New and Old Dawgs Have Some New Tricks
What a day was Saturday in Athens. I woke up on the campus of UGA on game day for the first time since 1974—at the UGA Hotel and Conference Center. Who knew how much fun that could be! Uga IX was right down the hall.
My son and his buddies hosted one of the best tailgate parties since the invention of the pickup truck and my grandson—Henley Walker Fairchild, UGA Class of 20l40, made his first appearance on campus, in preparation for his matriculation here in 18 years. He thoroughly enjoyed the tailgate party. In fact, just looking at his reaction made me realize that Saturday was the best day of his life. He had had 23 days of life previously.
Finally the extracurricular fun was over and it was time to make our way to Sanford Stadium. What a wonder, wonderful day it was. To my friends in section 108—I have moved to the other side of the stadium for a few games, but I will be back when cooler weather prevails and I promise not to put any enemy fans in my seats during my short absence.
I enjoyed the pre-game festivities. Scott Woerner, the old Clemson Ass-kicker himself, was on hand as the honorary game captain. I loved hearing Kevin Butler—World’s Greatest College Kicker—talk about the 60-yard field goal that did the Tigers in back in ’84. And Herschel was in the house. Herschel looked good, too. Didn’t Herschel look good?
When that solo trumpeter stood up in the northeast corner of the stands and played those first 14 notes, I was so ready for some football that I thought I might pee in my pants, just a little bit, if Bill Bowdoin didn’t get off the field. He’s the guy in the red cap that stands on the 20-yard-line and tells the teams when television says they can play.
Finally we got to watch a football game and what a game it was. I am sure your observations were similar to mine. Raise your hand if you spent most of the first half wondering why weren’t riding the big horse on just about every single play? I know, right? Or at least every series.
Speaking of which, I learned, once again, that Mark Richt is crazy—like a fox—and really does know what he is doing.
Ironically, I had had a lunch conversation with my buddy Hal on Wednesday and expressed my hope that we would see Gurley running back a kickoff every now and again. Hal was four square against it and spoke of the crazy kamikazes most teams deploy on their kickoff teams. He just didn’t want to give them an extra shot at Todd Gurley’s knees. Well, Hal—they have to catch him before they can tackle them and I swear I could see the look in Todd’s eyes as he caught the football that he would subsequently deliver into the opposite end zone and just knew he was going to run it back all the way.
21-21 at half time and just as many questions as answers for most of the red and black faithful, but the key play, to me, was when Colin Barber flipped the field with his 65 yard howitzer of a punt. Clemson seemed to be controlling both lines of scrimmage up until that point and Barber gave us field position and a big lift.
Even though we were tied at halftime I had seen a lot of positives in the secondary and special teams. We were actually catching punts and running with them! How refreshing is that? I didn’t see a single defensive back looking at the sideline with his hands in the air as the ball was snapped. I knew, instinctively, that we were going to be better this year.
I had no idea how were going to dominate the second half. Clemson didn’t piss a drop against our defense the whole third quarter and went backward in the second quarter. Todd Gurley was a man among boys and Nick Chubb was almost as stout as Gurley. Mix in Jay Rome and Sony Michele and Isaiah “Joystick” McKenzie and stir in our veteran playmakers and we might really be on to something, boys and girls.
By the end of the fourth quarter, Clemson just seemed ready to get on the bus and head back up I-85. We were absolutely having our way with them. I was ridiculed by my Clemson friends for picking Georgia to win by 17. They were all right. I should have picked us to win by 24. And it could have been worse. In fact, it would have been worse if the fourth team backfield hadn’t been so anxious to score that they kept jumping before the snap count and negated what would have been another touchdown. It’s immaterial. When we finally went into the victory formation for the last snap of the game, the football world had taken notice—enough notice that ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit had declared us the best team in the land—for this week, anyway.
And just for the record, my grandson was much more confident in Jeremy Pruitt’s defense than his Papa. He stayed back and watched the game in the hotel room, with his great grandmother, and she reports that he fell asleep for the duration right after Marshall Morgan put us ahead 24-21 early in the second half.
Don’t look for me next week. I’ll be incognito, in Normandy, France, enjoying a rare early season bye. But I’ll see you somewhere among the Cockabooses in two weeks. I’ll be the good-looking guy in the red shirt.
Darrell Huckaby is an author, educator and syndicated newspaper columnist. Visit his website at Dhuck08@bellsouth.net.