Fond farewell: Greatest UGA wins of the Mark Richt era

Quarterback D.J. Shockley eludes an LSU player in Georgia's 2005 SEC Championship win. (Associated Press)

Georgia football is in a sort of no man’s land at the moment, with Mark Richt already at Miami and Kirby Smart still at Bama and fans wondering what sort of team will show up in Jacksonville for the one-game tenure of interim head coach Bryan McClendon, who’s soon off to South Carolina.

So, while we’re between coaches, it seems like a good time to bid farewell to the Richt era at UGA by savoring some of the high points of the past 15 years — and there were quite a few more than just two SEC championships.

Here, then, is my chronological compilation of the greatest Bulldog wins of the Mark Richt era:

2001: Georgia 26, Tennessee 24. The “hobnail boot” win over Tennessee in Knoxville with the late “P-44-Haynes” touchdown pass from redshirt freshman QB David Greene to Verron Haynes was Richt’s first “signature” victory, and also resulted in one of the great sportscasting calls of all time (still imitated frequently on ESPN). It always draws a cheer when shown on the big screen at Sanford Stadium.

David Greene gave Georgia fans a lot of great memories. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

2002: Georgia 27, Alabama 25. The game where the Dawgs proved to Pat Dye and everyone else that they were “man enough” to beat the Tide, thanks to a cool Billy Bennett’s winning field goal. A highlight of Richt’s best overall season at Georgia.

2002: Georgia 24, Auburn 21. The SEC East-clinching win over Auburn with Greene’s fourth-and-19 “70-X-Takeoff” pass to a leaping Michael Johnson in the end zone. Probably the greatest win of Richt’s early years in Athens, because it led to Georgia’s first SEC title in 20 years.

2002: Georgia 51, Georgia Tech 7. Another highlight of a special season, it was easily the most dominating of Richt’s 13 wins over the Jackets, and made for a very enjoyable day in Sanford Stadium.

2002 SEC Championship Game: Georgia 30, Arkansas 3. This game featured one of the most impressive starts I can ever recall for the Dawgs. Georgia already had scored two touchdowns (the first the result of a blocked punt) and a field goal before the Hogs had officially gained a yard.

Knowshon Moreno and the dancing Dawgs. (Associated Press)

2004: Georgia 45, LSU 16. A big win over Nick Saban and the Tigers, as Greenie threw five TD passes Between the Hedges. This is the game for which I passed up being best man in a wedding. Worth it.

2005 SEC Championship Game: Georgia 34, LSU 14. This upset victory over Les Miles’ No. 3-ranked Tigers featured D.J. Shockley quickly throwing two touchdown passes to Sean Bailey, who caught them right in front of me at the Georgia Dome. The Dawgs’ last SEC football title to date.

2006: Georgia 37, Auburn 15. This upset win over No. 5-ranked Auburn shocked the college football world, especially since the Dawgs had lost four of their previous five games and Auburn was a two touchdown favorite. Tigers QB Brandon Cox spent much of the game flat on his back with a Bulldog on top of him.

2007: Georgia 26, Alabama 23. The “one and done” win in Tuscaloosa over Alabama and Nick Saban, as Matthew Stafford threw a beautiful 25-yard pass to Mikey Henderson on Georgia’s first play in OT.

2007: Georgia 42, Florida 30. The “celebration” win over Florida in Jacksonville, easily the best game Knowshon Moreno played in a Georgia uniform, as he racked up 188 yards and three touchdowns. Plus, there was that magnificent 84-yard Mohamed Massaquoi catch-and-run for a TD. Georgia paid a price with SEC officials for letting the Dawgs dance in the end zone, but I haven’t met many fans who don’t think it was worth it.

2007: Georgia 45, Auburn 20. The “Blackout” win over Auburn in Athens, with the Dawgs scoring 28 unanswered points after the Tigers had taken a 20-17 lead. In addition to the excitement over the debut of the black jerseys, at the time quite a few fans considered this the best game in Sanford Stadium in many years.

