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Jeff Dantzler: Now Comes the Next Step – Tennessee

LHB-005 9-30-2013

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In the long and storied history of Sanford Stadium, there are a select few Georgia victories that stand out and will never be forgotten. There was Tarkenton to Herron to beat Auburn 14-13 en route to the SEC championship in 1959.

There was the 18-17 flea-flicker comeback win over defending and eventual national champion in 1965.

There was the 21-0 triumph over five time defending national champion Alabama in 1976

There was the 29-28 victory over tech in 1978 when the Bulldogs rallied from a 20-0 deficit.

There was Kevin Butler’s 60-yard field goal to beat second-ranked Clemson in 1984 And there was this past Saturday. In one of the most thrilling and unforgettable games ever between the hedges, ninth-ranked Georgia and No. 6 LSU went back and forth, with dozens of momentum swings before a shaking, raucous Sanford Stadium, with the Bulldogs prevailing 44-41.

The Dogs did it despite losing America’s best tailback Todd Gurley to an ankle injury, but somehow, Georgia found a way in a clash of southeastern conference titans that has instantly found a special place in red and black lore.

With the victory, Georgia improves to 31 on the campaign and 2-0 in Southeastern Conference play. The Bulldogs have done this while facing the toughest schedule in America – going toe-to-toe with three fellow top ten foes. The season started with a heart-breaking 38-35 loss at Clemson. But the Bulldogs have bounced back.

It started with another top ten vs. top ten dual. In a “burn the boats” game, the Bulldogs out-slugged South Carolina 41-30. Then came a well-deserved open date. Georgia was sluggish in the rain against North Texas, but scored the final 24 points of the game to win 45-21. It set the stage for the battle with the Bayou Bengals.

Battle-tested Georgia delivered.

Now comes the next step.

Games in which the Bulldogs will be favored. It is similar to the four-games Georgia played last season after beating Florida 17-9 in Jacksonville and prior to the heart-breaking loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game. There were certainly some nervous moments in three of those wins, but Georgia dumped Ole Miss 3710, routed Auburn 38-0 on the plains, pulled away from Georgia Southern 45-17 and throttled Tech 42-10. That added up to a whopping score differential of 162-37. That’s what big time teams and big time programs do – bury inferior foes without having to take too much gas out of the tank.

Now, can Georgia do that against Tennessee, Missouri and Vanderbilt – quality opponents with upset potential no doubt, but a trio of teams whose talent level does not match up to that of the Bulldogs. It starts with the Volunteers this Saturday in Knoxville.

Neyland Stadium has been a place where Georgia has pulled out some special wins. Andy Johnson, one of the greatest quarterbacks in Georgia annals, scored on a broken play in 1973 as the Bulldogs pulled off a 35-31 upset victory.

To quote the greatest Bulldog ever Dan Magill, “September the 6th, 1980 marked the debut of the most sensational freshman halfback in the history of American football.” To quote the greatest college football announcer ever Larry Munson, “oh you Herschel Walker!”

It was 15-0 Tennessee in the third quarter, and you probably could have gotten 1,000,000-to-1 odds on Georgia going undefeated and winning the Southeastern Conference and national championships. But in came Number 34 and the rest is history. A safety and two Walker touchdowns, highlighted by his famous run over Volunteer safety Bill Bates – “five, ten, 12, he’s running over people, Oh You Herschel Walker!” – propelled the Bulldogs to a 16-15 victory that started Georgia’s dream, perfect 12-0 national championship season.

Georgia went through some hard times in Knoxville in the 1990s, but things swung in 2001. Georgia was in control, but Tennessee hit a long touchdown on a screen pass to Travis Stephens to put the Volunteers ahead 24-20 with under a minute to go. But David Greene coolly led the Bulldogs to the go – ahead touchdown – highlighted by a pair of magnificent catches by Randy McMichael. Then came the game-winning touchdown to Verron Haynes.

The Bulldogs would win the next two meetings in Knoxville as well.

In 2003, Georgia was leading Tennessee 13-7 in the closing seconds of the first half deep inside Bulldog territory. The Volunteers fumbled and Sean Jones scooped it up and returned the fumble 92 yards for a touchdown. The Neyland Stadium faithful sat in stunned silence. The Bulldogs then rolled to a 41-14 victory.

En route to the 2005 SEC Championship, Georgia extended a 13-7 lead on Thomas Flowers punt return for a touchdown. The Bulldogs would tack on another and roll to a 27-14 win. What had been a long drought between wins in Knoxville turned into three straight. At that point, Bulldogs coach Mark Richt joined Bear Bryant and Gene Stallings as the lone head coaches to lead the opposition to three straight wins in Knoxville.

Georgia was beaten badly on the program’s next two trips. But the Bulldogs came back to win 20-6 in 2011. Can the Bulldogs add another great win in Knoxville to the resume?

The program is hot right now, absolutely on fire. The victory over LSU will never be forgotten. Now the Bulldogs must follow it up. Will Georgia make it way too hairy and play down to the level of the competition? Or can Georgia do what great teams, what championship teams do, and that is deliver the knockout blow?