At the end of the day, 44-7 was about the final score you would have expected to see scrolling across the bottom of your T.V. screen. It just took the 'Dawgs a while to get there.
Technically, the game was a sell-out, but far fewer than 92,746 souls were on hand in Sanford Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The crowd was not as fired up as usual after the Lone Bugler's stirring rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Bulldog Nation" and the scoreboard montages played over Larry Munson's opening narration and the Who's "Teenage Wasteland."
The team suffered from a similar malaise in the early going. The 'Dawgs started out slowly and sloppily, lacking in focus and intensity. The result was a rash of penalties (often at the most inopportune times) and a less than overwhelming 17-0 halftime lead.
The third period opened inauspiciously for the Red and Black when U.L.M. caught the Bulldogs off-guard with a perfectly executed on-side kick. The Indians recovered and proceeded to launch their only scoring drive of the day. Shortly thereafter, a switch was flipped in the Georgia players' heads and they began to play like a top ten team taking on an overmatched opponent at home.
The Bulldogs ran a balanced offense, tallying 280 rushing yards, 263 passing yards, and four first-class juke moves on Indian defenders who were made to look bad by Georgia's superior athleticism.
For the most part, D.J. Shockley demonstrated that he has matured as a quarterback. He showed poise in the midst of a collapsing pocket, checked into the proper play when the defensive alignment warranted, sold his fakes convincingly, and, with one or two exceptions, made good decisions. Eight different Bulldogs caught passes and Shockley connected on 13 of his 20 tosses for 246 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions.
Six Georgia ball carriers rushed at least twice; three (Danny Ware, D.J. Shockley, and Jason Johnson) gained at least 40 yards and three (D.J. Shockley, Kregg Lumpkin, and Tyson Browning) scored rushing touchdowns. Ware led the way with 109 yards on the ground.
Both teams were sound in the kicking game. Brandon Coutu connected on three of his four field goal attempts, including a 58-yarder that will pay dividends down the road, building the Georgia placekicker's confidence should he be called upon to win a game someday.
In a game played when I was 36 and five-sixths years old, the Indians held the ball for nearly 36 and five-sixths minutes, running 72 plays to the Bulldogs' 53 yet amassing only 211 yards of total offense.
U.L.M. was held to 88 rushing yards and two punt return yards. The team formerly known as Northeast Louisiana surrendered three sacks, lost three fumbles, and tossed an interception.
The play of the game, though, came with Louisiana-Monroe on its own nine yard line, when Indians Q.B. Steven Jyles dropped back to pass on third and 19. He never got the chance. Quentin Moses hit the quarterback, who fumbled, and Charles Johnson recovered the ball in the end zone for the defensive touchdown.
The game ended as all good games should, with the third-string quarterback running the offense in the waning minutes. While the game was never in doubt, the 'Dawgs appeared slightly shaky at the outset, but the Red and Black settled down and won impressively.
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For the third time this season, we are called upon to update the Mark Richt Victory Watch.
The Bulldogs' head coach has now won 45 games, putting him a scant 156 victories behind Vince Dooley on the all-time school wins list.
At 45-10, Coach Richt owns a better record after 55 games than any of his predecessors. W.A. Cunningham (36-13-6), Harry Mehre (34-18-3), Wally Butts (36-17-2), Vince Dooley (39-13-3), Ray Goff (33-22), and Jim Donnan (38-17) all lagged behind Coach Richt at the same point in their respective careers.
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It was a day of blowouts and close calls.
Auburn and Louisville each hung 63 points on outmanned opponents. Michigan and Virginia Tech both held M.A.C. squads scoreless.
Meanwhile, several outcomes required extra innings before being decided. Clemson fell to Miami in triple overtime and, mercifully, Michigan State ended Notre Dame's undefeated run in O.T. Hopefully, this means that the Irish, who rocketed into the top ten like a popular song by a one-hit wonder, will begin their descent down Casey Kasem's countdown like Kajagoogoo's "Too Shy."
In the Carrier Dome, the combatants were tied with a couple or three seconds remaining on the clock and another overtime game appeared probable. However, Syracuse's attempt to exact revenge on Virginia for keeping the Orange out of the A.C.C. fell just short, as the Cavaliers won on a 19-yard field goal as time expired.
Two teams from the S.E.C. West went on the road to take on teams from the S.E.C. East, with markedly different results. Alabama ran its record to 3-0 with a convincing conference victory over South Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium (or, as I have taken to calling it, "The Chicken Ranch").
Don't look now, but the Vanderbilt Commodores are 3-0, having beaten Ole Miss in Nashville by a 31-23 final margin. Vandy's next two games are against Richmond and Middle Tennessee State, so a 5-0 start is not out of the question. After that, the 'Dores would need just one win in their last six games to be bowl-eligible.
That may not be as easy as it sounds, however. After October 1, Vanderbilt faces L.S.U., Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee, three of whom the Commodores must play on the road.
Texas A&M won a 66-8 laugher over S.M.U. . . . which beat T.C.U. . . . which beat Oklahoma. It could be a long year for the Sooners.
The big game of the day, of course, was the showdown in the Swamp between Florida and Tennessee. The Gators prevailed, 16-7, in a contest that was reminiscent of another recent face-off in the Sunshine State: Florida State's lackluster victory over Miami.
Both the Seminoles and the Hurricanes looked better in A.C.C. road games this weekend than they did on Labor Day and I expect both the Gators and the Volunteers to rebound, as well. At the moment, though, neither U.F. nor U.T. appears invulnerable and, as before, the S.E.C. race appears wide open.
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So far, so good. The Bulldogs are 3-0, ranked in the top ten, and prepared to play their first road game of the campaign.
The Georgia-Mississippi State game has been picked up by the E.S.P.N. family of networks. Consequently, six out of seven Red and Black contests---the Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Wisconsin games in the 2004 season and the Boise State, South Carolina, and Mississippi State games in 2005---will have been televised nationally. The restored prominence of the Georgia program appears secure.
Next Saturday, the 'Dawgs are off to Starkville to see whether Mark Richt, who is 12-2 in conference road games, can add Mississippi State to a list of S.E.C. victims that already has included Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, L.S.U., Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt in the preceding four seasons.