There’s no doubt that the 2019 football season proved disappointing to many Dawgs fans, despite a 12-2 record, a Sugar Bowl win, and Georgia beating four Top 10 teams, including Notre Dame, as well as triumphing over all its traditional rivals.
After all, how successful a season you had is judged now on the basis of whether or not you made the playoff, so it’s unlikely many will include the recently concluded campaign in any future reminiscence of favorite UGA football seasons.
Still, that doesn’t mean there weren’t games, plays and performances worth savoring — moments that indeed will be looked back on fondly by Bulldog Nation.
So, here are my own 2019 Georgia football favorites …
Considering how many of Georgia’s wins were marred by inconsistent offensive play, the game where the Dawgs put it all together easily ranks as my favorite of the season. The fact that it also happened to be against probably Georgia’s fiercest rival doesn’t hurt, either.
Yes, I’m talking about the 24-17 win in Jacksonville that marked the Dawgs’ third straight victory over the hated Gators.
That was the game where the Georgia offense momentarily rediscovered its mojo, thanks in part to the excellent play of a pair of graduate transfers — receiver Lawrence Cager and tight end Eli Wolf. Cager caught 7 passes for 132 yards, including a 52-yard scoring strike and a catch for a 2-point conversion; and Wolf had a key third-down reception that allowed Georgia to kill the clock.
Add to that one of quarterback Jake Fromm’s best days passing behind great protection by a sometimes underperforming offensive line, tough running by D’Andre Swift against a stout Florida defensive front, a couple of big plays by Brian Herrien, James Coley opening up his offensive playbook, and you get a day when the Dawgs converted on a remarkable 12 of 18 third-down plays. On the other side of the ball, the Dawgs’ defense shutting down the Gators’ running game almost completely (Georgia held Florida to just 21 yards on the ground) while also managing to contain Florida’s formidable receiving corps, was impressive. All in all, Georgia’s best team performance of the season.
A close second is the home win over Notre Dame. It might have been an old-fashioned defensive struggle that went down to the wire (Notre Dame’s final drive ending with a fourth-down end zone pass batted down), but, hey, it was the Fighting Irish Between the Hedges! That alone makes it one for the ages, and the way the Georgia crowd (largest ever in Athens) impacted the game (forcing the Irish to have numerous false starts and unwanted timeouts) was icing on the cake.
Least favorite game? South Carolina, duh. At least in the SEC Championship Game, you can say that Georgia lost to a better team in LSU (perhaps the best in the country). But, being upset by a terrible Gamecocks team that was a three-touchdown underdog and played with its second- and third-string quarterbacks, was just plain embarrassing.
Favorite offensive play
This one came in the Florida game (naturally) when Georgia rediscovered the wheel route and saw Cager so wide open for a touchdown that he practically could have walked across the goal line.
Another favorite, also in that game, was the incredibly acrobatic pass reception by running back Herrien.
Also worth remembering are a trio of catches by freshman sensation George Pickens: the perfectly thrown Fromm over-the-shoulder touchdown pass to him in the Sugar Bowl, Pickens’ impressive circus catch against Murray State, and a balletic, NFL-style sideline catch by Pickens in the Arkansas State game.
Favorite defensive play
Azeez Ojulari strip-sacking Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer on 4th down in what likely was the turning point of the Sugar Bowl game.
Other defensive favorites: the final fourth-down stand against the Fighting Irish, and Georgia shutting down Texas A&M on a 4th-and-inches play
Favorite individual performance
Pickens, who had an up-and-down freshman season (mostly due to poor decisions on his part), tying a Georgia bowl record with 12 catches for 175 yards and a TD against Baylor.
Runner-up: the previously mentioned Florida performance by Cager, who mostly was the Georgia passing attack early in the season, before getting hurt.
The final 59 seconds of the first half of the Tennessee game. After the Vols missed a field goal attempt, Georgia got the ball back at its own 30, and the Fromm who’d built a reputation as the best 2-minute-offense QB in the nation made a reappearance, quickly leading the Dawgs downfield for a touchdown.
This one’s easy: 52-7 win over Tech. Beating the Jackets by a record margin for Georgia’s 10th straight win at Grant Field was extra sweet. Despite the score, much of the credit goes to the Dawgs’ defense, which forced Tech to punt a record 13 times, and only gave up a score after Tech recovered the ball deep in Georgia territory on a muffed punt reception. If not for that score, it might have been a shutout, which leads me to the next category:
Zero. As in what Georgia’s opponents scored in three games of the 2019 season, with the Dawgs prevailing 55-0 over Arkansas State, 21-0 over Kentucky and 27-0 over Missouri.
Several single moments of the season stand out, but my very favorite is the beginning of the fourth quarter against Notre Dame. Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium’s new LED lighting system turned the entire stadium red as fans lit up the stadium, while the Redcoats played the “Krypton Fanfare.” Unforgettable.
Another favorite moment was the pre-game of the Arkansas State game, when the UGA fan base showed why it’s one of the best in college football by staging a pink-out to honor the wife of the opposing team’s head coach. Wendy Anderson had died of breast cancer shortly before the season. As an emotional Blake Anderson, head coach of the Red Wolves, marveled after the game: “Those people didn’t know my wife, and they don’t know me. They didn’t have to do it, and I’m very grateful, honored and honestly overwhelmed.”
The pre-game ceremony before the Murray State game, where the field at Sanford formally was named for Vince Dooley, who was present with his family and many of his players at midfield, also sticks in the memory — particularly a rare playing of James Brown’s “Dooley’s Junkyard Dogs” song over the PA as the Dooley Field sign was uncovered.
It was pretty obvious during the introductions of the team before this season’s games that one player in particular was the fans’ favorite: bespectacled placekicker Rodrigo Blankenship, and that didn’t change even after his miss on a field goal attempt in overtime against South Carolina. The former walk-on wasn’t just the nation’s best kicker (made official when he won the Lou Groza Award), he also personified the beating-the-odds spirit that people love about college football. He’ll definitely be missed.
A few days after Georgia’s win over Baylor in the Sugar Bowl, the basketball Dawgs upset No. 9-ranked Memphis on national television. UGA sports historian Patrick Garbin noted that marked the first time ever that UGA’s football and men’s basketball teams both defeated an AP Top 10 team in the same week. Great way to kick off a new year.
“Good is not going to be good enough.”
That was Kirby Smart after the season-opening win over Vanderbilt, and it proved prophetic, pretty much summing up the season. The 2019 Dawgs were a good team, but they weren’t quite good enough to meet fan expectations.
Maybe next year, as the old bromide goes.