Tuesday, December 25

The 25 Biggest Plays of the Mark Richt Era, #7:
Darryl Gamble saves the 2007 season.

#24 Georgia 20, Vanderbilt 17
Nashville, Tennessee, October 13, 2007

Play starts at about 5.56.

V 3-4 G18 Cassen Jackson-Garrison rush to the UGA10, fumble forced by Darryl Gamble, fumble by Cassen Jackson-Garrison recovered by UGA Dannell Ellerbe at the UGA07.
------------ 6 plays, 68 yards, TOP 03:29 ------------

It tends to get forgotten in all the talk about the season-ending six-game winning streak, the top-five ranking, the Sugar Bowl invite and the prospects for 2008, but there was a point this year when the season was hanging by a thread every bit as thin as the one the Bulldogs were hanging by one year prior. If anything, an even thinner thread: Whereas the 2006 Georgia squad leaped out of their 1-4 midseason trough with a thorough ass-stomping of Auburn in which Georgia was solidly in control from the opening kickoff, they weren't able to bounce back from the Tennessee disaster nearly as quickly. In the ensuing game against Vanderbilt, Georgia got on the board first with a quick TD but then gave up 17 straight points to the Commodores, and went into halftime down by 10. It's safe to say that things were not looking good at that point.

The Dawgs did make some halftime adjustments and got back on the board in a hurry with a TD on their opening drive of the second half, then tied it up with a Brandon Coutu field goal with about six minutes remaining in the game. But just when it looked like they might have finally wrestled the momentum back to their side, the defense whiffed on some tackles and allowed Vanderbilt a 39-yard catch-and-run into Georgia territory. A few plays later, Vandy running back Cassen Jackson-Garrison took a toss sweep in the red zone and bullied his way past the first-down marker; it looked for all the world like Vandy was about to put it in the end zone and retake the lead with less than three minutes for Georgia to answer.

Ever since the Dawgs had begun marching toward an SEC title back in 2002, though, the phrase "Finish the Drill" had been the program's motto, reminding players to play to the whistle and not quit until they'd accomplished what needed to be done. Darryl Gamble and Reshad Jones, both second-stringers on defense, definitely finished the drill on that play. Even though he was locked up with a Vanderbilt blocker at the time, Jones had the werewithal to take a swipe at Jackson-Garrison as he rumbled past, just enough to trip him up and send him stumbling; and just as the running back fell to the ground, Gamble wrenched the ball out of his hands. Dannell Ellerbe fell on the ball about three yards past where Jackson-Garrison hit the turf, and the Dawgs had saved themselves from a seven-point deficit.

With all three timeouts left, Georgia was able to march back down the field and set Brandon Coutu up from 37 yards out with three seconds left. The kick sailed through the uprights right as the clock hit 00:00, and Georgia had paid Vanderbilt back for their last-second game-winning FG the previous year in Athens.

More than that, though, the Dawgs had saved their season. Getting humiliated by Tennessee in Knoxville was one thing, but to follow that up with a second straight loss to Vanderbilt would've been utter disaster; had we lost that game, it would've been entirely possible that we wouldn't win another game for the rest of the season. Maybe we could've clawed our way out of a losing streak like we did in 2006, but I don't think anyone in Bulldog Nation would've bet any money on that kind of lightning striking twice.

Instead, Gamble, Jones, and Ellerbe made one of the most heads-up plays of the season, and by "finishing the drill" they put Georgia in a position to win. And that win paved the way for the shocker in Jacksonville, the stomping of Auburn, and a third BCS berth in six years. Whatever Georgia accomplishes in 2008 -- which, if the pundits' early predictions are on the mark, could be considerable -- will owe a little bit back to what those three guys did when it was crunch time in Nashville.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You should beat Dave to the punch and schlep this series around to some coffee table book publishers. It's a winner. It will sell a ton - way more than tens of readers - if the Dawgs are actually as successful in 2008 as I think they might be. Just promise us that success will not keep you from maintaining this site.