In the final home game of the 2015 season, Georgia beat Georgia Southern 23-17 in overtime. It was Mark Richt’s final campaign as the Bulldogs coach, and this Statesboro native was so grateful that Georgia didn’t lose to the Eagles. It would have been mighty tough going home to Statesboro with Georgia losing to Georgia Southern in football.
In the first home game of the 2016 season, Georgia – a 50-point favorite – edged Nicholls State 26-24. It was Kirby Smart’s initial campaign as the Bulldogs head coach. And that was a scary Saturday. Later that season, there were three heartbreaking losses Between the Hedges. Cruelly inconceivable gut punches that made for some long walks up Baxter and Lumpkin hills.
There was the Hail Mary by Tennessee, a game the Dogs led 17-0 in the first half. Georgia, marred by a terrible special teams performance, blew a fourth quarter lead and lost to Vandy, as the Commodores Zac Cunningham made the big fourth down stop. Then there was the 28-27 kick in the teeth to the Yellow Jackets. The Bulldogs led that game 27-14 in the fourth quarter and had the ball at midfield.
After that loss to the enemy, Georgia’s fate started to turn. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel said on that bitter day that they were not going out like that. They announced that they were returning for their senior seasons.
Georgia has lost just once at home since.
You have to control your home stadium, and starting with the 2017 launch of the Kirby Smart dynasty in his second season at the helm, the Bulldogs have been dominant on Dooley Field in Sanford Stadium.
The only loss in Athens dating back to 2017 came to South Carolina in 2019 when the Bulldogs turned the ball over four times and missed two field goals, falling in overtime 20-17 to the Gamecocks. Starting a week later in a 21-0 victory over Kentucky on a rainy day and night in Athens, Smart’s Dogs have won 23 consecutive games on their home turf.
A huge part of that success has been a rowdy and boisterous Sanford throng. Make no mistake, Georgia’s 12th man has played a huge hand in the Bulldogs success Between the Hedges. The players and team love each other and thrive off one another.
That 12th man will have to be elite once again for Georgia to beat the best opponent the Bulldogs have played all season, the Missouri Tigers.
You know the story on Mizzou. The Tigers nearly pulled the upset against reigning and eventual national champion Georgia on a Saturday night in Columbia a year ago. The Bulldogs rallied for a 26-22 victory en route to a second consecutive national title. For the 15-0 Dogs of 2022, it was one of two wins that came by single digits, the other of course, the famed 42-41 Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl thriller over Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal. This year’s edition of Mizzou is shaping up as its best squad since the 2013 Tigers, who had an 11-1 regular season (including a 41-26 win over Georgia in Athens), and played in the SEC Championship Game. Missouri made a second consecutive trip to Atlanta the following year. Since then, the Tigers have been consistently good and competitive. This team looks great.
Every defensive starter returned from last year’s team and the Tigers have a talented, explosive, multi-dimensional offense. They can run it and throw it. They sustain drives for scores, they score on big plays. And they have a weapon at kicker. Yep, Harrison Mevis is back. His highlight this year is the 61-yard game-winner to beat Kansas State and top Kevin Butler’s SEC record set on September 22, 1984 against Clemson.
These Tigers are good enough to make it to the SEC Championship Game and contend for a playoff berth. Everything is in front of Mizzou on the schedule, including home dates against Florida and Tennessee following the trip to Athens.
And oh yeah, Missouri was off this past week, while the Bulldogs and Gators were in the grips of their annual Jacksonville showdown.
When thinking about the Bulldogs incredible record Between the Hedges under Smart’s watch, there are a handful of games that come to mind where the red and black throng made an extraordinary impact. Think about all the false starts for Notre Dame in 2019. How about the Early, Loud, Intense, Tough, Electric showing for the 37-0 nooner victory over Arkansas in a 2021 undefeated showdown? Amazing. Then last year, No. 1 vs. No. 1, Georgia and Tennessee, the jacked up Georgia crowd helped get the Vols off balance en route to a 27-13 victory that set the Dogs up for a trip to Atlanta and the playoff.
From 1980-1983, the Bulldogs won 24 straight Between the Hedges, the streak coming to an end in a No. 3 vs. No. 4 battle between Georgia and another set of Tigers (Auburn). These Bulldogs of 2023 are one win away from equalling that mark.
It will take a capital performance from both Georgia’s outstanding football team and “Decibel Dawgs” – the greatest fans in the world – for the chapel bell to ring once again. Georgia needs it badly to stay in contention for everything. So does Mizzou. That 12th man can be the difference. Early, proud and loud, Georgia badly needs the Sanford Stadium crowd.