Georgia's first series meeting with Colorado turned out to be every bit as exciting as we thought it would be when the game was scheduled . . . but a good deal more exciting than we expected it to be a week ago.
On Friday evening, I wrote: "Colorado is a better team, and Dan Hawkins is a better coach, than the Buffaloes' 0-3 record suggests." This weekend, we found out just how true that was.
The Buffs, and particularly Coach Hawkins, deserve a tip of the cap for giving the 'Dawgs all they could handle between the hedges yesterday. The Colorado coaching staff prepared an excellent game plan and executed it extremely well.
This should have come as no surprise. In preparation for Boise State's season-opening trip to the Classic City, Coach Hawkins spent the entirety of the summer of 2005 reviewing Georgia game film. He probably has a more intimate knowledge of the Bulldogs' tendencies than some S.E.C. coaches have.
Add to that the fact that Coach Hawkins no doubt had redemption on his mind, then throw in the pertinent detail that Colorado has shown steady improvement in each of the Buffaloes' four losses, and it becomes clear, in retrospect, that the Red and Black should have been ready for as good a game as they got.
While we like to make fun of Dan Hawkins's Eastern mysticism and Jedi mind tricks, he designed a plan of attack that effectively used the Bulldogs' own strengths against them. By abandoning any attempt at maintaining a pocket and rolling the quarterback out on every play at the instant the ball was snapped, C.U. took advantage of Georgia's aggressiveness, opening up holes by inducing the 'Dawgs to overpursue their objective.
This gave Colorado quarterback Bernard Jackson the opportunity to make some plays, and he took full advantage of the chances he was given. Jackson connected on 14 of his 26 pass attempts for 140 yards and rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Much as he did last week against Arizona State, Hugh Charles showed flashes of his old form, enabling the Buffaloes to gain 173 yards on the ground.
In short, Dan Hawkins's innovative scheme kept the Bulldogs off-balance for much of the game . . . yet, in this September's showdown as in last September's showdown, the Junkyard 'Dawgs did what they had to do, once again holding Coach Hawkins's clever offensive approach to 13 points. (Lest anyone misconstrue Saturday's yardage totals as evidence in favor of Offensive Chic, it should be noted that, during C.U.'s season-ending four-game losing streak under Gary Barnett, the Buffs scored 8.0 points per game, while, during Colorado's season-opening four-game losing streak under Dan Hawkins, the Buffaloes have scored 9.0 points per game.)
In many ways, this was a typical Colorado football game. In their first three games, the Buffaloes managed one field goal in the first quarter all three times . . . and they did it again in Athens. In two of their first three games, the Buffs scored a touchdown in the second period . . . as they likewise did against Georgia. In its first three games, Colorado was held in check offensively in the second half . . . and, sure enough, the Red and Black limited C.U. to three points after the break.
Matthew Stafford finally reminded us that he is, in fact, a true freshman with great natural ability but a lot yet to learn. Stafford proved ineffectual against a Colorado defense that has yet to give up more than 21 points in a game this season; Georgia's true freshman starter was ineffectual, completing only half of his passes and making rookie mistakes in the face of confusing schemes and defensive pressure.
Maybe I ought to feel badly about this game. Maybe I ought to feel like my team was exposed. Out of an abundance of caution, I will be dropping the 'Dawgs on my BlogPoll ballot . . . but, honestly, I feel better about this game than I would have if the Red and Black had covered the point spread.
This win was about heart. This win was about overcoming adversity. This win was about teamwork and determination and perseverance. This win was the rebuttal to every cynic who doubts that football builds character.
After a win like this, lots of folks deserve game balls, including the following:
Joe Cox: The redshirt freshman backup Q.B. reminded us why he was so heralded coming out of high school. Cox remained cool under pressure, making good on 10 of his 13 pass attempts for 154 yards and a pair of touchdowns, earning the win, and making the box score look a bit more even than it actually was . . . all while saying the right things about teamwork and humility. I don't know if what he told Loran Smith after the game was true, but the line will long be remembered in Bulldog lore: "If we can't score two times, we don't deserve to wear Gs on our helmets."
