc., who had hardly seen the field as a Bulldog, if at all, to make an appearance in the Gator Bowl against the despised Gators.

On the touchdown run by Tron "the Electron" Jackson, another freshman, checkout the quarterback running the play.  Now, I thought I knew every single player from the last 30-to-40 years to ever don the red and black, but admittedly, I had to look up jersey-number 13 from 1982 - third-stringer Danny "Don't Call Me David" Greene from Wenonah, New Jersey.

Greene quarterbacked Georgia for its last couple of possessions of the game – his first, and last, drives (I'm willing to assume) directed as a Bulldog:

In watching all of Dooley's second-half replacements, I recalled the times Steve Spurrier ran the score up in the very same rivalry whenever given the opportunity.  Some examples:
Late in the game in 1990, with the contest having been settled long before, Spurrier sent his first-team defense back onto the field to prevent Georgia from merely picking up a first down.  With a 38-13 lead the following year, All-American quarterback Shane Matthews wasn't replaced until Florida's next-to-last offensive series, and even when the starter was finally sidelined, backup Brian Fox passed for a touchdown with less than two minutes to play.  In 1998, Spurrier punctuated another blowout Gators victory with a wide receiver reverse for a touchdown with mere seconds remaining.  I could go on... 

Now, the Florida faithful says Spurrier had very good reason to pull his classless acts against the Bulldogs.  Let me add, however, there's a few inaccuracies in the Gators' "Dooley-running-up-the-score-in-'68-is-the-reason-Spurrier-hates-Georgia" story.  For one, the "offensive lineman" that kicked the field goal for the game's final points was actually Peter Rajecki – the Bulldogs' backup placekicker, who had kicked a PAT earlier and would attempt several more field goals at Georgia from 1968 to 1970.  Also, the final field goal resulting with "with less than two minutes left to go" (another version of the story states "with seconds to go") actually occurred with 5:29 remaining – an eternity.

Nevertheless, the aforementioned seems to be yet another exaggerated story by a bunch of disgruntled Gators.  In Dooley's defense, unlike Spurrier, he wasn't much of one for running up the score on the opposition.  Take the 1982 pummeling of Florida, for example.  Danny Greene saw action at quarterback against the Gators, for God's sake!  And from what I hear, Dooley even had E.T. on the sideline warming up to go in...

October 19, 2011

Disregarded Gators

Like Tom Cruise in "A Few Good
Men," apparently, Florida can't
handle the truth either.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I recently signed a contract to write a book on the Georgia-Florida football rivalry.  In my research, I've already delved into lots of information on the history of the Gators - nearly too much, in fact, for one Bulldog to endure.  

I'm sure like many of you, I've known for quite some time that there is a discrepancy between the two schools regarding the series record; the Bulldogs declare they have a 47-40-2 advantage while the Gators claim to trail 40-46-2.  The one meeting in dispute was played in 1904 in Macon by a Florida squad, which evidently is not acknowledged by the school as a "true" Gators team. 

I recently became aware of the exact details surrounding the series conflict, and thought they were fitting to post with the 90th meeting of the rivalry (or is it 89th?) looming...

Simply, the University of Florida does not recognize any football results prior to the school's move  to Gainesville from Lake City beginning with the 1906-07 academic year.  This means the five Florida football teams from 1901 to 1905, all located in Lake City, are disregarded in the team's history.

Although, just prior to the 1903 football season, the school at Lake City began referring to itself as the "University of Florida," and so the press did as well from that point going forward.  That year, the Florida football team won one of three games.   The next season in 1904, the school recorded likely one of the worst campaigns in the history of southern football, losing all five of its contests by a combined 225-to-0 score.  That is no typo you see; that's an average loss by a score of 45 to zilch.

To illustrate how bad the 1904 University of Florida football team must have been, it was defeated by Georgia 52-0 in the series' first game and the Red and Black's season opener.  That dismal Georgia squad, who absolutely routed Florida, would play five more games the rest of the year, and lose them all by a combined 68-to-16 score. 

Florida also lost to Alabama 29-0 and Georgia Tech 77-0 in 1904 as well.  For what it's worth, both the Crimson Tide and Yellow Jackets, like Georgia, recognize the games in their records, while the University of Florida (at Gainesville) does not. 

In 1905, Florida played just one game - a 6-0 victory over "Julian Landon," whomever they, he, or she may have been.  Upon the relocation to Gainesville the following year is when the Gators begin acknowledging their football history, and thus what Georgia claims is the rivalry's second game - a 37-0 win in 1915 and another blowout over Florida - is what the Gators actually believe is the first.

