Junkyard Mail: Dawgs fans’ favorite moments from a special season

Defensive lineman Jalen Carter lifting up LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels during the SEC Championship Game was one of the most memorable moments of Georgia’s season. (Jason Getz/AJC)
Jason Getz

UGA fans have lots of amazing memories from the 2022-23 season.

Last week, I ended the Blawg with a call for readers to share their favorite moments from a season that produced a second-straight national championship for Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs.

Some of those “moments” ranged from part of one play to an entire game.

That game was the demolishing of the then-No. 1 Tennessee Volunteers in Athens. It wasn’t just the Dawgs’ win that made it a special moment for a lot of readers; it was the atmosphere surrounding the game.

“The crowd was so loud and electric!” Malinda Teasley Erwin recalled.

The Tennessee game at Sanford Stadium drew one of the loudest crowds in Georgia football history. (Jason Getz/AJC)
Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com, Dawgnation

Steve in Roswell also liked how “elite” the Sanford Stadium crowd was that day. “The national media, Erik Ainge and even ‘anonymous coaches’ thought the Vols would march into Sanford Stadium, score 50-plus and rip out the hedges after a program-defining win,” he recalled. Instead, the UGA home crowd “impacted the game by causing multiple false-start penalties. The more it rained, the louder the crowd became, as Georgia constricted the Vols and ran out the clock with a huge 27-13 victory that helped seal the SEC East.”

Travis Hill was in attendance that day, along with his father and some friends, including a 19-year-old who is on the autism spectrum. “You couldn’t wipe the smile off that boy’s face,” he said, “And, with him so happy, you couldn’t wipe the smile off of my dad and I. My dad is 75 years young and forgot to bring his poncho for the game, so I gave him my own. But, even soaking wet, I was beaming from ear to ear.”

Another unforgettable moment mentioned by almost as many fans was the Midnight Miracle missed field goal attempt that rung in the new year in the Peach Bowl and sent Georgia to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.

The Midnight Miracle missed kick by Ohio State’s Noah Ruggles (95) is a moment UGA fans won’t forget. (Jason Getz/AJC)
Jason Getz, Dawgnation

As Ginger Adams said: “My four sisters and I like to text each other whenever the Dawgs play. When the Dawgs beat Ohio State at midnight on New Year’s Eve, that was an absolutely amazing moment for all of us! There were a lot of other great moments, but that one stands out!”

Helen Castronis loved watching OSU placekicker Noah Ruggles’ kick sail left, too. “I smile every time I think of it,” she said.

What made it even more special for MiMi Gudenrath was that she watched the Peach Bowl with her grandkids Maggie, 11, and Ford, 9. Her 5-month-old puppy, Hank, sat with them. As the teams lined up for the final play of the game, she recalled, “Ford said ‘We’ve got to all hold hands right now and pray, and that includes Hank.’ He got up and made a circle so we could all hold hands and paws. … When the kick was wide and we won, the three humans and Hank the dog flew around the sofa at least 30 times, yelling and crying ‘We won! We won!’ Even Hank was jumping for joy! Yep, a memory I will never forget.”

A third special moment from the season that stood out to Blawg readers came in the SEC Championship Game. As my brother Jonathan described it: “Jalen Carter picking up the ragdoll LSU quarterback with one arm and holding up the number 1 finger with the other. The image of the entire season.”

Brock Bowers’ catch of a ball that hit off a Florida player resulted in a memorable 73-yard touchdown play. (Jason Getz/AJC)
Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com, Dawgnation

Brock Bowers also drew mentions for a couple of key moments: his touchdown pass reception in the Florida game, where the ball first bounced off a Gator and then he had to bobble it himself before turning to run to the end zone, and the key first-down play against Ohio State, where he lunged for the marker, and got a hand down while keeping his legs in the air before going out of bounds.

Lance Hollis went all the way back to the season-opening win over Oregon for his favorite moment, the acrobatic interception of a Bo Nix pass by freshman defensive back Malaki Starks, who caught the ball twisting in the air while falling backward. “It is one of the more physically impressive interceptions I can ever remember,” Lance said, adding: “This pick served as notice that the newest litter of pups would make their mark on this team and season.”

