Its certainly been a season of
disappointments. Picked by many to win the SEC East and maybe the SEC
Championship Game, the Bulldogs have come up short again. They came out
of the gate strong with four wins over mostly easy opponents. They were
favored to go 5-0 with a projected win at home over Alabama. But, that's
where the wheels came off as the Crimson Tide found a new gear stomping
UGA 38-10. Another loss followed at Tennessee. Then they lost Nick
Chubb for the season.
After they barely squeaked by a pretty bad Missouri team 9-6, the
phone lines heated up on sports talk shows calling for Mark Richt's
head. It intensified the next week when he was again soundly beaten by
Florida. That loss also ruined any chances of the SEC East title.
Things have calmed down a bit with a pair of wins over more bad teams
in Kentucky and Auburn. But, a win's a win. The coach fired a shot back
when he tweeted a photo of himself the day after the Auburn game last
Sunday having lunch with the prime jewel of the recruiting class, five
star quarterback Jacob Eason in Washington state. The image
clearly intended to say that he had no intention of leaving and that
next year's star QB was in his corner.
That brings us to this final home game of the season. Some may see it
as another cupcake on the schedule. But, Georgia Southern is anything
but. The Eagles come in at 7-2 with a ball hawk triple option offense
that has them contending for another Sun Belt Conference title. Very
similar to what the Dogs will see next week at Georgia Tech, it would
either be good practice or a warning.
In last week's game at Troy, GSU held the ball for a staggering 42:55
out of 60 minutes, the second highest in school history. Granted, that
was Troy. But, it wasn't a fluke. Georgia Southern is second in the FBS
in average time of possession (34:06).
Needless to say, they don't hold the ball that long by throwing the
ball. The Eagles are tops in the nation in rushing at 378.9 yards per
game. At lot of it comes when they give the ball to junior running back
Matt Breida, who ranks eighth in the nation in rushing yards per
game at 138.0 and first in yards per carry at 8.94 in a spread option
that operates out of the shotgun.
Nonetheless, the Bulldogs are clearly the favored team with plenty of
weapons of their own. But, it won't be a cakewalk. And if turnovers and
penalties don't go their way, it could get ugly.
The many seniors were honored before the game as they shared their
last game at Sanford Stadium. Senior John Theus shared it with
brother Nathan, who is also graduating. They were joined by their
family including brother Jeremiah, a true freshman with Georgia
Georgia got the ball first after Reggie Davis took the kickoff
out 39 yards. On the first play Isaiah McKenzie carried it for
nine. Michael Chigbu got his first catch for seven. Sony
Michel picked up a first into GSU territory at the 48. Greyson
Lambert hit for seven with Michel getting another first to the 36.
Still another first on an eight yard catch by Malcolm Mitchell to
the 23. McKenzie showed more of the explosiveness that
made him the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week as he squirted through
the line all the way to pay dirt, putting his team up first 7-0.
During the TV time out, UGA honored
paralyzed Southern player Devon
Gale, who received a standing
ovation as encouragement. He is currently undergoing treatment at
Shepherd's Spinal Center in Atlanta.
When the game resumed, Derek Keaton had a good return of his
own to the 33. The first three plays lost two yards forcing a punt to
the 38. A false start on John Theus brought up a third and ten. No
problem as Mitchell converted with a 13 yard catch at the GSU49. But the
drive ended on a sack for a 13 yard loss. Bryce Ramsey punted a
long roller that stopped at the one yard line.
Again nothing on offense and the punt from the end zone was brought
down by McKenzie in great field position at the GSU39.
Michel got 15 on three rushes. But, just like the last drive, this one
ended badly as Mitchell fumbled after a catch at the eight recovered by
Darrius White, who also forced it.
And, again, the Eagles were beginning a drive from the shadow of their
end zone. New quarterback Fabien Upshaw handed it to Breida for a
seven yard gain. On a third and three, Upshaw hit BJ Johnson for
28 yards for their first first down at the 38. Another third and long
was at hand as the first quarter came to an end.
Upshaw not only got the first but kept it, rambling 48 yards all the
way to the UGA9. Two plays later, it was third and goal with OLB
Davin Bellamy sacking the QB back at the 14. To add insult to
injury, PK Younghoe Koo missed the field goal attempt wide right
as the Dawgs escaped the threat.
Lambert started the next drive with a 24 yard completion to Jordan
Davis at the 44. Mitchell caught a short pass and dumped a defender
to the ground then turned it into a 27 yard gain to the GSU29. The next
three plays lost two yards as Marshall Morgan came in for a 48
yard field goal. Not the way the senior wanted his last game here to go
as it also went wide right. Still 7-0.
Current Steeler and former Bulldog Brandon Boykin was shown on
the sidelines taking in the game on a bye week.
Kevin Ellison was back in at QB and kept it for eight to the
39. A third and five was converted big time as Ellis escaped tackles for
a 20 yard gain to the UGA33. A hand off to Wesley Fields got
another first at the 21. A false start moved the ball back to the 24. As
Breida eluded defenders and reversed field for a 20 yard gain to the
one, then saw L.A. Ramsby dive across for a tying TD...I'm sure a
name like that would not be popular in St. Louis where the Rams are on
the verge of returning to Los Angeles.
I noticed a sizeable roar from thousands of fans who had either made
the trip from Statesboro or used to go to Georgia Southern. Tickets to
UGA games, normally tough to come by, must have been made available by
disenchanted fans who preferred to sell tem or give them away.
