One Dawg Night
A do-it-all freshman led Georgia past LSU to the head of the SEC pack
Over the last three summers, Quincy Carter hit .218 in the Chicago Cubs' farm system and became the answer to a trivia question: Which minor league outfielder was the No. 2 quarterback on Parade's 1995 high school All-America football team, behind player of the year Tim Couch, now starring at Kentucky?
Carter is trivial no longer. In the fourth game of his college career, the Georgia freshman quarterback, who turns 21 on Oct. 13, had one of the most remarkable performances in SEC history. Facing undefeated LSU at Tiger Stadium—the loudest, most hostile venue in college football—the 6'3", 225-pound Carter completed his first 15 passes, finished 27 of 34 for 318 yards and two touchdowns, led his team in rushing with 41 yards and even caught a 36-yard pass in the Bulldogs' 28-27 victory, which lifted them to 4-0.
Only after he had finished off the Tigers with a masterly drive that burned the last 4:59 off the clock did Carter show he still has some baseball in him. After an on-field TV interview, Carter hustled to the south end zone for a curtain call. He waved to the 7,500 Georgia fans in the stands, pumped a fist and did everything but tap his heart and point at Sammy Sosa's mother.
Though the Bulldogs actually have two multidimensional threats—against LSU, Champ Bailey played 96 snaps at cornerback, wide receiver and on special teams, racking up two tackles, seven receptions, 195 all-purpose yards and one touchdown—it's Carter who leaves coach Jim Donnan groping for words. "Whatever you want," Donnan says, " Quincy's got it: arm strength, great quickness, knowledge of the game, smooth delivery, the confidence of his teammates. He's given us a chance in a rebuilding year."
Now Carter's rightful place looks to be behind center, not in center—and at Georgia, not Georgia Tech. In February 1996, as a senior at Southwest DeKalb High in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, Carter signed to play football for the Yellow Jackets, but he never enrolled. The Cubs drafted him in the second round that June, and shortly thereafter they signed him to a minor league contract with a $450,000 bonus. But Carter came to miss the camaraderie of football. Last year he began calling Georgia guard Jonas Jennings, a friend who had played at rival Tri-Cities High in East Point. "He kept coming up to Athens and hanging out with me," Jennings says. "He was throwing hints around, saying, 'Tech won't give me my release.' Finally he said, 'I'm trying to get back in football.' I didn't take him seriously, but then I realized Georgia wasn't the only school he was looking at, so I said something to the coaches." After an NCAA committee released him from his letter of intent, Carter, who didn't want to sit on the Tech bench behind quarterback Joe Hamilton for two years, enrolled at Georgia for the '98 spring quarter, with the Cubs paying his way. Chicago expects him to continue playing baseball next spring.
In his first workouts with the team in August, Carter quickly stood out among the four candidates to replace the departed Mike Bobo at quarterback. "After several practices we knew who the best athlete was," Georgia strong safety Kirby Smart said after the defeat of LSU. "Yet to be proven was whether he could handle himself under pressure. Now he's proved he can handle that."
Donnan, who first coached against Lou Tepper, the Tigers' new defensive coordinator, in the early 1980s, knew just how to attack the LSU defense. On Saturday, Tepper's read-and-react scheme looked as old and decrepit as Tiger Stadium. Time and again, Carter threw in front of the deep zone coverages. "We had to take what they gave us," he said. What were they giving? "Pretty much everything."
Louisiana State began blitzing more and playing some man-to-man defense in the second half, but Carter beat that, too. With 4:05 left, Georgia facing third-and-six at its 24 and the Bulldogs leading by one point, he noticed man coverage on Bailey. Carter began his throwing motion as 290-pound LSU nosetackle Anthony (Booger) McFarland bore down on him. "I saw Champ, and then I saw big Booger," Carter said afterward. "I just had to take the chance." Carter floated the ball toward the left sideline just before McFarland bodyslammed him. Bailey caught the pass for a 21-yard gain, and Georgia ran out the clock from there.
"All I know is, I hit him as hard as I could," McFarland said later. "I'm thinking, 'I got a sack.' I look up, and Bailey's caught the ball. That's just a big play. Carter is a big player."