No back-to-back road games is mighty helpful in ‘19, but night opener at Vandy promises to be demanding

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No back-to-back road games is mighty helpful in ‘19, but night opener at Vandy promises to be demanding

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Not only does Georgia open the season on the road at Vanderbilt, that first game is a Southeastern Conference contest. The Bulldogs also close the regular season on the road, in Atlanta against Tech, where Georgia has won nine straight times at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

   Opening on the road, and closing on the road, that’s a great thing, especially for a team with the talent, pedigree and potential of the 2019 Georgia Bulldogs.

   It’s a matter of math. With seven home games and the first and last on the road, that means that the Sanford Stadium dates are bunched together and there are no back-to-back road trips. For a quick refresher, following the trip to Music City USA, the Bulldogs play three straight at home against Murray State, Arkansas State and Notre Dame, then have an open date before heading to Knoxville to battle Tennessee.

   After the Tennessee tilt, the Bulldogs are at home for back-to-back dates with South Carolina and Kentucky. Then comes the second open date prior to Jacksonville. After the annual cocktail party with Florida, Georgia hosts Missouri, goes to Auburn, entertains Texas A&M and then it’s off to Tech.

D'Andre Swift (7)
D’Andre Swift (7)

   So that makes seven out of 10 between the hedges in between the bookend ventures, and, as mentioned, no back-to-back road games. This should certainly be an extra boost for an extremely challenging schedule that includes five games against SEC foes coming off open dates, including two straight with Tennessee and South Carolina, and three in a row with Florida, Missouri and Auburn. Now Georgia also has an open date prior to the meetings with the Volunteers and Gators, but that is some serious heavy lifting against talented teams with that off week to get fresh and focused. As an aside, the week before the biggest game of them all, Tech plays N.C. State on a Thursday night, while Georgia hosts the Aggies of A&M on Saturday. That’s a good example of the Jackets not nearly as focused in on a short rest Atlantic Coast Conference battle – the Yellow Jackets play Virginia Tech five days earlier – as they will be with trying to spoil the Bulldogs season.

   Now it is no guarantee, if it were, then every team would try and open and close on the road. But the bunching of games could be that extra lift against the stacked deck of open dates the Bulldogs face. Plus, the opener and finale will be played in stadiums where a large percentage of the stadium will be clad in red and black, cheering on the road team in what figures to feel like a 50/50 (at least) atmosphere for the visiting Bulldogs.

   History is also on Georgia’s side. Many of the program’s greatest teams opened with at least one of, or a combination of a high-end opponent, an SEC rival and a road game.

   Getting specific for a road SEC game to get things going, how about 1942? The national and SEC champion Bulldogs of Frank Sinkwich and Charley Trippi beat Kentucky 7-6 in a game played in Louisville. Georgia went 11-1 and closed the season with a 34-0 rout of Tech in Athens and 9-0 Rose Bowl victory over UCLA.

   Vince Dooley’s first two SEC championship teams opened with league road games. The Bulldogs held off Mississippi State 20-17 in Jackson to open the 1966 campaign, as Georgia went 10-1, swept Florida, Auburn and Tech, then won the Cotton Bowl over SMU.

   Two years later, facing some very shaky officiating, the Dogs and Tennessee played to a 17-17 tie in Knoxville in the 1968 season opener. Georgia would go on to an 8-0-2 regular season, sweeping Florida, Auburn and Tech again.

Cade Mays (77)
Cade Mays (77)

   You may have heard of Herschel Walker and the 1980 season.

   The Bulldogs opened in Knoxville and trailed Tennessee 15-0 in the third quarter. Everyone saw a national title coming at that point, right?

   Led by “that kid out of Johnson County,” Georgia would come roaring back to win 16-15, beginning the journey to the magic, perfect, undefeated 12-0 dream season.

   That dream season, that’s the goal of this Georgia team.

   The incomparable 1980 season marks the Bulldogs last national championship. Georgia has come oh so close in years past, notably in 1981, 1982, 2002, 2007, 2012, and agonizingly on the verge in 2017.

   That march to greatness is a long grind that requires great play, smart play, great coaching, focus, circumstance and (at least) a little bit of luck.

   Of all the leading preseason contenders for those four coveted College Football Playoff berths, Georgia certainly has the most challenging slate.

   But opening on the road in a league game, well that demands instant focus and is exactly the tone that fourth-year Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart wants to see from his team throughout the season. There is precious little margin for error.

   Some of Georgia’s greatest teams, most notably 1983 and 2007, escaped Nashville with knee-knocking victories. Other Bulldog squads had their pathways to excellence spoiled by upset losses to the Commodores. Smart’s first Georgia team of 2016 felt that sting between the hedges.

   But the next year, undefeated and climbing, the Bulldogs dismantled Vandy 45-14 in Nashville, signaling that a new era was indeed dawning for Georgia.

   This season could well be another milestone pinnacle for “Kirby’s Canines,” and a strong performance in Nashville would be a good indicator that a great year could follow.

Jeff Dantzler
Jeff Dantzler

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