Without two key wins over UGA, would Saban be Saban?

The Blackout wipeout of 2008. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

The men of Saban get emphatic in the Blackout wipeout of 2008. (AJC photo by Brant Sanderlin)

Nick Saban has coached only five games against Georgia (winning three), but two rank as watersheds. As Alabama readies to play the Bulldogs for the SEC championship, we pause to reflect on the role this infrequent opponent has played in the career of the man considered college football’s best coach.

Georgia at LSU, Sept. 20, 2003: This game came early in Saban’s fourth season at LSU at a time when he was considered just another good football man. He had worked five seasons at Michigan State without winning the Big Ten or gracing a significant bowl. His first three years in Baton Rouge had showed promise — the 2001 Tigers won the SEC Western Division with three league losses but upset No. 2 Tennessee for the league title — but LSU went 8-5 in 2002.

Coming off a 13-1 season and its first SEC championship since 1982, Georgia arrived at Tiger Stadium ranked No. 7 to LSU’s No. 11. The Bulldogs were in their third season under Mark Richt, and it had begun with a 30-0 win at Clemson. Indeed, Georgia went to Baton Rouge having yet to lose in an opponent’s stadium under Richt.

The Bulldogs outgained the Tigers 411 yards to 285, but the usually precise David Greene threw two interceptions and lost a fumble, and the usually unerring Billy Bennett missed three field-goal attempts. The Tigers led 10-3 with five minutes remaining and were positioned to seal the deal. But linebacker Odell Thurman caused quarterback Matt Mauck to fumble inside the Bulldog 20, and Georgia took the ball on its 7. Whereupon Richt, who then served as his own offensive coordinator, ordered up a screen pass named “Texas” to Tyson Browning, and the running back whooshed 93 yards to score the tying touchdown with 4:16 to play.

Devery Henderson returned the kickoff to the LSU 49. (Watching the tape, Georgia coaches would later note that two Tigers blockers — forget simply holding — had actually tackled Georgia men. Nothing was called.) With 1:16 left, Mauck threw deep to an open Skyler Green, who wasn’t supposed to targeted on the play, for the winning touchdown.

Said Glenn Guilbeau, the Baton Rouge writer who covers LSU for Gannett: “That’s when LSU became a national contender for the first time since the 1987 team (coached by Mike Archer, quarterbacked by Tommy Hodson) … Georgia kind of came in as the favorite; it was on the way to the national championship. I remember talking to Chris Fowler and the ESPN crew later in the season, and they said, ‘We thought Georgia outplayed them that day.’ ”

The Bulldogs and Tigers would meet again for the SEC title in the Dome, but by then the Tigers clearly were the superior team. They beat Georgia 34-14 and trumped Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl for the BCS title, the first of Saban’s three. Richt would later say: “We missed our chance at them down there.”

Said Guilbeau: “I remember talking to Matt Mauck before Georgia came back down here in 2008, and he said, ‘We always thought that (first 2003) Georgia game was the one that put us on the map.’ ”

Alabama at Georgia, Sept. 27, 2008: Once again, Georgia entered ranked higher — No. 3 to Alabama’s No. 8. The Bulldogs opened the season ranked No. 1, but slid after some indifferent early victories. Having returned to the college game for a princely sum of $4 million per annum after two seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Saban was coming off a strange Year 1 in Tuscaloosa. His team had started 3-0 before losing to Georgia in overtime, and the Tide would finish 7-6. (A home loss to Louisiana-Monroe marked the nadir.)

Alabama began the 2008 season ranked 24th in the Associated Press poll, but upset Clemson 34-10 in the Georgia Dome in the inaugural Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic. Said Cecil Hurt, who covers Alabama for the Tuscaloosa News: “They were really physical and they dominated. That opened a lot of eyes.”

Beating an ACC opponent on a neutral field wasn’t quite the test that Georgia, which had gone 10-2 in 2007 and finished No. 2 in the Associated Poll, would be. As a bonus, the Bulldogs had designated that night as a Blackout, for which the team donned black jerseys and the fans got duly geeked. (Hey, it worked in 2007 against Auburn.)

Halftime score: Alabama 31, Georgia 0.