Martrez Milner: For the longest time, I thought Milner was going to be stuck with the same nickname as Roberto "Manos de Piedra" Duran . . . although "Hands of Stone," while a compliment for a boxer, isn't for a tight end. Then he goes and breaks out of his slump with four catches for 64 yards and a game-winning touchdown that looked like something Leonard Pope would have pulled off.
Mohamed Massaquoi: Mo Mass had been the season's biggest disappointment for the 'Dawgs. Last year's breakout receiver entered this fall hampered by a nagging injury and he had two big drops yesterday that would have been catches last season. However, Joe Cox's high school teammate redeemed himself, finishing with three catches for 29 yards and covering some crucial real estate during the fourth quarter.
Brannan Southerland: Mark Richt doesn't get enough credit for the effectiveness with which he uses his fullbacks, as evidenced by Southerland's stellar performance on Saturday. No one ever wanted a touchdown more than the Georgia fullback when he rumbled into the end zone to begin the comeback.
Kregg Lumpkin: Just when one tailback seems to have separated himself from his coevals, someone else strides to the forefront. Lumpkin was the only Bulldog to average more than three yards per carry on the afternoon, gaining 52 yards on a dozen carries and hauling in a pair of passes for 17 yards.
The Special Teams: While there certainly were some gaffes, the Red and Black were solid in the kicking game, blocking a Colorado field goal try, racking up over 100 return yards, and averaging 45 yards per punt. In a low-scoring football game in which field position is critical, the importance of special teams cannot be overstated.
The Redcoat Band: Striking up the "Superman" theme twice in the fourth quarter was a stroke of genius. Did anyone who heard it the second time doubt that the 'Dawgs would win?
Uga VI: Orson Swindle has warned against the perils of premature celebration and the Buffaloes' flag guy should have heeded Orson's wisdom. When the game is far from over, it's poor form and worse judgment to go running back and forth in the end zone in front of the home team's fans while waving the opposing school's flag. Uga was straining at his leash, ready to go after the guy. Didn't the 1996 Auburn game teach people anything? When you build up a lead on Georgia and Uga goes after one of your guys, you're going down.
Hairy Dawg: The Bulldogs' costumed sideline mascot gets his share of grief, but, when Hairy grabbed the Georgia flag and ran back and forth across the selfsame end zone in which the Colorado cowboy had paraded with the losing team's banner, the crowd was as fired up as you'd ever need it to be.
Ben Watson: I know he hasn't put on a Georgia uniform since 2003 and, when he was wearing silver britches, he lined up at tight end, but Watson deserves credit for half a tackle. When Watson's towel-twirling, snarling "I'm Georgia!" declaration played on the scoreboard during a crucial game situation, the resulting defensive stop was at least partly attributable to his impassioned exhortation. Tradition never graduates.
Thomas King: I was at the game while my wife, Susan, was at home with our son. Much of the game took place during Thomas's nap time. While the boy was asleep, Colorado took a 13-0 lead. When my son awoke and began watching the game, the 'Dawgs came back. In a game as close as this one, you have to think that made a difference.
The Crowd: There were some boos in the early going, which I considered out of line, but the crowd was loud when it counted and Sanford Stadium finally is starting to provide the sort of home field advantage Georgia hasn't had between the hedges since the early '80s.
Mark Richt: Suppose that I had come up to you on Friday and said, "The 'Dawgs are going to be down 13-0 heading into the fourth quarter, but you can have any head coach in Georgia history standing on the sideline for the final 15 minutes. Whom do you choose?" Is there any doubt in your mind that the right answer to that question is Coach Richt? Is there anyone you'd rather have deciding which quarterback to use when than him?
It was a gut-wrenching game to watch but a glorious win to get. Now let's hope Colorado goes out and wins the Big 12 North. Hey, don't think it couldn't happen.