By Tim Guidera
FINAL: Georgia 41, Hawaii 10
Maybe this wasn't too hard to see coming after all.
Georgia was one of the best teams in college football's best conference this year. Hawaii? They went to overtime against Louisiana Tech. And San Jose State.
And maybe it's true that the only time WAC should be placed next to SEC is in one of those Jumble word puzzles.
Everybody else seemed to think this Sugar Bowl would be as lopsided as New Year's Eve in New Orleans (after a few hurricanes, that is). At least everybody here covering Georgia was saying that, after listening politely to Hawaiian reporters talk about how dangerous the Warrior passing game is, waiting for them to leave and then scoffing about the blowout they knew was coming.
But I thought it would be closer than it turned out to be in the Bulldog's 41-10 walkover at the Super Dome. I thought it might even be, you know, a game for a little while.
Because Georgia hadn't covered anybody all season and the UH receivers caught passes against everybody. And because I wasn't convinced the Dogs would be ready to play from the start, the way they haven't been in several recent bowls.
Well, I was convinced early tonight, about midway through the first quarter. And it will be interesting now to see how convincing this complete performance in a BCS bowl will be where it matters a lot more.
Sure, this game puts a good finish on a surprising season for Georgia, one that was believed to be a rebuilding year for a young team but could end with them ranked as high as second depending on what happens in the remaining bowls.
But just as important is how this win sets up next year for the Dogs, who were going to start the season ranked high anyway and now could be in the top three when the preseason poll comes out, positioned for a run at a national championship before a down has been played.
So this could turn out to be as much a springboard as a closing statement for Georgia, the first step toward the excitement that could be coming to Athens next year as well as the finishing touch on this year's impressive accomplishment.
The way Bulldogs finished the season certainly points that way, winning their last seven and looking like one of the best teams in the country in doing so. The way they played in a game it seemed they didn't even want to play in a month ago makes even more of a push in that direction.
They set a new school record for points in bowl, breaking a mark that had stood since their first bowl appearance in 1942. They manhandled a Heisman candidate quarterback who owns or shares 29 NCAA records. And the beat the only remaining undefeated team in the country.
It's all headed somewhere beyond a celebration on Bourbon Street tonight, the impression left tonight perhaps the beginning of a statement that will be finalized when the first rankings of next season come out.
Georgia 38, Hawaii 3
More mistakes for Hawaii. More Moreno for Georgia. More of the same for a game that lost all intrigue before the bands got on the field for halftime.
How little drama has there been? Rather than scouring statistics or watching early highlights, a couple of us in the press box spent halftime outlining a potential fantasy league for those strongman competitions you see on late at night on ESPN. (With my first round pick, I'm taking Mariusz Pudzianowski of Poland!) It was only a joke, just like this matchup has been so far.
It's no real news that Georgia is the bigger, stronger team. But it is a little surprising how much faster the Bulldogs also are--on both sides of the ball. Hawaii won with speed all year, turning games into track meets. But tonight, UGA's defense looks faster than the Warrior offense and openings UH receivers are probably used to hitting have closed before they could get to them.
It has been even worse for quarterback Colt Brennan, who was sacked five times in the first half and knocked down eight times. In the third quarter, he continued to get abused, getting hit almost every time he drops back. He was shaken up on one sack--by UGA defensive end Marcus Howard, resulting in a fumble and a Bulldog touchdown--and he started getting up slower and slower as the quarter wore on.
But he did lead the Warriors on their best drive of the night after a late hit third down by UGA's Darryl Gamble extended the possession...that is, right up until Dannell Ellerby intercepted a pass tipped by Howard with four minutes left in the quarter, setting up another UGA touchdown. That gave the UH quarterback, a Heisman Trophy finalist this year, three turnovers in the quarter and five for the game.
It also led to a brief chant of "overrated'' by Georgia fans, who quickly lost interest in taunting the defenseless Warriors and their senior quarterback. Still no response from the white shirts in the corner of the Super Dome.
BIGGEST PLAY OF THE QUARTER:
Hawaii, which ranked eighth nationally in converting third downs this year (48 percent) and just picked up their first 5:29 into the half and was looking to keep moving the ball when Georgia defensive end broke through the line untouched and drilled Brennan. The UH quarterback fumbled into the end zone and Howard recovered for a touchdown to put the Dogs ahead 31-3
The Bulldogs' seventh sack of the night gave them a new season high, tied the school's bowl record and moved the game even farther out of the Warriors' reach. Coming into the game, UGA had led the SEC with 34 sacks this year.
UH is 2-0 when trailing at halftime this season. Three points is the Warriors' lowest first-half total since the 2006 Hawaii Bowl against Arizona State when they also scored three. Their previous low this season was 14.
Georgia's 24 points is the second-highest total UH has allowed this year behind only the 28 the Warriors surrendered to Washington in their last game before the Sugar Bowl.
