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Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda: Counting down the best UGA teams that didn’t win a title: #3. 2007

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Auburn v Georgia Photo by Travis Lindquist/Getty Images

When macondawg gave me the choice to write about a season for this series, I immediately jumped on 2007. While every one of the seasons in this series was special, 2007 is the one I remember most fondly. It was my freshman year in Athens, and after spending my entire life wanting to be a student at UGA, I finally was. While I was discovering the sweet nectars of college life and exploring the land of milk and honey known as Athens, Georgia, a very special thing happened out of nowhere. Before we get into all of that, let’s remind ourselves of the context that Georgia’s 2007 football season occurred in,

2007 was, in my opinion, the greatest year of college football we have ever had. Every team in a major conference finished the season with at least two losses... Except Kansas? My gut tells me that’s totally wrong but yes that’s what the notes sat. I love upsets, and upsets happened everywhere. It was strange. It was chaotic. It was entertaining as hell. Some of the things that happened that year...

  • Nick Saban’s Alabama team lost to Louisiana-Monroe in Tuscaloosa
  • Cal, South Florida, Kansa, Boston College and West Virginia were all ranked #2 at some point
  • Then FCS team Appalachian State opened the season with a win on the road at preseason #5 and presumptive national title contender Michigan
  • South Florida beat Auburn in Jordan-Hare
  • The most hyped game of the year happened in... Arrowhead Stadium> It was played between... Kansas and Missouri? With one team at 11-0 and the other at 10-1, they were ranked #2 and #3 respectively
  • Mike Gundy’s “I’M A MAN! I’M 40 RANT!”
  • Stanford beat USC in the Los Angeles Coliseum as a 41-point underdog
  • Notre Dame lost to Navy AND Air Force
  • A #1 ranked LSU team lost in triple overtime... twice

In a year where tons of teams were booming one week and busting the next, Georgia followed suit.

Things started out positively, as the Dawgs handled a solid Oklahoma State team 35-14. A forgotten side note of that game was Georgia’s defense shutting the Cowboys out in the second-half. It was one of the events that lead to Mike Gundy and OSU offensive coordinator Larry Fedora moving Reid down the depth chart, resulting in Gundy’s famous “I’M A MAN, I’M FORTY!” rant towards a local columnist who wrote about Reid’s fall from the starting job.

The good vibes ended quickly in the form of an old foe- Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks came to Athens and held Georgia to 12 lousy points. It was a miserable game to watch, USC scored on the first possession of the game and we saw zero touchdowns after that. I remember walking out of the game miserable. We had to swallow the fact that this was Georgia’s fifth consecutive loss to a division opponent. Around the tailgates that night their were serious questions about whether Matthew Stafford, and newly minted offensive coordinator Mike Bobo would be able to take us where we wanted to go.

A routine win against Western Carolina came before a trip to Alabama. The records now show that Alabama went 7-6 in 2007. However, going into the game it was totally different. The Tide was undefeated in their first season under new coach Nick Saban. Georgia was ranked #23 and an underdog heading to face #16 Alabama. To make matters worse we had a patchwork offensive line filled with youngsters who had never been under the lights on the road in the SEC. The Dawgs were one loss away from what we all assumed was elimination in the conference race.

This was my first road game as a student. My Dad, his college roommate and two of my best-friends wandered into the upper deck of Bryant-Denny hopeful but prepared for the worst. When Brandon Coutu’s would-be game-winning field-goal went wide at the end of regulation one of the locals leaned forward and let me know that “the Bear blew that one wide.” The Bear was nowhere to be found a few minutes later.

I still haven’t heard 100,000 people go from raucous to dead silent any quicker than when Mikey Henderson caught that perfect 25-yard pass from Matthew Stafford on the first play of overtime. We had fun walking out amongst the sad Bama fans and drove back to Athens buzzing with adrenaline, thinking the season could still be special.

All of those good vibes were gone two weeks later when the Dawgs went up to Knoxville and came out totally flat against Tennessee. Georgia was flat out embarrassed by a Tennessee team that had given up 59 points to Florida and 28 to Arkansas St in the two weeks prior. The Dawgs only put up two touchdowns in a 35-14 loss that nearly dropped us out of the polls and Tennessee ran it down our throats all day. After a sixth straight loss in the division, some factions were calling for Mark Richt’s job.

We came out the very next week and went down to Vanderbilt 17-7. Then, with Kregg Lumpkin and Thomas Brown injured, Mark Richt unleashed a super weapon named Knowshon Moreno. Moreno put the team on his back and ran for 123 yards in the second-half, including a long run to setup a game-winning kick for Brandon Coutu.

The Dawgs squeaked it out 24-21, but still... it was Vanderbilt. The team now had a habit of coming out flat, and at this point we were halfway through Matthew Stafford’s career and things hadn’t seemed to click. Every week that went by where we continued to squander a generational quarterback talent felt like watching football malpractice. During the off-week before the WLOCP in Jacksonville, negativity swirled around Athens and the media asked questions about the long-term health of the program.

When we think back on 2007, most of us don’t remember all of the bad things swirling around the program in late-October. When you talk about the 2007 season with your friends or fellow fans, you probably don’t mention that the first two months of it were basically shit.

That’s because this happened on the very next drive of the season...

If you were there you were probably as confused as I was- actually, check that, I was more confused. I am ashamed to admit it now, but my first Cocktail Party tailgate as a student was filled with rookie mistakes, and I treated it more like a sprint than a marathon. I can neither confirm nor deny that I was passed out through most of that first drive. I woke up to the confusion of Moreno scoring and the team rushing the field. It would have been odd for any team to do it, but this was Mark Richt’s Team running on the field!