Bama scored on its first five possessions, hitting Georgia with a combination of power (Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram pounding, Andre Smith blocking) and precision (the freshman Julio Jones catching four first-half passes for 79 yards and a touchdown) that was breathtaking to behold. The Bulldogs made comeback noises in the second half before losing 41-30, and afterward Saban spent his media briefing fussing over his team’s perceived letdown. “I know I don’t look happy,” he said, “but I am.”

Said Hurt: “That first half, when they were so dominant, really created a lot of buzz that this team could contend for an SEC and BCS title. … It set the tone for the next three or four years.”

Beating Georgia in 2003 and 2008 didn’t just boost Saban’s programs; those games also served to arrest Georgia’s momentum. Richt won the SEC title in 2002 but has won only one — in 2005, when his Bulldogs upset LSU under Les Miles, who succeeded Saban — since. Georgia really wasn’t a serious national player after the Blackout wipeout of 2008, but now it is.

And who’s barring the Bulldogs’ path to Miami? That man yet again.



By Mark Bradley

95 comments Add your comment

Chi Town

November 29th, 2012
2:22 pm

1st

Roll Tide!

Chi Town

November 29th, 2012
2:22 pm

How bout some kudos and a RTR, Bradley?

Mark Bradley

November 29th, 2012
2:23 pm

Mark Bradley

November 29th, 2012
2:25 pm

I’m assuming “RTR” stands for “ReTweet Repeatedly.” But I could be mistaken.

Chi Town

November 29th, 2012
2:27 pm

Haha! More like, “Roll Tide Roll.”

Mark Bradley

November 29th, 2012
2:28 pm

Like I thought: I was mistaken.

Hmmm

November 29th, 2012
2:40 pm

With 11 out of 12 victories would Richt be Richt?

Hmmm

November 29th, 2012
2:41 pm

and yes… saban would still be an ornary gnome…

Alphare

November 29th, 2012
2:42 pm

“Georgia really wasn’t a serious national player after the Blackout wipeout of 2008, but now it is.”

I am not “it is”. Too early to call for sure. If UGA loses this weekend, they are progressively better for the past 2 years. If UGA loses the next 2 games, they are where they were 2 years ago.

Gumby

November 29th, 2012
2:44 pm

Another RTR from me but I don’t know what to expect in this game. That’s why they play. I hope neither team has any injuries from this game since both teams have this extra game before playing the independent Notre Dame. Bama has already had enough injuries to decimate some other teams.

After 12 years in Athens...

November 29th, 2012
2:45 pm

…and win or lose against AL, I hope CMR takes Spurrier’s advice that 12 years at one school is “about the right time to leave” – he is a great person (CMR), yet only a so-so coach when it comes to big time games…

But, expect a miracle….

I know what...

November 29th, 2012
2:47 pm

…let’s “BLACK OUT” the Dome…

Who want summa Deeebo??

November 29th, 2012
2:51 pm

…lets black out your face…

KBP

November 29th, 2012
3:02 pm

If the Dawgs can block their front 3 and make them blitz while containing Lacy and Yeldon (less than 150 yds) then Dawgs win by 10 or more. Bama is a good team with a good defense and I think the Dawgs passing game is much better than the Bama pass defense. I think the Dawgs passing defense is much better than the Bama passing offense. If the Dawgs get ahead, I doubt Bama can win coming from behind 10+ points. They are just not built for offensive shoot outs and big come from behind wins. Tell me McCarron was not pressing against A & M. I know, I know, he was not pressing against LSU last year but Bama was not behind either. This year against LSU, John Chavis(sp) played a real soft zone on the last drive and helped Bama march down the field. Should be a great game and hope the Dawgs win and if they don’t, then Bama please beat ND like they stole something.

Reason #4

November 29th, 2012
3:06 pm

Click here if you’re man enough Saban: http://thegeorgiasportsreport.blogspot.com/

Destin Dawg

November 29th, 2012
3:08 pm

UGA 24 Bama 20….. run Gurshall… Murray scramble, roll out and pass to the TE’s… Grantham’s Junkyard Dawg defense.. comes to the rescue late in the game… Dawgs Nat’l Champs !!! Richt for president

Jekylldog

November 29th, 2012
3:13 pm

Ha! black out your face. That’s funny!

Alphare's Top

November 29th, 2012
3:13 pm

Get off that dang puter and get back in bed now!

GTBob

November 29th, 2012
3:16 pm

Can I join in Alphare?

