Originally created 08/31/97

Fumbles bring back demons of last year



ATHENS, Ga. -- Barely two minutes into the game, it started over again.

Patrick Pass, who gets Georgia fans more excited than a late-night jaunt to Waffle House, took a handoff from quarterback Mike Bobo and sprinted around left end for what looked like a nice gain.

Something unexplainable happened, though. Somehow, the young tailback dropped the ball.

"It just came out," he said.

Nobody hit him. It fell from his hands and plopped on the pretty green grass, gradually becoming a pork rind under the bright sun until Arkansas State's Chappell Mitchell pounced on it.

And just like that, the excruciating memories of last season came flooding back to coach Jim Donnan and his players and most of the 79,145 sun-burned faces who bothered to show up at Sanford Stadium on Saturday.

Fortunately for the Bulldogs, they were playing Arkansas State, not Southern Mississippi or Auburn or even Vanderbilt. So that fumble and the one tailback Robert Arnaud later lost and Bobo's interception to end the second half really didn't matter much in a 38-7 victory over a team generally considered one of worst in Division I.

One game, and the team that was last in the Southeastern Conference in turnover ratio in 1996, is already down three.

"Coach Donnan was hot about those fumbles. Those got him upset," receiver Hines Ward said. "We stressed not turning the ball over all spring, all summer and all week. We practice that every day. Every day. I don't know. We just can't help shooting ourselves in the foot. Boy, that got him upset."

Isn't it a bad omen to commit three turnovers against a team that considers Central Arkansas its main rival when South Carolina is coming to town in two weeks?

Remember, the Bulldogs gave the ball to Southern Miss four times in last year's opener and finished the season with more turnovers than McDonald's sells in a week.

On the pace they established Saturday, they would finish with 33 turnovers, even worse than last year's total of 29. Forcing Donnan to watch another 11 games filled with slippery fingers and ill-advised passes would be worse than having to sit through 66 episodes of Murder, She Wrote.

"I'm disgusted over those two turnovers (fumbles)," he said. "We've got to work hard to cut those out. We're already oh-and-three in that category."

Donnan, however, managed to find the fruit filling in Saturday's turnovers.

"At least we didn't turn the ball over on our side of the field," he said. "Last year, we did. Things are decidedly different when you turn the ball over on the other side of the 50."

Which is true.

Pass fumbled on Arkansas State's 23, and three plays later, the Bulldogs got the ball back. Arnaud fumbled on the Indians' 47 on the first play of the fourth quarter, and again, they couldn't do anything with it.

"I'm very upset at myself because of that," Pass said. "I never fumble. The ball just sticks to me. Somehow it just popped out."

Bobo's interception was on a Hail Mary on the final play of the first half, so that, too, was inconsequential.

"South Carolina is much more of a quality team, so we can't afford to be doing that when we play them," Ward said. "We can't turn the ball over like we did today. That's all we've been talking about. We can't do that any more."

Georgia's players have sworn the problems of the past are behind them. They know the system and the plays and the coaching staff. They say they have the talent. They're ready to lift the program back to where it was 15 years ago.

"It's time to forget about last year," Donnan said.

That's hard to do when you keep giving folks the ball.