In a fight to the finish, Georgia shows it can punch back

Whoosh! Branden Smith flees 61 yards on an end-around. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Whoosh! Branden Smith scores on an end-around. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Athens — We learned something about these Bulldogs on Saturday night. We learned that they might not be as gifted or as polished as vintage Georgia teams, but we learned that they still have Bulldog-sized hearts.

Yes, they played better — at least on offense and on special teams — than they had in Stillwater, but the revelation was that they played infinitely harder. They could never quite shake South Carolina, but if not for their resolve they wouldn’t have exited with a careening victory. They’d have left 0-2.

And an 0-2 Georgia team would have touched off a hue and cry unlike any raised since Mark Richt came north from Tallahassee. We know from the week just past that even one loss is enough to set off Bulldog Nation. (”Bench Joe Cox!” “Fire Mike Bobo!” “Hire Jon Gruden!”) A second loss so soon into the 2009 season would brought the even bigger heat. And there were long and scary moments when a second loss seemed a distinct possibility.

They trailed 17-7 early, and if not for a Brandon Boykin kickoff return it would have been worse. Then they squandered 14 points off a 15-point lead by snapping the ball out of the end zone and by throwing the ball to the outrageously talented Acworthian Eric Norwood, who plays for South Carolina, and inside the final minute there was no assurance 0-1 wouldn’t become 0-2.

It was 41-37 with 6:13 left when Carolina took the ball, and within every Bulldog fan’s mind danced something other than sugarplums. Georgia would have to bank on its defense to halt somebody with the game on the line, and we all know what Georgia fans think of their defense and its coordinator. But this time the men of Willie Martinez made their stand.

Inside the Georgia 10-yard-line, inside the final 30 seconds, Carolina throwing for the end zone, and the men of Martinez held up their end. Stephen Garcia’s final two passes fell incomplete, neither of them great throws, but neither were directed toward a receiver left unencumbered. The indomitable Rennie Curran foiled the last throw, and  in the end nothing much mattered except the rather astonishing score:

Georgia 41, South Carolina 37.

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Joe Cox, the quarterback deemed insufficient to requirements by some among his constituency, had a nice enough game except for one regrettable interception. He kept Georgia moving after it fell behind early, and when it was 38-23 Cox seemed to have put the Gamecocks away. But then a bad snap became a safety, and then there came a field goal, and then Norwood’s interception return for a touchdown, and suddenly it was tied.

Except it wasn’t. DeAngelo Tyson, a sophomore defensive end from Statesboro, blocked the automatic PAT, and Georgia still held the skinniest of leads. That’s the kind of play a defensive end doesn’t figure to make, a quick turnaround after the opposing D has just scored, but Tyson threw up his hand and kept the Bulldogs in front by being, not to put too fine a point on it, a bulldog.

And that’s what Georgia fans could and should take from this one. This isn’t a great team by any measure, but it was never going to be. What was troubling about falling to 0-1 was how readily the Bulldogs succumbed to Oklahoma State (which just lost to Houston — yikes). What we needed to see this night wasn’t if Georgia was the nation’s most gifted assemblage — it isn’t — but if it still can play the full-tilt brand of football that made this program famous.

It took a while, both literally and figuratively in a game that lasted four hours, but we have our answer. There’s still fight in these Dawgs. These 1-1 Dawgs.

539 comments Add your comment

George

September 12th, 2009
11:15 pm

My God! Look at those Freshman!!!

Steve Spurrier

September 12th, 2009
11:17 pm

The best QB on the field was Garcia. Hands down. If he had an AJ this game would not be close.

BugKiller

September 12th, 2009
11:17 pm

If this is NOT going to be a great team, Mark, and we’re not going to win anything important this year…

… then WHY continue to start Joe Cox?

Wouldn’t it make MORE sense to start Gray or Murray to PREPARE THEM for next year…

… a TEBOW FREE year?

Starting Joe Cox is just a waste of a year. He won’t be here to do anything for us next year.

Pete Carroll understands this. Mark Richt does not.

Jatmdog

September 12th, 2009
11:17 pm

The best players on this team are very young. So there will be some growing pains, but the future looks good.

JacketFan

September 12th, 2009
11:18 pm

Good article, Mark – we’ll see what happens in AK …

Cuz

September 12th, 2009
11:19 pm

Joe Cox, better than your average Joe.

Johnny Test

September 12th, 2009
11:19 pm

We won. There is no such thing as an ugly win. Need a pass rush and some coverage. Two fumbles a pick six and a bad snap led to 23 Carolina points. Got to play better to beat the HOGS. You can bet they watched this one.

JacketFan

September 12th, 2009
11:19 pm

BugKiller – give it a rest. Are you a coach? Is there some reason you turned down the head coaching position at UGA? Do you really think these guys don’t know what they’re doing?

JacketFan

September 12th, 2009
11:20 pm

BugKiller for UGA OC! He’s obviously a genius!

La Jolla Dawg

September 12th, 2009
11:20 pm

Well said Mark!