But, he added, “my absolute favorite moments from this past season were the ones where I could look next to me and see my sons watching the games and experiencing the glory with me. I miss my Pop and I do so more intensely every game day, but life goes on and I am raising my boys the way Pop taught me; I am raising them … to be good men, to be UGA Dawgs. And, it’s those memories that I will forever cherish the most.”

Narrowing it down to one favorite moment is hard, said Angie Spain. “I have so loved every moment of the past two seasons. Carter carrying the guy, Stetson proving everybody wrong constantly, Nolan [Smith’s] smiling face as he rejoiced for his teammates every time they made a play and, of course, the catch by Bowers in the Florida game (he’s the best natural athlete I’ve ever seen). For those of us who have endured all the less than stellar seasons, this is the best time ever to be a Dawg!”

As I wrote last week, I’d have to agree. As for my choices, I’d go with the Jalen Carter pose as he held LSU QB Jayden Daniels in one arm as my favorite moment, but the missed kick is neck-and-neck with it.

Other favorites include the TCU head coach saying “Wow,” as the Dawgs scored yet again in the natty, an alert Smart calling that timeout against Ohio State that foiled a fake punt, Bennett’s 64-yard run for a touchdown against Auburn, and the view of the empty stands at halftime at Williams-Brice Stadium as Gamecocks fans left early.

Several readers also weighed in on the topic of my Blawg last week, about Georgia football currently being in its golden age. Said Orrin Cheely: “Kirby has given us fans the honor of talking smack online, with a team that backs it up. … And, like our team, we are not going anywhere, Bill.”

Frank Arnold said, “It is my observation that Kirby has succeeded in galvanizing the base, from the president on down to those good folks who have never set foot inside a UGA classroom but love the Dawgs, nonetheless. Having spent a lot of time among Aladamnbama fans, I believe that has been a big part of their secret sauce over the years: unwavering support from every sector; a total buy-in. That’s what I see now from Dawg Nation.”

And, to keep it that way, Karl S. Chiang said, UGA needs to “keep recruiting the best and develop them … before they are gone as juniors. Good coaching and money to back it up is a must. Money begets money, so keep the pedal on the metal!”

Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, seen here catching a touchdown pass against the Vols, is one of the talented receivers planning to return next season. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)
HYOSUB SHIN / AJC, Dawgnation

Now, let’s get to some reader questions on other topics …

Bill, this is the second straight season where one of Georgia’s leading receivers has chosen to transfer elsewhere. Do you see anything that is causing this, and how do you think the loss of Adonai Mitchell will impact us next season?

Henry Dylan

Mitchell leaving this year isn’t exactly the same as last year, when Jermaine Burton transferred to Alabama. Burton was looking to polish his stats in an offense he thought would target him more frequently than at Georgia, where both receivers and backs are featured in the passing game. Reportedly, family ties were a large factor in Mitchell deciding to return to his home state of Texas, though big name-image-and-likeness dollar amounts being flashed around by the Longhorns undoubtedly also were a consideration.

Speaking of NIL, Georgia is in a different situation than a lot of programs, because the Dawgs are more a source of talent going into the portal than one of those teams needing to draw from it. Still, for that reason, I hope that the folks in charge of raising and distributing NIL money in Athens make it their top priority to come up with deals for the players already on the roster, rather than worrying about who they can help attract to UGA. It would be one less reason for Dawgs players to look elsewhere.

As for how Mitchell leaving will affect the Dawgs, I’m sure they’ll miss him, but it shouldn’t be a major impact. After all, he was out injured most of this past season, though he returned in time to make a couple of key catches in the playoffs. And, despite also losing Kearis Jackson and Dominick Blaylock, Georgia returns a lot of talent at receiver, including Ladd McConkey, Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, Arian Smith and Dillon Bell. Georgia also has added experience to its receiver corps in transfers Dominic Lovett from Missouri and RaRa Thomas from Mississippi State (although my guess is Thomas will miss at least some of the season due to his recent arrest in an altercation with a female student in her dorm room). The Dawgs also have freshmen Tyler Williams and Anthony Evans coming in.

