The Georgia Bulldogs opened their 2014 campaign with the best possible scenario—a blowout win over the Clemson Tigers. To be sure, the 45-21 victory bears great significance for head coach Mark Richt and his team's aspirations for the season.
But equally impressive is how staggeringly unique the season-opening thrashing of the Tigers was within a historical context.
The Dawgs' win vs. Clemson was the best season opener of the Richt era.
That's saying something for Richt, who has now coached in 14 season openers as the leader of the Bulldogs.
|Mark Richt Season Openers|
|Year||Opponent||Opponent AP Ranking||Result|
|2001||Arkansas State||--||45-17 Win|
|2003||at Clemson||--||30-0 Win|
|2004||Georgia Southern||--||48-28 Win|
|2005||Boise State||No. 18||48-13 Win|
|2006||Western Kentucky||--||48-12 Win|
|2007||Oklahoma State||--||35-14 Win|
|2008||Georgia Southern||--||45-21 Win|
|2009||at Oklahoma State||No. 9||10-24 Loss|
|2011||Boise State||No. 5||21-35 Loss|
|2013||at Clemson||No. 8||35-38 Loss|
|2014||Clemson||No. 16||45-21 Win|
A Lesson in Recent History
By practically any statistical measure, Saturday's win ranks among the best.
Against major conference opposition, only a 30-0 victory at Clemson in 2003 was more lopsided. Against ranked foes, only a 35-point margin of victory over Boise State in 2005 was larger.
Numbers don't tell the whole story, though. What stands out about Saturday's win was the bold statement made in the face of unknowns, as the Bulldogs turned question marks into exclamation marks.
Certainly, Richt was a bit of an unknown quantity when he took over the reins as head coach in 2001, and any new coach brings a degree of concern. But Arkansas State, the Bulldogs' debut opponent that season, entered the year hoping to merely improve on a 1-10 2000 season. Little was learned from the Bulldogs' 45-17 win over the Red Wolves.
From 2002-2004, the Bulldogs perennially contended for SEC Championships thanks to stars like David Greene and David Pollack. However, it helped that the Dawgs opened those three campaigns against unranked opponents Clemson (twice) and Georgia Southern.
The 2005 team broke in a new full-time starter at quarterback in D.J. Shockley, who—like Hutson Mason—was known by fans for his proficiency as a backup but was new to the spotlight as a first-teamer.
Much like this year, the Bulldogs transitioned to a new defensive coordinator in 2005 and opened the year at home against a ranked opponent in Boise State.
In that game, a 48-13 Georgia win, it was evident from the outset that the Broncos from Idaho were outmatched. The talent differential was exceedingly clear and a host of returning defensive stars for Georgia made the afternoon very long for Boise State.
On Saturday, there was no overwhelming gap in the quality of personnel, as both Georgia and Clemson recruit extremely well. As demonstrated by the first half, the game could have been a close contest.
A well-rounded second-half effort by the Bulldog coaching staff and players resulted in holistic domination of the Tigers. A lot more was learned about the Bulldogs in this year's win over Clemson than from the team's 2005 win over Boise State.
Beginning in 2009, Georgia's early-season scheduling increased in difficulty.
After taking on just one ranked opponent in an opener over his first eight seasons, Richt has now started four of the Bulldogs' last six seasons against a ranked foe.
Obviously, losses to Oklahoma State and Boise State in 2009 and 2011, respectively, don't merit consideration relative to this weekend's victory. Similarly, a heart-breaking, narrow loss on the road to Clemson last season missed out on this conversation by three points.
Significance Moving Forward
Of course, isolated single games—regardless of when they occur—mean very little within the grander scale of a full season.
Case in point: A convincing win over Western Kentucky did not carry over to prolonged success as the Bulldogs lost four games over a five-game stretch in 2006. Conversely, an embarrassing loss to Boise State in 2011 did not doom the Dawgs, who rallied back for a trip to the SEC Championship Game.
Perhaps the most important statistic for Bulldog fans to remember at this time is 8.33. As in, Georgia is only 8.33 percent through the regular-season gauntlet.
Richt acknowledged this notion in his weekly teleconference by saying, "I think we've played one game and we've got a long way to go."
Though Richt is not ready to celebrate, it helps that Georgia addressed concerns on Saturday, and there's great encouragement to be found in the momentum that comes with what Tony Barnhart of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called the Bulldogs' "most complete" game since 2007.
But this is a long season.
So while it can be said that this was the best season opener of the Richt era, the Dawgs want this game to ultimately leave a different legacy.
For Georgia, the hope is that this win—one defined by mistake-free offense, sound defensive adjustments and clean special teams play—will later be viewed as a game that accurately reflects the entire 2014 season.
That would be an accomplishment worth celebrating.