Ghosts of Bowl Games Past, Part VII: The 2008 Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs Hawaii

Thomas B. Shea

The 2007 season finished up with one of, if not the strangest endings of any season in recent memory. Heading into the final Saturday, Georgia was ranked fourth in the BCS standings, behind #1 Missouri, #2 West Virginia, and #3 Ohio State. After two losses during the first half of the season, the Dawgs had won six in a row. Though Georgia missed out on a trip to the SEC Championship game due to a loss to Tennessee, the Dawgs were in line for a major bowl berth. A good season, could have a really good ending.

But then Missouri lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship game, and West Virginia somehow managed to lose to Pittsburgh. The top two teams had lost! LSU beat Tennessee for the SEC Championship, but it hardly seemed to matter. Logic dictated that since #1 and #2 had lost, #3 and #4 would take their places. Georgia would play for the National Championship!

Well, not quite. While #3 Ohio State did indeed move to #1, Georgia’s final ranking was…#4! #5 LSU vaulted over the Dawgs, as did #6 Oklahoma. Instead of playing for the championship, Georgia would play…Hawaii?

Yes, the erstwhile Rainbow Warriors put together quite a season. Under former Atlanta Falcons coach June Jones, Hawaii went 12-0 in 2007, beating such football titans as Northern Colorado, UNLV, Idaho, and Utah State. Despite the weak schedule, Hawaii was awarded a spot in a BCS game. That game turned out to be the Sugar Bowl against the Dawgs.

Denied the chance to play for a championship, the Black-clad Bulldogs took out their frustrations on Hawaii. Knowshon Moreno, the redshirt freshman sensation who burst onto the scene in 2007, scored two first quarter touchdowns. As it turned out, Moreno’s two scores were all Georgia would need, but the offense wasn’t finished. After a Brandon Coutu field goal, Matthew Stafford connected with Sean Bailey for an eleven yard touchdown.

Meanwhile, the defense was dominant, holding the high scoring Hawaii offense to a meager three points in the first half. The Warriors seemed completely unprepared for Georgia’s speed. At halftime, the Dawgs led 24-3.

Like everyone else, I was disappointed at missing out on a chance for a championship. Though in my heart I never really expected Georgia to move up and get a shot at winning it all, I was still less than thrilled at the prospect of playing Hawaii. Once the game started though, I thoroughly enjoyed the beating that the Dawgs administered.

The second half brought more of the same. In the third quarter, Marcus Howard, who was named the game’s MVP (and spent as much time in the backfield as any member of the Warrior offense), sacked Hawaii quarterback Colt Brennan, forcing a fumble. Howard then recovered the loose ball for a touchdown. At this point the score was 31-3, and any doubt over the outcome had been removed.

Georgia added ten more points, on a Thomas Brown touchdown run and another Coutu field goal. Hawaii finally got into the end zone in the fourth quarter on a sixteen yard pass by Tyler Graunke, who had relieved Heisman Trophy candidate Brennan. The Georgia defense terrorized Brennan all night, sacking him eight times (three courtesy of Howard), and forcing him into five turnovers.

When the final seconds ticked away, Georgia had a 41-10 win. Hawaii had been unable to duplicate fellow WAC member Boise State’s magic from the previous year, when the Broncos memorably upset Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

The Dawgs 11-2 record and #2 final ranking generated much excitement for the following year, but the second half of 2007 would prove to be the be the high point of the Stafford-Moreno era Bulldogs. Though this particular group of Dawgs never won a championship, they were an exciting bunch to watch. I’ll always have fond memories of this game, and this team.

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