I know you recently received a letter expressing concern regarding the state of the program. This came from a devoted denizen of Bulldog Nation who had nothing but the best of intentions, but, since we among the Georgia faithful have felt free to state what we thought was wrong, it is only fair for us to take the time to compliment you on what you are doing right.
Tuscaloosa is a tough place to play. The Bulldogs have fared poorly there historically, never winning in Bryant-Denny Stadium prior to Mark Richt's arrival in the Classic City. Nick Saban has given the 'Bama faithful what they bargained for when they hired him, immediately bringing the Crimson Tide back to respectability, conference prominence, and national significance. On Saturday night, you faced a battle-tested, well-coached, talented football team that demonstrated grit and determination in the face of adversity.
The defense played a great game. Asher Allen, Geno Atkins, Dannell Ellerbe, Marcus Howard, Kelin Johnson, Jeff Owens, and their cohorts all played exceedingly well as a unit, allowing only one extended drive, registering a huge fourth-down stop, and rising up in overtime to keep the opposition out of the end zone in the way their predecessors did against Purdue in the 2000 Outback Bowl and in the 2004 Capital One Bowl.
Despite throwing a pair of interceptions, Matthew Stafford managed the game effectively, making sound decisions in the face of an active defensive front and connecting on 19 of his 35 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. With only a couple of exceptions, the offensive line acquitted itself well in a hostile environment with a maturity beyond its years.
In a nice instance of symmetry, Thomas Brown and Knowshon Moreno each tallied 74 rushing yards, while Sean Bailey racked up 74 receiving yards. Brown had five catches of his own for 39 yards and Moreno continued to make his presence felt in the backfield. Kris Durham had one crucial catch for 19 yards and Mikey Henderson, who continues to make good decisions as a return man, had three grabs for 36 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
It wasn't a perfect game, of course. Georgia had the contest in hand and failed to put it away when the opportunity presented itself. Alabama's fumble at the start of the second half gave the Bulldogs the chance to go up by two scores, but the Red and Black did not capitalize. More dropped passes---particularly by Tripp Chandler, who had a terrible night and ought to have been benched---plagued what otherwise was an impressive offensive assault, which conspired to keep close a contest that could have been won comfortably.
Nevertheless, it was a well-deserved win achieved against a fundamentally sound and exceptionally poised opponent. John Parker Wilson proved last week that he is a quarterback in the mold of Jay Barker . . . he may not be the most talented signal-caller ever to line up under center at Alabama, but he (like his position coach, Major Applewhite, was at Texas) is a winner. Wilson had a fine game of his own, particularly on the Crimson Tide's tying drive, and the significance of this win may only be affirmed by giving due credit to the quality of the Bulldogs' worthy opponent.
When push came to shove, though, the 'Dawgs got it done. Georgia made its fourth-down attempt; 'Bama failed to convert its fourth-down try. The Crimson Tide were successful on third down just thrice in 15 attempts; the Red and Black picked up the necessary yardage on nine of their 19 third-down plays. Between the Bulldogs' 2005 loss to Florida in Jacksonville and their loss to the Gamecocks between the hedges earlier this autumn, the Classic City Canines had gone 6-7 in games decided by a touchdown or less . . . until last night.
Matthew Stafford's 25-yard touchdown pass to Mikey Henderson lacked the immediate impact of David Greene's 19-yard touchdown pass to Michael Johnson in another road game in the Yellowhammer State five years ago, because the earlier game-winner clinched an S.E.C. championship berth.
Still, the gutsy nature of the first-down call and the emotional lift with which Bulldog Nation was provided thereby make Georgia's one-play overtime possession in Mark Richt's most recent road win comparable to Verron Haynes's game-deciding catch in Mark Richt's first road win. Both were plays that demonstrated that the players had bought into what Coach Richt was doing, and that wins would flow frequently from that unity of purpose. That has produced a record of 23-3 on opponents' home fields, including a 9-2 mark against ranked teams on the road . . . so far.
Incidentally, Florida looked exceedingly mortal in Oxford and South Carolina lost. (Not that anyone's counting, but Steve Spurrier has gone 2-5 against the S.E.C. West since becoming the head coach of the Gamecocks, so it's not like they're some big, powerful team or anything.)
Despite the disappointment of the loss to the Palmetto State Poultry, you're right there in the thick of this thing . . . and, in case this fact has been forgotten, you play for the only S.E.C. team to have won at least nine games in each of the last five seasons, the winningest S.E.C. program over the course of the last decade, and one of only two teams to have won multiple S.E.C. championships in the last six years.
Last night, you beat the team that boasts the most storied tradition in the Southeastern Conference in the 20th century. Never forget, though, that you are the team that boasts the most storied tradition in the Southeastern Conference in the 21st century.
It's a new millennium and a new morning in Bulldog Nation. Let the big 'Dawg eat.
T. Kyle King