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Georgia’s Throwback Style

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Though this run is taking Georgia across the country, the directions have never once changed.

That's what Georgia does and they do it extremely well. And I like it and Georgia fans like it.
~Vince Dooley

Georgia's path to prominence has been an exceptional one, all with an inaugural meeting with Oklahoma upcoming in the program's first trip to the Rose Bowl in 75 years. While this College Football Playoff tale has its own history, aspects of the narrative are more nostalgic than novel. If the Bulldogs feel like a team of destiny, it's because this formula is one we know. Though this run is taking Georgia across the country, the directions have never once changed.

Throughout history, the Bulldogs have been at their best with a powerful ground game and a dominating defense. Georgia, this season, ranks second in power five football with 3,426 rushing yards and slots third in scoring defense. The familiarity between these Bulldogs and some of Vince Dooley's signature squads are striking. Dooley's 1980 title team entered the postseason fresh off scoring 31 in a triumph over Auburn and 38 in a victory over Georgia Tech; Kirby Smart just dropped 28 on the Tigers and exactly 38 on the Yellow Jackets.   

"We ran the football and the current Georgia team runs the football and runs it very, very well," the legendary Dooley explained. "We played good defense, but also our kicking game was good and the kicking game of this current Georgia team is very good. This is a well balanced football team."

The red-and-black aren't just winning, they are following red-clay footprints that have been in place for years.

"The similarities with this team and coach Dooley's philosophy of winning football was playing good, solid defense and having a run-dominated offense to control the ball," detailed former UGA All-American running back Willie McClendon. "That is the type of philosophy I was raised into and became accustomed to at the University of Georgia."

This year, Smart's Bulldogs rank in the top three in scoring offense and total offense, scoring defense and total defense and rushing offense, pass offense efficiency, rush defense and pass defense. Furthermore, Georgia is also top five in the league in turnover margin, third down offense, third down defense, redzone offense, redzone defense, field goal kicking, punting, kick returns and kick coverage. The Bulldogs are the defending SEC Champions, and in the College Football Playoff, because they have carried themselves like a contender. 

There is a team-first temperament that was set before the season even started. When running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter announced their decisions to return to school for one more year, Georgia's run at a title was officially underway. Veteran core in place, the Bulldogs had clear goals in Smart's second season. That sprint, Athens to Pasadena, is still ongoing.  

"It set a great tone for the rest of the team when those four players came back and decided not to go pro, not to take the money, and they certainly could have, most do, but they were not satisfied," Dooley continued. "I think they are extraordinary young men and all four of them have not only given tremendous physical play, but tremendous leadership and set the tone for the rest of the team on how important this year was to them."

The keys to success, for Georgia, have been many, though the principles have been few; they are points of emphasis that have made the Bulldogs nationally-relevant before. There has been a deep commitment to the fundamentals that has proven true on countless occasions. Whether in need of a clutch drive late at Notre Dame or a bounce-back performance against Auburn in the SEC Championship Game, Georgia has been primed and ready for any and every moment. 

After losing starting quarterback Jacob Eason to injury in the first game of the season, the Bulldogs, with true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm stepping in, have the fewest passing attempts of any team in the league. A focus on the ground game hasn't frustrated Fromm, rather empowering him to be at his best when his moment comes. Fromm has had a stabilizing impact on the team, playing a key role in getting Georgia to where it is now. Currently, Fromm ranks fifth nationally in passer rating. 

"The young freshman, Jake Fromm, he has just been absolutely amazing," Dooley nodded.

Defensively, the rise of linebacker Roquan Smith has helped the Bulldogs go from good to great. Ahead of a matchup with high-flying Oklahoma, Georgia is allowing merely 271 yards per game, down roughly 57 yards from last fall's strong group. The Bulldogs first-ever winner of the Butkus Award, Smith leads the SEC with 72 solo tackles, compiling 113 total. He has become the centerpiece of a defense that has given up more than one touchdown just once in its last six games.

"I have seen a lot of fast linebackers in my day, but I think he may be the very best that I have ever seen," Dooley complimented of Smith, "and we have had some great ones at Georgia."

The Bulldogs have shown the ability to overcome adversity after Eason's injury, a blow most would not have been able to absorb. Winning late at Notre Dame and playing their best game of the year on the biggest stage in a bounce-back triumph over Auburn in Atlanta, the Bulldogs have played with a remarkable mix of passion and poise. They have also, in many ways, gone back to their roots with a style that has long been a staple at Sanford Stadium. 

This is a Georgia team looking to make history, all with a Bulldog brand that has stayed true over time.  

"That's what Georgia does and they do it extremely well," Dooley explained of the Bulldogs' current ways. "And I like it and Georgia fans like it."

Up next for the Bulldogs is the Rose Bowl, their first trip out west since 1942. Few games have come with the anticipation of this one, with Georgia soon to square off with Heisman Trophy Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma in a pairing that will feature the most combined program wins of any debut meeting ever. The spotlight of the College Football Playoff will only be magnified by the shine that comes with arguably the most storied venue in the game.

Though generations have passed since the Bulldogs last Rose Bowl appearance, some of the same sentiments, through all of the hype and attention, still remain.

"I met with Charley Trippi, he is the last living player from that '42 team that went out to the Rose Bowl. It took them four days to get there on a train. What Charley kept referring to was that they went out there to win," Dooley recalled. "There was a lot of excitement, they got to meet great movie stars of the day at that time. But his focus 'we went out there to win, we won and therefore we had a great trip'."

With a season for the ages, the likes of Chubb and Michel and Bellamy and Carter, are only adding to the legacy of those who came before them. Georgia is winning and winning the way the game has long been taught in the Peach State. These Bulldogs aren't just adding to the tradition of a proud program, they are, with every snap, honoring it as well.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports