Since 1995 - Insightful commentary on the Georgia Bulldogs

Post The annual statement game

Tuesday August 22, 2006

In 2001, it might have been the Tennessee game. In 2002, it was the Alabama game. In 2003, it happened right out of the gate at Clemson. In 2004, it wasn’t particularly necessary, but the LSU game sure served the purpose. In 2005, it was Boise State.

What is it? It’s the game each season that reminds people that Georgia is as good as any team in the SEC and most everyone in the nation. Strange as it may seem, even our own fans sometimes need a wake-up call about the current state of the program. While the Dawgs haven’t always won the conference or been national title contenders each of these years, they have been consistently there among the pack if not on top of it as much as any team in the league. No one disputes it after the fact, and the Dawgs always get their due, but each year it seems as if a certain game solidifies the Dawgs as contenders.

2001 wasn’t a particularly stellar season, but the Tennessee game in Knoxville did show that things would be different under Mark Richt. Richt came to Georgia with the uncertainty of a guy who had never been a head coach, and the 2000 victory over Tennessee a year earlier was considered much more of a blip than any kind of sea-change in the series. After losing to Georgia in 2001, Tennessee went on to win the East and become a national title contender. The Dawgs stood up to them in one of the more intimidating venues in college football, a coach gained legitimacy, and a leader at quarterback was born.

Guys like Haynes, Grant, Phillips, and Wansley who anchored the 2001 team left, and there was plenty of uncertainty about their replacements. Some might say that the South Carolina game in 2002 with its unforgettable David Pollack play and the amazing finish was it in 2002, but many fans at the time considered that win much more of an escape than a statement. The new quarterback rotation was still an issue. It was the infamous "man enough" game at Tuscaloosa that established Georgia as an SEC favorite in 2002. Richt’s road warriors won in a stadium where no Georgia team before ever had, and the young program had another shot in the arm.

The 2003 game at Clemson looked like a perfect setup for failure. It seemed as if half the team was suspended – freshman walk-on Tra Battle had to start at safety. Almost the entire offensive line from 2002 was gone. There was no running game to speak of. A 30-0 blowout in Death Valley served notice that the Dawgs weren’t a one-hit wonder in 2002, and they repeated as SEC East champs. Despite losses to LSU and Florida, routs of Clemson, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Auburn were some of the most impressive wins in the Richt era.

A preseason #3 ranking in 2004 was the one time in this era when the Dawgs clearly controlled the role of favorite entering the season. They weren’t spectacular to start the year with struggles against South Carolina and Marshall. LSU had taken two games from Georgia in 2003, and few people could have predicted the blowout of the Tigers which would erase all doubts about Georgia’s legitimacy. Unfortunately, the Dawgs threw all of that away the following week with a sluggish loss to Tennessee, and they were on the outside of the SEC title hunt for the rest of the year.

We were back in the familiar pattern in 2005. Greene and Pollack were gone, so certainly the Dawgs must be down. D.J. Shockley had been shaky in relief against Georgia Tech, and Boise State brought one of the nation’s most potent and unique offenses into Athens for the opener. It was the showdown between a vulnerable team from a BCS league and an annual favorite "BCS buster". The Georgia win was so complete that Boise State shows up on almost no one’s list of "hot" teams anymore. Shockley’s command of a Georgia team that would win the SEC title was never again questioned after the first quarter.

So here we are again. Shockley’s gone, the lines are thin, new secondary, etc, etc. Questions all over the place. It’s Auburn, LSU, and Florida and then everyone else. I could be wrong, but it seems as if the question should simply be, "which game will it be this year?"

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