Georgia’s 2007 romp over Tebow, Auburn and Hawaii’s record-setting offense makes one ask, what might have been?
After finishing the 2006 season with three consecutive wins in a 9-4 campaign, Georgia head coach Mark Richt had little reason not to expect improvement in 2007.
With quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Thomas Brown and receiver Mohamed Massaquoi returning, the offense had the foundation for success. Redshirt freshman tailback Knowshon Moreno would provide Georgia with a dynamic skill set when called upon. Defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Marcus Howard, along with linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and safety Kelin Johnson, would need to step up to offset the loss of six key contributors from the 2006 defense that allowed 17.6 points per game.
After a 35-14 win over Oklahoma State gave the Bulldogs a good start to the season, SEC foe South Carolina ventured into Sanford Stadium for a Week 2 showdown and shocked the Bulldogs 16-12 after Georgia settled for four field goals from kicker Brandon Coutu.
With Western Carolina providing no trouble in their next game, the Bulldogs traveled to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to face 16th-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Despite controlling the game, the Bulldogs coughed up a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead and overtime followed. Stafford wasted little time following an Alabama field goal, connecting with receiver Mikey Henderson for a 25-yard touchdown and a 26-23 victory.
Dormant Ole Miss gave the Bulldogs more of a fight than expected before two touchdown runs from Brown gave UGA breathing room in a 45-17 win. Next up for Georgia was the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville, Tennessee. Unfortunately for Richt, his team came out flat and suffered a 35-14 beatdown, dropping to 4-2 and 2-2 in league play. Worse for Georgia, Brown suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him for weeks. The Bulldogs looked to Moreno to pick up the slack in Brown’s absence, and he did that and more, leading the Bulldogs throughout the latter half of 2007.
In the following game against Vanderbilt, Moreno ran for 157 yards on 28 carries to lead Georgia, while a pair of Coutu field goals in the fourth quarter gave Georgia a 20-17 win.
Then Tim Tebow and the ninth-ranked Florida Gators awaited No. 20 Georgia in Jacksonville, Florida, in the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.” Losers of 15 of 17 against Florida, the Bulldogs needed a victory against their tormentors from Gainesville.
Georgia displayed its mental approach on its first drive with nine successive rushing plays, culminating in a 1-yard score by Moreno. Behind freshman tackle Trinton Sturdivant and guard Chris Davis, the Bulldogs mauled the Gator defensive front all day and paved the way for Moreno to post 188 yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries. Stafford connected with Henderson and Massaquoi on long touchdown passes when Florida keyed on Moreno. The Bulldogs sacked Tebow six times and held the potent Gator rushing attack to 107 yards on 35 attempts in a 42-30 pummeling of Florida.
After a 44-34 victory over Troy University, the No. 18 Auburn Tigers strolled into Athens with hopes of another road victory “Between the Hedges.” Johnson’s interception of Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox spearheaded a 17-3 Bulldog start, but Auburn’s 17 unanswered points in the second and third quarters left Georgia down 20-17 with 6:47 left in the third.
Brown and Moreno stopped the Auburn momentum with one spectacular run after another, posting three scores in the final 21 minutes and finishing with 182 combined rushing yards as Georgia blasted Auburn 45-20. The Bulldog defense intercepted Cox three times in the second half, turning a back-and-forth tilt into a one-sided affair.
The Bulldogs defeated Kentucky and in-state rival Georgia Tech to close out 2007 at 10-2. Unfortunately, Tennessee won the SEC East thanks to its victory over Georgia on Oct. 6, and the Bulldogs missed out on a de facto playoff game against SEC West champ LSU in the SEC Championship Game.
However, the Bulldogs drew undefeated Hawaii and record-setting quarterback Colt Brennan in the 2008 Sugar Bowl. In New Orleans, No. 4 Georgia pummeled the nation’s top offense with eight sacks, pouncing on Hawaii 41-3 before the Warriors could save face with a late score to make the final 41-10.
Moreno was the season’s breakout star with 1,334 rushing yards and 14 scores while Stafford’s 2,523 yards and 19 passing touchdowns kept defenses honest. The drubbing of Hawaii meant Georgia finished 11-2 and second in the Associated Press poll.
So the question that lingers is, what would have happened had Georgia and eventual national champion LSU faced off in the SEC Championship game? Considering how the Bulldogs decimated Florida, Auburn, and Hawaii down the stretch, one would have had to like Georgia’s chances of winning that game and maybe its first national title since 1980. H&A
All photos courtesy Georgia Athletics