Originally created 01/02/00

Bulldogs end season with a win



TAMPA, Fla. -- Outback Bowl 2000 turned into a giant Georgia Bulldogs bar mitzvah Saturday, an entire football program of talented but enigmatic athletes coming of age before our very eyes.

The team could have dropped into that 25-point crater Purdue conveniently dug for them, the one like several of these Bulldogs have visited too often during this "disappointing" 8-4 season.

They could have pulled a Virginia or Boston College, content to work on their tans at sunny Raymond James Stadium, to fill our ears with some convenient flu bug excuse or just claim that Drew Brees, with his boiling spread passing game, was too awesome to overcome.

Georgia has used these excuses in the past, most recently its forgettable 1999 regular season.

But the Dogs' Y2-OK began with Jim Donnan's knee-high midfield step show after Hap Hines' kick.

The Dogs staged a "rally at the camp fire," sealing college football's greatest bowl game comeback, 28-25 over Purdue, with an overtime field goal on second down.

Well, at least 1999 and the Georgia Tech hangover helped teach Donnan that it's never too quick to kick to win.

"Could you imagine what would have happened to me had we run another play and fumbled?" Donnan joked.

Donnan is not one to give impassioned speeches, but he told his troops at halftime, "If you're going to go down, go down swinging."

And when he gathered his Dogs for an impromptu team meeting before overtime began, he said "We're going to win this game, and this is going to be the greatest comeback in history."

Maybe the coach's oratory and prophecy skills improved with the change of calendars. This Outback Bowl was about a coach's confidence finally filtering down to his soldiers.

This was about a quarterback in Quincy Carter, often harassed for never winning a big football game, evolving into a comeback artist and outdueling his superior in Brees.

This was about an offense that found a Boilermaker weakness -- bailing cornerbacks and soft run support -- and rhythmically exploiting it with a variety of receiver screens.

This was about a defensethat surrendered 15 plays of 10 yards or longer the first half, then adjusted with three pass rushers, a single linebacker and seven defensive backs. Whenever Brees' boys threatened to score during the second half, Georgia's clamp would tighten.

And this was about Georgia's longest scoring drive of the season -- 94 yards on 13 plays to tie the game. In that span, the Dogs converted third-and-12 with a receiver screen to Michael Greer for 32, fourth-and-12 when second-option Terrence Edwards slipped free in a Boilers zone for a 15-yard gain, and third-and-goal when Carter threw a flutter ball that got tipped by two defenders, only to land in Randy McMichael's meaty hands.

"How 'bout that play to Randy McMichael? Just like we drew up," Donnan joked again.

Carter, with his first option covered and pressure coming from Purdue's blitzing linebackers, scrambled right.

"I saw Quincy running around, so I just sorta stayed in my area," McMichael said. "I was open, so I started waving my arms, trying to get his attention."

He was open all right, but the ball hung so long in the air that Purdue's Willie Fells and Adrian Beasley converged.

"They were fighting for the interception," McMichael said. "The ball hit one guy in the arm, the other in the face mask. Then I grabbed it. Miracle play, really."

Touchdown, Georgia. An abyss climbed. Disaster scaled. A new year to rejoice.

"You saw us grow up out there big time," Carter said. "It took us awhile, but I think we became a team that believes today."

Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219 or rdorsey@augustachronicle.com.