As Kirby Smart, barely into the second season of his tenure at his alma mater, is driving to put Georgia back amongst the nation’s elite and someday soon delivering the ultimate prize of a national championship. There is so much that goes into it, starting with the accumulation of talent, the development of players on and off the field, and finally having it all come together on Saturday afternoons and eves … and hopefully for Georgia, a magical January Monday night as well.
Amongst the byproducts of the build, and in the endless chicken or the egg race of winning to bolster recruiting, and recruiting to win, knowing that both are essential, there is another area where Georgia flat out must get better to take the next step towards greatness. The Bulldogs must win much more frequently at home.
Georgia got off to a great start of reclaiming Sanford Stadium dominance with a season-opening 31-10 victory over Appalachian State, a game the Bulldogs led 21-0 at halftime and 31-0 at the end of the third quarter. Continuing with Saturday’s battle of the Bulldogs against Division 1-AA (Football Championship Subdivision), the rest of Georgia’s home games will all be tests, make no mistake – hey, Smart has the easy motivation of the three Sanford Stadium heart breaks and the two-point win as a 50-point favorite over Nicholls State a year ago – but if there were ever a year for the Bulldogs to post a perfect mark between the hedges, this is it.
As much of a grind as it could potentially be, and every team that Bulldogs host this season returns their starting quarterback, bolstering high hopes of their own, for Georgia to achieve an outstanding 2017 and re-lay the groundwork for being a force in Athens, going 6-0 against Appalachian State, Samford, Mississippi State (excellent quarterback, physical as always), Missouri (explosive offense), South Carolina (talk about a trap and a ‘tweener game on the schedule) and Kentucky (talk about another potential trap) is a must.
Great teams win at an extraordinarily high rate at home, like in the 90-plus percentile range. With all due respect to all of these dangerous foes that Bulldogs must face, it’s not exactly Clemson, Tennessee, Auburn and Tech, as was the case in 2014.
That finale in 2014, that brutally painful Saturday after Thanksgiving against “The Enemy,” set Georgia down a bad road at home. The squib kick. The timeout. The field goal.
The interception. The devastation.
Things didn’t go well between the hedges in 2015, save an extraordinary 52-20 Steve Spurrier sayonara slaying of South Carolina. The following week, Georgia defeated Southern University, but there was the heart-tugging, tragic spinal injury to Devon Gales.
Alabama headed to Athens as an underdog for the first time in over 70 games, having already lost to Ole Miss. Georgia’s players rocked the busses and got into a jawing match with the eventual national champions. Smart, then Alabama’s defensive coordinator, upon arrival in Athens, told his new team that’s when Bama knew they were going to win (in a colorful form).
The Crimson Tide humiliated Georgia 38-10 between the hedges in the rain.
Following a blown 24-3 lead in Knoxville the following week, Georgia held off Missouri to win 9-6 in a game that featured five field goals. Luckily the Bulldogs had three of them. Following a head-scratching quarterback move and blowout loss to Florida, the Bulldogs did bounce back to beat Kentucky 27-3. Two games later, the Bulldogs secured one of the great non-losses ever, avoiding the embarrassment of losing to Georgia Southern with a 23-17 overtime win over the Eagles.
Then came last season when the Bulldogs, as mentioned earlier, edged Nicholls State 26-24 as 50-point favorite. That would be followed by three of the most gut-wrenching losses Georgia has suffered in Sanford Stadium. And they all came in the same year. In two of the games, Georgia had double digit second half leads. There was the Tennessee “Hail Mary” and all that led up to it. There was the Zach Cunningham stop and all the special teams faux pas in the loss to Vandy. There was the 27-14 fourth quarter lead in the one point loss the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
Those were some long walks up Baxter Hill for the Georgia people. Long, head-shaking, mystified, crushing walks. Between the crusher to Bama in the Dome in 2012, “The Prayer at Jordan- Hare,” and the ill-fated squib kick, Georgia had suffered a once-in- a-decade type crushing defeat in three straight years. There were three at home last season.
The silver linings: 1. if it’s going to happen, get it all out of the system at once, just push out all the poison in one season. 2. Both Sony Michel and Nick Chubb refused to go out that way and returned for their senior seasons. 3. The lessons from the pain are easy teaching points for Smart to start and finish – from the first play to the last – with every play holding game-deciding potential.
In 1979, Georgia lost at home to Wake Forest and Virginia.
In 2007, Alabama lost at home to Northeast Louisiana.
Remembering the view from the valley is great motivation to reach the mountain top.
Recent Articles by Jeff Dantzler