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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.

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