2009: Georgia 30, Georgia Tech 24. The “We run this state” upset, in which the lightly regarded Dawgs ran it down the throats of a Jackets team that won the ACC championship (though the title was later vacated). It was my first game at Grant Field in decades, courtesy of my son. What a sweet walk that was back to the MARTA station amid all those downcast folks in gold and white and blue!

Aaron Murray celebrates a big win over the Gators. (AJC file)

2012: Georgia 17, Florida 9. Offensively, the star was Malcolm Mitchell, who took an Aaron Murray pass, broke a tackle and scored on a 45-yarder in the fourth quarter to put the Dawgs ahead. But the game was dominated by a Georgia defense that earlier in the week had been called out by teammate Shawn Williams for soft play. The Dawgs forced six turnovers, capped by the key play of the game: The No. 2-ranked Gators’ Jordan Reed was headed for the Dawgs’ end zone and a chance to tie the game late when Jarvis Jones punched the ball out at the 5 and Georgia recovered in the end zone.

2013: Georgia 44, LSU 41. One of the most thrilling days ever Between the Hedges, with “GameDay” on hand in Myers Quad and painted-up UGA basketball coach Mark Fox joining the Spike Squad in the stands. That day’s all-red Sanford Stadium crowd was, without a doubt, the loudest I’ve ever experienced from opening kickoff to final whistle. In a quarterback duel of former UGA roomies, Murray topped the Tigers’ Zach Mettenberger by throwing four touchdown passes, including a 25-yarder to Justin Scott-Wesley with 1:47 remaining, as the No. 9 Bulldogs rallied to beat No. 6 LSU. An emotional Richt was in tears after the game. A wonderful day to be a Georgia Bulldog.

2013: Georgia 41, Georgia Tech 34. With Hutson Mason in place of an injured Murray, the Dawgs were mostly MIA in the first half, trailing by 20 points before rallying for a double-overtime win achieved mainly by feeding the ball to Todd Gurley, whose 25-yard touchdown run in the second and final overtime gave Georgia its first lead. Then the defense came up big to clinch it. As I wrote at the time, as tough it was to watch Tech having its way with the Dawgs early on, I wouldn’t take anything for the way it ended, with Georgia and its rookie substitute quarterback storming back to once again break the Jackets’ hearts

2014: Georgia 45, Clemson 21. On a hot, humid night in Athens, Gurley gained 293 all-purpose yards, scoring four TDs, and Nick Chubb literally ran out of one of his shoes in his true freshman debut, as No. 12 Georgia pulled away in the second half to beat Dabo Swinney’s No. 16-ranked Tigers, who in the second half were held to only one first down, 15 yards passing and no yards on the ground. The Sanford crowd’s noise level came close to the all-time high achieved the previous year against LSU. The season ultimately didn’t live up to the promise shown in that game, but for a few days Georgia was the talk of the college football world.

Mark Richt celebrates the defeat of LSU. (AJC file)

If I had to pick one of these games as the single greatest win of the Richt era, I think it would have to be the 2005 win over LSU, since it was for the SEC Championship, but that 2013 victory over the Bengal Tigers occupies a special place in the Bulldog pantheon and is a personal favorite.

Honorable mention should go to the 24-20 win over Florida in 2011 (which featured two gutsy fourth-down touchdown passes by Aaron Murray); the 41-30 win over sixth-ranked South Carolina in 2013 (with a terrific goal-line stand by the Georgia defense and the Dawgs closing out the game with a clock-eating drive that ultimately had Steve Spurrier signaling surrender by pulling off his headset); and the thorough 34-7 beatdown of No. 9 Auburn in 2014 (which, unfortunately, marked the end of Todd Gurley’s UGA career).

Feel free to share your own thoughts on the greatest UGA wins under Richt.

Now, on to the future …

Go Dawgs!

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg

Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.

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