Some kind soul on my row handed me a couple hot dogs and I rallied, but the rest of the game was no less confusing. This stumbling, uninspired football team had been energized by the juice of Knowshon Moreno. He never got tired, even while putting in 33 physical carries and 188 yards. The previously anemic offense put up 42 points, man-handling Florida up front all day. The Dawgs defense swarmed Tim Tebow for 6 sacks. It was glorious.

Have you watched the 2007 win over Florida today? If not, why haven’t you?

The next week featured a closer than it should’ve been win over Troy. A couple of days later, the school announced that on behalf of the team’s seniors, Mark Richt was asking for everyone to wear black the next Saturday when Auburn came to Sanford Stadium. It was unprecedented. Georgia had never did a program that did such things. Most of us students bought in, but we doubted the alums would participate. Social media wasn’t as prevalent back then, and the movement spread more by word of mouth than anything. I remember calling my parents in North Carolina, who were longtime season ticket holders themselves, and telling them to wear black.

The morning of the game I walked through campus to my parent’s tailgate and realized that it was actually happening. EVERYONE was in black. Their was a vibe in the air. It was electric, even hours before kickoff. We all thought the fans wearing black was all there was to the thing. Then it happened...

Everyone has their games or moments when they say Sanford Stadium was at its loudest, mine is the moment we ran out in black. Every hair on every body in the building stood up. I can’t watch a video of it without tearing up a little bit. Colleague Jason Smith once aptly called it “The Day Sound Failed.” It was loud it was quiet. It broke noise. If you’re a younger fan who grew up with the black jerseys, I can’t explain to you how unfathomable it still is to me that they exist.

There was still a game to by played, but it was a formality after that. There was simply no way Georgia was losing to Auburn on that day. At the end of the third quarter the Dawgs scored to take control, and something significant happened...

Here’s a gratuitous embed of the full highlights from that day.

It’s hard to explain, but this was the moment Georgia Football became the coolest thing in America. I had friends at other schools throughout the south and the country, they all called or texted about that day against Auburn.

The next Monday, I managed to get my hands on what I was told was the last black jersey in town through a friend who worked at one of the local bookstores. It was a number 24 and it said “Moreno” on the back. Three days later I wore that black jersey to a Pastor Troy concert at the Georgia Theatre. A member of Pastor Troy’s posse walked past me, stopped, did a double take, turned around, stared with his jaw dropped, called over a couple of his friends and then offered me $500 cash for the black jersey. I said no. He just nodded in understanding. That’s how cool Georgia Football was in November of 2007.

Georgia wasn’t losing another game after that. The psyche of that team had totally changed. The Dawgs closed out the year with wins over a ranked Kentucky team at home and Georgia Tech in Atlanta. Our hopes for an SEC Championship went caput when Tennessee won wacky four overtime game over Kentucky. I fit had fallen Kentucky’s way, the Dawgs would have faced eventual national champion LSU in Atlanta with a berth in the national title on the line. You will never ever convince Georgia wouldn’t have won that game. They were too hot to lose to anyone.

We still almost got into the BCS Championship with two losses. Remember, 2007 was the craziest year of college football ever. On the last weekend of the season, number 1 Missouri lost in the Big-12 title game while number 2 ranked West Virginia lost to a three win Pitt team 13-9 on the last weekend of the season. Ohio State was in the title with one loss, but there were a bunch of two-loss teams lined up behind them and nobody knew how to separate them. Georgia had been #4 going into the weekend. I remember running up and down the hallway of the dorms that night as all of us students realized we might be going to the BCS Championship Game.

Then, Kirk Herbstreit decided to step in and do hourly television hits stumping against Georgia going to the title because they hadn’t won their division. Ironically, Herbstreit had ridden hard for a Michigan-Ohio State rematch to be the national title game the year before. Herbstreit would later be a proponent of Alabama playing LSU in the 2011 title game despite them not winning their division. It would not be terribly wrong to say Kirk Herbstreit cost Georgia a national title. It would also not be wrong to say that losing to Tennessee and South Carolina did.

Our consolation prize was playing 2007’s feel good cinderella, the Hawaii Warriors in the Sugar Bowl. Hawaii was undefeated and many talking heads predicted that they would pull the upset. The Dawgs rolled into the Louisiana Superdome in their black jerseys and put on one of the most dominant performances in program history. Hawaii QB Colt Brennan, a Heisman finalist and owner of 31 NCAA passing records probably still has bruises from what Marcus Howard did to him.

We all partied on Bourbon Street that week, celebrating what had become one of Georgia’s greatest teams. The 2007 Bulldogs were a team that believed they were unbeatable and then they were. The LSU fans who were in New Orleans that week knew how great Georgia was, they wanted no part of that Bulldogs team. Georgia finished the year with three first-place votes in the final poll, enough to claim a national title at some SEC schools.

The fact that the season ended the way it did after the team appeared to be an average squad for much of the season made it all the more fun. They were a streaking comet that gave us some of the best football we’ve ever seen a UGA team play. As quickly as it happened, it was over.

The momentum from 2007 lead to the Dawgs becoming pre-season #1 in 2008. We thought a title was coming for that group, but there were holes in the 2008 team that nobody saw until they were exposed.

What happened in 2008 doesn’t change what I will always consider to be an irrefutable truth- Georgia would have beaten any team put in front of them at the end of the 2007 season.