A Florida newspaper - Jacksonville's The Florida Times-Union - identified the 1904 Georgia-Florida game in 1941 as "the No. 1 game in the famous series."  In addition, Tom McEwen, a Florida graduate and then-sports editor of the Tampa Tribune, wrote "The Gators: A Story of Florida Football" in 1974.  For years, McEwen's book was considered the bible of the school's football history.  In the back pages, under "Florida's Past Scores," listed are the team's historical results and included are the games from, you guessed it, 1903 to 1905 (and 1901-1902 as well).

Let me add, I have a suspicion that if the University of Florida football team, whether located in Lake City, Gainesville, or any other place for that matter, had achieved, let's say, a 7-2 mark instead of its actual 2-7 record from 1903 to 1905, the results might be counted by the school, including the 1904 Georgia game.  However, since it's somewhat of a gray area and those early Florida teams were absolutely awful, the Gators have picked and chosen what to recognize and what not to recognize.

Personally, and I might be somewhat bias but I side with Bulldog historian and icon Dan Magill when, in acknowledging Georgia's win in 1904, he said, "That's where Florida was back then.  We can't help it if they got run out of [Lake City]."

Furthermore, although the Florida players and coaches from 1903 to 1905 have long past away, I'm sure they would want their efforts (or lack thereof) to be recognized.  These men sweated and bled while playing under the "University of Florida" name, so their games should be counted by the school instead of merely dismissed.

During the Gators' one-sided 18-3 run against Georgia since 1990, Florida followers have often been quick to instruct Bulldogs to stop living in the past.  Apparently, for University of Florida football, part of its past actually never occurred.

October 4, 2011

That Hot Night in Knoxville

This Saturday's game against Tennessee will be the seventh night game Georgia has played in its 21 meetings versus the Volunteers in Knoxville.  When a good portion of Bulldog fans think of nighttime in K-Town, like me, they recall one particular sweltering night in 1980 and a freshman sensation running over Bill Bates.

Be that as it may, the unsung Georgia possession of that historic victory moved the football just four yards in three plays and resulted in a punt; however, it could very well be considered one of the most important offensive series for the Bulldogs during their national title season:

Interestingly, when senior Pat McShea recovered Tennessee's costly fumble, jarred loose by the "Ty Ty Termite" linebacker Nate Taylor, the defensive end just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time, completely missing his assignment for the play.  Of course, the ball seemed to always bounce in Georgia's direction during its unlikely championship run. 

Leading 16-15 with 4:02 remaining in the game and with the ball on its own 2-yard line, Georgia ran true freshman Herschel Walker up the middle on first down.  Walker lost a yard but was able to instinctively avoid being tackled in the end zone for a safety.

In front of more than 90,000 screaming Vol fans, Walker took a second-down pitch six or seven yards deep in his own end zone and gained four yards to the 5-yard line.  After a delay of game penalty, moving the Bulldogs back two yards, Walker carried again and netted three more yards to the 6-yard line.

It doesn't seem that significant but every inch gained by Walker on his three rushes was just a little more punting room for Jim Broadway.  Following the game, Georgia's offensive coordinator George Haffner, who like Walker and Broadway was also experiencing his first game as a Bulldog said, "that's when I knew Herschel Walker was something special," simply because of those six precious yards on three carries.

Broadway, a walk-on from the season before, had struggled that night in Knoxville, averaging just 35 yards on his previous eight punts.  Nevertheless, with the game on the line, Broadway got away a booming 47-yarder from his own end zone.  And, as it would execute the entire season, Georgia's punt coverage was immediately there to stop any significant return.

Of all the impressive figures generated by the 1980 Georgia team and its individuals, the most astounding is that only 8 net yards were gained the entire season by the opposition on 16 punt returns.  That's remarkably just a half-yard average per return with a long of only four yards, as evident on the video by Tennessee speedster Willie Gault.

For a comparison, in 1980, the average punt return for all of Division I-A football was just over seven yards per attempt.  Through five games in 2011, Georgia's punt coverage is allowing a whopping 14.8 yards per return.

Often, it's the "little things" - the ball bouncing the right way, a yard here and a yard there, exceptional punt coverage, etc. - that ultimately wins big ballgames, like a memorable victory against a reputable opponent in front of a large hostile crowd, when the nighttime temperature at kickoff is nearly 90 degrees (while the stadium concessions runs out of ice). 

And it's often these little things that separate the champions from the mere contenders... 