Hunting Dawg

November 29th, 2012
3:23 pm

Kudos on “black out your face”!

GTT

November 29th, 2012
3:25 pm

“Georgia really wasn’t a serious national player after the Blackout wipeout of 2008, but now it is.”

This statement is fact, hard as stone and all empirical and stuff. If you are playing a game that decides if you play for the national title or not, you ARE a serious national player. To say otherwise is conspiracy theory craziness.

GTT

November 29th, 2012
3:26 pm

Or you are an SEC football fan.

Alphare

November 29th, 2012
3:44 pm

GTT,

like Gary Danielson said, UGA is not proven, they beat a FL team who had a bad day. And ever since, all opponents are below-average patsies. UGA may be good, they just don’t know for sure.

But we will find out this weekend.

NCDawg

November 29th, 2012
3:47 pm

Ah, but here is the paradox. The Dawgs are in the position that Saban found himself in. They can vault themselves back into the elite by taking down Bama. It is going to be interesting to see if the Dawgs can springboard off of Saban the way he did off UGA.

GATA

November 29th, 2012
3:50 pm

Bama is of course a solid team this year, and could very well win it all. But my concern going into the SEC Championship for the Dawgs is not so much about Bama as it is the Dawgs themselves. Will they come ready to play for a FULL 60 minutes? Will they waste the first half and dig themselves into a hole too deep to escape in the second half? I think (and hope) that this is the game where the Dawgs put it all together and win under the bright lights, then take care of bidness in Miami. GO DAWGS!!! Time to make some more history!

Class of '98

November 29th, 2012
3:56 pm

Alphare, so Florida had a bad day?

Did UGA have a GOOD day in Columbia?

Go dogs. Sic em.

Alphart

November 29th, 2012
3:58 pm

im such a weasel

No big deal, but . . .

November 29th, 2012
4:02 pm

If Dawgs lose to Bama again in a close and entertaining game, all will be well with the world, whether you’re a UGA detractor or a UGA fan. If Dawgs get blown out (in the style of the Big Blackout game) UGA fans will just have to ’settle’ for years to come. There’ nothing wrong with an 8, 9 or 10 win season in Athens. In Tuscaloosa, not so much.

Tuck Fech

November 29th, 2012
4:02 pm

If Georgia plays the first half like it did against LSU last year, and the second half like they did against Florida this year, then we will beat Alabama. Go Dawgs.

No big deal, but . . .

November 29th, 2012
4:04 pm

…….and, yes, I’m looking at you, too, Gamecocks.

Alphare

November 29th, 2012
4:06 pm

Class of ‘98,

FL beats A&M, LSU, USC who in turn beats UGA like a rented mule to borrow a phrase from some UGA fans.

FL’s loss is like Mike Tyson catching cold in a big fight. FL is overall a better team but UGA caught them at a bad moment. Things happen.

Deacon Blues

November 29th, 2012
4:17 pm

They’ve got a name for the winners in the world, and I want a name when I lose, they call Alabama the Crimson Tide, call the Dawgs Deacon Blues!!

GTT

November 29th, 2012
4:20 pm

Florida got their butts beat by a better team.

Dirty Dawg

November 29th, 2012
4:21 pm

While you’re at it you need to point out that, at least, two of LSU’s scores in their 41-30, ‘08, ‘victory’, were, ref-aided, pass interferance calls and non-calls. But that’s OK, all you guys want to talk about was how they dominated the ‘black out’. We’ll see what happens this time…and if Zach Metenberger can throw for over 400 yards agin em, I really like our chances.

Roger

November 29th, 2012
4:44 pm

Yeah, the ‘08 game. Bama spanked the Dogs in the first half and in the second half, the Dogs spanked them right back. People act like it was a blowout and in the first half it was. The final score, though, was 11 points … they play two halves. Bama wasn’t resting its starters in the second half.

mark

November 29th, 2012
4:51 pm

Bobo needs to be creative and stay creative none of this conservative bullshi* come out firing like A&M make Alabama play from behind. Even with missing King and Bennett, we have enough fire power to hang with the Bama. Also on def, no trickery just balls up aggression by the defense attack, attack, attack, Bama qb dose not scare me in the least bit, but don’t let up.

class of 86

November 29th, 2012
4:52 pm

Earlier in the season I wouldn’t have give the Dawgs a snowball’s chance in hell at beating Bama. Still not sure they will show up and play, but if they do, I am confident the Dawgs can give them a heckuva game. If the line can protect Murray and give him some time we will stay competitive. If not it will be a long day for the Dawgs.

