In Jacksonville's Gator Bowl last Saturday, Georgia was leading Florida 20-18 early in the fourth quarter when the P.A. announcer added a new element of drama to the already exciting game. "Here's a halftime score," he said. "Georgia Tech 3, Notre Dame..." And there he paused, playing the moment for all it was worth while the crowd of 68,528 held its breath in anticipation. The Bulldogs had come to Jacksonville ranked second in the nation behind the Fighting Irish, and a win for Georgia, coupled with a Notre Dame tie or loss, would give it the No. 1 spot in the polls. At last the P.A. man finished his pronouncement with an emphatically delivered, "Nothing," and the Georgia fans erupted in a cheer.
The red carpet to the No. 1 ranking was rolling out in front of the Bulldogs. But like so many teams before them in this crazy season, they suddenly began to trip over it. Before many more moments had passed, Georgia's dreams of a national championship were shaken, for Florida took the lead 21-20 and control of the game. The Bulldogs, however, recovered their footing. Miraculously. With just over a minute left in the game on a broken-play pass to the most unlikely of heroes, Georgia got a 93-yard touchdown to win 26-21. And before the Bulldogs had stopped celebrating came word from Atlanta that Tech had tied Notre Dame 3-3. That left Georgia the one undefeated, untied major college team in the nation. And as that popular bit of Georgia slang goes, "How 'bout them Dawgs?"
The winning score came just when Florida seemed to have a lock on the game. With 1:35 left to play, Gator Mark Dickert made a beautiful coffin-corner punt that went over the left sideline at the Georgia eight-yard line. On first down Bulldog Quarterback Buck Belue was chased out of bounds for a yard loss, and on second down, harassed again, he threw a short, incomplete pass to Split End Charles Junior. Belue had now thrown 15 times in the game, completed just six and had two intercepted, so when he began to be chased out of the pocket on third down, too, there was little reason for Georgia fans to think a miracle was about to happen.
The play was "Right 66." It calls for one wide receiver, Chuck Jones, to run a deep post pattern while a second, Lindsay Scott, goes downfield about 20 yards and then curls back underneath the deep zone coverage. Predictably, at this stage of the game, Jones was well covered deep, and as Belue rolled to his right, he started looking for Scott. Scott, a junior, is a 6'1", 190-pound speedster who anchors the school's 440-yard relay team. In each of his first two seasons he had been Georgia's leading receiver and a model team member, but more recently a series of problems had made it unlikely he would even be in a Bulldog uniform for this year's Florida game.
Scott's troubles began last spring when he invited his girl friend to the athletic dormitory at the wrong hour. They had been having an argument, and Scott was upset. When the team's academic counselor, Curt Fludd, told him he had to get his girl out of the dorm, Scott started a shoving match with him. Georgia Coach Vince Dooley responded by taking away Scott's scholarship for the fall semester, meaning that Scott had to choose between redshirting the season or, if he wanted to play, paying his own way. Scott chose to pay his own way.
His woes increased during the summer when he fell asleep at the wheel of his car, rolled it over and suffered a bad concussion that almost sidelined him for the season. He came on to make the starting lineup, but sometimes his concentration wandered, and he now admits, "Losing that scholarship was the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with." When he was late to a team meeting a month ago, Dooley demoted him to second string for two weeks. "I began to think I just wasn't Coach Dooley's kind of guy," says Scott, and Dooley admits he was reluctantly beginning to think the same thing.
But it was Scott now that Belue had to find if he wanted a first down. Rolling right, Belue spotted him waving his arms directly behind a Gator linebacker. Belue calmly motioned him left, then drilled a pass that Scott caught at his own 26-yard line while facing the line of scrimmage. Behind him, Free Safety Tim Groves slipped, so that when Scott spun around he had room to maneuver. He headed toward the left sideline, splitting defenders cutting in from either side, then outran everybody to the end zone. When the Bulldogs' Mike Fisher intercepted a pass by Florida's Wayne Peace (pronounced peas) on the next play from scrimmage, Georgia fans started chanting "We're No. 1!"
A quick review of Georgia's road to the top shows just how fast and furiously the mighty have fallen this season. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 12 nine weeks ago after they opened their season by beating Tennessee 16-15. By the start of October, however, they were up to No. 8 because Penn State, Arkansas, Houston, Purdue and Michigan, to name a few, had already lost at least one game. On the first weekend of October, Ohio State lost to UCLA and Nebraska to Florida State, and before the month was out USC had been tied by Oregon and Texas had lost to SMU. On the first day of November, Alabama fell to Mississippi State and UCLA was beaten by Arizona. That left only Notre Dame.
Despite recent history the Bulldogs should have an easy time getting through the rest of the regular season undefeated because their two opponents. Auburn and Georgia Tech, have 11 losses between them. If they accomplish that, the Bulldogs could gain their first national championship with a win in the Sugar Bowl.