September 28, 2011

...And I Really Hate Florida!

I'd appreciate any assistance.

Last week, I signed a deal to write a pro-Georgia/anti-Florida football book - my fifth book on the Bulldogs and third published by Triumph Books.  It is properly titled "I Love Georgia/I Hate Florida," and is part of Triumph's I Love/I Hate series.  The book will be released late this summer (hopefully following a victory over the much-hated Gators a month from now).

The book will be written a little different than my previous four as instead of writing in an objective and reporting-like manner, I'm asked to be irreverent and funny.  If you read this blog on a regular basis, you're aware that I struggle with the latter, so I'm asking for your help.   

If you know of an anti-Gator story, tidbit, joke, etc., whether personal or one that is commonly known, please feel free to send it my way to book@patrickgarbin.com.  I've recalled plenty of Gator-hating anecdotes on my own but want to make sure I don't omit any good ones I've forgotten or just aren't aware of.

My busy freelance-writing career just got a whole lot busier.  Unfortunately, that means that my sporadic blog posts will become even more infrequent over the next 5-to-6 months.  However, I'll continue to post (and should have some new videos soon from Bulldog games from long ago) whenever I can.

Again, if you're a Gator Hater and have a story and/or joke to tell, please send 'em if you have 'em.  Thanks!

September 22, 2011

Win Over Rebs Stopped Bleeding

In 1979, freshman Carnie Norris (No. 36) helped Georgia avoid remaining
winless at Oxford and for the season.  
In 1979, the Georgia football team found itself in a similar situation as the Bulldogs of 32 years later: heading to Oxford with a losing record, with lots of questions, but yet seemingly optimistic.

Coming off its 9-2-1 "Wonderdog" season of 1978, expectations were high for Georgia the following fall.  The Bulldogs entered the year preseason ranked 11th in the nation - second among SEC members only behind Alabama, who had won a national championship the year before, and the highest for the program in 10 years.

Following a stunning 22-21 loss to 18-point underdog Wake Forest in the opener, the Bulldogs dropped consecutive games to Clemson and South Carolina.  After losing just one of 11 contests during the 1978 regular season, Georgia had lost four straight dating back to the previous year's Bluebonnet Bowl by an average margin of a mere four points per setback. 

If things weren't bad enough, the Bulldogs were next scheduled to play at Ole Miss, where twice excellent Georgia teams had fallen to average Rebel squads the first two times the Dogs had ventured to Oxford.  In back-to-back seasons of 1975 and 1976, the "Junkyard Dog" teams had fallen in Hemingway Stadium.  The loss in '75 would ultimately cost Georgia an SEC title while the defeat the next year would spoil an undefeated regular season.

Ole Miss entered the '79 meeting slumping as well as the Rebels had dropped consecutive games to Missouri and Southern Miss by an average loss of four touchdowns.  Still, the home team was favored to defeat the visiting Bulldogs by a field goal, which would hand them an 0-3 record in Oxford and, most importantly, an appalling 0-4 mark for the season.

For the first month of the season, the Bulldogs' primary issues had been a surprising dismal defense and a unforeseen quarterback controversy.  In the 0-3 start, defensive coordinator Erk Russell's defenders had allowed a staggering 443 yards per game, including nearly 300 rushing. 

On offense, Jeff Pyburn had struggled as the Bulldogs' starting quarterback, and much of the Sanford Stadium crowd had voiced their opinion the week before against South Carolina by booing the senior signal-caller from Athens.  Pyburn had been Georgia's primary quarterback for the two previous seasons, achieving a 14-3-1 record as a starter, but highly-touted sophomore Buck Belue had began to press the veteran for the starting position.

To add to the Pyburn-Belue quarterback controversy, Jeff's father, Jim, was the Bulldogs' defensive backs coach, who had played with Vince Dooley at Auburn in the early-50s and had been on the head coach's staff at Georgia since day one in 1964.  As soon as Dooley made Belue the starter the week of Ole Miss and moved Pyburn to tailback, rumors abound that the elder Pyburn handed Dooley his resignation effective at the end of the '79 campaign.

Donned in red britches for the young Belue's first collegiate start, Georgia quickly fell behind the Rebels 14-0 in the first quarter.  Clearly, remaining winless in both Oxford and for the season seemed like near certainties for the Bulldogs.  

However, just before halftime, Georgia freshman Carnie Norris cut the Bulldogs' deficit in half with a 1-yard scoring run.  Making just his second start at Georgia, Norris would finish with 91 rushing yards despite suffering and playing through a foot injury during the game.

