The Bulldogs made the biggest comeback of the Mark Richt era by beating No. 14 Virginia Tech at its own game – defense. Georgia forced four, fourth-quarter turnovers on the way to a 31-24 victory in the first Chick-fil-A Bowl.
“We went back to old school, finish the drill,” senior offensive lineman Daniel Inman said. “That’s what we built this on, and that’s what we did today.”
The Bulldogs (9-4) were down by 18 points with seven minutes remaining against the nation’s No. 1 defense but scored 24 points in a span of nine minutes, 22 seconds for the second biggest comeback in the school’s modern era. It came in front of 75,406 fans, the largest crowd ever to attend a football game in the Georgia Dome.
The game formerly known as the Peach Bowl saw a total of only 389 yards of offense from both teams, 200 for the Bulldogs and 189 for Virginia Tech.
The win was Georgia’s third straight over a ranked opponent and will boost the Bulldogs back into the Top 25 in the final national rankings.
“It was rough there for a little bit, but I’m excited about the momentum this one is going to get us going into next year,” said freshman quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was named the game’s MVP despite completing just nine passes for 129 yards and one touchdown.
The credit for the victory has to go to the defense. The Hokies (10-3) had just 69 yards in the second half, and Georgia’s four second-half scoring drives totaled just 104 yards combined thanks to the run of turnovers and a momentum-turning, second-half play on special teams.
After the Bulldogs had cut a 21-3 Hokie lead to 21-6 on a 51-yard field goal by kicker Brandon Coutu with 6:10 left in the third quarter, Georgia assistant called for an onsides kick. The Bulldogs put Dublin’s Brian Mimbs into the game to execute the kick, and Mimbs kicked the ball lightly and ran 10 yards down the field before falling on it.
It was just the second onside kick attempt of the Mark Richt era and the first one that worked.
The Bulldogs scored six plays later on a 6-yard pass from Stafford to senior tight end Martrez Milner that cut the Hokie lead to 21-13 with 1:52 left in the third quarter.
From there, the Georgia defense looked like the nation’s most fearsome. The Bulldogs forced turnovers on four consecutive drives, including two Tony Taylor interceptions, to finish off the comeback.
The other turnovers were a Kelin Johnson interception and fumble forced by Hawkinsville’s Charles Johnson and recovered by Quentin Moses.
Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said he couldn’t remember a game with four turnovers in a quarter.
“I’m just real happy right now,” he said.
The Bulldogs tied the game with 12:39 left on a 2-yard touchdown run by Kregg Lumpkin and a two-point conversion completion from Stafford to Milner. They got the ball back on the next play on Moses’ fumble recovery and took a 24-21 lead three plays later on a 28-yard Coutu field goal.
Two plays later, the Bulldogs had the ball again after Paul Oliver tipped a Sean Glennon pass and Taylor picked it off for this team-leading seventh interception and returned it to the 1-yard line. Brannan Southerland scored a 1-yard, fourth-and-goal dive to put Georgia up 31-21 with 7:30 left.
When Glennon was sacked to end the game, the Bulldogs, who lost four of five at one point this season, including games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky, poured onto the turf in celebration.
“I know we hit some bumpy roads on the way, but finishing strong like this makes it worth it,” Inman said. “This is one of the most memorable seasons I’ve ever had.”
“It’s amazing,” a tearful Ray Gant said. “I couldn’t have dreamt it up any better. I couldn’t have dreamt it up any better. That’s Georgia, we never give up, we will never give up.”