It now will be known as hallowed ground – the place where Matthew Stafford’s career was born and the curse of the Evil Genius was broken. Stafford, a true freshman uarterback who played all but one series, and an inspired defense carried the No. 12 Bulldogs to an emphatic 18-0 victory over South Carolina.
One day after the death of legendary former defensive coordinator Erk Russell, Georgia (2-0, 1-0 SEC) notched its first ever shutout of a Steve Spurrier offense and just the second shutout of Spurrier’s career. It was the Bulldogs’ first SEC shutout since 1997 and first of a conference team on that team’s field since 1976.
“It feels even better that it was the Old Ball Coach,” linebacker Tony Taylor said.
It was Georgia’s fifth straight win in this series and stopped South Carolina’s school-record SEC winning streak at six games. Spurrier, who fell to 11-3 all-time against Georgia, was incensed after the game and focused his anger on a botched snap in the second quarter.
“That’s how dumb-ass we are right there,” Spurrier said. “The quarterback didn’t now (the center) was snapping the ball. We had our chances. We’re just stupid right now. And us coaches, we’re stupid too right now.”
In the same stadium where Quincy Carter once famously threw five interceptions and started his downward slide out of town, a crowd of 82,513 watched Stafford throw three picks and walk out a hero.
“Oh man, he’s looking good,” running back Danny Ware said. “He made a couple of mistakes, but he’s got that swagger. He’s the best thing we’ve got there. He went out there and learned from his mistakes and kept going.”
Stafford finished the game 8-for-19 passing for 171 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.
“He’s got to learn to throw some away, but overall I think he handled the game pretty darn well,” Coach Mark Richt said. “I think he’ll only get better.”
Stafford, 18, was expected to play Saturday, but his SEC debut was given a greater sense of urgency when starter Joe Tereshinski had to leave for good after Georgia’s first drive due to a right ankle injury. Tereshinski’s status for next week’s game against UAB is uncertain.
Stafford looked like a true freshman on occasions, such as the three times Georgia had to burn timeouts to get its offensive alignment straightened out or the overly ambitious passes which led to two of his interceptions.
But, more often than that, he looked like the future of the program, like when he was throwing a pinpoint pass three-quarters the width of the field for a 14-yard completion to A.J. Bryant or when he was driving Georgia 37 yards in 51 seconds to set up a field goal late in the first half or when he was reversing field completely and scrambling for 12 yards to convert a third-and-eight early in the first quarter.
“We’re going to make some plays,” Stafford said, “but I can’t be that careless with the ball.”
If not for Stafford, all the spotlight would have been on a Georgia defense that held South Carolina to 255 yards and pitched a shutout despite the Gamecocks having two first-and-goal situations from inside the Bulldog 10-yard line.
“When you’re that close, it’s supposed to be pretty easy to get in, but not against our Junkyard Dawgs,” linebacker Danny Verdun Wheeler said.
Russell coined the term “Junkyard Dawgs” for his defenses, which helped the Bulldogs to prominence in the late ‘70s and 1980 national championship season. Like Russell’s defenses, Georgia gave up some plays in the middle of the field Saturday, but stiffened when it mattered most.
Russell died Friday in Statesboro of natural causes, and Georgia’s players wore an “ERK” decal on their helmets Saturday night.
Even the man of hour gave a tip of the cap to the Bulldog defense.
“Our defense was just unbelievable,” Stafford said, “a Steve Spurrier offense, putting a goose egg up on them is just unbelievable.”