But for the moment, at least, Saturday's victory was about more than the Southeastern Conference standings. Saturday was about something as basic as chest-thumping, as leaning back and yelling to no one in particular "Look at us now!''
Actually, when receiver Damien Gary stood on the sideline bench, beat his chest and yelled, his point was intended for someone in particular. This one was for former Auburn coach Pat Dye, who early in the week told a radio audience he didn't think his alma mater was "man enough'' to beat Alabama.
Dye went on to say "If they come over and beat Alabama, then they can beat on their chests when they go back to Athens.'' Gary and several teammates couldn't wait that long. "That was for Pat Dye,'' said Gary, whose 15-yard punt return helped set up the 32-yard field goal by Billy Bennett that put Georgia ahead for good with 38 seconds left to play.
Alabama's Antwan Odom grabs Georgia quarterback David Greene's facemask during a sack in the first half Saturday, Oct. 5, 2002, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Todd J. Van Emst)
Though Dye's choice of words were received as insults, he was not the only observer who did not think Georgia could run against Alabama's vaunted defensive front or stop the Tide's powerful running game. But with its most inspired effort yet this season, No. 7 Georgia (5-0 overall, 2-0 SEC) didn't just beat No. 22 Alabama on the scoreboard. Georgia beat Alabama on the field and in the man-against-man battles it was not supposed to win.
Georgia beat Alabama in the ground game, outgaining the Tide 161-109 in rushing yards. Musa Smith (21 carries for 126 yards) is the first back to rush for 100 yards against Alabama this season.
Even with its no-huddle offense that doesn't work the clock, Georgia won the time-of-possession battle, if only by about 30 seconds. Georgia also won by the measure of first downs (22-16) and total yards (385-306). Alabama (4-2 overall, 1-1 SEC) had two backs each rush for 100 yards in a win at Arkansas last week. Those two backs - Shaud Williams and Santonio Beard - combined for 67 yards rushing against Georgia.
"We never got in rhythm offensively,'' said Alabama coach Dennis Franchione. "And they kept us off-balance with their great running game.''
Ray Hudson led Alabama with his modest total of 45 yards rushing; by comparison Smith rushed for 54 yards in just the opening quarter. Man enough? Georgia players probably won't have to answer those kind of questions as they prepare for another big game next Saturday at home against Tennessee.
Georgia appeared to be on the verge of turning the game into a rout when Terrence Edwards caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from David Greene early in the fourth quarter for a 24-12 lead. Then Alabama grabbed control of the game.
Georgia's Terrence Edwards hauls in a 37-yard touchdown against Alabama's Anthony Madison (9) Saturday, Oct. 5, 2002 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.(AP Photo/Todd J. Van Emst)
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brodie Croyle capped a nine-play drive by diving over cornerback Bruce Thornton from the 1. One minute later, Alabama cornerback Charlie Peprah stole a pass from Fred Gibson as Gibson was attempting to control the pass. Peprah returned the interception 35 yards for a touchdown, and even after the attempt for two points failed, Alabama led 25-24 with 8:24 left to play. For a Georgia defense that was obviously tired and a Georgia offense that was less effective after Smith's legs began cramping, this was a bigger challenge than any verbal offering from Dye.
Georgia's offense managed only one first down on its first possession after Peprah's big play. Richt then asked his defense to make one more stand. "Coach Richt came to me and (linebacker) Boss (Bailey) and said 'Lead us,' '' said linebacker Tony Gilbert. "Coach Richt told us 'We're going to put it in your hands. We need the ball back.' '' Led by Gilbert, Bailey and defensive end David Pollack, the defense held Alabama to one yard on three plays.
Thanks to the Georgia defense and Gary's 15-yard punt return, the offense took over at the Alabama 34 with 3:45 left to play. It was crucial for the offense to pick up at least one first down and force Alabama to use up its time outs. Smith picked up eight yards on first down and then added runs of one and three yards for the first down.
The rest was just about setting up Bennett's kick, which he calmly drilled through the uprights following Alabama's final timeout. "Everything was so perfect, the snap and the hold,'' Bennett said. "It felt so good.''
Alabama still had 32 seconds when it took possession, but Croyle's first-down pass was intercepted by Thomas Davis, triggering the celebrations on the Georgia sideline and from Georgia fans which filled one end zone.
"I'm proud of everybody not giving up,'' Richt said. "That's the sign of a team that's resilient and mentally tough and does what it has to do to win.'' Thanks to Florida's upset loss at Mississippi Saturday, Georgia is alone in first place in the SEC East and 5-0 for the first time since 1982 - the last year it won the SEC championship. But this game was about more than the standings.
"We are man enough,'' Pollack said. "We already knew that, but we proved it.''
