Sunday, September 28, 2008

Oh No! Georgia buried by Alabama

The blackout turned into a blowout.

One of the more anticipated games in Georgia football history deteriorated into one of the more sobering losses in Bulldogs annals Saturday night at Sanford Stadium.

Alabama scored the first five times it had the ball to build a 31-0 halftime lead, withstood 17 consecutive points by Georgia at the start of the second half, then finished off the Dawgs by a deceivingly close score of 41-30.

More tellingly, Alabama led 41-17 with four minutes to play.

It was a bruising defeat for Georgia, all around. By the end, quarterback Matthew Stafford had a head injury that was said to be less than a concussion; tailback Knowshon Moreno had an undefined elbow injury; linebacker Dannell Ellerbe was facing down time with a knee injury, and receiver Kris Durham was on crutches with an ankle injury.

Georgia coach Mark Richt said Stafford “was very clear-minded, but he got dinged pretty good.” Stafford said “I’m fine” as he was led off by medical personnel.

Richt said Moreno’s elbow will have to be “checked out,” probably Sunday. The coach said Ellerbe will miss “some time” but not the rest of the season and Durham at least the next game.

About the only good news for the Dawgs: They’re off next week.

The loss ended Georgia’s 11-game winning streak, which dated to last season, and perhaps ended its belief in the power of black jerseys.

The Dawgs' players and fans wore black in two games last season, and Georgia won those games by an average of 28 points. The Dogs trailed by more than that halfway through this one.

“It’s just disheartening to perform the way we did, especially the first half,” Richt said. “After that, we were pretty valiant. But it was too late.

“They definitely beat us on the line of scrimmage.”

And pretty much everywhere else.

The Crimson Tide held Georgia to 50 yards rushing (Moreno to 34) and put ample pressure on Stafford, who completed 24 of 42 passes for 274 yards and threw his first interception of the season. Meanwhile, Alabama — known for its running game — threw the ball effectively, with quarterback John Parker Wilson completing 13 of 16 passes, including his first six.

Before the game — a much-hyped meeting of unbeaten top-10 teams — the chatter was that the Dawgs might climb from No. 3 to No. 1 in the polls with a victory. By halftime, the chatter was about how low the Dawgs would fall — and how high No. 8 Alabama would rise — when new polls are tabulated Sunday.

“We have to bounce back,” Moreno said after the game. “It’s not over yet.”

From the 31-0 halftime deficit, Georgia got within two touchdowns early in the fourth quarter. A Blair Walsh field goal on Georgia’s first possession of the third quarter, a 58-yard touchdown drive following a blocked punt by Zach Renner later in the quarter and then an electrifying 92-yard punt return (the second longest in school history) by Prince Miller early in the fourth quarter pulled the Dawgs within 31-17.

But Alabama scored the next 10 points, and Georgia’s two subsequent touchdowns were incidental.

What mattered, in the final analysis, was the first half.

Alabama scored each of the first five times it had the ball — four touchdowns and a field goal. And while the dominant Crimson Tide might have needed no help, the bumbling Dawgs provided it anyway:

- A roughing-the-passer penalty on Georgia’s Akeem Dent negated an Alabama turnover and kept alive the Crimson Tide’s first touchdown drive.

- Two more penalties — defensive holding and, again, roughing the passer — helped Alabama to a field goal on its second possession.

- A meager 19-yard punt by Georgia’s Brian Mimbs allowed Alabama to start its third possession across midfield, leading to a touchdown five plays later.

- A fumble by Georgia receiver A. J. Green gave Alabama the ball at the Georgia 33, setting up the Tide’s third touchdown.

“We just kept their drives going and kept momentum going for them,” Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran said, “with the penalties and things we did to keep their offense on the field.”

Said Richt: “We had some self-inflicted wounds, but [Alabama] took it to us — period.”

The 31-0 halftime deficit was Georgia’s largest since the Dawgs trailed Auburn by the same margin at the half in 1999.

At the half Saturday, Alabama led 17-4 in first downs and 231-86 in offensive yards. The only place Georgia led at the half was in penalties: six for 56 yards vs. Alabama’s one for 5 yards.

If there could be a turning point in a 31-0 half, it came with 8 minutes, 32 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Alabama had driven methodically down the field with the opening kick, reaching Georgia’s 23-yard line. On third down, Alabama quarterback Wilson threw a screen pass over the middle to running back Glen Coffee, who took it 17 yards to the Georgia 7.

At that point, Georgia forced and recovered a fumble, seemingly halting the drive. But a roughing-the-passer penalty against Georgia’s Dent negated the play and gave Alabama a first down at the Georgia 12.

Two plays later, the Crimson Tide led 7-0. Soon, it was 31-0.

The game was Alabama’s second thorough victory in the state of Georgia this year, following a season-opening rout of Clemson at the Georgia Dome.



Photo Credit: AP

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