For a while last Saturday it looked as if Georgia would win the easy way, which for the 1980 Bulldogs means Herschel Walker right, Herschel Walker left and Herschel Walker up the middle. The 6'2", 220-pound freshman had another banner day, rushing for 238 yards on 37 carries. Nor did he waste time getting unpacked. On the fourth play from scrimmage he took a pitchout to the right, splintered two arm tackles and raced 72 yards for the game's first score. "He ought to be playing with the pros," grumbled one Florida partisan.
Before the first quarter was over, Walker had reached the 100-yard mark for the sixth time this season. Before the day was over, he had broken Willie McClendon's 1978 school record of 1,312 yards in a season. And if Walker can average 127 yards in his last two games he will also break Tony Dorsett's NCAA freshman record of 1,586.
But Walker isn't a one-man offense, nor the only reason why the Bulldogs, a disappointing 6-5 team in 1979, are suddenly leading the nation. Georgia is, for the most part, a veteran team. Twelve of last Saturday's starters are seniors, seven of them on defense. And Belue, a junior, is a much more effective quarterback now that he is out from under the shadow of graduated Jeff Pyburn, with whom he split time last year. There could be no doubt about that after Georgia's second scoring drive, an 11-play, 77-yard march that made the score 14-3 early in the second quarter. The big play in the drive was a 24-yard completion to Scott, and the touchdown came on a 13-yard pass from Belue to Fullback Ronnie Stewart. The Gators' only score at that point was the result of a knuckleballing 40-yard field goal by Florida's Brian Clark.
The Gators had come to Jacksonville with a 6-1 record, in sharp contrast to last year's 0-10-1 team. That was Charley Pell's first year as Florida's coach. Now he is performing the same sort of magic he did at Clemson, where in two years he turned a 3-6-2 team into a 10-1 squad ranked sixth in the nation.
Pell has had two excellent recruiting years with Florida, which was evident from his starting lineup Saturday. It included 12 sophomores and a freshman. The freshman is the quarterback. Peace. Pell also recruited a new offensive coordinator, 28-year-old Mike Shanahan, who has installed a wide-open offense that he calls "run and shoot." Most of the time Saturday the Gators lined up with four wide receivers and just one running back, and Peace ended up completing 20 of 37 passes for 286 yards and one touchdown.
That score came midway through the second quarter and narrowed Georgia's lead to 14-10. Florida had gotten the ball at the Georgia 46-yard line on an almost unheard-of occurrence, a Walker fumble. It was the first fumble Walker had lost all season, and the Gators made quick work of converting it into a touchdown. It took just five plays. The drive opened with a 12-yard reverse to Senior Flanker Cris Collinsworth and ended with back-to-back passes to Collinsworth, a 13-yarder to the left sideline and a nine-yard lob to the right corner of the end zone.
Walker went back to work tearing through Florida at the beginning of the third quarter. On Georgia's first two possessions the Bulldogs marched inside the Gator 10, but they could not put the game away with touchdowns and had to settle for chip-shot field goals by Rex Robinson. Those drives covered 51 and 44 yards, and Walker's running accounted for 43 and 29, respectively.
But then, with the score 20-10, the Georgia offense suddenly froze, and Peace started making things happen in the run and shoot. On a five-play drive from the end of the third quarter into the fourth, the Gators moved 81 yards to their second touchdown of the day. The big play was a 54-yard pass and run from Peace to sophomore Flanker Tyrone Young. On that play Young broke three tackles. On the next play Fullback James Jones broke another while bursting 11 yards up the middle for the touchdown. Peace then threw to Young for a two-point conversion to make the score 20-18.
Young was a quarterback last year, starting two games for Florida, and he also started for the Gators' basketball team. He was suspended for four games earlier this year for a curfew violation. On Saturday he made his first pass reception ever as a collegian, and he finished with 10 of them for a whopping 183 yards.
Young caught a 19-yarder for the big gain on Florida's next possession, but this time, after marching 52 yards, the Gator drive stalled at Georgia's 24. On came Clark for his second 40-yard field goal of the day. This one was a nice end-over-end affair and gave Florida its first lead, 21-20, with 6:52 to play. There it looked as if the score would stay, the Florida defense holding fast until Scott got himself out of the Dawg-house with his last-gasp heroics.
In the locker room afterward, Scott, not unexpectedly, called his touchdown the biggest play of his career and expressed the hope that it would help redeem him in his coach's eyes. "I have no more room to make any mistakes," he said. "I've really had to walk the chalk line."
Across the room Dooley was offering the sentiments Scott wanted to hear. "I'm really pleased for Lindsay because of all the things that have happened to him," he said. "I'm probably the worst thing that's happened to him. I've been very hard on him. That last pass today was just supposed to be a first-down play but Lindsay turned it into a game-winner for us. So I'm not going to sit here and act like the great coach." Then Dooley paused and decided to offer one pearl of coaching wisdom anyhow. "But if you're going to be undefeated," he said, "you've got to win some this way, too."