By Sen. Barack Obama
How you doin', Athens! Wow. Thank you. What a great time to be back here in the Classic City -- students getting ready to head back to school, and everyone's gearing up for another football season.
You guys had a pretty good one last year, didn't you? (wild applause) Well, you have a right to be proud — those were some impressive victories. Even the one down in Florida, though obviously there were some unusual circumstances there. We're petitioning the NCAA for a compromise solution where that victory will still be recorded, but just to make things fair for everybody, each point will only count half, so your victory will actually be by a score of about 21 to 15 or so.
But anyway, it was a great season. Won eleven games, went to the Sugar Bowl and won that too. (applause) And yet in spite of all that success, I see that people are still hurting. I see people are still bitter — OK, wait, forget I said that — they’re not bitter, they're still miffed — about being left out of the national-title game. They're looking back and wondering how it happened. And a lot of you are looking back at that South Carolina game, wondering how it ended that way, wondering why we didn't do better.
The reason is simple: We lost because we kept relying on old solutions that didn't work. We tried to beat them with screen passes, and when that didn't work, our leaders just said "stay the course." When we should've been blitzing against an offensive line that had only two returning starters, we abandoned that effort to hang back in coverage, and that only made us more vulnerable to the short passing game.
It's time for change, Bulldog Nation. I propose a 50-percent increase in blitzing to disrupt their passing game. Instead of a conservative offense that's dependent on the screen pass, I want to open it up, challenge them downfield, use the strength we have at the tailback position to run some misdirection plays and keep them on their toes.
Now, some people are afraid of change. You've got people like Matt Hayes saying that Matthew Stafford isn't that good, that he's still too young and unseasoned to be a true leader for this team. But I can no sooner disown Matt Stafford than I can disown my own hometown team, the Chicago Bears, who haven't had a halfway decent quarterback since Jim Harbaugh back in the early '90s. We've got to get past this obsession with completion percentage and show Matt that we've got confidence in him to make those downfield throws. (applause)
Instead of doing things the old way and focusing on one running back, I want to use two. A lot of people say it can't be done, that you can't succeed without designating one guy as your feature back. But we've got a phenomenal runner, Knowshon Moreno, from a blue state, and we've got an awesome redshirt freshman, Caleb King, from a red state. I want to bridge the gap between these two young men and achieve a goal of having two thousand-yard rushers by 2009. (applause)
That's a pretty tough goal, but as I've toured this town and talked to fans and players, I've met countless people who believe it can be done. I talked to an offensive lineman, Trinton Sturdivant, who helped block for Knowshon when he became only the second freshman in Georgia history to rush for more than a thousand yards, and he says he wants to get him over 1,500 this year. I talked to a fan, Paul Westerdawg, who followed the team the last time they went to Columbia and shut out the Gamecocks, and he says he wants to go again this year. Actually, he just downed a cup of Maker's Mark and barked in my face, but I'm pretty sure that's what he meant. And I'm going to do my best to make sure that hardworking Bulldogs like Trinton and Paul don't get left behind this season. (applause)
But that's only gonna come about if we make a commitment to change. We've been without a national title for far too long here in Athens, and this season we face some of the biggest challenges this program has ever seen. Only by making a commitment to change, to new strategies and to gameplanning that actually works, can we go on to defeat the Gamecocks and make a run at the national title.
But if that happens, you'll be able to look back with pride and say that this was the moment when it all began. This was the moment when we found the confidence to play a schedule that the pundits at ESPN said was too tough. This was the moment when we rallied an entire team to a common cause. This was the moment when we stopped playing for field goals and started playing for touchdowns, when we stopped playing not to lose and started playing to win.
If you're ready for that kind of change, if you're ready for a new Georgia Bulldogs team that's prepared for the challenges ahead, if you have the audacity to hope that we can once again put Steve Spurrier in his place, then join me in cheering them on and working for a new tomorrow in Columbia and all the way to Miami. (wild applause)
Thank you, Athens. Go Dawgs, and God bless America.
-- Barack Obama first entered politics as a Illinois state senator in 1996 and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004. He declared his candidacy for president last February and weathered rumors about fathering two black children to become the presumptive Democratic nominee for president in 2008. His books include Dreams from My Father, The Audacity of Hope, and a collection of Harry Potter fan fiction.
Next up: In the interest of equal time, we get a look at the Arizona State Sun Devils from that state's favorite son.