TomG

September 12th, 2009
11:20 pm

Give Cox credit. He came thru

Jon P

September 12th, 2009
11:21 pm

Without a doubt, this is one of the worst defensive games that we’ve seen in the Mark Richt era. It looked like the Bill Lewis 1988 Dogs defense…let them catch it and then try to tackle them. A sloppy game, poor tackling, stupid penalties. The offense looked better, but how much longer are we going to keep Willie Martinez? Another 30+ point lack-of-effort. It looks to be a long year unless we can somehow put it all together.

armenchuck

September 12th, 2009
11:21 pm

the DAWGS Offense spotted the COCKS 19 pts and that doesn’t even count all the penalties! How did UGA win?

GatorHater

September 12th, 2009
11:21 pm

what a great game. Thank goodness we came out on top. This could have been a back breaker. Great fun on the blog….Go Dawgs!!!!

sleddawg

September 12th, 2009
11:21 pm

JacketFan…we playing in Alaska (Ak) next week??? Or did you mean Ar…Arkansas?

Bobby Petrino

September 12th, 2009
11:22 pm

Well, I won’t have to do much next week against that defense. My offensive brain power against Willie’s defense? LOLLLLLL

Cuz

September 12th, 2009
11:22 pm

Mark, great read. Having watched the game, I knew how your column would go, kinda like why I never watched Titanic. But you hooked me and reeled me in. I could not stop reading to be first and get the coveted big finger trophy. And why does the trophy have the middle finger anyway?

JacketFan

September 12th, 2009
11:23 pm

USC just took lead with a minute to go!

RAMBLE ON!!!

September 12th, 2009
11:23 pm

DawginNeed

September 12th, 2009
11:23 pm

7-5 at best for these guys, good luck with the losses against LSU,FL,TN, and GT. Choke

BugKiller

September 12th, 2009
11:23 pm

Okay JerketteFan…

… THINK LOGICALLY.

This team is NOT going to be more than 8-4 or so this year. RIGHT???

Joe Cox is NOT coming back next year.

If this team is NOT going to win anything important this year, THEN WHY START JOE COX???

Why not make sure Gray or Murray have meaningful snaps to PREPARE them for NEXT YEAR???

Go watch the USC-OSU game.

You’ll see a coaching staff that GETS it.

They handed the keys to their team to a TRUE FRESHMAN.

Why? He’s MORE TALENTED. He may make some mistakes THIS year. But NEXT year, Barkley will be PREPARED.

Gray and Murray are BOTH more talented than Cox.

Playing Cox is a WASTE.

AGAIN, JerketteFan… are you going to say PETE CARROLL doesn’t know what he’s doing???

Because all that I’m saying, is that WE should do the same thing.

JacketFan

September 12th, 2009
11:23 pm

Yes! University of Fairbanks … they’re going to give you DAWGS all you can handle …

BufordDawg

September 12th, 2009
11:23 pm

It’s hard to be happy about this win – UGA deserved to lose this one. Willie Martinez’s defense couldn’t stop North Gwinnett High School. 1-1 beats 0-2 though – you really lucked out Dawgs.

David C

September 12th, 2009
11:24 pm

Dawgs better get a pass rush or its a 7 win season

scott-in-jaxbeachbulldawg

September 12th, 2009
11:24 pm

Mark, our Defense still concerns me greatly. I among those that is saying Martinez must Go! Why we do we continue to play zone in man to man situations is beyond me. SC knew that they could continue to gain yardage by dumping the 7 yrd little passes across the middle to their tight end. I am just about hoarse from yelling at my TV this evening! How do you squander a 15pt lead?? Don’t get me wrong I am happy for the win but USC is not UF and Tennessee clearly showed today that they are to be reckoned with! If we don’t start playing smarter on defense then it is going to be a long year!

Alabama Jack

September 12th, 2009
11:24 pm

Gimmck plays and home cookin’ from the zebras

BugKiller

September 12th, 2009
11:25 pm

And yes, I’m saying that Pete Carroll hand his staff are WAY better than Richt and Soft Willie and Bobo.

GatorGarry

September 12th, 2009
11:25 pm

Wow…..a pi$$ poor defense and a crap quarterback……Jacksonville is gonna be fun you inbreds!

Florida 55 UGA 13..

Kevin R

September 12th, 2009
11:26 pm

I would still get Gray more involved. Only in for one play? And why is the backup QB returning punts??? DOn’t we have receivers and db’s who can do that? Please give the ball to Richard more. He needs more carries!!!

Mark Bradley

September 12th, 2009
11:26 pm

I think Georgia fans are right to be concerned with the defense. But I’d rather be concerned and 1-1 than convinced and 0-2. If that makes any sense.

JacketFan

September 12th, 2009
11:26 pm

I think the reason that Richt is doing what he’s doing in regard to Cox has a lot to do with another 5th year senior QB named DJ Shockley. I do believe y’all will see more of the youngsters as the season goes on, but there’s no need in damaging a young QB if he’s not ready – apparently neither Gray nor Murray are ready.

