In rewatching the classic 2008 Blackout Game, these 10 things stood out
In the fall of 2008, I was a college freshman living in the Midwest. I’ll be honest, Saturday night wasn’t prioritized for college football the way it is now. My days usually consisted of tailgating for my own college team, not going into the games, and watching SEC on CBS that afternoon with my buddies before going back out that night.
So yes, I absolutely needed to rewatch the Blackout Game.
Ahead of this Saturday’s Georgia-Alabama game, I thought it would be a fitting time to look back on the classic showdown from 12 years ago. As the legend Mike Patrick said on the broadcast, it was the first time that Alabama and Georgia faced each other as undefeated top-10 teams since 1942.
The buildup, the hype and the result were things that we still talk about 12 years later on The Saturday Down South Podcast. But it’s one thing to watch highlights, and it’s another to sit down and rewatch an entire game with current context. In fact, we do an offseason series called “It Just Meant More” wherein we look back at classic games. Why haven’t we done the Blackout Game yet? Well, we typically stray from the lopsided affairs. We look at down-to-the-wire games with significant implications that were impacted by a play here or there.
This game, for those who don’t remember, was decided by halftime. Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran famously predicted that Georgia, which busted out the black uniforms for the monumental showdown against Nick Saban’s squad (it was Georgia’s 3rd time wearing black uniforms), would be “attending their own funeral.”
Even in 2008, that went viral. Go figure that Cochran nailed that prediction. And go figure that Cochran and Kirby Smart, who were both on the Alabama sideline that night, will be on Georgia’s sideline this Saturday night.
I decided to look back on that wild night from 2008 (thanks YouTube). These were the 10 things that stood out when I rewatched the Blackout Game:
1. It’s sort of amazing to think of a time when Alabama had to prove itself
Cochran’s funeral comment (go to the 1:05 mark if you want to hear the NSFW version of that) went viral for a reason. Alabama was the team that, yes, had Saban, but was only 4-0 after a 7-win season in Year 1. Alabama hadn’t beaten Georgia in 13 years. And the Dawgs, of course, earned their first preseason No. 1 ranking in the Associated Press Top 25 that year.
What’s easy to forget is that while they had finished No. 2 the previous season and were loaded with talent (Matthew Stafford, A.J. Green and Knowshon Moreno to name a few), they actually got 1 less preseason No. 1 vote than Ohio State. Georgia had 1,528 total points while Ohio State was just behind with 1,506. The Dawgs were No. 1 in the preseason, but barely. That’s why all it took for them to fall off that spot was a pair of games against Group of 5 teams. A lackluster showing against South Carolina dropped a 4-0 Georgia team to No. 3.
Meanwhile, 4-0 Alabama was still only No. 8 even though it had blowout wins against Clemson and Arkansas. Cochran’s comment made headlines because there was a little bit of this “wait, the program with 1 Top-25 finish in the last 5 years is gonna talk that smack about Georgia?”
Little did we know that Alabama was about to begin its streak of 12 (and counting) consecutive top-10 finishes … and that was the last time that Georgia would start in the preseason top 3 in the Mark Richt era.
2. I totally forgot that …
No. 1 USC fell to Oregon State on that Thursday AND No. 4 Florida lost to Ole Miss that day, which became known as “The Promise” game. In other words, the door was open for a new No. 1. How Alabama didn’t get every last No. 1 vote in America for this win is beyond me. I get that Oklahoma, which got that No. 1 spot instead of Alabama, was coming off a blowout win of its own against TCU. But still, Alabama traveled to the team ranked preseason No. 1 and shut it down by halftime. I mean, this atmosphere looked as intimidating as you’ll ever see:
Remember packed stands? Weren’t those fun?
One of my buddies, former UGA walk-on Candler Cook, told me that’s the best pregame atmosphere he’s ever seen and he’s been going to Georgia games his entire life. I honestly don’t know how you top it. I wasn’t there, I wouldn’t have had any sort of rooting interest and I know the final result, yet even I still get chills watching some of those pregame shots. Just incredible.
