The Play that Changed the Season

ATHENS – Darryl Gamble still remembers, in minute detail, the play that changed everything.

"I imagine it going on again, every part of it," Georgia's redshirt freshman linebacker said.

Vanderbilt faced third-and-10 from the Georgia 18-yard line with less than three minutes left in a tied game.

"They were running the speed sweep with the guy that had been running it the whole game (Cassen Jackson-Garrison)," Gamble said. "He was hitting the corner and a lineman tried to cut block me. I got off the cut block. The tight end climbed to me. I got off the tight end."

By the time Gamble arrived at Jackson-Garrison, the Vanderbilt running back had gained enough yardage for a first down. Had he simply fallen to the ground at that point, the Commodores would have been well on their way to a second straight victory over the Bulldogs.

"He was breaking a tackle on somebody and the ball was out like this (holding his arm away from his body) so I punched, and then Reshad hit him," Gamble said. "I just went crazy after that."

Gamble, who probably wouldn't have been in the game if Brandon Miller and Marcus Washington hadn't been out due to injuries, caused a fumble that was recovered by Dannell Ellerbe.

The Bulldogs' offense then moved 73 yards in 10 plays, setting up a 37-yard, game-winning field goal by Brandon Coutu that salvaged the game and, as it turns out, the season.

"We were just thankful to get out of there alive," head coach Mark Richt said. "From that fumble on, though, it really has been nothing but great for us."

Since the moment Gamble shook the ball loss, Georgia (9-2) has won five straight games and climbed from No. 24 in the country to No. 6. If the Bulldogs hadn't made that play, there's no way to know where the season might have gone, Richt said. Georgia was coming off a disheartening 35-14 loss to Tennessee that week.

"We were feeling pretty low," Richt said. "We were wondering, ‘Just how good are we? Are we really contenders or not?' We were getting right back into the mode we were in the year before, and we needed to put a stop to it, but we had a lot of great teams to play yet. Somehow we turned it around. I don't know how. I'll have to look back and figure it out."

One key, he can say with certainty, is the off week that followed that game, which gave Georgia two weeks to right itself and prepare for Florida. Then came the infamous celebration against the Gators and the black jerseys against Auburn, and suddenly the Bulldogs were on a roll and Richt was being hailed as a motivational genius.

That last part bothered Georgia's coach, so much so that he addressed it with his team last week.

"I said, ‘Men this thing isn't about me. It isn't about tricking people. It's about blocking and tackling and playing Georgia football,'" he said. "Even in all the games we won where people are talking about this thing and that thing, it settled into a game, and we had to go out and win it."

Gamble isn't willing to give all the credit to his play.

"I don't think of it being the turnaround," he said. "I think we just decided to start playing harder, and everybody started making plays around the ball."

The result of that is the Bulldogs head into a 3:30 p.m. game against Georgia Tech (7-4) on Saturday still having a chance to win the SEC championship and qualify for a BCS bowl game.

"Confidence and energy and maturity all came together at the right time," Richt said, "and that's why we're sitting here right now."

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