Georgia's Michael Johnson celebrates after Georgia defeated Alabama 27-25 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday, Oct. 5, 2002. (AP Photo/Todd J. Van Emst)
How they Scored
GEORGIA 27, ALABAMA 25
Though Georgia struggled to complete anything but quick, short passes, Musa Smith rushed for 54 yards and a touchdown as the Bulldogs took the early lead. Alabama was hurt by four penalties but managed a 48-yard field goal by Michael Ziifle.
Georgia 7, Alabama 0
Georgia touchdown - Smith 15 run (Billy Bennett kick), 9:04. 9 plays, 82 yards, 2:07 drive. Key play: On second and 10 from the Alabama 25, quarterback David Greene fumbled the snap and Alabama linebacker Derrick Pope scooped up the ball and ran all the way to the Georgia 1. But the play was called back due to a false-start penalty against Georgia.
Georgia 7, Alabama 3
Alabama field goal - Michael Ziifle 48 kick, 5:16. 9 plays, 41 yards, 3:48 drive. Key play: Brodie Croyle passed to Dre Fulgham for a gain of 27 yards to the Georgia 32.
Fred Gibson made an acrobatic catch for a touchdown, but Georgia spent most of the rest of the quarter deep in its own territory, thanks to the well-placed punts of Ziifle. The field-position battle finally paid off for Alabama when it took possession at the Georgia 38 with 2:03 left in the half and scored on a quick three-play drive.
Georgia 14, Alabama 3
Georgia touchdown - Gibson 42 pass from Greene (Bennett kick), 8:15. 7 plays, 76 yards, 1:54. Key play: On first and 10 from the Alabama 42, Gibson had Alabama cornerback Anthony Madison beaten down the left sideline, but as he crossed the 5 Gibson had to turn around and lean forward to catch the short pass. Gibson made the catch as he was falling back over the goal line for the touchdown.
Georgia 14, Alabama 9
Alabama touchdown - Fulgham 30 pass from Croyle (Brian Bostick kick failed), :51. 3 plays, 38 yards, 1:04 drive. Key play: On third and 2 from the 30, Fulgham was a step ahead of Georgia safety Kentrell Curry as Fulgham caught the pass near the 5. With Curry trying to strip the ball, Fulgham scored his first career touchdown.
The teams traded 54-yard, field-goal drives, but the concern for Georgia was the health of Smith when he limped off the field and spent most of the quarter trying to stretch his left leg.
Georgia 17, Alabama 9
Georgia field goal - Bennett 43 kick, 10:14. 11 plays, 54 yards, 4:14 drive. Key plays: Smith ran for 20 yards on the second play of the drive. Georgia had a first and goal at the 9 before it was pushed back by penalties for delay of game and holding. On the field goal, holder Jonathan Kilgo did a good job of getting the ball down after a poor snap.
Georgia 17, Alabama 12
Alabama field goal - Bostick 36 kick, :19. 11 plays, 54 yards, 4:00. Key play: Alabama had an apparent 42-yard touchdown run by Ray Hudson called back by a holding penalty.
Georgia appeared close to putting the game away when it stretched its lead to 12 points early in the quarter. But as the Georgia defense began to tire, Alabama charged back. The key was the interception return for a touchdown on a pass that Gibson could not control. But Georgia's defense and punt return team combined to give the offense one last opportunity, and Bennett delivered the game-winning kick with 38 seconds left to play.
Georgia 24, Alabama 12
Georgia touchdown - Terrence Edwards 37 pass from Greene (Bennett kick), 13:32. 6 plays, 72 yards, 1:46 drive. Key plays: The drive opened with back-to-back passes to Gibson for 17 and 16 yards. Damien Gary made a great leaping catch on a third-down play but then was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. On the following play, Edwards beat Madison down the left sideline and without breaking stride caught a perfectly placed 37-yard touchdown pass from Greene.
Georgia 24, Alabama 19
Alabama touchdown - Croyle 1 run (Bostick kick), 9:27. 9 plays, 68 yards, 4:05 drive. Key play: Shaud Williams ran through tackle attempts by Tim Jennings and Bruce Thornton to pick up 13 yards to the Georgia 21 on a reception. On second and goal from the 1, Croyle soared over Thornton to score.
Alabama 25, Georgia 24
Alabama touchdown - Charlie Peprah 35 interception return (Croyle run failed), 8:24. Key play: Georgia had a second down at its 26 when Greene threw to Gibson near the Georgia sideline. Gibson was attempting to secure the ball as he tried to spin upfield, but Peprah stole the ball from the receiver and then ran behind a wall of Alabama blockers for the touchdown return.
Georgia 27, Alabama 25
Georgia field goal - Bennett 32 kick, :38. 7 plays, 19 yards, 3:07 drive. Key plays: A 15-yard punt return by Gary gave Georgia possession at the Alabama 34. As important as field position was working down the clock, and a 3-yard gain by Smith on a third-and-one play gave Georgia a first down at the 18, forcing Alabama to use its remaining time outs before Bennett's go-ahead kick.
- Compiled by Charles Odum