Are the 2012 Bulldogs the Best Georgia Squad Never to Win a Title?: A Look Back at 1945

Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE

Though this college football season will produce neither a conference championship nor a national title for the Georgia Bulldogs, it remains one of the best uncrowned seasons in school history. In that regard, the 2012 Bulldogs resemble the 1945 Georgia squad.

The Georgia Bulldogs have had a special and successful season in 2012, despite the unfortunate fact that the Red and Black fell just short of claiming the Southeastern Conference crown and, consequently, narrowly missed out on the opportunity to play the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for the national championship. While we await the Capital One Bowl against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on New Year’s Day, we are left to ponder this team’s place in Georgia lore. So far, we have looked at 1912, 1931, and 1941, and we now turn our attention to another great Bulldog team that failed to capture either a conference or a national title.

Though the 1945 campaign came just four years following the season at which we looked in our previous installment, that autumn in many ways occurred a lifetime later. After World War II decimated Georgia’s 1942 national championship team, Wally Butts was forced to field teams in 1943 and 1944 made up of collegians too young or too infirm to qualify for the draft. The war in the Pacific theater officially ended with the signing of the Japanese surrender on the battleship Missouri three weeks before the 1945 college football season began, but sailors and soldiers were discharged in waves, so such gridiron stars as Charley Trippi would not return to campus before midseason.

Consequently, that year’s Bulldogs were topheavy with underclassmen, starting such freshmen as left halfback Johnny Donaldson, quarterback John Rauch, and fullback Floyd “Breezy” Reid. The Red and Black also began the season without one grand old man: Steadman Vincent Sanford, who as a University of Georgia professor, dean, and president had earned a reputation for being the “best friend of athletics,” passed away one week before kickoff of the opening game. He was 74.

The Red and Black, who would field the South’s most potent passing attack and the country’s most prolific receiver (Reid Moseley) that fall, went to the air five times in the first quarter of their opener to pace a 49-0 trouncing of Murray State. A week later, the 17-year-old Reid returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown in a 20-0 win over the Clemson Tigers.

Following two straight shutout wins at home, the Athenians went on the road for back-to-back night games against the Miami Hurricanes and the Kentucky Wildcats. The Bulldogs won both, emerging victorious from Coral Gables by a 27-21 margin and from Lexington with a 48-6 triumph, marking the first time Georgia had ever beaten Kentucky by more than one point.

The win over Miami was the 250th victory in Georgia football history, and it came against a Hurricane squad that would complete the season with a 9-1-1 ledger and a New Year’s Day triumph over 16th-ranked Holy Cross in the Orange Bowl. The Blue and White were a less impressive outfit, as the Wildcats went 2-8 and elected to change coaches at season’s end; Kentucky brought in Paul “Bear” Bryant.

The Red and Black returned to the Classic City for homecoming, sitting pretty at 4-0 and finally able to welcome Trippi back into the lineup. Unfortunately, “Triple Threat Trippi” had not yet had time to adapt to Coach Butts’s T-formation offense, which had been introduced in Athens after the Pennsylvanian had last played a down in a Georgia uniform. The Bulldogs fell, in succession, to the LSU Tigers between the hedges and to the Alabama Crimson Tide at Legion Field. Bernie Moore’s Bayou Bengals finished the fall with a 7-2 record and a No. 15 final ranking, whereas Frank Thomas’s Tide powered its way to a 10-0 ledger, a Rose Bowl victory, and an AP poll finish of No. 3 (behind the two service academies). The Bulldogs were the only team all season long to stay within two touchdowns of ‘Bama.

The consecutive setbacks were disappointing, but, once Trippi became acclimated to the innovative attack that would land the Red and Black among the top five teams in the nation in total offense, those losses were revealed to be the mere prelude to a 17-game winning streak that still stands as the longest unbroken victory skein in school history. The string began on November 3 with a 34-7 thrashing of Chattanooga on the road before the resurgent Athenians lit out for the Sunshine State to tangle with the Florida Gators.

Georgia was a 20-point favorite in Jacksonville, and the Classic City Canines confirmed the oddsmakers’ opinion of them, despite the bright orange jerseys the Gators had broken out for the occasion. The Floridians’ new togs proved to be an example of “fake juice,” as the Red and Black tallied more first downs (17-4), more passing yards (127-7), and more rushing yards (321-90) in a 34-0 rout. Trippi, who had scored twice in the win at Chattanooga, lived up to his billing by the St. Johns River, scoring three touchdowns (one on a 50-yard scamper) and setting a single-game SEC record with 239 rushing yards on 25 carries.

Georgia crushed the Auburn Tigers, 35-0, in Columbus to improve to 7-2, but the Bulldogs headed into their bye week unranked in the sportswriters’ poll. Perhaps wondering what they would have to do to earn national recognition, Coach Butts’s boys elected to take out their frustration on first-year head coach Bobby Dodd’s Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta on December 1.

Once again, Trippi was the superstar against the Engineers. On the ground, he carried the ball twelve times for 61 yards and a touchdown. Through the air, he completed 12 of 23 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns. On defense, he picked off a pass and returned the interception 21 yards. On special teams, he punted twice, pinning the Ramblin’ Wreck inside the ten both times, and returned six punts for 114 yards. Add to Trippi’s stellar performance a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown by Reid, who still had not yet turned 18, and the final verdict was a 33-0 Red and Black win.

The victory earned Georgia a No. 18 spot in the final regular-season AP poll and a bid to the inaugural Oil Bowl in Houston. On New Year’s Day, the Bulldogs faced the 17th-ranked Tulsa Golden Hurricane, a squad that had won 40 of its last 48 games and attended a Sun Bowl, an Orange Bowl, and two Sugar Bowls in Henry Frnka’s first four seasons as head coach.

Georgia completely outclassed Tulsa in the Lone Star State. The Red and Black carded twice as many first downs (14-7), tallied more rushing yards (178) than the Golden Hurricane had total yards (148), and forced twelve punts. Nevertheless, four Bulldog turnovers kept it close, and the Classic City Canines led only by a 7-6 margin after three quarters.

Trippi took over in the final period, though, finding Donaldson for a 64-yard touchdown strike before icing the game with a legendary 68-yard punt return in which Trippi reversed his field and escaped two Tulsa defenders who appeared to have him trapped near the sideline. After the 20-6 victory improved the Athenians’ all-time bowl record to 3-0, an emotional Coach Butts announced in the locker room that Charley Trippi would serve as team captain for his senior season in 1946.

The 1945 Bulldogs finished strong after a pair of midseason disappointments against first-rate competition, clobbering their last five opponents by a combined 156-13 margin in a stretch during which not one game was played in Athens. Georgia beat four major rivals (Auburn, Clemson, Florida, and Georgia Tech), all by three scores or more, and all in shutouts, before closing out the campaign with a January 1 bowl win over a ranked team. Finally, the Bulldogs built momentum for the ensuing autumn by beginning what was to become a school-record winning streak. In short, 1945 was the season 2007 would have been had the 2008 Georgia team lived up to preseason expectations.

Go ‘Dawgs!

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