Wiedmer: Georgia Bulldogs putting together a dream season

Wiedmer: Georgia Bulldogs putting together a dream season

September 29th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Georgia Bulldogs UGA logo

ATHENS. Ga. - The tears were tiny, but real. So, too, the quivering lip.

"I don't normally get as emotional as I did after this one," Georgia football coach Mark Richt said after his Bulldogs came from behind to nip LSU 44-41 on Saturday.

"There are some other things in life that go on sometimes that I'm not going to get into, but these guys lifted me up today."

And in appreciation of that heavy lifting, Richt ran to every corner of Sanford Stadium when the game ended, his arms in the air, his fists pumping, a sea of red more than 90,000 strong roaring as it had not roared since the days of Herschel Walker.

"It takes so many people to pull off something like this," Richt said 30 minutes later. "I was hoping our home-field advantage would make a difference, and it did. I really don't know what to say other than how honored I am and thankful I am to be a part of something like this."

Something like this. These guys, Richt's guys, these Jaw-ja Dawgs, lifted the Bulldog Nation over the moon for the second time in three weeks -- this majestic, manic victory over previously unbeaten, sixth-ranked LSU bookending quite nicely with UGA's earlier 41-30 win over then No. 6 South Carolina. There's a rumor that Georgia's 3-1 record also includes an opening-night loss at then No. 8 Clemson (now No. 3), but who can remember that far back?

"If you'd told me we could only win two of three [against Clemson, South Carolina and LSU], I'd have taken winning the two SEC games," Richt said. "I'd like to have won all three, but you really want the SEC games."

Added Bulldogs senior quarterback Aaron Murray, who threw for 298 yards, only one interception and four touchdowns, including the 25-yard game-winner to Justin Scott-Wesley with 1:47 to go: "Our first goal is to win the SEC East, then the SEC championship. Losing this one would have made both of those much tougher."

It could be argued that the toughest now are behind them. Florida remains the only team left on Georgia's schedule currently ranked in this past week's Associated Press poll and the gimpy Gators are No. 20, having lost starting quarterback Jeff Driskel and their best defensive lineman, Dominique Easley, for the season with injuries.

Not that Richt would admit as much.

"Until our defense gets a little more stout, every game will be a barnburner," he said. "We've got to go to Knoxville next week to play Tennessee. I guarantee you their fans will be as crazy up there as ours were here this week. If October's a crummy month, everyone will forget about this."

And in theory, he has a point. But in fact the Bulldogs just shredded an LSU defense that entered this game third in the SEC in total defense (310 ypg) and second in pass-efficiency defense (101.5 ypg). Georgia totaled 494 yards and 298 passing yards.

Of course, Richt also is right that the Tigers wound up with 449 total yards, but only 77 of those came on the ground, and when LSU got the ball a final time with 1:40 on the clock and a timeout in its pocket, the Bulldogs stiffened mightily, not allowing the Bayou Bengals to cross midfield.

"I talk about the moment of truth a lot," Richt said. "Sometimes you need just one stop. And we got that stop on that final [LSU] drive when it didn't look like anybody could stop anybody."

We all face moments of truth every day of our lives. LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger faced a huge moment on Saturday, returning to the university with which he first signed, the school where his mother still works in the athletic department, the school that dismissed him after an off-field incident.

Most of us will never know the pressure Mettenberger felt facing his old teammates and the coach who cut him loose. But the whole country knows how he responded -- his 372 passing yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions more than enough to shout down any critics or hecklers.

Said Richt: "I got a chance to give him a hug [after the game]. I told him, 'I'm really proud of you.' What he did was so impressive. There were some proud father-type feelings toward both of them [Mettenberger and Murray]."

Everyone has bumps in the road over 13 football seasons, which is how long Richt has reigned over the Bulldogs. And the lows sometimes have seemed to swallow whole the highs, especially when UGA listlessly lost the Liberty Bowl to Central Florida in 2010 to finish with a 6-7 record.

But the two seasons since have produced SEC East titles. The Bulldogs were 5 yards from knocking off Alabama last December, a win that almost assuredly would have delivered them a national championship win over Notre Dame.

That Clemson loss may prevent a shot at this year's national championship. Then again, if the defense can get a little more stout and the offense keeps playing out of this world, Georgia should return to the SEC title game for a third straight season. And the winner of that game the last seven years has played for the national title.

"I'll never sleep tonight," Richt said with a smile. "After this one, I might not sleep for two nights."

Nor may the head coaches of the eight opponents remaining on Georgia's schedule.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com