Bid Enos Burdette

November 29th, 2012
4:53 pm

When was Saban’s third victory against UGA?

Mark Bradley

November 29th, 2012
4:57 pm

SEC title game 2003.

Alphare

November 29th, 2012
5:04 pm

BAMA is 7.5 favored, 3-1 odds.

Sam Robards, Dawg Fan

November 29th, 2012
5:10 pm

I think Saban’s other two marquee games came against Urban Meyer in the ‘08 and ‘09 SECCGs.

Think about it, ‘08 Bama came out of nowhere and went on to win the division (much like UGA did last year when Carolina was favored to repeat [*chuckle*]). They then played Florida tough and lost (like we did against LSU, but they didn’t take a shotgun to their foot in the second half).

In ‘09, they took care of business and won the division like they were forecast to (like UGA this year) and went to Atlanta again. People thought it was going to be a close game, but they couldn’t bet against a Tim Tebow-led Florida team. So Florida was the favorite: Bama blew the doors off ‘em so bad that Urban Meyer went into early (if temporary) retirement.

Those two games pulled the rug out from under Meyer’s Florida program, which was the team to beat at the time as they had won the NC 2 of the last 3 years and were going for their third in 4 years (sound familiar?), and cemented Bama as the new king of the hill.

Do I think the Dawgs are going to pound Bama and cause Saban to go temporarily insane? Not at all, I think Saban’s a better coach than Meyer.

I do, however, think it’ll be a 3-7 point UGA win.

It’s just funny how similar these seasons and narratives can be sometimes…

Athens Dawg

November 29th, 2012
5:22 pm

@Alphare (what a stupid name)

And we player our best against UF? Hardly. Murray threw 3 , countum, THREE picks! Most teams take that for a win. UF turned it over all day because our D was relentless.

Excellent article!

November 29th, 2012
5:36 pm

Mark, I’ve always of the opinion that these games you mentioned were the turning point forward for Alabama and a regression point for UGA. Excellent observation on your part.

This time, hopefully, UGA will seize this moment, which doesn’t surface often, to swing the tide back toward our program for a sustained run of excellence. Mark Richt and UGA had a nice run (’02 forward) but couldn’t sustain it due to the inability to finish the drill against Saban-led teams.

As a UGA fan, I do admire Saban’s coaching ability and give him, his players, and the University of Alabama their due credit.

One final comment. I was fortunate the play baseball with the New York Yankees (minor league ball Single A Fort Lauderdale) but an injury derailed my career. While I was with the Yankees, I experienced first hand the Aura of playing for an organization that positions itself as the preeminent team in baseball. The Yankees, like Alabama, play to win it all. It’s in both organization’s DNA. UGA, on the other hand, hasn’t been able yet to reach that pinnacle. A win, however, over Alabama may offer an opening for UGA to create an Aura for the next generation of fans. A loss just reassures UGA fans that we have a very respectful and successful Division I program but it is not yet ready to assume greatness and excellence, which few programs ever achieve.

Dumpster fire

November 29th, 2012
5:38 pm

1 more day until we shut the bama trolls up for good. Go ahead and get it out of your system…..there will be no more talk about the blackout Sunday morning.

Sunbury Ga dawg

November 29th, 2012
5:39 pm

Can we get an indoor practice facility?

delane

November 29th, 2012
5:40 pm

Hope UGA wins but the rational side of me sees a big blow out. UGA is UGA and will pull a “Murrey” Saturday.

fan

November 29th, 2012
5:42 pm

what about 2005 when uga beat the breaks off LSU a bomb one the first play

zbulldawg

November 29th, 2012
5:57 pm

LET THE BIG DAWG EAT

Knockahoma

November 29th, 2012
6:03 pm

I just don’t have confidence in Bobo, Richt and Murray. Same thing I said before the UF game. Although UGA tried to do everything in their power to lose against the Gators. Hopefully Jarvis Jones will have the same impact on this game.

stomp the tide

November 29th, 2012
6:06 pm