3. What a game plan by … Jim McElwain???
Let’s give Mac some credit here. Alabama took the air out of that place with a brilliant offensive game plan. From the first drive it was evident. Run play-action on early downs. The protection held and John Parker Wilson had all sorts of time to deliver on-target throws.
McElwain talked about wanting to simplify things for Wilson with it being his 3rd offensive coordinator in as many seasons. There were high-percentage throws all night, which was partially why Wilson went 13-of-16 for 12.8 yards per attempt. McElwain didn’t ask Wilson to go through lengthy progressions against this talented Georgia front. It was a quick read to Julio Jones or a quick throw to an Alabama back. There was a sense of urgency from the jump. Getting that early lead and wearing down Georgia with the ground game was clearly the plan, and it was executed perfectly.
That was Alabama’s plan of attack every week. Before this game, Alabama had outscored its opponents 71-0 in the first quarter and had yet to trail in a game. A 10-0 advantage at the end of the first quarter in this one was another sign that McElwain’s game script was on point.
It’s fun to remember a time when McElwain was considered an up-and-coming offensive mind. Game plans like this certainly helped him rise in the coaching ranks.
4. People don’t talk enough about that huge early call
Speaking of McElwain, he dialed up a beautiful screen pass on 3rd down that turned out to be a massive early call on the game’s first drive. Glen Coffee picked up a first down in the red zone, but Georgia forced and recovered a fumble at the end of the play. The problem? Georgia linebacker Akeem Dent got his hands in the face of Wilson, and instead of it being an early turnover, it was a roughing-the-passer penalty and Alabama kept the ball.
That was a fitting way for Georgia to start the game. The Dawgs came into the night ranked No. 1 in FBS in penalties per game (10.8) and No. 2 in penalty yards per game (89.5). Georgia had 4 penalties for 52 yards on the first 2 Alabama drives, 2 of which were roughing-the-passer penalties. Richt’s team had a few issues, and discipline was certainly one of them.
While it was certainly a 50-50 call because Wilson didn’t even go down, think about how crucial that was. All of that pregame juice in Sanford Stadium would have carried over had Georgia forced a turnover. Instead, Alabama took nearly 6 minutes and 30 seconds off the clock, ran in a touchdown and never looked back. The Dawgs had won 11 consecutive games and entered as a touchdown favorite, and you could tell they were a bit shell-shocked. At least defensively.
I don’t want to say that a 31-0 halftime score was totally the result of that play, but I can’t help but wonder how different things might have gone for Georgia had that play gone in favor of the home team.
5. First half Matthew Stafford had Bo Nix vs. Georgia vibes
As great as Stafford was in his college career, you could tell in this game that he didn’t trust his offensive line. I can’t say I blame him with the likes of Terrence Cody and Rolando McClain in that Alabama front 7. Stafford often faded away from throws instead of stepping up in the pocket, much like Nix did earlier this year when he faced that vaunted Georgia defense.
And fittingly, their stat lines ended up being awfully similar:
Both Nix and Stafford weren’t lacking talent, but that was a reminder that when you lack that trust in your protection and you can’t keep your eyes downfield, you don’t have a chance.
6. Can you imagine if Saban caught wind of Terrence Cody’s in-game soundbite?
We make a big deal of the Cochran comment and understandably so, but in the beginning of the 2nd quarter, Cody turned to the camera delivered an all-time soundbite from the bench. Up 10-0, he turned to the camera and said, “takin’ them to the pound.”
I love the arrogance. He ended up being right. The fact that he knew it that early in that game was telling.
But can you imagine when and if Saban ever found out about that? I have to imagine that Saban’s reaction would be shades of the 2013 game against Texas A&M when he lost his mind after T.J. Yeldon was flagged for his Johnny Manziel money sign/throat slash touchdown celebration.
Hey Manziel, TJ Yeldon has a message for you pic.twitter.com/QtEjNi1TIA
— Trey Pickett (@talltrey5) May 9, 2014
I mean, Cody was such a key part of establishing that Alabama culture early on under Saban, and I imagine the guy never had to pay for a drink again after he blocked the kick against Tennessee the following year, but still. That kind of disrespect for the opponent probably would have made Saban’s blood boil like few things possibly could.
