Georgia football: My top 5 favorites memories from the 2018 season
When the talent is there to legitimately compete for national titles, every minute of an entire season takes on a greater importance. It was certainly the case at Georgia in 2018, where title aspirations were off the charts and a team — and fan base — were as giddy as schoolboys.
The excitement level was high because the Bulldogs were just a few plays from winning it all a year early, falling in overtime to an Alabama team that they should have beat. With plenty of talent returning in 2018, plus the No. 1-ranked recruiting class, another title chase was on the agenda.
It didn’t quite work out the way we had hoped. They had a two-touchdown lead late in the third quarter against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and let it slip away, and then they laid an egg in the Sugar Bowl against a 4-loss Texas team. A great season ended in a thud.
But, for now, let’s just remember the good stuff. Here are my five favorite memories from the 2018 season:
1. Raise a glass to taking down a big challenger in Jacksonville
The neutral site Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville is always something special, and it took on added significance this year when both teams showed up at 6-1 and tied for the lead in the SEC East. It felt like a winner-take-all game all week, and that’s exactly how it played out.
Florida is on the rise again under new coach Dan Mullen, but this day belonged to the Bulldogs, who won 36-17. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm threw for 240 yards and Georgia rushed for another 189. It was a game where the naysayers were questioning Georgia’s value because it hadn’t played anyone of note up to that point. The Bulldogs proved otherwise with an emphatic victory, holding UF quarterback Feleipe Franks to just 105 yards passing. Cheers!
2. The explosive return of D’Andre Swift
In the preseason, there were some who thought Georgia running back D’Andre Swift would be a Heisman Trophy candidate. (Hand raised.) But as he battled through groin and ankle injuries early in the season, he wasn’t much more than an afterthought. In Georgia’s first seven games, he had just 362 yards rushing, a meager 51.7-yard average.
But the bye week before the Florida game helped get him healthy — and rejuvenated. He rushed for 104 yards and a score against the Gators, but then in the next two weeks he really proved that he was back. The two highlight-reel runs of the season came next, an amazing 83-yard burst against Kentucky and then a 77-yard run against Auburn a week later. The explosiveness was back, and it was so much fun to watch.
3. A defense with swagger that set the tone early in games
Being a defending national finalist didn’t mean a lot to several critics early in the season. They were looking for places for the Bulldogs to stumble, and some early SEC road tests were a good place to start. In the preseason, it seemed South Carolina was Georgia’s biggest challenger in the SEC East, and the two would meet early, in Week 2 in Columbia on Sept. 8. Then, just two weeks later, Drew Lock and Missouri would await in the other Columbia.
But in both games, Georgia’s trash-talking, walk-with-a-swagger defense took it upon themselves to take control of these games. Against South Carolina, All-American cornerback Deandre Baker intercepted a pass just 47 seconds into the game and returned it for a score, which he didn’t get credit for because he dropped the ball at the 1-yard line and Juwan Taylor walked it in to start the 41-17 romp. It was practically the same thing at Missouri, when freshman cornerback Tyson Campbell stripped a Missouri receiver on its fifth play from scrimmage and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown, sparking a 43-29 win. I loved the way Georgia’s defense walked the walk early.
4. A quarterback who continue to prove he belonged
Quarterback Jake Fromm played well in 2017 in leading Georgia to that national title game, but when 2018 rolled around, he was met with a challenge for playing time from 5-star freshman Justin Fields. Fromm was named the starter and he never looked back. He was singularly focused on playing as well as he could and being a team leader. He did both, with class and with talent.
Because Fields didn’t get the playing time he wanted, he up and left, transferring to Ohio State. Fromm never let all the drama bother him. He just played, and played well, and made everyone around him better. He kept his head held high throughout all the drama. I got criticized often by Georgia fans for backing Fromm and not Fields in this little scuffle, but I felt all along that he deserved to be playing.
5. Turning off my memory just before 7 p.m. on Dec. 3
So as we fast approached the end of the third quarter of the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 3, it looked like Georgia’s dream season and chase for a national title were right on track. They led 28-14 against an Alabama team that was considered one of the best ever. A conference title and a College Football Playoff berth were there for the taking.
And then, stop.