KNOXVILLE, Tenn. —
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham celebrates as the Georgia Bulldogs beats the Tennessee Volunteers 20-12 at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, October 8, 2011 in Knoxville, Tn.
Almost exactly a decade since the famed “Hobnail Boot” play lifted Georgia over Tennessee in 2001, Mark Richt again found something to celebrate in Neyland Stadium.
That game in Richt’s first season has been called the coach’s first signature win, and with the circumstances of this year’s meeting in Knoxville, this might qualify as his latest.
Maybe it’s not a big signature, but Saturday’s 20-12 victory planted a flag for the coach and this year’s squad.
Not only did Richt reach 100 victories — all with Georgia — but the win gives the Bulldogs an even larger share of the SEC East lead with South Carolina, just a few weeks after it was popular opinion that the coach wouldn’t last until midseason.
Quarterback Aaron Murray called it the biggest game of the season.
Cornerback Brandon Boykin said it was the sweetest win of his career.
And the milestone stirred within Richt a comparison to his marriage or more than 20 years.
“It’s just like I’m about to hit my 25th wedding anniversary. That’s a big deal,” Richt said. “For whatever reason, those 25s, and 50s and 100s seem to be a little bit more meaningful, and I’m just glad that I’m here.”
Unlike the 2001 game, however, there was less huzzah. There was no late game-winning play, no trickery and no surprise. Just satisfaction in the face of doubters.
It was just as important for Georgia that Richt finally make a statement in Knoxville of all places, where his team last won in 2005, and against Tennessee, a team Richt last won consecutive games against when the Bulldogs won three straight in 2001-03.
“Coming into this stadium and winning is a really tough task,” Boykin said. “And with it giving us that 4-2 record, it’s a great feeling.”
There was some celebrating in the locker room, Richt said. Part of that was for the Bulldogs’ place in the SEC East race, where they now stand with just South Carolina at 3-1. Part of it, too, was that players wanted to push Richt across the threshold or an elite club of college coaches to not only reach 100, but do it at the same school.
And part of it was that, when the final notes of Rocky Top finished echoing, Georgia had something to sing about for once in Neyland Stadium.
“When you’re winning, you’re having fun,” Murray said. “That’s not just the players, but the coaches. I know they’re enjoying it right now.”