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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... 


Anonymous said...

Recently, the University of Georgia has adorned the campus with several statues of individuals who have contributed immeasureably to the University. It may be appropriate for the Athletic Association to emulate such behavior. It is fitting and proper for a statue of Herchel Walker be placed in a prominent place near Sanford Stadium. After all, during the three years (1980-1982) that he played, Georgia won 33 games, three SEC titles, and a national championship.

Anonymous said...