The visitors were obviously encouraged by the tie score giving
Georgia even more reason to do something positive with their last drive
of the half with 3:47 remaining. But, nothing came of it on a three and
out giving GSU the ball after the punt at their 37 with 2:18 to go.
The defense held forcing a punt with just 47 ticks on the clock.
Georgia just took a knee to end the half. The Eagles had held true to
form again leading in time of possession 17:06 to 12:54. They also led
in rushing yards 136-47, half coming from the QB's. As expected, the
Bulldogs had the edge in passing with 104 to the Eagles' 25. For the
most part, both defenses had done a good job. Whichever team could put
together anything on offense in the second half might take the win.
Georgia Southern got the ball first starting at their 20. With the
help of a bad snap, they went three and out. UGA began their first drive
of the half in good position at their 43. CB Darius Jones, Jr.
was shaken up on the play and had to be walked off the field favoring
his right leg.
They had started the previous half with an effective drive for their
only score. Could they repeat this half? Michel gave them a chance with
a nice 34 yard rush up the middle to the GSU34. An attempt at the Wild
Dog saw Michel hand off to McKenzie created another turnover as
Antoine Williams forced the ball loose with Caleb Williams
scooping it up and running untouched for a 65 yard TD to give his team
its first lead 14-7.
UGA would try again from the 28. Again Michel did his part catching a
short pass and converting 12 yards later at the 40. FS Matt Dobson
was hurt on the play but jogged off on his own. Then the Bulldogs
started going the wrong way as a mix up in the backfield cost them
three. Another sack of Lambert made it third and 20 from the UGA20. They
could only get 10 back on a pass to Terry Godwin for his first
catch. A nice 48 yard Ramsey punt went to the GSU13.
The Eagles has to smell an upset in the making and would try to make
that more of a possibility. But they would have to do so from deep in
their territory. They quickly, though, helped that situation with an 11
yard Ramsey first down carry to the 24. A pair of plays got nothing
bringing up a third and nine. Two Bulldogs were injured on the play,
Jake Ganus and Dominick Sanders. Sanders quickly trotted off
the field. Ganus took a little longer. The weakened defense stopped
Breida forcing a needed punt.
Godwin was in to receive the punt with a fair catch at the 30. Plenty
of time left but Georgia needed to change the momentum and, more
importantly, hold onto the ball. Not doing so was the difference in the
game so far.
But, again, the offense went three and out. But, what they could not
do, special teams did as the punt was fumbled after a fair catch was
called by Keaton. Three UGA players fell on it with Kenneth Towns
coming up with it. Finally a break with the ball at the GSU29.
Three running plays got nine and Richt gambled and went for it on
fourth and one with Michel rewarding his move. First down at the 17. A
direct snap to Godwin and hand off to Michel got five combined with an
off sides penalty and UGA had another new set of downs at the 12. Richt
called his first time out. First down only got one. But second down was
magnificent as Lambert lofted a ball to the left corner of the end zone
with Godwin diving to pull it in just before going out of bounds. A huge
play as the game was again tied at 14.
The possession had been a real struggle starting at their own 30 that
saw a three and out, a punt, a recovered fumble, a fourth down
conversion and a 12 yard TD pass.
A pair of Breida runs picked up a first down at the 35 as the game
moved into the final quarter. As instructed, thousands of fans turned on
the flashlights on their cell phones to light up the stands. Nicely
On a big third and six, Myles Campbell brought down a 17 yard
catch at the UGA44. Upshaw, back in at QB, kept it and ran out nine
yards later at the 35. A nice gain was brought back on a blocking below
the waist call moving the ball back to the 48. Fields took a toss right
and took it to the 42 for a third and eight at the 42. A toss to Ramsby
and the back was loose for a first down at the 31. But the defense rose
up and made a stop. One aspect of option offenses is that they like to
go for it on fourth downs. In this case, it was fourth and nine at the
30. Head Coach Willie Fritz called their first time out to
contemplate the move. The decision was made to take the points and kick
the field goal instead. Koo pushed this one through from 40 to give GSU
the lead again 17-14 with 9:21 remaining.
The offense, which had labored so much to get its last points would be
back on the field looking for the lead that it had not had since midway
through the second quarter. The began the important drive at their 25
with a diving catch for nine yards by Mitchell. Michel got the first
with a five yard carry to the 39. The back broke free for 20 yards into
GSU territory at the 41. The rush put Michel over 100 yards for the
game. Lambert found an open Jay Rome for 13 yards to the 29. The
drive stopped there and, after the punt, Georgia Southern had good field
position at the 37 with 2:48 to go.
The drive started with promising carries by Breida and Ramsby getting
19 yards. But, the Eagles progress ended there. Another punt and UGA had
just 33 seconds on the clock. They tried a few short plays before time
ran out in regulation.
Georgia won the crucial overtime coin toss and chose to defend. The
defense moved into a higher gear with Leonard Floyd stuffing the
first two runs for losses. Then, Upshaw got loose for 14 yards to the
16, one shy of what they needed for a first down. They chose to go for
it for the first time on fourth down but again Floyd and Jordan
Jenkins stopped Ramsby for still another loss of 3 yards. Three of
the four plays ended in lost yardage. The Bulldogs needed only a field
goal to put the game away.
And that took just one play as Sony Michel rushed left for 25 yards
all the way to the end zone and a 23-17 victory.