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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.

September 9, 2011

One for the Record Books

In an attempt to be as optimistic as possible that the Bulldogs could conceivably beat the Gamecocks tomorrow, I am reminded of a time when Georgia, armed with perhaps the best quarterback in the nation, entered a South Carolina game seemingly full of confidence, and rightfully so.

After a 5-6 losing year, Coach Ray Goff's Bulldogs came to Williams-Brice Stadium to open the 1994 season ranked 24th in the nation, featuring a Heisman-candidate senior Eric Zeier, possessing a defense under Marion "Swamp Fox" Campbell that was thought to only get better from the year before, and were a near-touchdown favorite to defeat the 'Cocks and first-year coach Brad Scott in their own backyard.

During a time when South Carolina had some success against Georgia, winning four of seven games from 1988-1996, the Gamecocks would hold their own on this night as well, turning a perceived Bulldog cakewalk into a true dogfight:

Zeier was absolutely sensational against the 'Cocks, completing 31 of 51 passes, including three TDs and no interceptions, for 485 yards, while breaking the SEC record for most yards passing versus a conference foe.  Zeier's yardage mark still remains the second-most in school history, only behind the SEC-record 544 he totaled against Southern Miss the season before.

Just several years removed from Coach Dooley's three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense and only a couple after Garrison Hearst rushed for 1,500+ yards, it was almost difficult to comprehend, at the time, a Georgia offense throwing the football seemingly on every down.

At South Carolina, the Bulldogs rushed just 20 times of 71 total plays and that included running on the final six snaps of the game (the final four by true freshman Hines Ward).  For the entire '94 season, with future NFL superstars Terrell Davis and Ward in the backfield, Georgia would rush the least amount of times of any Division I-A team in the nation.

Quarterback Eric Zeier was just that valuable to the Bulldogs.

I shudder to think how dismal those 1993 and 1994 teams, who combined for just an 11-10-1 record, would have been without Zeier and his talented band of receivers: Brice Hunter, Hason Graham, Juan Daniels, Jeff Thomas, and tight end Shannon Mitchell ('93).

Georgia's offense had to be fast-paced and proficient as the team's defense was quite inadequate.  In fact, in allowing 394 yards and 26 points per game, Swamp Fox's '94 defense was actually more inferior than the defensive unit from the year before and is arguably the worst in school history.  Nevertheless, it did come up big and save the day with Corey Johnson's interception in the final minutes to defeat South Carolina. 

Watching this game also reminded me of the infamous snub Georgia endured at the end of its year.

The Bulldogs finished the '94 regular season with a 6-4-1 overall record, while South Carolina was slightly worse at 6-5, plus, Georgia had defeated the Gamecocks.  However, when the Carquest Bowl was looking for an SEC team, its invitation was extended to not the Dawgs, but the 'Cocks.

Granted, the bowl figured that likely more USC than UGA folks would travel to its Miami location, but rumor had it that the Bulldogs did not get the invite primarily because of a single player.  With the threat of Zeier, who suffered a knee injury in the season finale against Georgia Tech, not being able to play in the postseason, the bowls, particularly the Carquest, shied away from the Bulldogs, leaving them at home for the holidays.

Seems the bowl game would have rather featured one of the greatest college football quarterbacks of all time rather than a freshman Mike Bobo under center for the Dawgs.  Again, the record-breaking Zeier was just that valuable.

September 5, 2011

A Must-Win

The last time Georgia started a football season with an 0-2 record, it
wound up being a long, losing year for Mike Bobo and the Bulldogs.

As I watched Boise State dink-and-dunk Georgia's defense to death Saturday night, my primary thought was the exact same as one I had last November when it was first announced the Broncos were replacing Louisville as the Bulldogs' season opener: a loss to Boise wouldn't be too bad, but then to follow it up with a setback to South Carolina would be disastrous. 

Including this very morning, I continue to hear those who declare that even if Georgia was to lose to the Gamecocks, dropping to 0 and 2, the way the schedule is laid out, it could still be a respectable season for the Bulldogs in 2011. 

I couldn't disagree more.  Instead, in my opinion, Georgia must do something this Saturday it has only achieved once in its last eight attempts - defeat an AP-ranked opponent - and just one time in its previous seven  tries - win a game in an underdog role.

In the previous 117 seasons of UGA football, 11 of them began with losses in the first two games, including two in recent memory (1993 and 1996). Of those 11 seasons, only one ended in a winning season for Georgia, and even that was just a sub-par 6-5 record in 1979.

I strongly believe if Georgia was to start 0-2 for the 12th time in its history this Saturday, the best the Bulldogs would do this season (and I mean the very best) is a 7-5 record.  And a mere seven-win campaign likely translates to the program seeking out a new head coach come December...

In the wake of the Broncos handling of the Bulldogs, I tried to recall other schools that had started a college football season 0-2 but finished in fine fashion.  I came up with several off the top of my head, interestingly, all coming within a few-season span: Michigan in 1988 (finished ranked 4th in nation), Florida State the next season (10 consecutive wins to end year), Alabama in 1990 (started 0-3 but won seven of last eight regular-season games to reach Fiesta Bowl), and Penn State the same season (nine straight wins to close regular season).

What did the aforementioned football programs from 20+ years ago have in common?  Prominent head coaches Bo Schembechler, Bobby Bowden, Gene Stallings, and Joe Paterno were all supported by top-notch assistants, whose players were disciplined, fundamentally sound, and filled with intensity, or features evidently missing from the Bulldog teams the last few years and apparently the other night in the Georgia Dome.

In a season of supposed change, Georgia looked like the same old Bulldogs against the Broncos as, among other things, the offense couldn't stay on the field while the defense couldn't stay off of it.  Boise State ran 71 plays to the Bulldogs' 60 and possessed the football for more than seven-and-a-half minutes longer.

In Georgia's last six games against FBS opponents, beginning with Kentucky a year ago through last Saturday (excludes Idaho State), the Bulldogs averaged just 59 plays to the opposition's 75 and a time of possession of roughly only 27 minutes to the opponents' 33.

Like Georgia's previous 0 and 2 seasons of the past, there would be no rebound this year if the Bulldogs were to also lose their first two games, but a continuation of a program crumbling.  Although, this deterioration can be halted, at least for the moment, with a victory in a must-win situation this Saturday.

The Boise State meeting may have been one of Georgia's biggest season openers in its football history; however, South Carolina is the biggest game period during the Coach Richt era and for the Bulldogs in a long time, considering a loss would result in possibly another losing campaign and a long, long season...