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, 1941, 1945, 1971, 1978, 1983, and 2003, and we now turn our attention to another great Bulldog team that failed to capture either a conference or a national title.
Following a 2006 campaign that was the first since 2001 to feature fewer than ten victories, the Red and Black entered the 2007 season ranked 13th in both major polls. The Athenians opened with a high-profile non-conference night game against the visiting Oklahoma St. Cowboys, whose botched punt on their initial series led to a Mohamed Massaquoi recovery, followed by a 14-yard Thomas Brown touchdown run on the ensuing play to put the ‘Dawgs up, 7-0, 59 seconds into the contest. Georgia cruised to a 35-14 win, only to suffer a 16-12 setback against the South Carolina Gamecocks the following Saturday.
The Bulldogs plummeted to 23rd in the rankings, and, after rebounding with a 45-16 win over Western Carolina, they traveled to Tuscaloosa for the autumn’s first road game. The Alabama Crimson Tide, boasting a 3-0 record and a No. 16 ranking in Nick Saban’s first season at the Capstone, overcame a 20-10 fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime. After Leigh Tiffin connected on his third field goal of 40 yards or more, Matthew Stafford found Mikey Henderson in the corner of the end zone for the 25-yard game-winning touchdown pass that gave Georgia the 26-23 victory.
Though the Mississippi Rebels held a 7-0 lead after 15 minutes of play in Sanford Stadium, the Red and Black exploded for 472 yards of total offense. Brown rushed for 180 yards and three touchdowns, including two of 41 and 50 yards, in a 45-17 beatdown of Ole Miss. The triumph enabled the ‘Dawgs to rise back to the No. 12 ranking they had held at the time of the South Carolina game, and that poll position again proved unlucky, as Georgia was embarrassed, 35-14, by the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville.
Once more banished to the lower reaches of the top 25, the Classic City Canines made their way to Nashville, where the Vanderbilt Commodores took a 17-7 halftime lead on the Bulldogs. Thanks to a 157-yard rushing effort by redshirt freshman Knowshon Moreno, the Athenians tied the game in the final period. The Music City Mariners drove the length of the field, only to have Darryl Gamble force a fumble, Dannell Ellerbe recover the loose ball, and Tripp Chandler bring in the reception that carried the Red and Black inside the Commodores’ 25 yard line. Brandon Coutu nailed a 37-yard field goal as time expired to give Georgia the 20-17 victory.
Two weeks later, the 20th-ranked Bulldogs crossed paths with the No. 9 Florida Gators in Jacksonville. Moreno scored the first of his three rushing touchdowns with six minutes remaining in the opening quarter, prompting the end zone celebration that re-energized the Cocktail Party rivalry. The Sunshine State Saurians answered, but the Athenians were not to be denied. Stafford found Massaquoi for an 84-yard touchdown strike, Moreno ran for a career-best 188 yards, and the Georgia defense sacked Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow six times in the 42-30 Bulldog victory over Florida that inspired Spencer Hall’s greatest posting.
The smackdown of the Gators vaulted the Red and Black into the top ten, and, after Moreno rushed for 196 yards and three scores in a 44-34 win over a Troy Trojans team that tallied a trash touchdown with five seconds to play, the 19th-ranked Auburn Tigers came to the Classic City to renew the
Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. During the week leading up to the game, it had been rumored that the ‘Dawgs would don black jerseys for the occasion. When Georgia came out of the tunnel clad in “blackout” attire, the tone was set for as amped-up an outing as Sanford Stadium had ever seen. A good time was had by all as the Bulldogs blasted the Plainsmen, 45-20, to claim victories over Auburn and Florida in the same season for the first time since 1982.
Moreno posted his fifth straight 100-yard rushing day against the No. 25 Kentucky Wildcats as Georgia overcame a 10-0 deficit and outlasted the Blue and White, 24-13. Mark Richt claimed his 70th career victory in the game to become just the eighth coach ever to win 70 games in his first seven seasons, joining that select company with Walter Camp, Pete Carroll, Urban Meyer, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Bob Stoops, and Barry Switzer.
In Atlanta against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, the Bulldogs claimed their seventh straight series victory over the Engineers, notching a 31-17 triumph at historic Grant Field with a balanced attack: Georgia threw for 214 yards and rushed for 218 more. Though Tennessee’s victory over Kentucky that same day assured the Big Orange of a berth in the SEC Championship Game, the Red and Black’s 10-2 record lifted them from sixth to fourth in the rankings and landed them in the Sugar Bowl against the undefeated No. 10 Hawaii Warriors.
In New Orleans, once again wearing the blackout jerseys, Georgia beat Hawaii back into territorial status. Moreno scored a pair of first-quarter rushing touchdowns to get the rout underway, and Willie Martinez’s defense turned in probably the best performance of his tenure as coordinator. Heisman Trophy finalist Colt Brennan threw three interceptions and was sacked eight times. Defensive MVP Marcus Howard tallied three of those takedowns, including one at the goal line that resulted in a fumble recovery for a touchdown in the 41-10 skunking.
The Bulldogs’ seventh straight victory confirmed the Red and Black’s status as the hottest team in the nation at that point. During the Athenians’ winning streak, Georgia had beaten four teams that were ranked on the day of the contest in a six-game stretch, scoring more than 40 points four times during their dominant late-season run. The final Associated Press poll ranked the ‘Dawgs second, giving them their first top five finish since 2002 and their highest final poll ranking since the 1980 national championship season. The 2007 campaign marked the fifth finish in the AP top three in Georgia history, and the second under Coach Richt.