Spread the word: the “Junkyard Dogs” is back.
That sobriquet isn’t tossed around lightly by Georgia people. It’s a title of reverence, awe; one that must be earned.
A reference back to the proud Georgia defenses of decades past, led by the legendary coach, Erskine Russell. Defenses that might bend, but rarely broke. Dependable. Reliable.
Defenses so stout that Vince Dooley had no qualms about shutting down his offense and sitting on a small lead. In the second quarter. Or he might even play a conservative game while trailing, knowing that Erk’s defense would eventually make the game-turning play.
You hear the name and envision red jerseys flying to the football, stuffing the run. Dogged. Determined. Relentless. Names like Patton, Stanfill, Scott, Zambiasi, Weaver, Payne, and Hoage.
The Junkyard Dogs.
Georgia’s current defenders earned their place as worthy successors during Saturday’s 24-20 victory over Florida. The stats don’t lie.
Georgia held Florida to 32 yards in the second half, and a single first down. For the game, Florida’s running backs amassed 34 yards on 15 carries. Add six sacks of quarterback John Brantley to the equation, and the Gators ended up with a rushing total of -19 yards.
Brantley’s effectiveness barely increased when he did get off his passes. He completed but 12 of 34; when’s the last time Georgia held a Florida quarterback to a 35 percent completion percentage?
But numbers don’t tell the whole story.
The defining moment for this defense came with ten minutes left to play. Georgia held a 24-20 lead, but Bulldog Nation braced for the worst. Drew Butler had just boomed a 24-yard punt, and Florida took possession at Georgia’s 45-yard line.
Recent history dictated that Florida would roll in for the go-ahead score. Jeff Demps carried for two yards, and then six. On the next play, the Dogs stuffed Trey Burton for no gain.
Fourth and two, timeout Florida — and they decided to go for it. Time out, Georgia. Once the teams finally lined up, Brantley moved under center and began barking signals. But his offense never moved.
Neither did the Georgia defense. Except for linebacker Christian Robinson, who stood in front of Brantley daring him to bring it on.
He never did. Florida took a delay penalty, and punted Georgia deep. The two teams had stood eyeball to eyeball with the game on the line, and Florida blinked. That hasn’t happened in this series since Dooley retired and Steve Spurrier was hired.
In years past, Florida snaps the ball, makes the first down, and goes on to score. This time, the Junkyard Dogs had proven too formidable to even be challenged.
They had to stand their ground one more time, Florida taking possession at Georgia’s 36 with six minutes left. This time, Brantley threw incomplete three times in a row, and then was sacked by Jarvis Jones.
Georgia ran out the final 5:32 with some help from another Junkyard Dog, running back Richard Samuel.
Samuel spent the past year at linebacker, filling a need at a position short of players. He had an excellent G-Day game there this spring, acquiring the Junkyard Dog mentality.
That move came after Samuel gained 528 yards (4.6 per carry) as a back in 2008 and 2009. But he was passed on the depth chart by players with more speed and niftiness. Players no longer Bulldogs.
Their egress prompted his move back to running back this summer. “At the beginning of the season,” Samuel told Chris White of the Athens Banner-Herald, “I didn’t want to be the star or the player everyone talks about. I just wanted to contribute to the team in any way possible.”
The time for his contribution came Saturday. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Samuel bulled into the line for a crucial first down on third-and-3 at the Florida 38. A pass interference penalty moved the ball to the 20.
From there, Samuel took over. He blasted for seven yards, and then nine. After an incompletion, it was Samuel again, bursting right up the middle, breaking two tackles, and plowing into the endzone with the winning score.
“I can’t remember much about it,” Samuel told White. “I was thinking, ‘Get the ball and run hard.’”
No back has ever run harder than Richard Samuel did in that fourth quarter.
He also carried the ball on Georgia’s final two plays, the last a 10-yard effort on fourth-and-3 to run out the clock.
“I thought, ‘Richard, you finally did something where the team can really benefit from it,’” he told White. “That’s all I was thinking the whole time.”
Spoken like a true Junkyard Dog.