There have been times lately when we’ve wondered, “Who are these guys?” Because they weren’t the Bulldogs we’d come to know and admire. They were undisciplined and undercoached. They were always reacting to an opponent, never forcing the issue. They were a finesse team, and a team devoid of force doesn’t win big in the broad-shouldered SEC.
But on the final night of an underwhelming regular season, Georgia played as if it remembered its breeding. It acted like an SEC team. It ran the ball with fury and blocked like the crack of dawn and played big-boy football. And at halftime we were saying, “Who are these guys?”
Because these weren’t the Bulldogs of recent vintage. These were tougher, stronger, meaner. They had come into the stadium of a team looking to solidify its hold on a rivalry and a state, and they’d been the aggressor from the first. Indeed, they were the aggressor from the coin toss. Georgia won it and, rather than do as every coach does in modern football, Mark Richt didn’t defer his choice. He wanted the ball and he wanted it now.
And when his men got it, they pounded Tech in a way Georgia never pounds anybody anymore. Ten plays, all runs, Caleb King and Washaun Ealey taking turns, the unassuming offensive line blowing massive holes in the Tech line. Ten plays, all runs, and just like that Georgia was ahead in a game it was supposed to lose.
Give Richt credit: All week he had to answer questions — one from me on the Wednesday SEC teleconference — about the need for change in his program, and in this game he did change. He and Mike Bobo eschewed the fancy stuff and just Lombardi’ed the game plan, and it was beautiful in its brutality. Three Tech defenders had to be helped off the field in the first half, and after 30 minutes Georgia had outgained the nation’s No. 7 team by 141 yards and had outscored it by 14 points.
But it was only a year ago in Athens that Georgia had led by 16 points at the half, and within seven minutes that lead was gone. Everyone knew Tech would again come out flying, and sure enough the Jackets scored on their first possession. But Georgia needed only one play to answer, Caleb King taking a handoff and fleeing 75 yards. And from then on Tech was chasing, and in the end the fleet Jackets couldn’t run fast enough.
It came down to one possession. Georgia up six, Tech with a chance to win. The Jackets moved across midfield but unaccountably stopped running the ball. Four consecutive passes, the first three nicely defensed, the fourth simply dropped. (The second and third passes were defended by Reshad Jones, the Georgia safety who’d spent the last year answering questions about his missed tackle of Tech’s Roddy Jones.) And suddenly Georgia was the second-best team in Georgia no longer.
Richt and Bobo and Willie Martinez had outflanked the new genius Paul Johnson and had done it without A.J. Green, their best player. And the guys who did play outfought a Tech team known for its pugnacity.
And now we have issues galore. Does one blissful night off North Avenue override the worst season under Richt? Probably not. But for the Bulldogs and their coach and all his coaches, it had to feel good to reclaim state supremacy and to mar what has been a glorious Tech season. (To say nothing of wrecking the ACC title game.) What happens with Martinez and the other assistants can wait until another day. What happened Saturday night was a slice of deliverance 365 days in the making.
Back to our question: Who were these guys? They were the Georgia Bulldogs, only they weren’t the Georgia Bulldogs that contrived to lose five games this season. These were Bulldogs from a different time, a time when Georgia football was power football. (The Bulldogs rushed for 339 yards, the highest total under Richt.)
And if this is the way Georgia football it to look in 2010 and beyond … well, maybe the future isn’t so grim after all. Maybe the future is big and brawny thing.