Sanford Stadium crowd earned ‘12th man’ status against Clemson

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Mark Richt said Saturday's Dawg Walk was one of the best ever. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)
Mark Richt said Saturday's Dawg Walk was one of the best ever. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Mark Richt said Saturday’s Dawg Walk was one of the best ever. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Happy Labor Day! Hope you’re all enjoying a great holiday. If you haven’t checked out my initial Georgia-Clemson post-game Blawg (“Welcome to the Todd Gurley Appreciation Society”), you can do so here. Now, here are some additional observations from Georgia’s season-opener …

Mark Richt asked the Georgia fans, particularly the students, to come early and be loud, and that certainly was the case Saturday night, especially on key third-down plays. A couple of times, including after Todd Gurley’s kickoff return touchdown, the decibel level came close to the all-time high achieved last year against LSU. Clemson had to burn two timeouts because of crowd noise and Richt credited the crowd with the Tigers’ offensive line hesitating a bit because they couldn’t hear a verbal snap count, which aided Georgia’s resurgent pass rush.

It also doesn’t hurt that a packed stadium that’s a sea of red looks great on national television!

Mark Richt celebrates after the big win over Clemson. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Mark Richt celebrates after the big win over Clemson. (Brant Sanderlin / AJC)

Said Richt after the game: “I want to tell the fans thank you. They were so awesome. The Dawg Walk was phenomenal. It was as good as it’s ever been.”

There were a lot of fun moments Saturday night for Dawgs fans, most of them, of course, courtesy of Gurley, named Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Tigers. My personal favorite came with 7:44 on the clock in the fourth quarter. As Georgia prepared to take the field at its own 49 after yet another Clemson punt, my stadium neighbor Mike asked me if I knew how many yards Gurley had so far. I told him I thought 147. Replied Mike: “We might see 51 more right here.” And then Gurley proceeded to top off his record-setting night by doing just that for another touchdown! …

Gurley was all over the place. At one point, as the Tigers approached a key play, you could see the Georgia running back up on the bench urging on the crowd. At another, my son noted, he was in the defensive huddle. Explained Gurley afterward: “I had a lot more energy than I usually do. It’s always good to see a defensive guy in the offensive huddle so when they see an offensive guy in their huddle they get more pumped up and start feeling more confident. They know that the rest of the team is there with them and they get after it.” …

A couple of factors in the Georgia defense’s remarkable showing in the second half: Coordinator Jeremy Pruitt took some pressure off the cornerbacks by not playing as much man coverage, and he juiced the Georgia pass rush by moving players all over the field in a dime package, so that you had things like cornerback Damian Swann rushing the QB from a linebacker position and linebacker Leonard Floyd lining up at times like a stand-up nose guard. …

Early on, some of the defensive backs had a tendency not to look back for the ball, but that was eliminated in the second half. And Saturday you also saw plays made in the secondary that you wouldn’t have seen last year, including walk-on Aaron Davis’ interception and numerous passes broken up by the ball being knocked down. …

The upgrade in personnel this season on special teams was most notable in the use of freshman tailback Sony Michel as a gunner on the kick coverage team. And he made a couple of key stops, too! In terms of punt returns, Reggie Davis was sure-handed and only took a couple of fair catches, and the one punt that freshman Isaiah McKenzie took resulted in a 24-yard return. Just a hint of things to come. Meanwhile, the specialists had a good night, with placekicker Marshall Morgan tying the SEC record with his 18th consecutive field goal, and punter Collin Barber, who had struggled to regain his starting position after a concussion last year, averaging 45.5 yards on his five punts, with a long kick of 60 yards and three downed inside the 20 yard line (and nearly a fourth). …

The Redcoat Band wore new uniforms for the Clemson game. (John Kelley / UGA)

The Redcoat Band wore new uniforms for the Clemson game. (John Kelley / UGA)

Other nonfootball highlights of the night included Herschel Walker getting a huge ovation when introduced on the field before the game, Scott Woerner acting as honorary captain, and a special on-field celebration of the 30th anniversary of Kevin Butler’s Clemson-killing field goal. There also was a moment of silence to honor the late Dan Magill. The Redcoat Band looked pretty snazzy in their new half-black uniforms, too.

However, there were a few opening-night snags at Sanford Stadium Saturday. After being urged to show up early (and warned that latecomers might not get in), the lines at the student gates were already long and winding an hour before the scheduled 4 p.m. opening. But they had to wait a bit longer, as the gates finally opened about 10 minutes late. Then, more than 20 minutes after folks were let in, the Reed Plaza restroom doors still had not been unlocked! The restrooms on the main concourses were open, but already filthy just minutes after the fans were let in. Did they not bother to clean them after last season?

Concession stand lines were predictably long and slow, and the demand for water naturally high on this hot, muggy night. Unfortunately, some stands ran out of bottled water by early in the fourth quarter, and the line for the North side water fountain was also crazy long (more fountains definitely are needed).

As for the much-heralded new sound system, it wasn’t as loud (thankfully) as at the G-Day game, and at times (like when Clemson faced a key third down) the beat-heavy canned music selections were used effectively to work the crowd up into even more of a frenzy. But continuing to play the same sort of music during time-outs when even the students are sitting down reduces the impact of the music when it really is needed, and the announcement of at least one key decision on a play-under-review by the ref (Michael Bennett’s supposed fumble) was delayed because whoever was running the music was slow in cutting it off.

On the plus side, a red shaker was left at each seat, which contributed mightily to the impressive look of the “red-out,” and the Wi-Fi access inside the stadium was noticeably quicker thanks to the offseason improvements.

All in all, a great night to be a Georgia Bulldog!

Feel free to share your own impressions of the season opener.

Go Dogs!

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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg


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