As a young boy growing up in Moultrie, Ga. I would always tune in the radio broadcasts (no televised games then) of the Georgia Bulldogs and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.
Ed Thilenius, predecessor of the great Larry Munson, did the play-by-play for Georgia back then and I can still hear his deep, resonate voice …. “Tarkenton talking to his two rows of five back on the Bulldog 40.”
And the Georgia Tech broadcasts, well I had kind of latched onto the Yellow Jacket bandwagon in the 1950s because, unlike the struggling Bulldogs at that time, head coach Bobby Dodd had the Jackets annually in the country’s top 10 teams. I believe Thad Horton, who preceded Al Ciraldo, was the play-by-play man for Georgia Tech.
And on Saturday nights in the fall, there was another SEC football team I would tune into. That would be the LSU Tigers. I can’t ever remember the Tigers playing in the afternoon in those days — it was always on Saturday night under the lights of Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, aka “Death Valley.”
Beaming throughout the south on clear channel WWL in New Orleans, it seemed LSU played one dramatic game after another and you would find yourself hanging on every play as the roars from Tiger Stadium seemed to grow louder and louder through your little radio. And there wasn’t a more dramatic game than the 1959 LSU-Ole Miss game that was played on Halloween night.
Paul Dietzel’s Tigers, who had won the national championship the year before, came into the game ranked No. 1 in America while Johnny Vaught’s Rebels were ranked third. Both were 7-0 on the season. Needless to say it was a battle for SEC supremacy. Dietzel then ran the three-platoon system featuring the LSU White Team (starters who saw action on both offense and defense), the Go Team (mostly the second string offense) and the famous “Chinese Bandits,” which consisted of the Tigers’ second team defensive unit.
But Dietzel also had the top running back in America, one by the name of Billy Cannon. En route to the 1959 Heisman Trophy, Cannon made likely the greatest individual play in LSU history that night against Ole Miss. With the Tigers trailing 3-0 late in the fourth quarter, Cannon pulled in a Rebel punt at his own 11-yard line and proceeded to weave through the entire Ole Miss kick coverage team for an 89-yard touchdown return. Even the radio seemed to shake from the thunderous roar that emanated from Tiger Stadium at that moment. It was the only touchdown of the game as LSU handed the Rebels their first defeat by 7-3.
As I walked from the parking lot to Tiger Stadium, winding through all the purple and gold tailgating canopies, for Georgia’s 2008 game at LSU, I pictured in my mind Cannon’s run to glory that night long ago and at the same time wondered if the LSU mystique, the aura of the iconic Tiger Stadium, would be too much for the Bulldogs to handle in this ’08 contest.
Well, it wasn’t. For one thing this Georgia-LSU game was being played in the sunshine of Saturday afternoon instead of Saturday night. With UGA linebacker Darryl Gamble having a pick-six on the Tigers’ first play of the game and Gamble then amazingly ringing up a second interception for a touchdown, Mark Richt’s Bulldogs went on to spank the hometown Tigers by 52-38 that day.
Now, for the first time since that 2008 meeting, Georgia ventures back to Tiger Stadium Saturday for another afternoon (3:30-CBS) collision with LSU. This time, under Kirby Smart, it’s the Bulldogs who are the higher-ranked team as they enter the game with a flawless 6-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking. The Tigers of Ed Orgeron, after being upset by Florida in Gainesville last weekend, come in at 5-1 and ranked No. 12.
So Georgia is surely facing a wounded Tiger on Saturday, one that needs a victory to stay alive and kicking in the Alabama-dominated SEC West race. And though a first defeat here wouldn’t keep the Bulldogs from still winning the SEC East for a second consecutive season, it would somewhat damage Georgia’s hopes of reaching the college football playoffs once again.
Like they did in the 1959 game and, really, all games since, the LSU faithful will turn the noise barometer up to the highest decibels Saturday and these Bulldogs will have to adapt to such, settle in and just play football like they have in the 21 games over the past two seasons. Smart’s team, as you know, handled things pretty well at Notre Dame, the SEC Championship game, the Rose Bowl and the national championship game (despite agonizing OT loss) in 2017 and are looking at this trip to Tiger Stadium as just another business trip designed to bring home another win.
But, to do so, Georgia will have to execute on both sides of the ball Saturday. Offensively, the Bulldogs have to attack the Tiger defense both on the ground and through the air and have an answer for LSU’s All-America linebacker Devin White (No. 40), a lookalike in size and speed to Roquan Smith, as well as the Tigers’ star cornerback Greedy Williams (11).
And the Georgia defense will have to stymie LSU’s power running attack featuring 6-0, 221-pound senior, Nick Brossette (4), and 5-9, 212-pound sophomore Clyde Edwards-Helaire (22). The Bulldogs also must bring the pressure on Tiger quarterback Joe Burrow (9), the 6-4, 216-pound Ohio State transfer who has passed for 1,215 yards and six touchdowns this season, with just two interceptions. The Gators were in Burrow’s face most of the day this past Saturday and Georgia needs to use that same blueprint this weekend. Also, Deandre Baker, J.R. Reed and the Bulldog secondary will have to clamp down on LSU’s tall and physical receiving corps. Sophomore wideout Justin Jefferson (2), at 6-2, 185, leads that group with 21 receptions for 345 yards and two scores.
The line on this game has fluctuated between seven and eight points all week with Georgia being the favorite. Sounds about right to me. I’m picking the Bulldogs to remain in the unbeaten ranks by trimming the Tigers by 31-24 in a battle to the end Saturday. And, just maybe, that will quiet that vociferous LSU crowd just a little.