The Bulldogs' comeback win over Virginia Tech in the Peach Bowl was a total team effort . . . and I'm not just talking about the football players and the coaching staff.
Because holiday travel plans and conflicting family obligations prevented all of us from being together on Christmas Day, Susan's parents hosted their three daughters and those daughters' husbands and children at their house on Saturday for the traditional gift exchange and bowl viewing. When the evening began to sour---when a 3-0 lead dissolved into a 21-3 deficit---all of us did our part.
My brother-in-law, Craig, and I ate chips and salsa at halftime, despite the fact that we already had gorged ourselves at supper. My mother-in-law went and changed her attire between the second and third quarters. My brother-in-law, Travis, removed what he now knew to be his bad luck red-and-white socks ere the second half began. We shuffled the seating arrangements as the situation warranted.
Particular credit goes to my wife, Susan, who was there for the early going but left to put our son, Thomas, to bed before returning later in the contest. While Susan was out of the room, Georgia was outscored 21-0. While Susan was present, however, the Bulldogs outscored the Hokies 31-3.
Nevertheless, some credit goes to those who actually were in the Georgia Dome last night, so let's give them their due, as well.
All right, I guess he had something to do with it, too. (Photograph from Sports Illustrated.)
Although some valid criticisms have been offered, I thought the Red and Black played, and the coaches called, a whale of a game. Despite being down at the half, the Classic City Canines really were only guilty of three bad plays in the first two quarters . . . one on offense, one on defense, and one on special teams. Unfortunately, all three resulted in, or led directly to, V.P.I. touchdowns.
The Hokies' defensive scheme fooled Matthew Stafford, who threw a costly interception. A 54-yard punt return set up another score and, when a tipped pass found its intended target, the result was a 53-yard touchdown strike. (Had the ball not been tipped, the Georgia defenders would not have halted and the play might not have succeeded.)
On the whole, the game was well-coached, well-played, and well-officiated (apart from one pass interference penalty on a play that only happened because of a hold that was not called); in the first half, Georgia did not play badly . . . Virginia Tech just played well, much as one would have expected from the nation's top-rated defensive football team.
After intermission, though, Mark Richt reminded us that, for all his calm conservatism, he is the best football coach in Georgia history for a reason. Rather than attempt to work around Virginia Tech's great strength---the Hokies' legendary special teams---he met Frank Beamer's bunch head-on, turning their greatest advantage against them.
No sooner had Brandon Coutu confirmed the completeness of his recovery by making a 51-yard field goal look routine than Coach Richt called for an onside kick that no one saw coming. Eight plays and two Virginia Tech penalties later, the Bulldogs had a touchdown, which brought with it a surge of confidence, the vocal support of the crowd, and all of the momentum.
Also, it didn't hurt that Dr. Jerry Punch interviewed this guy on the sideline.
Statistically, the contest was a dead heat. Both teams earned nine first downs, with each converting a trio of third downs and a single fourth down. Georgia netted 200 yards of total offense, 11 more than the 189 managed by Virginia Tech. The Hokies ran 53 offensive plays to the Bulldogs' 52. The Red and Black averaged 3.8 yards per snap, slightly more than the 3.6 yards per play gained by V.P.I. Had the Classic City Canines held the ball for 23 fewer seconds, the time of possession would have been divided evenly.
While we're on the subject of being evenly divided, the results of a recent poll question here at Dawg Sports indicated that Bulldog Nation was split down the middle on the question of Mike Bobo's fitness for the post of offensive coordinator: 50 per cent thought either that the move was long overdue (13%) or that it would have been a mistake before now, but that Coach Bobo was ready (37%), and 50 per cent believed Georgia needed an offensive coordinator with more play-calling experience (5%), adopted a "wait and see" attitude (39%), or took the view that it was a bad idea (6%).
I am of the opinion that Mike Bobo's promotion to offensive coordinator was a smart call on Mark Richt's part and Coach Bobo's play-calling added an exclamation point at the end of the arguments in support of him. It's hard to complain about the play-calling of an offensive coordinator who guides his team to 28 second-half points against the best defense in the country and Matthew Stafford is starting to show flashes of David Greene-like maturity. Along with Coach Richt's decision to adopt a more C.E.O.-style approach to his coaching, these recent developments in Bulldog Nation bode very well for the future of the program.
(As an aside, I wonder whether anyone else noticed that, when the two college presidents were presented with their checks, Il Duce was listed as "Dr. Michael Adams," but his V.P.I. counterpart was given no such designation. That suggests to me that the president of Virginia Tech does not have a doctorate. How bad an academic institution are you running when your college president is less well-educated than the sideline reporter covering your bowl game?)
In many ways, it was (despite the game's change of nomenclature) a typical Peach Bowl. 38 years to the day before Georgia's win over Virginia Tech, L.S.U. won the inaugural postseason event in Atlanta by a 31-27 margin, setting the stage for what historically has been a close game.
In the 23 Peach Bowls played between the 1979 and 2001 seasons, 20 were decided by margins of 10 or fewer points, including four four-point games, three three-point games, two two-point games, and a trio of one-point decisions. Georgia's previous Peach Bowl appearances included a one-point win in 1973, a one-point loss in 1989, a seven-point loss in 1995, and a two-point win in 1998.
In a more important sense, though, this was more than just another Peach Bowl. The 'Dawgs demonstrated decisively that the downcycle is done by beating a third consecutive ranked opponent for the first time in the school's storied history.
It wasn't a perfect game, but it was a great game. It was a game that salvaged a season that once seemed lost. It was a game that reaffirmed my faith in Mike Bobo and restored my faith in Willie Martinez. It was a game that reminded me that the potential of two quarterbacks---the true freshman who now lines up under center and the former Miami backup who now coolly manages matters from the sideline---is only just beginning to be tapped. It was a game that took much of the sting out of what had been a disappointing season.
You ain't seen nothing yet.
The transition from 2005 to 2006 was expected to be a difficult one for the Red and Black, as both the quality and the quantity of Georgia's personnel losses forced everyone in Bulldog Nation to enter the autumn with lowered expectations. It turns out that our fears were well-founded, as the Classic City Canines plummeted all the way from 10-3 to 9-4.
A nine-win season was about as good as it got in Athens after graduations had caused Erk Russell's imprint on the program to fade; in the 17 seasons between 1984 and 2000, the Red and Black won more than nine games just twice and the 'Dawgs won eight or fewer contests in an individual autumn on 11 occasions.
Now, however, Coach Russell's legacy is commemorated with a helmet sticker bearing his name and Coach Richt has brought a winning attitude back to a program that wandered in the desert for two decades. Now, a nine-win season is a disappointment, not an achievement.
Welcome to the glory days. I'll see y'all in Sanford Stadium 244 days hence.