When Vince Dooley debuted as Georgia’s “bright young coach” in 1964, the Bulldogs didn’t play their first game in Sanford Stadium until October, in the fourth contest of the season. His successors, Ray Goff, Jim Donnan and Mark Richt all opened their careers and first seasons between the hedges.
Kirby Smart’s initial campaign, with a fan base oozing of optimism and hope for great days in the near future, will have a bit more 1964. Saturday’s one opener against Nicholls State is the lone home game for the Bulldogs in September. The next two are both big Southeastern Conference battles, and both are on the road – at Missouri and at Ole Miss.
So the next time Georgia comes home, to play perennial SEC East favorite Tennessee, the Bulldogs will know a lot more about where they stand in the chase for Atlanta in 2016.
Overlooking Nicholls State is not an option, and Smart is driving the hard sell on the importance of this one. There have been plenty of major upset and close calls for SEC teams through the years. Remember last season, a 9-1 Florida team nearly lost to 2-8 Florida Atlantic. Nicholls State is in Louisiana. They have Louisiana kids. They have athletes. And these players are hungry with nothing to lose. Georgia should have overwhelming talent, and should win by a handy margin. But that is no certainly.
This game goes beyond the final score. It’s about moving forward and improving with every opportunity to take the field, game or practice. It is also the Georgia faithful’s first chance to see the Bulldogs in Sanford Stadium, and for the bright young coach out of Bainbridge, his first time stalking the sidelines as the head coach of his alma mater.
It couldn’t have been 21 years ago, with the Bulldogs down 14-7 and South Carolina driving, that a young redshirt freshman defensive back made a key tackle for loss, and the Bulldogs held the Gamecocks to a field goal. Five Robert Edwards’s touchdowns later, the red and black roared to victory. That was Smart’s first game as a player in Sanford Stadium.
Energetic, passionate, driven young men hell-bent on greatness don’t think about making memories. They are too busy. But when Smart is Dooley’s age, and reflective….he will remember Saturday, Nicholls State and his first time as the Top Dog Between the Hedges.