Pi$$onaDawg

September 12th, 2009
11:26 pm

RAMBLE ON!! and I would like to announce our forthcoming nuptials….we are going off to Vermont to make it official….I have been waiting for this day for so long

dandydawg

September 12th, 2009
11:27 pm

We really stink. We lose to Arkansas by 14. We should have lost this game..refs helped us out big time.

Mark Bradley

September 12th, 2009
11:27 pm

Thanks, Cuz. One of the tougher nights of deadline writing, courtesy of the game that WOULD NOT END.

Al Catraz

September 12th, 2009
11:27 pm

My cousin Vinny from Toledo needs a job. I would advise youse guys to put some heat on this Richt guy and give the DC job to Vinny. Capiche?

Mark Bradley

September 12th, 2009
11:27 pm

In fact, I’m still not sure it’s over. I figure the refs can find something else to review.

JacketFan

September 12th, 2009
11:27 pm

48 secs in USC game … OSU needs a FG to tie

Saddawg

September 12th, 2009
11:27 pm

Willie Martinez’s bend but don’t break defense is a joke. Our guys could barely run onto the field at the end of the game. We have way too much talent to play zone all night and let the other team run up and down the field. If I see another fake punt, that is almost a joke a this point. (crickets)

Good thing this team showed some heart because we still have a major penalty problem, and the sloppy play needs to be cleaned up. Lucky, lucky, lucky to have won this game. There is talent on this team, question is Mark Richt going to finally grow some and get in somebody’s face for a change.

Decaturflyer

September 12th, 2009
11:27 pm

POS SEC refs gave this one to UGA in the first half. SC is a better team and played better. You puppies will see it as the season plays out.

Dooley1970

September 12th, 2009
11:28 pm

Why could’nt Martinez make the right calls to stop S.C. from throwing those dinky little passes over the middle and keeping that last drive alive!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Richt needs to man-up and fire Martinez before it costs him his job!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

GAGRAD05

September 12th, 2009
11:28 pm

Jon P I think your wrong. If my count is right our offense and special teams gave them 23 points. If not for that the defense gives up 14 points and we roll 41-14.

dandydawg

September 12th, 2009
11:29 pm

you’re right….they gave it to us…took away two SC touchdown passes…whew…home cookin’

JacketFan

September 12th, 2009
11:29 pm

All I know is that both of my alma maters are 2-0 so far! Go Jackets! Geaux Cajuns!

sleddawg

September 12th, 2009
11:29 pm

JacketFan… University of Alaska, Fairbanks, unfortunately has no football team…but when I went there in the mid 80’s, we did get together and play one house vs. another.Good times… even IF it was hovering about 10 above. Now My beloved Nanook Hockey team… they’d have Given those damn Gamecocks a few Hard licks…

CHARLOTTE DAWG

September 12th, 2009
11:29 pm

We made that game much more interesting than it had to be. but still, if you think about it, the defense didn’t give up that many points in the second half. It was Cox’s interception for a TD, over the head snap, and other blunders by the offense and special teams that almost did us in. Just seems like Georgia can’t stand prosperity. Or they are snake bit.

We are now officially an average team. But they did show some heart tonight.

JacketFan

September 12th, 2009
11:30 pm

USC is victorious! Look for them to #1 in the next AP Poll … sorry Gaytors.

clinging bitterly to my guns and religion

September 12th, 2009
11:30 pm

How many more episodes of “UGA Matador Defense” must we be forced to watch???

That said, this was a typical UGA/Carolina game. If the Dogs had been up by 30 going into the fourth quarter, it still somehow would have come down to the final couple of plays. I’ll take the win, but if we can’t stop the Chickens, there’s no way in hell we’ll stop anybody else in the conference.

outkasted

September 12th, 2009
11:30 pm

offense turns the ball over and defense plays the whole 1st qtr and gives up fgs in the red zone but yet the defense stinks… lol… they kept us in the game early when it could’ve been ugly… the offense does some strange play calling… it is what it is… the hogs up next…

BugKiller

September 12th, 2009
11:30 pm

PETE CARROLL GETS IT!!!

TRUE FRESHMAN MATT BARKLEY WINS ON THE ROAD AT OHIO STATE.

- In other news -

MARK RICHT SAYS JOE COX IS AWESOME AND EVEN THOUGH HE CAN’T HELP THIS TEAM TO MORE THAN AN 8-4 RECORD AND WON’T BE BACK NEXT YEAR, RICHT DOESN’T SEE THE NEED TO GET A QB PREPARED FOR A YEAR WHERE THERE WILL BE NO TEBOW IN FLORIDA!!!

Because, you know, that’s makes LOGICAL sense, right???

Cuz

September 12th, 2009
11:30 pm

Baylie threatened to go to bed at the beginning of the fourth quarter. I told her we only had fourteen minutes to go. Football minutes hah!!!! Another chapter in lies my parents told me.