Georgia football: The top 10 moments that defined the decade
The 2010s started with Georgia’s first losing season since 1996. It ended with them in the midst of the best 3-year stretch in program history.
With a number of dynamic players headed into Athens thanks to the recruiting efforts of Kirby Smart and his staff, this recent run of success looks as if it will continue for the foreseeable future. But will the 2020s finally bring the program’s 1st national championship since 1980?
As exciting as the future is, let’s take a minute to appreciate the decade that was.
- Georgia’s record this decade: 99-36 (with a bowl game remaining)
- Best season: 2017 (13-2 overall, 7-1 SEC; SEC champion; national semifinalist)
- SEC East division titles: 5 (4 outright, 1 shared)
- SEC Championships: 1
- Bowl record (excluding 2017 Rose Bowl Game and 2019 Sugar Bowl): 4-4
- Playoff record: 1-1 (1 appearance in 2017)
- 1st-round draft picks: 9 (highest: A.J. Green, No. 4 overall to Cincinnati in 2011)
As we approach the end of the year and the decade, here are the top 10 moments — both good and bad — that defined the past 10 seasons of Georgia football.
10. Oct. 8, 2011: Mark Richt becomes 3rd Georgia football coach to reach 100 wins
Riding a 3-game winning streak after starting the season 0-2, Georgia traveled to Neyland Stadium to take on Tennessee. And you couldn’t blame the Dawgs for having a bitter taste in their mouths from their past 2 trips there, a heavy 41-19 loss in 2009 and a 35-14 defeat in 2007.
Mark Richt and Georgia, though, were determined to create a better memory at Rocky Top.
Aaron Murray had a modest day — 227 yards and 0 touchdowns — but running back Isaiah Crowell stood as the difference. Crowell notched a pair of touchdowns and the Volunteers were held to negative-21 yards rushing as Georgia won 20-12, Richt’s 100th victory as the head coach of the Bulldogs.
9. Oct. 5, 2013: Aaron Murray becomes Georgia and the SEC’s all-time passing leader
With a 24-yard pass to Chris Conley in the 2nd quarter against Tennessee, Murray passed David Greene’s Georgia and SEC mark of 11,528 yards set between 2001-2004. It wasn’t the last record he’d break that year, either: He overtook Danny Wuerffel on the conference’s all-time passing touchdown list against Appalachian State.
Murray finished his career with 13,166 yards and 121 touchdowns, making his mark as one of the best quarterbacks in Georgia and SEC history.
8. 2011: Georgia bounces back from 1st losing season since 1996 to win 1st SEC East title since 2005
Georgia had limped through a 6-7 season in 2010. The 2011 season didn’t look promising as the Dawgs lost back-to-back games to No. 5 Boise State in Atlanta and to No. 12 South Carolina between the hedges.
But things turned for Georgia, which won its next 10 games (including a first win at Tennessee in 3 tries) to finish its SEC schedule at 7-1 and win its first division crown since 2005. Four Bulldogs, including quarterback Aaron Murray, linebacker Jarvis Jones and cornerback Brandon Boykin, were named All-SEC picks.
7. Nov. 29, 2015: Mark Richt relieved of duties as Georgia head football coach
By all accounts, a 9-3 season wouldn’t normally signify a time to look for a new head coach, especially when said coach had won 145 games and lost 51.
Yet, probably feeling that the program needed some new blood and that it had fallen behind its peers in the division and the conference, AD Greg McGarity controversially opted to part ways with Mark Richt after 15 seasons at Georgia. The backlash was immediate: Todd Gurley, who learned of the news before his Rams took on the Bengals, was “pissed off” by the decision, while other reaction ranged from “angry” to “unexpected”.
And that was just from alumni. Jordan Jenkins, a member of the 2015 team, told reporters that the circumstances surrounding Richt’s dismissal “(didn’t) sit right” with him. Teammate Leonard Floyd called it a “sad day” and insinuated that he might have returned for his redshirt senior season to play for Richt one last time.
6. Dec. 6, 2015: Kirby Smart hired as Georgia’s 26th head football coach
Needless to say, McGarity needed to make a move to not only rejuvenate the Georgia fan base but bring in someone that would put the program back among the nation’s elite. For that, he looked to a name from the Bulldogs’ past.
In Kirby Smart, Georgia gained one of the top assistant coaches in the country: a Nick Saban disciple who had been with the legendary head coach since coming on as his defensive backs coach at LSU in 2004, and a 3-time national champion as Alabama’s defensive coordinator. The fact that he was a former Bulldog who played from the mid-to-late-1990s didn’t hurt, either.
Thus far, Smart is 43-12, led the program to its 1st SEC championship in over a decade in 2017, won 3 consecutive SEC East titles, and took the Dawgs to the national championship game in 2017.
5. Georgia wins its 1st SEC championship since 2017
It had been 12 seasons since Georgia had won an SEC championship in football. If it wanted to regain its footing on the national scene, Smart needed to help it to gain control of a much different landscape than the one it faced in 2005.
