Ghosts of Bowl Games Past, Part VIII: Christmas in Shreveport: The 2009 Independence Bowl

Al Messerschmidt

There have been many great Georgia quarterbacks during the Mark Richt era: Greene, Shockley, Stafford, Murray...Joe Cox! Well maybe not Joe Cox. 2009 was Cox’s only season as starting quarterback at UGA, and as it turned out, that was probably a good thing.

I’ve often thought Cox got a bad rap though. He actually had a decent season in ’09, passing for 2,500 yards and 25 touchdowns. He was hardly the worst QB Georgia has run out there over the years. Maybe it was Cox’s knack for throwing an interception (he was picked off 15 times in ’09) at the worst possible time that drew fans’ wrath. Or maybe it was all the talk about how Shockley had led the Dawgs to an SEC Championship after waiting until his senior year to start. That particular comparison was definitely unfair. True, Cox was no Shockley. But the rest of the 2009 team wasn’t the 2005 team either.

2009 was an up and down year to be sure. There were wins over South Carolina (a game in which I memorably scared our dog and cats into hiding with my reaction to a fumbled kick return by Branden Smith), Arizona State, Auburn, and an inexplicable win over #7 Georgia Tech. But there was also a loss to LSU (partly because of the worst celebration penalty call I’ve ever seen following an AJ Green touchdown), blowouts at the hands of Tennessee and Florida, and a ridiculous loss to Kentucky.

Georgia’s reward (if you can call it that) for such an unpredictable season was a trip to Shreveport, Louisiana for a December 28th meeting with Texas A&M in the Independence Bowl.

The Dawgs hadn’t been to the Independence Bowl since 1991, when they faced another future conference opponent, beating Arkansas 24-15. This was to be the last year in which the SEC had an affiliation with this particular bowl game; a fact I doubt anyone shed any tears over. I had forgotten much about this game, but while doing a little research, it all came back to me.

The first quarter was mainly a punting contest between Georgia’s Drew Butler and A&M’s Ryan Epperson, as neither offense was able to get anything going. This was a bit surprising, considering that A&M allowed 35 points per game in 2009, and Georgia’s defense was being coached by Rodney Garner and a group of graduate assistants following the firing of defensive coordinator Willie Martinez and assistants John Jancek and John Fabris.

The defensive duel continued into the second quarter. Geno Atkins blocked a field goal attempt to keep the game scoreless, but the Georgia was unable to take advantage. Late in the second quarter, the Aggies got going. Jerrod Johnson hit Jaime McCoy with a 15 yard touchdown pass to give Texas and A&M a 7-0 lead with 2:33 to play in the half. The Dawgs were behind, and the offense was showing no signs of life. Cue Brandon Boykin.

Boykin took the ensuing kickoff and returned it 81 yards for a touchdown. It was the third kick return touchdown of the season for the season for the sophomore, setting a new school record and providing the spark that Georgia desperately needed.

With just over a minute remaining in the half, Baccari Rambo blocked a Texas A&M punt. One play later Caleb King put the Dawgs ahead 14-7 with a two yard touchdown run. Georgia led 14-7 at halftime.

Early in the third quarter, A&M tied the score on a 14 yard touchdown run. Georgia responded with a Blair Walsh field goal. The game seemed to be shaping up into the offensive shootout everyone had expected. But then the Georgia defense took center stage. The Dawgs stopped the Aggies on their next possession and, on the ensuing punt, the snap sailed over the head of Epperson. Three plays later Cox found Aron White for a 24 yard touchdown.

Sanders Commings intercepted a Johnson pass at the 10 yard line to kill the next A&M drive. Later in the period, the Aggies drove into Bulldog territory again. This time it was Reshad Jones who intercepted Johnson and returned the pick 59 yards. Cox hit AJ Green for a 16 yard gain, then hooked up with White again for a two yard score. Suddenly the score was 31-14, and the floodgates were open.

The Dawgs added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter on runs by King and Shaun Chapas. It was hard to believe that this was the same game in which Georgia could have very easily trailed 7-0 at halftime. Boykin’s touchdown, combined with the three consecutive turnovers forced by the defense had turned it into a route. Final score: Georgia 44 Texas A&M 20.

For me, the main takeaway from this game was Georgia’s special teams play. Given all of the trouble the Dawgs have had on special teams in 2013, it was nice to remember that it wasn’t always so. For much of Mark Richt’s tenure, this aspect of the game has actually been a strength.

It was a good way to close out a tough season. While it wasn’t the type of bowl game we’d grown accustomed to watching Georgia play in, it was an entertaining one. Joe Cox went out with a win, if only a small one. The next season the Aaron Murray era would be upon us, but 2009 will always belong to Cox, for better or for worse.

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