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John Papanek
September 14, 1981
Tennessee didn't bring Georgia down to earth as the Dogs' defense of their national title opened with a 44-0 win
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September 14, 1981

Still Flying High

Tennessee didn't bring Georgia down to earth as the Dogs' defense of their national title opened with a 44-0 win

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Bigger and better though this year's Walker may be, he would be running behind a line that had been ravaged by graduation. The young replacements up front were Dooley's principal cause for concern. As it turned out, those quiet practices, the apparent lack of enthusiasm, weren't symptoms of cockiness. It was only the new Dogs assuming the quiet, confident Walker nature by osmosis. "I'll tell you this," says Defensive Guard Eddie (Meat Cleaver) Weaver. "The offensive line might be young but it's big [averaging 6'4", 247 pounds]. You get a thrill out of blocking for a killer. You don't hurt as much when you're doing it for The Stalker. I'd be proud if I were blocking for The Stalker."

By Saturday the walkways to freshly expanded Sanford Stadium—which would be filled with 79,600 fans, the largest crowd ever to witness a sporting event in Georgia—were festooned with renderings of the Georgia Bulldog, variously smiling, snarling, pouncing or reclining. Everything from commemorative Coca-Cola bottles ($5 for 10 ounces) to long Johns was emblazoned with portraits of the Dog. And of course there was Walker's mug on T shirts, socks, drinking glasses, even jockstraps. "I've seen more pictures of Herschel than his mama," said Georgia's Promotions Director, Avery McLean.

Georgians' fear of an opening-game upset wasn't unfounded. In the 44 years that a mythical national champion has been crowned by the Associated Press, the defending champ has lost its first game of the following season seven times. The Bulldogs did it to Alabama in 1965. Majors' 1976 12-0 Pittsburgh team lost to Notre Dame in its 1977 opener, after Majors had gone home to Tennessee.

Georgia passed its first test when Butler sent the opening kickoff through the end zone, thus keeping Willie Gault, one of Tennessee's four world-class sprinter-receivers, who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns last year, from possibly giving the Vols an early lead. But Tennessee moved easily to the Georgia 33 as Quarterback Jeff Olszewski completed his first six passes—all short ones in the flat—against Georgia's inexperienced secondary, before a sack by End Freddie Gilbert forced a 51-yard punt that rolled dead on the Georgia eight.

Thus, Walker, the tailback in the I, found himself set up in the end zone the first time his number was called in 1981. He took a handoff from Belue on his own goal line, slashed over right end and dragged four tacklers 11 yards. Seven plays later he dashed 47 yards for an apparent touchdown only to have it called back because of clipping. No matter. Three plays later, on a third-and-five, Belue delivered a 29-yard strike over the middle to Scott, who made a spectacular catch—his first of six—sandwiched between two defenders on the Tennessee six. A moment later Walker hurdled over from the one for his touchdown.

Then, after the Bulldogs twice stalled inside the Tennessee 10—a fumble and a missed field goal—they put another touchdown on the board before halftime. This one was a 15-yard pass from Belue to Scott on a "sail" pattern, with Scott doing his sailing on his knees to catch the ball in the right corner of the end zone.

Scott ran the same pattern to the left corner for a TD in the third quarter, this time making an over-the-head catch of a Belue pass just before tumbling across the sideline.

"If you look at Lindsay Scott today and think about him one year ago...what a difference," says Dooley. A year ago Scott had lost his scholarship after a shoving match with the team's academic counselor and hadn't fully recovered from rolling his 1980 Datsun 200SX into a ditch after falling asleep at the wheel. "Today I did the things I thought I could do when I came here," said Scott, a senior. "You're seeing a completely new Lindsay Scott."

The 1981 model Herschel Walker wasn't entirely pleased with his performance, even though he would have easily surpassed 200 yards had Dooley let him play the entire fourth quarter. Belue praised the young offensive line for its pass blocking, but it was hard to tell if Walker needed any run blocking. Each time he got the ball he ran a couple of little steps, then slammed his 222-pound body whichever way he pleased, cutting and caroming off bodies, dragging defenders, averaging 5.3 yards a carry.

"I don't think I performed that well today," said Walker. "I was doing a lot of bouncing around, and that's not me. I got a lot of work to do if I want to improve." Improve on 161 yards in a little more than three quarters?

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