By the way, I loved that when they talked about Mount Cody in this game, they listed his bio and said “can dunk a basketball,” which is quite the feat for a 350-pound dude, especially when he used to clock in at 420 pounds.
7. Some incredible stats from the 31-0 first half
When A.J. Green bobbled the ball that Dont’a Hightower recovered, it was Georgia’s 11th play from scrimmage. By the time the Dawgs had their 12th play from scrimmage, Alabama was already up 24-0.
These other first-half numbers blew me away:
The 17 rushing yards with Moreno was stunning, though him having 5 carries with Georgia unable to stop Alabama certainly contributed to that. Wilson doubling up Stafford’s passing yards was equally stunning. And Alabama doubling up Georgia on the time of possession was really what took that crowd out of it.
Twelve years later, we know that a Saban-coached Alabama team took souls like few ever have in the sport. This was truly the first time in which the world saw a changing of the guard, especially a year after Stafford had the overtime TD pass to win in Tuscaloosa. This was the ultimate “we’ve arrived” moment for a program to come out and punch Georgia in the mouth like that.
Speaking of crazy stats, here’s another. A week before this game was played 12 years ago, Alabama got into the top 10 for the first time in the Saban era. In the 165 times that Alabama played after the Blackout Game, it only played in 5 games as a non-top 10 team.
That first half was certainly the beginning of the decade of dominance.
8. The best line from the broadcast
“This was supposed to be a blackout. It’s a public mugging instead.”
That was Patrick after Alabama took a 24-0 lead in the middle of the 2nd quarter. Mercy.
And after Alabama went up 31-0 on Jones’ catch in the corner of the end zone, Patrick said “this is an old-fashion country butt-kicking, and Georgia is supplying the butt.”
9. It’s actually pretty impressive that UGA put up 30 second-half points
Against that Alabama defense? That’s no small feat. Granted, it was an Alabama defense that had a massive cushion.
But consider this — Alabama’s defensive staff included the aforementioned Saban and Smart, but it also included Kevin Steele and Jeremy Pruitt. That’s like the Avengers of defensive minds in the SEC. This ended up being the No. 7 defense in America. Georgia was the only team that exceeded 21 points against Alabama in the regular season.
It’s a shame that it took Stafford so long to get comfortable. Green’s potential was evident, even though he had the frustrating fumble early on. The body control that the true freshman had was at a different level. It was Green who had the final score of the day, which made it look a lot closer than it was.
Alabama was up 41-17 with 4 minutes left. Georgia didn’t give up, which is a testament to Richt. The 92-yard punt return score from Prince Miller sent that place into a frenzy after Georgia dominated the 3rd quarter, but that Alabama defense stood tall when it counted.
10. No, I can’t imagine Saturday looking like this, and not just because of the limited crowd
Meaning, no, I don’t expect Alabama to come out with a 31-0 haymaker. This Georgia defense is in a much different position now than it was 12 years ago. Those rushing defense numbers heading into the Blackout Game were a product of not playing teams who prioritized the run, as then-defensive coordinator Willie Martinez admitted. This group is built differently.
And so far, it looks like the Alabama defense is built differently than that 2008 group. Pitching a first-half shutout against Georgia would be a tall order.
Another unlikely possibility? Mac Jones throwing the ball just 16 times like Wilson did. Wilson was praised for his accuracy and executing McElwain’s vision, but Jones is going to have to do much more heavy lifting in Steve Sarkisian’s offense. There’s no doubt about that. And fortunately for him, he has more skill-player weapons than Alabama had in 2008. Wilson essentially had freshman Julio Jones.
Go figure that in a time when we’re talking about these high-flying offenses in the SEC, I think it’d be stunning to see 71 points scored like the Blackout Game. Georgia’s defense should prevent that from happening.
Nobody assumed heading into that 2008 matchup that it would begin a streak of 5 consecutive Alabama wins against Georgia. Three of those came in SEC Championships. This one won’t be a conference title game, but it’ll certainly feel like it.
Will we get another funeral? Or will we get another loud statement from the visiting team?
For the sake of my personal entertainment, fingers crossed that it’s not another public mugging.