Loud and clear
With offensive explosion, Georgia makes major statement vs. LSU
Updated: Tuesday October 5, 2004 1:22AM
ATHENS, Ga. -- As statements go, the one Georgia made here Saturday against LSU was somewhere in the decibel range of an AC/DC concert. No, make that a Boeing 747 taking off. Better yet, call it a Boeing 747 taking off at an AC/DC concert.
You knew going in that the revenge-minded Dawgs, playing in Sanford Stadium, would have an advantage. You knew their stout defense would probably get the better of the Tigers' young offense.
What would come as a shock was that David Greene and the Georgia offense, so painfully mediocre their first three games, would come out in the first 20 minutes and put on an absolute clinic against the nation's fifth-ranked defense for a 24-0 lead.
Even Mark Richt wouldn't have predicted it.
"It was a little bit surreal to look up and see what the score was that early in the game," Richt said. "I thought we could win the game. I didn't necessarily think we could do it in that fashion."
After sleepwalking through the entire month of September, raising suspicions they might have a case of the dreaded "O" word -- overrated -- the Dawgs dashed any remaining chances of a repeat for defending co-national champ LSU while kickstarting their own title hopes with a 45-16 whitewashing. As it turns out, maybe they do deserve that No. 3 ranking.
"I can't say what other people think," ever-candid Georgia receiver Fred Gibson said, "but we did a great job. The game was on CBS; everyone got to see it. Let them be the judge."
After their first three performances of 2004 -- sluggish wins over Georgia Southern, South Carolina and Marshall in which the offense struggled to even score -- Richt's team found itself the subject of rare criticism both locally and nationally. Both coach and players sounded generally dumbfounded trying to explain the offense's woes.
"I was a little befuddled," Richt said. "I've seen guys making plays all the time in practice, and I'm like, 'What's the problem?' But when you'd look at the tape, it really was just one guy making a mistake."
But following a bye and what Greene called his "best week of practice," the Dawgs looked as sharp and crisp as any team in the country. Taking advantage of LSU's penchant for man coverage, Georgia relentlessly attacked vaunted Tigers cornerbacks Corey Webster and Travis Daniels with the deep ball. Greene's pinpoint fades -- one of the hardest plays in football to convert -- produced touchdowns of 25 and 29 yards to Reggie Brown, two yards and 24 yards to Gibson. Meanwhile, D.J. Shockley, inserted for the Dawgs' third possession, went over the top to Brown for a 47-yard bomb that set up a field goal.
"The guys knew we were close to exploding," Georgia quarterbacks coach Mike Bobo said. "We have too many talented skill players [not to], but we needed to execute well."
A year ago, Georgia was on the other side of this exact kind of butt-whipping in the SEC championship game against the Tigers. The Dawgs also lost a close one in Baton Rouge. And no player felt the Tigers' wrath more than Greene, the smooth lefty with a career 36-8 record, who in those two games was held to 37-of-85 passing, threw five interceptions and was sacked nine times.
Greene's numbers Saturday: 10-of-19 for 172 yards, five touchdowns, no picks and one sack. It's not like LSU wasn't coming at him, either -- Greene wound up on his backside plenty. Only in this game, he usually fired a strike to a wide-open receiver just moments before impact.
"Every time we got pressure on Greene," Webster said, "he stepped up in the pocket, avoided the rush and made a good play downfield."
Greene also got the kind of help that he so sorely lacked in last year's game. Georgia's O-line, so green a season ago when it allowed a staggering 47 sacks, has improved significantly. But more importantly, the Dawgs finally have a game-breaking running back.
Georgia played the Marshall game and most of the South Carolina game without Danny Ware, and the significance was obvious as soon as the chiseled freshman returned to the field Saturday. A physical specimen who hits the hole and plows straight ahead, Ware carried three times for 29 yards on Georgia's first touchdown drive, finishing the half with 64 yards on 14 carries. He would add on several big runs in the third quarter to finish with 109. And his backup, fellow freshman Thomas Brown, didn't look too bad himself, converting on a fourth and 1 when he initially appeared to be stuffed, and notching both a 46-yard run and a touchdown in garbage time to finish with 81 yards.
The presence of two threatening backs served as an effective antidote to LSU's constant blitzes.
All the while, Georgia's defense -- led by the usual suspects, All-America DE David Pollack, punishing safety Thomas Davis and freshly reinstated LB Odell Thurman -- was busy smothering LSU's offense, producing three sacks and two fumbles while allowing just one first down on the Tigers' first six possessions.
The Dawgs' defense was a known quantity coming in, though, and considering how badly LSU has struggled on offense, it's hard to read too much into their performance. The reason Georgia seems a whole lot more imposing today than it did 24 hours earlier is that the offense looked better than it has at any time since the team's 2002 SEC title season.
And they did it against LSU's defense, for crying out loud.
"You guys were giving us so much crap that our offense was so bad," Reggie Brown said with a chuckle. "We came out and put up 45 points against one of the top defenses in the country. Go write about that."
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.