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Ashway: UGA-LSU was as good as it gets

POSTED: October 1, 2013 3:21 p.m.
 

As good as it gets.

Georgia 44, LSU 41.

You could make a Faustian deal and be granted an eternity to watch college football, but you won’t ever see a game any better than the one played Between the Hedges on Saturday.

Georgia 44, LSU 41.

In this age of intense media hype, rarely does any event exceed its expectations. Athens became the center of the college football universe for the matchup of two top 10 teams. Even the staid New York Times dispatched a correspondent. And the official endorsement came with the visit of ESPN’s College Football GameDay.

Georgia 44, LSU 41.

This game had it all. Two excellent football teams battling back and forth all afternoon. The outcome in doubt until the final minute. Seven lead changes. An ebb and flow that kept competitors and their faithful at a frenzied fever pitch all afternoon. An intensity level that never dropped.

You like offense? This game had it in abundance. Eighty-five points. 943 total yards. 670 yards passing. Fifty first downs. Seven touchdown passes. Fifteen of 24 drives ended in scores, and two marked the end of each half. Incredible stuff.

"You’re thinking Tom Brady is in your league with the way these guys are playing," Georgia defensive lineman Garrison Smith told Ray Glier of the New York Times. "They make plays, and they make plays, and they make plays!"

Do they ever. All afternoon.

Twice in the fourth quarter, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger led his Tigers on touchdown drives. On the first, he completed a 25-yard pass on third down and 10. On the second, he completed a 25-yard pass on third and 22. He also went 4 for 4 for 78 yards on the drive.

But Georgia’s Aaron Murray had the bookend drives. He led Georgia 75 yards in only eight plays to start the game. The Dogs never faced a third down, and faced only three snaps on second down, on the entire drive.

The final drive, which also began 75 yards from the LSU goal line, commenced with 4:14 remaining and Georgia trailing, 41-37, and was even better. In six plays, Georgia faced one second down, and that was second and one.

Georgia 44, LSU 41.

So, how good a game was it?

This might have been the best game ever played at Sanford Stadium.

Certainly the stadium never saw such an offensive explosion, especially during its first 35 years. Typical was then No. 12-ranked Georgia’s thrilling 14-13 win over Auburn in 1959. Fran Tarkenton’s late touchdown pass and Durwood Pennington’s extra point clinched the SEC championship.

Vince Dooley established himself with a heart-pounding 18-17 win over national champion Alabama to kick off the 1965 season. This was the first national telecast from Sanford Stadium, and it remains the standard for all Georgia upsets.

But offense? Georgia’s points came on a 55-yard interception return by defensive tackle George Patton and on the famous Flea-Flicker play. With just a few minutes remaining and Georgia trailing, 17-10, quarterback Kirby Moore passed to end Pat Hodgson, who lateralled to Bob Taylor, who raced 73 yards down the north sideline. Moore then passed to Hodgson for the two-point conversion and the winning margin.

Coach Dooley himself ranks the 1978 Georgia Tech game as the best game he ever coached in at Sanford Stadium. About the only thing this game lacked was national significance. Unranked Tech stunned No. 11 Georgia by running out to a 20-0 lead. Georgia finally came all the way back on a Scott Woerner punt return, 21-20.

Georgia immediately allowed Drew Hill to return the kickoff 101 yards for a 28-20 lead. That left it up to freshman quarterback Buck Belue, who completed a fourth-down pass to Amp Arnold for a 42-yard touchdown.

Belue then pitched out to Arnold, who sprinted around the left side from his flanker position for the winning two-point conversion. Two minutes remained, and Tech’s freshman quarterback, Mike Kelley, drove the Jackets to the Georgia 37-yard line. There, Kelley was intercepted by Georgia freshman David Archer, who was on the field for his only play of the game.

The 1980 National Champions played a couple of memorable games Between the Hedges. A couple of Woerner returns and a late interception enabled the Dogs to edge Clemson, 20-16 on September 20. On November 1, Keith Jackson and a national television audience looked on as No. 4 Georgia beat No. 14 South Carolina, 13-10. The Dogs recovered a late fumble by Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers to end Carolina’s last drive. Herschel Walker broke a 76-yard run to open the third quarter, behind a devastating block by Jimmy Womack.

The lights came on for the Clemson game to begin the 1982 season, as Georgia won a 13-7 slugfest. And Georgia would beat second-ranked Clemson, 26-23, on a last second, 60-yard field goal by Kevin Butler in 1984.

Other memorable games include the 21-0 win over Alabama in 1976, when Athens became one big block party for 48 hours. The 1983 opener in the rain against UCLA. The wild, 45-42 loss to Tech in 2008, and the wild loss to South Carolina in 2011 by the same score. And Bulldog fans might have other favorites.

But for everything that Saturday’s game offered and delivered, it’s got my vote as the best game ever played in Sanford Stadium.

Georgia 44, LSU 41.

 

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