You may recall that last year before the national title game against Alabama we asked a handful of former Bulldog football players what winning a national title would mean to them, as well as their thoughts on the upcoming match up. The piece was so well received we decided to do it again this year.
In the lead up to this title matchup I had the pleasure of posing a few questions to pair of beloved former Bulldogs. Chris Burnette played four years at offensive guard for Mark Richt, paving the way for Georgia running backs like Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. He was a second team All-SEC selection in 2012, and was a part of the team that came within a whisper of warning the right to utterly paste Notre Dame in that year’s national championship game (not that we’re still bitter).
Like Stetson Bennett, John Lastinger knows a thing or two about leading the ‘Dawgs into high stakes competition. Lastinger took over for Buck Belue at quarterback in 1981 and led the Red and Black to three consecutive top 6 finishes in the final AP poll. He closed out his career in the legendary “What time is it in Texas?” 1984 Cotton Bowl victory over the undefeated Texas Longhorns. Both guys are fairly confident heading into tonight.
Burnette is crystal clear about what’s at stake tonight when Kirby Smart’s team kicks off against #3 TCU with a national championship on the line, and it’s more than a single trophy. Winning back-to-back titles “would be incredible” the former All-SEC lineman said. But more than that it would be “a testament to the culture built and quite honestly the beginning stages of creating a new dynasty.”
I’m not sure anyone expected the guy with the keys to the fledgling dynasty to be a former walk-on and JUCO transfer quarterback who sat 4th on the depth chart to start 2020. But the career of Stetson Bennett has been, as the Grateful Dead put it, one long, strange trip.
I asked Lastinger specifically about the Mailman, and how he can snap back from a rough start in the Peach Bowl. “The Stinger”, as he’s still known by Bulldog fans, didn’t sound too worried. “Other than a bad interception early in the game, I thought Stetson played well.” He continued, “ [Bennett] seems to kind of have a little amnesia, which can be good for a QB. He doesn’t seem to let bad plays bother him too much.”
“Georgia’s biggest advantage is having been here before”, Lastinger continued. “Kind of knowing what it takes to handle the hype and magnitude of the game.” He also sounded a cautionary note however, when asked about the thing he’s most worried about. “Our biggest weakness may just be the ‘law of averages”’. At some point, you just end up on the wrong end.”
It certainly looked like Georgia might be heading in that direction against Ohio State.
Burnette put his finger on some of the issues that emerged in that Peach Bowl as his greatest concerns heading into the title game. Asked what worries him he has a clear #1 priority. “Protecting the football.” “I believe we have a level of talent above pretty much every team in the country. The recruiting classes prove it” Burnette noted. “However, we’ve had games where we did not protect the ball or were sloppy in execution.” He’s not exactly gloomy though, continuing “I think as long as we don’t turn it over in key moments, we win the game handily”
Asked about what concerns him most about the Horned Frogs, Lastinger has his eye on the UGA offense. “[Stetson] and the entire offense will have to handle TCU’s overall speed on defense. They can really run” he noted. But he also predicts a Bulldog victory. His score prediction: “UGA - 34 TCU - 17.”
Burnette’s pick: “I predict a UGA win. UGA - 38 TCU - 24.”
Thanks to both of these Bulldog standouts for taking a moment to share their thoughts with us. I don’t care which one nails the score prediction exactly, as long as one of them does. Until later…