The last time a Georgia squad opened the autumn with two shutouts in the Bulldogs' first three games, Mark Richt was nine years old.
It is no secret that we in Bulldog Nation were displeased by the erratic nature of the Red and Black's defensive play during the final five games of the 2005 campaign. While the Junkyard 'Dawgs turned in solid performances against Georgia Tech and Louisiana State, huge lapses against Auburn and West Virginia kept Georgia from finishing the season with a 12-1 record.
I still have nightmares about this debacle.
I have quoted this statistic often, but it bears reiterating. From 1892 to 1991, the Bulldogs scored 28 or more points in a loss just twice . . . against Texas in the 1949 Sugar Bowl and against Clemson in 1986.
From 1992 to 2005, the Red and Black went down to defeat despite scoring four or more touchdowns nine times, falling by margins of 34-31 against Tennessee in 1992, 42-28 against Auburn in 1993, 29-28 against Alabama in 1994, 43-30 against Vanderbilt in 1994, 37-31 against Auburn in 1995, 45-34 against Auburn in 1997, 51-48 against Georgia Tech in 1999, 31-30 against Auburn in 2005, and 38-35 against West Virginia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl.
Obviously, last year's late losses were the exception in the Mark Richt era, but still it is nice to bounce back from a pair of shootout losses to post a pair of shutout wins.
All is forgiven . . . for now. (Photograph from Athens Banner-Herald.)
The Bulldogs' start was somewhat sluggish, as the Classic City Canines led by just 10 points at the break, but Georgia's stout defense made it clear that the game was never in danger of slipping away. This was a welcome change from the last meeting between the two schools.
The Blazers did not quite manage 2.9 yards per play and their longest drive ended 36 yards shy of the Bulldogs' goal line. The Red and Black did not improve their defensive statistics in the red zone because U.A.B. never reached the red zone. The visiting team gained as many first downs on Georgia penalties as they did either by running or throwing the ball.
Brandon Coutu remained as reliable as ever, putting a 55-yard field goal through the uprights and booting his seventh three-pointer in as many tries this season. Gordon Ely-Kelso made the most of his three opportunities, booming a trio of punts for a 49.3-yard average. A special teams touchdown off of a blocked punt put the game away and that combination of defensive stinginess and kicking game productivity rendered offensive output virtually superfluous.
While Sammy Hagar can neither drive nor, most likely, count to 55, Brandon Coutu can kick a field goal from that distance. (Photograph by Danny Parker from Shelbyville Times-Gazette.)
While a Bulldog offense that converted just two of its nine third down tries definitely needs improvement, the running game was effective enough and five different 'Dawgs averaged between 2.6 and 6.0 yards per carry. Between them, Thomas Brown, Kregg Lumpkin, and Danny Ware ran the ball 28 times for 128 yards and both Brannan Southerland and Des Williams gained meaningful yards from the fullback spot.
The education of Matthew Stafford continued as the Bulldogs' freshman signal-caller connected on 10 of his 17 pass attempts for 107 yards. While he did not throw a touchdown pass, neither did he throw an interception, and Stafford showed great determination on a four-yard touchdown run on which he would not be denied.
Clearly, the increased practice time with the first-team offense has benefited the young quarterback and he demonstrated just a hint of elusiveness while pressing ahead with his on-the-job training. Seven different receivers hauled in passes from Stafford.
Just imagine if Stafford had this guy for a target. (Photograph from Gridiron Grumblings.)
All in all, it was a good day in every respect, from the Erk Russell tribute on the scoreboard to the surprisingly effective Redcoat Band rendition of Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name." (After hearing Sousa marches performed at halftime of the Western Kentucky game, I thought it was inevitable that this Saturday's intermission would feature one of the traditional medleys from the Beatles, "West Side Story," the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber, or Earth, Wind, and Fire.)
We still have a long way to go and many tough trials remain on the Bulldogs' slate . . . but, little by little, Georgia is starting to show signs that a team we all thought would be rebuilding may be reloading more quickly than anticipated.