As soon as Massaquoi saw his quarterback, however, he stopped him.
“I’m fine,” Massaquoi said.
Stafford nodded and assured the wideout he would have another chance.
“I know,” Massaquoi said. “I got you.”
On Georgia’s next offensive play, Massaquoi delivered on his promise, hauling in a pass across the middle and breaking free for a 78-yard gain that set up the Bulldogs’ final touchdown in a dramatic 42-38 win over Kentucky.
“For him to get a chance to redeem himself was such a blessing,” head coach Mark Richt said. “I’m sure he would have forgiven himself one day, but it would have taken him a long time.”
Massaquoi’s big catch set up the winning score, Stafford’s bullet to Green in the back of the end zone gave Georgia a late lead, and Demarcus Dobbs’ acrobatic interception sealed the win in a game that featured seven lead changes and 851 yards of total offense.
After the game, Richt said the word of the day was “thankfulness.” A better description for what unfolded for the Bulldogs may have been redemption.
Georgia’s win was all about second chances – not just for Massaquoi, but for the defense that struggled to slow Kentucky quarterback Randall Cobb, for wide receiver A.J. Green, who couldn’t find space to make a catch in the first half, for Knowshon Moreno, who answered a week’s worth of criticism with 123 yards and three touchdowns, and most of all, for the Bulldogs, who desperately needed something to feel good about after last week’s devastating loss to Florida.
Georgia jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead, scoring on its first two drives of the game, but Cobb and the Kentucky running game continuously found room to run, picking up 226 yards on the ground – a season high against the Bulldogs.
“Early on they had success with the option,” linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said. “The quarterback was pitching the ball and the fullback was cutting our pitch guy, so they were having success with that. The quarterback, he’s a runner, and he was getting out in the open field. It was just a tough day.”
The Bulldogs took a 21-14 lead into the half, but the Wildcats turning a blocked punt, a short punt and a 96-yard kickoff return into points to take a 38-35 lead with just minutes to play.
Stafford threw for a career-best 376 yards in the game, but it was his final pass that he won’t soon forget.
Green had been blanketed by Kentucky’s secondary throughout the first half, but on third-and-11 with two minutes to go, it was the freshman receiver’s number that was called.
Green was supposed to find an opening in the back of the end zone, but the pass rush came quickly, and Stafford couldn’t locate his target.
“I decided to scramble out, and he’s a lanky dude with some ups and can catch it, and I said just throw it high to him,” Stafford said.
It wasn’t exactly how it was drawn up, but it was another promise Stafford wanted to fulfill.
“He didn’t get involved in the game early on, and I kept going up to him saying, ‘Hey, just keep running your routes hard, it’s going to come, there’s going to be an opportunity where you’re going to make a big play,’” Stafford said.
With four Kentucky defenders surrounding him, Green leapt and grabbed the ball in the back corner of the end zone to give Georgia the lead.
Richt wasn’t as enamored with the play, having warned Stafford during the preceding timeout not to risk an interception. The way Stafford figured it, however, if Green didn’t make the play, no one would.
“I was not real happy there initially,” Richt said. “When I saw the results, I was thinking the kid’s a genius.”
The Bulldogs’ defense had held firm after each of Massaquoi’s fourth-quarter fumbles, but Kentucky’s offense had scored on four of its previous five drives.
Cobb, making just his second career start, ran for 82 yards in the game and scored three times on the ground, but it was a 29-yard pass to tight end Maurice Grinter that quickly put Georgia on its heels after Green’s touchdown.
The Bulldogs held firm, however, but after forcing and incomplete pass on fourth down, defensive end Jarius Wynn was flagged for a facemask penalty to give the Wildcats new life.
“When we got the penalty, we were just like, ‘We’re not about to lose this game because of us,’” linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said. “The offense came through for us, so we need to come through for the team, too.”
On the next snap, defensive end Demarcus Dobbs read the play all the way.
Cobb dropped back and tossed a screen pass into the flat, but Dobbs – with his hands bandaged – leaped up and grabbed the ball with one hand, pulling it into his chest for an interception.
“I’ve always had the best hands on the team, people just don’t believe me,” Dobbs said. “I guess it just took a stage for me to display for people to actually see it.”
Dobbs’ catch was the final stressful swing in momentum in a game that was chock full of them.
For all the second chances, however, Richt’s first description of the game wasn’t far off. The Bulldogs were thankful to leave Kentucky with a win.
The defense struggled for a third straight game, the special teams set up too many Wildcats touchdowns, and penalties once again came at the worst times.
“These kind of victories aren’t so bad. We certainly have to study everything again and see what went good and what went bad. Right now, we’re 8-2 and have a chance to win a couple more this year, which is an exciting thing.”