The University of Georgia.
The Dawgs’ defeat of Alabama in the CFP Championship Game touched off unbridled joy among the Bulldog Faithful.
This win meant everything, from Bainbridge to Blairsville; from LaGrange to Savannah. Up in Clayton and down in Folkston. For Dawg fans in Waltham, Mass., and Woodcliff Lake, N.J., and all around the globe, wherever members of Bulldog Nation gathered, the satisfaction remained unrelenting.
There’s a certain glow, smugness maybe, an underlying feeling that refuses to allow a minute to elapse without causing a reflective smile to brighten one’s countenance. The sky’s a little bluer, the grass a little greener, the coffee a little more robust.
Of course, there may be a little dram of Kahlua in the coffee, but on this occasion, why not. Anything goes. They did it. They really did it.
The Dawgs are Number One.
The euphoria doesn’t figure to abate any time soon. It took the Dawgs a year longer than Moses to reach the Promised Land, but the long wait made the celebration all the merrier. And now, the pain of so many near-misses has subsided. Along with questions about Kirby Smart’s Dawgs ever winning the natty, and whether he will ever learn how to handle quarterbacks.
The way the game unfolded could not have been scripted any better for Georgia fans. Facing the undisputed best program in college football, the Dawgs went face-to-face, and it was Alabama that blinked.
Yes, Alabama, the team that had Georgia’s number, the team that kept denying Georgia when the stakes were highest, could not match Georgia when crunch time arrived.
Once again, Georgia gave Alabama an opening. Stetson Bennett’s unfortunate fumble, the Dawgs’ only turnover of the game, enabled Alabama to forge ahead in the fourth quarter.
But this time, the Dawgs answered with three touchdowns. The offense motored down the field twice, sandwiched around a crucial three-and-out by the defense.
And then, with a minute to go, that defense, the most dominant unit of the entire college football season, iced the game. Every Dog fan will always remember the moment when Kelee Ringo set sail down the Georgia sideline with the football and national championship tucked safely in his arm.
Just how good was this Georgia team? Many pundits feel that point differential is the best indicator of a team’s prowess. Georgia led the nation in point differential this season, outscoring its opponents by 426 points. They won each game by an average of 28.4 points.
Second was Ohio State at plus-298, an average margin of 21.3. That makes Georgia a touchdown better than the second-best team. That’s a wide gulf right there.
It’s hard to remember now, but in 2016, Smart’s first Georgia team managed to lose to Vanderbilt. At home. They also lost to Florida, 24-10; in six second-half possessions, Georgia produced two first downs, and 49 yards in 23 plays.
Now, Smart’s defense regularly produces those kinds of numbers.
And it’s that defense which Georgia relied upon to deliver this championship. At a time when offense dominates the college game, when even Nick Saban reluctantly admits that offense wins championships, Smart did it with defense. As ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer noted in the post-game show, who wouldn’t want to play in this defensive scheme?
With upgraded facilities, the strong backing of the UGA Administration, and Smart’s relentless drive, you’d be safe in predicting that this was his first championship.
Way back on the Fourth of July, at a family gathering around the Weber Kettle grill, the talk inevitably centered on college football’s upcoming season. A certain columnist was asked how the Dawgs would be this year.
He gave a one-word answer: “Natty.” And while that response might now seem prescient, he failed to grasp what this team would become: the best Georgia football team ever.