Stetson Bennett, seen scoring against the Horned Frogs during the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, won the Manning Award. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)
Hyosub Shin, Dawgnation

Bill, what do you think the results of the Heisman Trophy voting would have been if they conducted it after the postseason, instead of before? Do you think Stetson Bennett might have improved on his fourth-place finish?

Chattanooga Dawg

Yeah, considering that Bennett just won the Manning Award, given annually to the best quarterback in college football, and how terrific his stats were in the postseason, I’d say the UGA quarterback would have finished ahead of TCU’s Max Duggan and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, both of whom subsequently lost to the Dawgs. And, Bennett might have challenged USC’s Caleb Williams for the top spot.

It’s weird enough that the Heisman voting takes place before the most important games of the season are played, but it’s going to be even weirder after the playoff expands. Maybe the Heisman folks will reconsider, so that their winner truly reflects the best of college football.

Hey, Bill. If Todd Monken does decide to take the offensive coordinator job at Tampa Bay or Baltimore, who do you think Kirby will hire in his place? Since Mike Bobo already is on staff, is he the favorite?

Dave O’Neill

Like everyone else in Bulldog Nation, I hope Monken stays. And, if it comes down to money, I’m sure Smart could match or exceed whatever offer Monken might get. If he does leave, I think Bobo probably would be one of the candidates for the job — though I imagine Smart will hear from offensive gurus all over the country.

I have mixed feelings about Bobo. Like many fans, I can recall being extremely frustrated with some of his play-calling early in his career as Georgia’s offensive coordinator under Mark Richt, particularly in the Red Zone, but I also remember him growing in the job, and his 2014 Bulldogs offense was the highest-scoring in school history.

Fans are concerned that Georgia Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken, seen here prior to the Peach Bowl, might leave UGA for an NFL job. (Hyosub Shin/AJC)
HYOSUB SHIN / AJC, Dawgnation

Since Bobo left UGA, his resume as both a head coach and an offensive coordinator has been less stellar, but, he’s never had the kind of talent that he would have now at Georgia.

In the end, I would hope Georgia makes a strong effort to retain Monken. He’s already college football’s highest paid assistant at $2.1 million per year, but UGA can afford to pay whatever is necessary. If Monken does leave, I hope Smart goes after the person he concludes is the best available candidate, whether that’s Bobo or a newcomer.

I saw where a bipartisan plea was issued by Georgia’s congressional delegation, asking President Joe Biden to invite the Dawgs to the White House, as has become something of a tradition for championship athletic teams. Since it didn’t happen last year, I’d say the invite is overdue! Is it likely to happen?

Sally Rabun

I’m not sure why this didn’t happen last year, but I would love to see the Georgia Bulldogs football team finally visit the White House, as several other championship UGA teams — including gymnastics, golf and swimming — have done in the past. There’s been no official word, but, from what I hear, it is likely to happen.

Finally, here’s a note from someone who appears to have been responding to my comparison between Georgia’s current golden age with previous periods of success in the 1940s and early 1980s …

Of course, they can build a strong team with the open portals to transfer to which team is winning at the time and offering the best incentives. The older coaches had to recruit and hoped they didn’t go elsewhere and had them for their four years. Also, have you taken a look at [Georgia’s] schedule for 2023? It looks like they’re playing the same caliber as high school teams for the first four games and, as an added plus, all four games are at home!?!? Please give me a break!

Debbie West

I’m assuming you somehow missed the fact that Georgia took no transfers from the portal before the 2022 season.

As for the 2023 season, the nonconference portion is, indeed, extremely weak from a fan perspective, in part because last fall the SEC asked Georgia to drop the road game against Oklahoma that originally had been scheduled for the second week. That was tied in with the Sooners’ upcoming move to the conference, and it was too late for Georgia to line up another marquee game.

But, really, only three of the opponents in that rare four-game opening homestand are inferior — UT Martin, Ball State (who took Oklahoma’s spot and, naturally, is coming to Athens) and UAB. The third-week visitor to Sanford Stadium is South Carolina, which didn’t do well against Georgia last season, but could be an early challenge, based on how Shane Beamer’s Gamecocks and QB Spencer Rattler finished out the 2022 season, with upsets of Tennessee and Clemson, before losing to Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl.

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