Georgia 24, Hawaii 3
The Bulldogs continue to control every aspect of the game, disrupting the Hawaii offense and doing whatever they want against a UH defense that has had trouble catching up to UGA players and found it even more difficult to bring them down when they do.
The game is starting to look every bit as one-sided as you would figure a matchup of SEC and WAC teams to be, with the Bulldogs nearly doubling their 11-point first-quarter lead with a touchdown and a field goal.
It certainly doesn't help that the Warriors are simply not playing well. Their high-powered offense, which led the nation in scoring this season by averaging 46.2 points per game, has looked tentative. And they have done exactly what they could not afford do, turning the ball over twice already. That has them down by three scores despite stopping the Bulldogs on their final two possessions of the half.
Oh, and as for all those white shirts in the Hawaii fan section mentioned earlier? You get the feeling Warrior fans might want to start waving them over their heads soon.
Now, Georgia's recent bowl history might suggest this game is not over.
Remember, the Dogs trailed Virginia Tech 21-3 at halftime in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last year but scored 18 fourth-quarter points to win 31-24. They also almost overcame a 28-0 deficit against West Virginia the previous year in the Sugar Bowl, losing 38-35.
They blew a 28-0 lead against Purdue in the 2004 Capital One Bowl before winning in triple overtime. And that was four years after staging the largest comeback in bowl history against the Boilermakers in the 2000 Outback Bowl, scoring 28 points in the final 40 minutes to win 28-25.
But, at this point, all that really does seem like history. Because it's starting to look like this one really is over.
BIGGEST PLAY OF THE QUARTER:
On Hawaii's first snap play after holding the Bulldogs to a field goal on a 10-play drive, Colt Brennan pass to the left sideline is intercepted by Prince Miller, giving Georgia the ball at the UH 42. Four plays later, the Dogs go up 24-3 when Matthew Stafford hits Sean Bailey with an 11-yard touchdown pass.
Georgia 14, Hawaii 3
About as good a start as the Bulldogs could have hoped for as they were the faster, more physical and more productive team. Pregame conjecture that Warriors would not be able to handle UGA's defensive speed has proven true so far, with the Dogs limiting UH to 70 yards on 16 plays. They also held the nation's top-scoring offense to a field goal in the first five minutes.
June Jones is also proving to be prophetic. The UH coach said the one thing his team would have to do was tackle Knowshon Moreno. Well, the Warriors haven't had much luck doing that. The UGA freshman has gained 35 yards on four carries and has scored both Bulldog touchdowns.
The game simply changed speed when Moreno enters it and he has broken or spun away from tackles just about every time he has touched the ball.
If UH doesn't figure out a way to slow him down, that prediction of mine that this would be a close game will be one pregame suggestion that will not come true.
BIGGEST PLAY OF THE QUARTER:
On third and 7 at the UH 30, Thomas Brown breaks a tackle and gains 7 yards to keep alive the Bulldogs' opening drive, which would end with Moreno's first touchdown two plays later.
Just five minutes in and it's all according to script for Georgia. The speed and physical play up front of the Bulldog defense clearly disrupted Hawaii on its first possession, holding the Warriors to minus-3 yards in four plays.
Then the Bulldogs went 61 yards in nine plays, scoring on Knowshon Moreno's 17-yard touchdown run to take a 7-0 lead.
Even worse news for Hawaii, though, is the Bulldogs obviously have shown up from the start of this Sugar Bowl, something they have not done in every bowl game lately. But so far, UGA players are as animated and excited as they were throughout the second half of the season, which is also when they played like one of the best teams in the country.
One odd sight already at the 2008 Sugar Bowl is notoriously late-arriving Georgia fans already in their seats 20 minutes before kickoff. So maybe Bulldog fans mean business tonight.
Then again, maybe it just means they weren't prepared for the wind and cold outside in New Orleans and just decided inside the Super Dome was the best place to be and the warmest.
It's also interesting to see the breakdown in the stands, which while still predominantly pro-Georgia, includes a lot more white shirts than originally predicted. It has been suggested as many as 15,000 Hawaii fans would come to the Sugar Bowl, only the second bowl game the Warriors have ever played outside their home state. But there seems to be even more than that, with Hawaii fans almost filling one entire corner of the stadium.
Already, that represents a good showing for the UH program, which is playing the biggest game in its history tonight. That's why so many people were willing to travel so far, buying Sugar Bowl packages that reportedly ranged from $2,500 to $5,000 per person. Hawaii coach June Jones said earlier in the week that some fans took out loans to pay for the trip.
So maybe the early edge in enthusiasm should go to Hawaii. That changed slightly when the Bulldogs came onto the field to a tremendous ovation, but you've still got to like the spirit of the Warriors fans. We'll find out how long that lasts when the game starts in a few minutes.
WTOC's Tim Guidera will post updates periodically throughout tonight's game.