D.J. Shockley, the last Georgia QB to start 7-0, has some wise words for the emerging Dawgs
Count D.J. Shockley among the massive amount of people who have been impressed by Georgia so far.
The former Georgia quarterback and current ESPN college football analyst has a viewpoint similar to what most have of the unbeaten Dawgs. That is, the defense has been as advertised under Kirby Smart — even Alabama-like — and the offense has been more efficient than people expected.
“Kirby has them playing at a lights out level. I think everybody’s happy right now,” Shockley said. “And honestly, being 5-0 is big.”
Shockley knows a little something about being 5-0. When he was finally handed the keys to the Bulldogs’ offense as a senior in 2005, he fueled a 7-0 start. No Georgia team since then has been able to get to 7-0.
The preseason expectations have been there for Georgia before, but the early-season dominance has not. Well, it hasn’t been there until this year’s team shot up to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll after outscoring its first two SEC opponents 72-3.
Georgia is expected to at least tie Shockley’s 2005 mark with two favorable matchups (at Vanderbilt, vs. Missouri) on the horizon. The SEC East and College Football Playoff buzz only figures to grow in the coming weeks.
But Shockley would caution any Georgia player or coach who’s already thinking about that.
“The biggest thing is you’ve got to stay in the moment,” he said. “You can’t look too far ahead and you can’t worry about what anybody else is doing. At the end of the day, if you prepare yourself for today, you prepare your team, you make sure that you are the best prepared team that you can be going into every game, then down the road, that takes care of itself and you’ll be ready when the time comes.
“I think a lot of people worry about where they’re ranked or who they’re playing later on and then you slip up and you lose a game like you did to Vanderbilt last year. You can’t allow those situations to seep out of your mind.”
It was Vanderbilt that threw cold water on Georgia’s bid to stay in the East race in 2016. By the time the Cocktail Party rolled around, the Bulldogs already had three SEC losses. If Georgia does get to 7-0 this year, the Cocktail Party could serve as an East title game.
Shockley remembers what it was like to go into that game riding a 7-0 start.
“It was what you came to the University of Georgia for,” Shockley said. “You came there for opportunities like that, for moments like that, to have that kind of feeling on a campus like that when everybody is all in. I mean, everybody is all in. Everybody is behind you and the atmosphere is just so different than when you’ve lost a game or at the bottom end of the Top 25.
“I tell you, it’s something that I won’t ever forget. You kind of miss it at times.”
The similarities between Shockley’s squad and this year’s team are obvious. Both had dominant defenses, both had first-time starting quarterbacks who rarely made mistakes and both had run-first offenses that got the job done.
But there was a key difference between his team and this year’s Georgia team.
- Former Georgia QB D.J. Shockley
The 2017 Georgia squad was the overwhelming preseason favorite to win the division, though few predicted the Bulldogs to be sitting in the top five in the first week of October. The 2005 Georgia squad, on the other hand, was picked to finish third in the East behind Florida and Tennessee.
“To be in that spot, we were looking at it as ‘we have so much to prove,’ ” Shockley said. “Week in, week out, we felt like we hadn’t gotten the respect that we deserved.”
Part of that could have stemmed from the fact that USC and Texas spent the entire season ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. That, of course, was later justified when they faced off in arguably the best national championship game in college football history. Often forgotten nationally were the teams like Georgia, which, as Shockley said, believed it could line up with anyone.
A similar situation could unfold with this year’s Georgia team. Alabama and Clemson are at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, and all the talk seems to be focused on the two programs matching up in the national championship for the third consecutive year.
Shockley believes this Georgia team can also line up with anyone, including Alabama. The 2017 Bulldogs could get a shot that Shockley’s squad didn’t get. That is, they could still have national title hopes alive heading into a potential SEC Championship.
With Shockley sidelined with an injury for the Florida game, the 2005 Bulldogs spoiled their unbeaten start in Jacksonville. Even though they blew out LSU in the SEC Championship, they still finished the season 3-3. It was another Georgia season that fell just short of reaching the top of the college football mountain.
This year’s Georgia team hopes to buck that trend. No letdowns. No close-but-no-cigar games against elite teams. No “good, but not great” narratives at season’s end. The Bulldogs have a long way to go to do just that.
Shockley is confident in Smart’s ability to humble his team by flipping on the film. The Bulldogs are 5-0, but they haven’t been perfect. To beat Alabama — or any team that somehow beats Alabama — they’ll have to be perfect.
Before they can do that, though, they should remember the wise words from someone who has been there before.
“If I could tell them anything,” Shockley said, “it’d be make sure you guys focus on each game plan, each particular series and don’t take any play or any game for granted.”