After leading Georgia to perhaps its greatest comeback in history as a freshman, Belue began his second memorable rally of his short Bulldog career.  First, he connected with Carmon Prince for an 11-yard touchdown to tie the game in the third quarter.  With Georgia trailing 21-17 in the final quarter, Belue passed to tight end Norris Brown for a 19-yard score and what would be the game-winning touchdown. 

Defensive linemen Robert Goodwin (L) and
Joe Creamons (R) stop a Rebel rusher.
Erk's troops would hold the Rebel offense, and the Bulldogs escaped with their initial win in Oxford and finally their first victory of the season.  Belue was considered the star of the game, completing 8 of 12 passes for 119 yards, 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.  Also, after averaging just 111 yards through the first three losses, Georgia's rushing offense gained 245 yards in the win.

Spearheading the Bulldog blocking for the ground game was Matt Braswell, who had stated that Georgia had "a slight morale problem" during its 0-3 start; however, the All-SEC lineman had forecasted that he believed "everything will be cured if we can beat Ole Miss." 

What is often true and as the senior tackle indicated, the first football victory of the year over a worthy opponent can completely turnaround a season and even place a program back on the winning track.

A week later, Georgia upset touchdown-favorite LSU in Athens and, only a month later, the Bulldogs found themselves where they had been a year before during their banner season: just one game shy of an SEC championship and a trip to the Sugar Bowl.

The season ended with a victory at Georgia Tech, ironically, with Pyburn back at quarterback, leading Georgia to the win in his final game as a Bulldog.  It seemed like the perfect passage into the very next football season at Georgia... and we all know what resulted for the Bulldogs in 1980.

September 12, 2011

Yet Another Unfinished Drill

The bottom line, the difference in the game is we had a chance to win in
the fourth quarter and we didn't do it. - Todd Grantham after USC loss
In a contest where the Bulldogs appeared several times they might pull away from the Gamecocks,  they instead hand out points and eventually give the game away.  In doing so, Georgia suffered its unfathomable ninth loss on Saturday in its last 14 games, including a FIFTH defeat by a touchdown or less.

Under a head coach, whose motto is ironically to Finish the Drill, Georgia's five losses have resulted without a single victory in games decided by seven points or less.  The Bulldogs' touchdown-or-less losing streak is a continuation from an 0-4 situational mark in 2010, capped by the 10-6 embarrassing defeat in the Liberty Bowl.

Since the beginning of the Coach Vince Dooley era nearly 50 years ago to the present, never before had a Georgia football team dropped five straight games decided by seven points or less without a win, until two days ago.  Prior to last season, the previous time the Bulldogs had lost on four consecutive occasions in games resulting in a touchdown-or-less margin was 40 years before.

As revealed in a post from January, Georgia historically has done well in close ballgames.  Dooley won nearly two-thirds of his games (64-37) decided by seven points or less, Donnan achieved 70 percent, and before his recent demise, Coach Richt had a respectable 30-16 record in touchdown-or-less games, including a combined 7-3 in disappointing 2008 and 2009 seasons.  

So, why this recent downfall?  Why the heck can't Georgia win a close game in five attempts since the memorable six-point victory at 7th-ranked Georgia Tech two seasons ago? 

It's not like the Bulldogs were expected to lose all of the aforementioned games to begin with, as they were actually favored entering three of the five contests (Arkansas, Colorado, and Central Florida a year ago).  Also, I believe there's little argument in the assumption that Georgia is simply not as talented as it once was (with more to come on that subject later...).  And, according to Aaron Murray, the coaches cannot be blamed for the mistakes that cost the team the latest game.  

Yes, Georgia's head coach and assistants should not be held solely accountable for the loss to South Carolina.  However, when a team strings together five similar defeats without a single victory, it's no mere coincidence; coaches are to be blamed for having the team repeatedly ill-prepared for decisive moments in games while tolerating an apparent losing mind-set.

When it became evident that Saturday's game was not going to be decided until towards the end and it was any team's to win, based on Georgia's recent performances, I had a sense the Dawgs were likely to fall in yet another close one.  Unfortunately, my guess is that there were even those on the Georgia sideline and huddle with similar notions.   

Overall, the Bulldogs played better against the Gamecocks than probably most expected.  Personally, I'm more optimistic than I was this time last week, somewhat reconsidering my idea that an 0-2 start would translate to nothing but doom.  Nevertheless, if Georgia is to win an acceptable amount of games in 2011, Coach Richt and his staff will undoubtedly need to get their team to finally finish a drill.