10 Years Later, Are Dawgs Still Man Enough?
By Matt Smith
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Georgia has won 21 of its past 26 games, but nearly every time the Bulldogs have appeared on a big stage, they’ve disappointed.
Due to a combination of SEC expansion and Alabama’s penchant to draw Florida every time it appears in the SEC Championship Game, meetings between SEC heavyweights Alabama and Georgia have been limited in recent years. The teams last met in 2008, a 41-30 win by the Crimson Tide in Athens, a game most notably remembered for Georgia coming out in black jerseys and quickly falling into a 31-0 hole.
Despite the infrequency of head-to-head matchups, the rivalry between the Tide and ‘Dawgs is still very much alive. The only SEC team to be mentioned (negatively, of course) in Alabama’s fight song? It’s not Auburn or Tennessee. It’s Georgia. From 1961-1976, seven of the eight games between the schools featured both teams ranked in the top 10. Legendary coaches Bear Bryant and Vince Dooley squared off six times, with Bryant’s Tide claiming wins in four of those contests.
In 2002, prior to the showdown between 4-0 Georgia and 4-1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the teams’ first meeting since 1995, former Auburn coach Pat Dye declared that Georgia “wasn’t man enough” to stop Alabama’s power running game, and that the Tide would upset the seventh-ranked Bulldogs. Even in the pre-Twitter era, the statement quickly made the rounds in Dixie, where insulting another man’s football team is equivalent to insulting another man.
Dye, a Georgia alumnus, wasn’t fooling anyone in the South. Even he would admit the following week that his primary purpose of his statement on The Paul Finebaum Show was to fire up the Bulldogs against Dye’s arch nemesis during his time coaching Auburn.
The quote seemed that it would prove prophetic in the late stages of the game. Georgia built a 24-12 lead early in the fourth quarter, silencing the 83,000-plus packed into Bryant-Denny Stadium hoping to keep Georgia winless all-time in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama would rally, however, scoring a pair of touchdowns in just 63 seconds, capped by a 35-yard interception return by Charlie Peprah with just over eight minutes remaining to put the Tide ahead, 25-24. Georgia had one last chance after a trade of punts. The Bulldogs displayed their toughness with six straight running plays to set up Billy Bennett’s game-winning 32-yard field goal with 38 seconds left, giving Georgia a 27-25 win.
Bulldogs players celebrated in the stands of Bryant-Denny Stadium with their fans who made the trip across the state line, holding signs that said simply “Man Enough.” Georgia would go on to have its best season in 20 years in 2002, going 13-1 and winning its first SEC title since Dooley retired in 1988.
On Saturday, Georgia can move within one step of another 13-win season. Unlike in 2002, this year, 13 wins would mean the Bulldogs would be national champions for the first time since 1980. The only team standing in the way of Georgia meeting Notre Dame for the national title on Jan. 7? The Alabama Crimson Tide.
Dye has been relatively quiet this week, keeping his opinions to just the ongoing coaching search at Auburn. There will be no bulletin board material for No. 3 Georgia on Saturday prior to its de facto national semifinal with No. 2 Alabama in the Georgia Dome. But a decade after the famous quote, the question has reappeared. Are Mark Richt’s Bulldogs man enough to beat Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide?
Georgia has won 21 of its past 26 games, but nearly every time the Bulldogs have appeared on a big stage, they’ve disappointed. They’re just 1-5 against top-20 opponents since the start of 2011, needing six turnovers from Florida to get their only victory. Against South Carolina, they were pummeled, 35-7, a game even more one-sided than the score would indicate.
There is no doubting the Bulldogs’ talent. Talent has never been the issue under Richt. Jarvis Jones, Alec Ogletree and Bacarri Rambo are as gifted as any in the country at their respective positions. Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are the finest pair of freshman running backs that the current generation of college football fans has seen. It’s the perceived “softness” of Georgia, however, that will continue to linger over the program until it joins the ranks of recent SEC teams to win the national championship.
The sentiment heading into Saturday’s game is that it will ultimately be a competitive game, but that Alabama will capitalize on coaching, discipline and big game experience to take control in the fourth quarter. It’s a theory based as much on the history of the programs than it is the quality of just the 2012 teams.
With the SEC East back on the rise, this might be Georgia’s last best opportunity to win a national title under Richt. Will Saturday finally be the Bulldogs’ time? They’ve done it before against Alabama, with the help of a calculated statement by a former rival. This year, no extra motivation is needed. The ultimate prize awaits the winner.
The win in Tuscaloosa 10 years ago might have proven to be fool’s good. A win on Saturday, however, would leave no doubt whether or not Georgia is “man enough.”