ARKANSAS STATE: In 1997 Jim Donnan faced Arkansas State at the beginning of his second season. During his first season, Georgia finished a disappointing 5-6 but showed signs of improvement toward the end of the season. This improvement carried over into 1997 as Georgia thrashed Arkansas State 38-7 and went on to a 9-2 season and Outback Bowl appearance. In 2001 Mark Richt made his head coaching debut with a 45-17 win over Arkansas State. But how on earth did Arkansas State manage to score 17 points on Georgia?
NEW MEXICO STATE: In 2000 Jim Donnan shut out New Mexico State 37-0. In 2002 Mark Richt faced New Mexico State. New Mexico State led 7-0 for almost the entire first quarter, and Georgia struggled horrifically on offense before a Bruce Thornton punt return for a touchdown sparked them into motion. From that point on Georgia was on cruise control, and they won 41-10.
GEORGIA SOUTHERN: In 2000 Jim Donnan opened the season with Georgia Southern, and won easily 29-7. In 2004 Mark Richt opened the season with Georgia Southern. He had to reinsert his starters in the fourth quarter when Georgia Southern pulled to within 41-28. Georgia then went on to win 48-28.
AT ARKANSAS: In 2000 Jim Donnan went to Fayetteville and won easily 38-7. In 2004 Mark Richt went to Fayetteville to face an Arkansas team that was hyped up for their big showdown with Georgia in front of a packed house of screaming Arkansas fans. Georgia was lucky to escape with a 20-14 win; the game was not safe until the fourth quarter when David Pollack sacked Matt Jones and knocked him out of the game.
LONE WIN OVER FLORIDA: In 1997 Jim Donnan had his only win over Florida. Georgia jumped out to a 14-3 halftime lead. Florida scored two quick touchdowns to take the lead 17-14, but Georgia took control of the ball, the clock, and the game with long, time-consuming drives for a touchdown, a field goal, and another touchdown. Robert Edwards put an exclamation point on this one with a 45-yard touchdown run with a minute left in the game. The final score was 37-17. In 2004 Mark Richt had his lone win over Florida to date. Georgia led 17-0 at the half, but Florida pulled to within 24-21 during the fourth quarter and could have easily swindled yet another win from Georgia. But Georgia held on to win 31-24.
WISCONSIN IN THE OUTBACK BOWL: In 1997 Jim Donnan faced Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. Georgia came out in their traditional silver britches for pregame warmups, then went back into the locker room and, much to everyone’s surprise, came back out onto the field in black pants. The surprise factor must have given Georgia a huge lift; Georgia crushed Wisconsin that day 33-6. (I liked the black pants. But the next year Georgia wore black pants for the Florida game and got killed 38-7, and the black pants never saw the light of day again.) In 2004 Mark Richt faced Wisconsin in the Outback Bowl. He did not attempt to pull anything like Jim Donnan’s black pants stunt this time. Georgia got off to a slow start in the first quarter, as Wisconsin took a 6-3 lead. But Georgia came back and took a 24-6 lead in the third quarter. Wisconsin then made things very interesting as they scored two quick touchdowns to pull within 24-21, but Georgia held on to win.
NORTHEAST LOUISIANA: In 1997 Jim Donnan faced Northeast Louisiana and won 42-3. The highlight of this game was a fake punt in the first quarter with Georgia leading 14-0. Jim Donnan took a lot of criticism for this call, but it made sense at the time. Georgia was punting from their own end zone into a stiff wind; Northeast Louisiana would have gotten the ball in excellent field position, where they could have scored to cut the lead to 14-7 and then caused Georgia no end of trouble. So Jim Donnan called for the fake punt. It worked; Georgia got a first down and went on to score on that possession, then went on to the easy win. In 2005 Mark Richt faced Northeast Louisiana (which now styles itself the University of Louisiana-Monroe). Georgia won 44-7, but Northeast Louisiana’s option-oriented, ball-control offense was a thorn in Georgia’s side all day long. Georgia scored on their first two possessions, but took the entire first quarter to do it. By halftime the lead was only 17-0. On the opening kickoff of the second half, Northeast Louisiana attempted and recovered an onside kick, then took it all the way down for a score to make it 17-7. It stayed that way for most of the third quarter, until a rash of unusual scores, including a fumble recovered in the end zone for a touchdown, put Georgia firmly in control.
AT MISSISSIPPI STATE: Jim Donnan faced Mississippi State in Starkville (or Stark-Vegas as it is sometimes called) and came away with a rollicking 38-19 win. Mark Richt went to Stark-Vegas in 2005. Georgia dominated Mississippi State all night long, but could never put the game away. The final score was a less-than-impressive 23-10.