Dawgs have room to Grow

ORLANDO - OK, so it's apparent there's really no reason to check into travel plans for the Orange Bowl and its environs in a year, and we can file that National Championship Contender application under quot;We'll See."

The joy of an overtime victory against a good team notwithstanding, what Georgia almost did Thursday was snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, like it has against lesser and better teams this year.

Start hot, look great, get fans jazzed up and thus more juiced up, then all but flatline. The surprise Thursday was that Georgia's defense had more of those moments than usual.

So relieved were the Bulldogs and their faithful for the 34-27 overtime win against Purdue in the Capital One Screen Pass Bowl that the post-game atmosphere was loaded with electricity.

Tim Jennings ran into the locker room and came back out with a video camera.

Billy Bennett threw towels into the crowd.

The band boogied and fans stayed around ecstatically listening to the post-game TV interviews played over the most ridiculously loudest speakers in all the land.

Geez, winning in Florida isn't the same as beating Florida.

And Georgia doesn't hang up the shoulder pads for a few months on that big a high.

There were too many penalties. Too many busts on defense. A blown 24-point lead. Some offensive line problems, as well as injuries. Inconsistent blocking. And too much talking and yapping from a team seeing a 24-0 lead evaporate among it all.

Yet there it was, that big first-half lead.

There was a feeling that Georgia would show up but not necessarily be there, that Purdue was more excited, more interested in making the most of the trip.

That Georgia would likely ho-hum its way through the first game since LSU spanked the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship.

Wrong. For a quarter and a half.

The crowd of 64,565 was eventually lulled into a sun-smacked nap as the teams muddled back and forth.

Maybe the public address announcer - aided by those loud speakers - should've kept announcing the Iowa-Florida score, for everybody in the joint cheered with each mention that the Gators were getting thumped, Purdue cheering on a Big 10 friend and Georgia simply being a convention of Gator haters.

Purdue didn't do much to wake anybody up, although the Boilermakers otherwise struggling offense did humble Georgia's defense several times. Note the 17 points Purdue put up in using less than three minutes of the fourth-quarter clock.

"They just chucked it," Georgia defensive end David Pollack said. "They just started throwing it. Their quarterback took off and scrambled a couple times and got a big play. He made some good plays. "They threw it all over the field, just short passes. You don't have time to rush the passer with short passes like that."

But there were some long ones.

That the Bulldogs need to improve pass coverage was not news, nor did Thursday show that anything had changed in that regard. Georgia's bend-but-not-break defensive philosophy almost broke against a team with a quarterback with a bum thumb and a bad toe.

To be sure, there were some major fundamental breakdowns on defense.

"We had a lot of miscommunications," senior defensive tackle Ken Veal said. "We just weren't quite clicking. Somebody'd think one thing, somebody else would think another. We had miscommunication with coaches. "That was a lot of our misfires."

In the 14th game of the season.

All that said, there was good.

Kregg Lumpkin, one fumble notwithstanding, should start until further notice. He's clearly the best and most consistent tailback, and showed it. Not bad for a true freshman who grew up tremendously in the time between a fumble and a leaping touchdown.

David Greene looked sharp more often than not, and wisely left the pocket on scrambles a few times. He zinged a couple passes, didn't seem to throw into coverage, dumped it when he had little time.

When there was a certain playcalling mindset, Georgia rolled. The Bulldogs looked good on the drive for what looked like the game-clinching field goal, almost as varied as when racking up that big lead.

Georgia writers checked the roster and yes, that was Ben Watson with two early catches, another nullified by a penalty. Of course, he didn't get a ball the final three quarters.

The Bulldogs moved the ball despite all sorts of personnel issues up front, including tackle Max Jean-Gilles playing guard when he's never played guard, and Greene isn't in a hospital.

"A lot of these guys have gone through a lot," Richt said. "Somehow, we found a way to get here and win the game."

And end happily a season of many "somehows" while readying for an off-season of great speculation and anticipation and expectations, and not of defending a Capital One title.

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