Former Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley looks at this year’s SEC Championship matchup and between the Bulldogs and No. 1 LSU and can’t help but think back to six years ago when he was getting ready for a similar game.
In 2005, as now, the Bulldogs were the SEC East champs and the underdog team (though not by two touchdowns like they are this year). Georgia was ranked No. 13 and the Tigers were No. 3 and everybody was talking about how an SEC championship victory might get LSU into the BCS national championship game against Southern Cal or Texas.
“It’s kind of strange it’s so much alike,” said Shockley, who’s living in Atlanta and still playing football. “LSU is so highly ranked right now; they’re supposed to be so much better than Georgia; Georgia’s not supposed to have a chance. It’s the same scenario, the same story we heard in ‘05. It’s very similar, and I think the outcome could be very similar, too.”
That would be quite the shocker. Thanks in no small part to Shockley — who came away with MVP honors — the Bulldogs hit LSU with two long touchdown passes early and never looked back en route to a 34-14 victory.
“We didn’t have much to lose at the time, but we had a lot to prove to ourselves,” Shockley said of the Bulldogs, who came into the ‘05 game 9-2. “We wanted to go out and play well and I think this Georgia team now is feeling the same way. Nobody is giving them any respect for winning the last 10 games and being in this game, period.”
LSU was led by quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who came into the game banged up, and a bevy of fleet-footed wide receivers. But the hallmark of that Tigers’ team was the defense, which was known for stuffing the run and playing facemask-to-facemask in the secondary.
Shockley said the Bulldogs’ plan coming into the game was to use LSU’s defensive aggressiveness against it.
“We were going to take a couple of shots deep to let them know that we weren’t afraid and we were going to push it down the field,” Shockley said. “We weren’t going to play a conservative game. All year long, whenever they saw us audible, we always audibled to a quick game. In this game, when we audibled we did the exact same thing except we sent somebody long, too. And they did exactly what we thought. They jumped our quick slants and quick outs and Sean Bailey ended up running free down the sideline.”
Shockley hit Bailey on touchdown passes of 45 and 29 yards in the first quarter to stake them to a 14-0 lead six minutes in and the Bulldogs never looked back. Russell was out of the game and Georgia was ahead 34-7 by the time LSU scored its last touchdown with five miutes to play.
It was an unforgettable day for Shockley, who also ran for a seven-yard touchdown in the game.
“It was just so satisfying,” Shockley recalled. “I’d waited all that time and we’d been in the SEC Championship game and I was part of the team, but it was a different scenario until that year. We had a lot of guys on our team who were in the same boat, finally getting a chance to play and a lot of people not giving them a chance because we lost so many great players.
“Just being in that game was huge because we were picked to finish third in the SEC that year. So everybody thought it was a great year that year just to make it that game. But we wanted to go a step further and just win the game because all year long nobody thought we could do it. We thought, if we win this game, what else could anybody say. So personally it was very satisfying.”
Shockley hasn’t been able to recapture the magic since that game. After being drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, injuries detoured his NFL career. He played last season with the Omaha Nighthawks of the AFL. He’s holding out hope for an opening to return to the NFL but doesn’t know if that’s going to happen.
“I know I can play; I know I’ve got the talent,” Shockley said. “It just depends on getting the chance. It’s all about getting the opportunity. But it’s not always about what you want to do. If it happens, I’ll put my best foot forward. If it doesn’t, hey, you’ve got to move on some day. I’ve got a 20-month old daughter [Milan] with my wife [Portia] and we’ve got a little boy on the way, so my priorities are different now.”
But that 2005 SEC Championship, it will always be with him.
– Chip Towers