When the No. 6 Bulldogs put together a 7-1 conference record to set up its 6th SEC Championship Game appearance, it did so with more than a conference trophy up for grabs. A win over No. 4 Auburn, which had blown them out weeks ago at Jordan-Hare Stadium, would give their Playoff resume a huge boost while keeping the Tigers out.
In front of more than 76,500 fans in the 1st SEC Championship Game played at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, things turned out much differently than they had on the Plains in November. Auburn took an eary 7-0 lead, but the Dawgs scored 28 unanswered points, including 2 touchdown passes by Jake Fromm and a 64-yard touchdown run by D’Andre Swift, to win 28-7 and earn the No. 3 seed in the Playoff.
4. Jan. 8, 2018: Tyler Simmons ruled offsides on a blocked punt in the National Championship against Alabama
We’ll touch on the events that got them there later, but Georgia was back in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against Alabama. The Bulldogs were enjoying a 13-0 lead and, following a Roquan Smith sack of Tua Tagovailoa, had forced a Tide punt from their own 34 with just under 2 minutes played in the 3rd quarter. In what would have been a massive swing of momentum the Dawgs’ way, Tyler Simmons broke from his spot on defense and blocked JK Scott’s punt to set Georgia up deep in Alabama territory with a chance to extend its lead to as many as 3 scores.
Or did he? A flag was thrown as Simmons was adjudged to be offsides, and Scott was able to get his 2nd punt attempt off cleanly.
It looks like Tyler Simmons was onside on this blocked punt…. pic.twitter.com/7EkFmnnXOS
— DawgNation (@DawgNation) January 9, 2018
We’ll obviously never know the result of the game had the play had been upheld, so this will remain as one of the great “what ifs” of Georgia football history.
3. Jan. 1, 2018: Jake Fromm’s late game-tying drive in Rose Bowl Game is capped by Nick Chubb’s “Wild Dog” touchdown run
It was an instant classic: Georgia and Oklahoma going toe-to-toe in the highest-scoring Rose Bowl Game of all time. And while the Sooners came out of the locker room at halftime looking to add to a 31-17 lead, there were plenty of twists and turns to come.
Nick Chubb took Georgia’s first possession of the 2nd half 50 yards to the house to make it 31-24. Later, Sony Michel’s 38-yard touchdown run capped a 6-play, 71-yard drive to tie it at 31 with 41 seconds left in the 3rd. After Baker Mayfield was picked off deep in Oklahoma territory to start the 4th, the Dawgs needed 2 plays to take their first lead at 38-31.
Did we mention twists and turns? Oklahoma tied it with 8:47 to go and retook the lead 2 minutes later on a fumble recovery by Steven Parker. With 3:15 left in regulation and with both teams having exchanged punts, Georgia’s freshman signal-caller Jake Fromm faced the biggest drive of his young career.
And he delivered. After marching the Dawgs to the Sooners’ 23 and facing 3rd-and-10 with just over 1 minute remaining, Fromm hit Terry Godwin with a 16-yarder to put them 7 yards from the end zone. After a pass interference put Georgia at the 2-yard-line, it was Nick Chubb’s turn, taking a direct snap in the “Wild Dog” formation to the end zone to knot the score at 45 and force overtime.
2. Jan. 1, 2018: Sony Michel scores from 27 yards out in Rose Bowl Game to send Dawgs to the national championship
It was already shaping up to be the most dramatic Rose Bowl Game ever: Georgia and Oklahoma, tied at 45 after regulation, with a trip to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on the line. Whoever blinked first would see their season end, while the winner would head to Atlanta to play for college football’s biggest prize.
Rodrigo Blankenship and Austin Seibert exchanged field goals to send the game to a 2nd overtime knotted at 48. After the Sooners drive got as far as the Georgia 10, Seibert stepped up to try a 27-yard field goal — and missed.
Then it was Georgia’s turn, and 2 plays later, it was all over. Lined up in the “Wild Dog” formation much like Chubb in the 4th quarter, Michel took a direct snap, cut to the left and through the Sooners’ defense for the winning score. The Bulldogs were off to play for a national championship for the first time since 1980.
1. Jan. 8, 2018: 2nd-and-26
The title of this article could lead to a presumption that every single moment of this list is a positive one. But what happened on Jan. 8, 2018, as bitter as it is, can’t be left off, simply because the sheer fact that Georgia was in the national championship set the bar for the future of the program.
Alabama and Georgia faced off in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, just over a month after the Crimson Tide beat the Bulldogs 35-28 in the same building for the SEC Championship. It was the rematch everyone wanted — with a national championship on the line.
Like the Rose Bowl Game, this one went to overtime, and like the Rose Bowl, Rodrigo Blankenship ended Georgia’s first possession with a field goal. That gave the ball to Alabama. And things started well enough for the Dawgs’ defense as Jonathan Ledbetter and Davin Bellamy got to Tua Tagovailoa for a massive 16-yard sack that ignited Georgia fans.
The next play will live on in Georgia history, but for the wrong reasons.
Alabama 26, Georgia 23. And the wait for that elusive national championship for the Dawgs continues.