UGA 1980 National Championship Season
September 6: The University of Georgia opened its football season by visiting the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville, Tennessee, before the largest crowd (to that time) to ever see a college football game in the South. Little was expected of the Bulldogs after their disappointing 6-5 season in 1979. And indeed things did not start very well. Tennessee controlled the game for the first half and well into the third quarter, building a 15-0 lead. Then Tennessee safety Bill Bates fumbled a punt after a vicious hit; both teams scrambled for the ball but neither could control it as it went through the end zone for a safety making the score 15-2. Seeking a way to jump start his sluggish offense, Georgia Coach Vince Dooley inserted freshman running back Herschel Walker into the lineup.
For more on Herschel Walker, see the New Georgia Encyclopedia.
After a pass play moved the ball to the Tennessee sixteen yard line, Walker took a pitch out and exhibited his amazing grace and power. Deftly splitting two defenders he met Bill Bates just inside the ten yard line and proceeded to run over him on the way to scoring a touchdown. (Ironically, Walker and Bates would eventually be teammates on the professional Dallas Cowboys). Still trailing 15-9, the inspired Georgia defense held Tennessee and returned the ball to Herschel Walker and the Georgia offense.
Driving to the six yard line, the freshman sensation showed his speed by taking a pitch and outrunning blitzing Tennessee linebackers to the corner of the end zone. The extra point kick put Georgia ahead 16-15. Tennessee mounted a late challenge by driving to the Georgia four yard line, where the ball was stripped from a running back and recovered by Georgia. Walker’s exploits earned him national notoriety and this big come from behind win propelled Georgia into the national limelight as well.
September 13: In a game rated a toss-up by football odds makers, the Georgia Bulldogs trounced 17th ranked Texas A&M 42-0. Freshman sensation Herschel Walker led the offense with 145 yards rushing and three touchdowns, while the defense shut out an opponent which was averaging over 460 yards per game previously. This big win left Georgia with a record of 2-0 on the season.
September 20: The Georgia Bulldogs played the Clemson Tigers in their third football game of the 1980 season. This was a particularly bitter battle for several reasons - the schools are very near each other geographically, both played hard-nosed defense and emphasized the running game, and Clemson had been the other finalist in the recruitment of Herschel Walker. Clemson came into the game intent on stopping Walker. They were successful to a point in that Walker didn’t score, but he did gain 121 yards. But, it was Georgia defensive back and punt return specialist Scott Woerner who was the hero of the game. Woerner returned the first punt of the game 67 yards for a touchdown. He later returned an interception 98 yards to set up another touchdown.
Clemson rallied to within four points of Georgia, but with time running out Georgia linebacker Frank Ros tipped a pass into the air, and free safety Jeff Hipp outfought a Clemson receiver for the ball on the Georgia one-yard line. Clemson still had time to make one final push if they could hold Georgia without a first down - but they didn’t count on Herschel Walker’s speed. The Johnson County running back outran several blitzing Clemson defenders to the corner and sprinted for a twenty-yard gain. The run gave Georgia a first down and time to run out the clock for a hard fought 20-16 victory. The win moved Georgia up to #10 in the national polls.
September 27: The Georgia Bulldogs defeated visiting Texas Christian to go 4-0 on the young season. Georgia’s defense had another strong day, while freshman sensation Herschel Walker injured his ankle. But the rest of the Georgia offense stepped up to lead the Dawgs to victory.
October 11: After an off week, the University of Georgia football team returned to the Southeastern Conference portion of its 1980 season (opening game with Tennessee was also first conference game) with a 28-21 win over the University of Mississippi. With Herschel Walker injured, reserve running back Carnie Norris and quarterback Buck Belue took up the slack, accounting for over 250 yards and two touchdowns between them.
October 18: Freshman sensation Herschel Walker, recoverd from his sprained ankle, dominated the game, and Georgia’s “Junkyard Dawg” defense produced a shutout as Georgia defeated Vanderbilt 41-0. Walker rushed for 283 yards and three touchdowns. In comparison, Vanderbilt’s entire team gained only 228 yards. The game was played before a homecoming crowd in Sanford Stadium and moved UGA to 6-0 on the season and 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference.
October 25: The University of Georgia Bulldogs continued their unbeaten season with a 27-0 victory over Kentucky in Lexington. Herschel Walker ran for 135 yards and a touchdown, while quarterback Buck Belue threw for 228 yards and another touchdown. Also, Georgia’s defense recorded its second straight shutout. The win upped Georgia’s record to 7-0 on the season, and 4-0 in the Southeastern Conference.
November 1: In a titanic struggle between two highly ranked teams featuring the two best running backs in the nation, the Georgia Bulldogs defeated the South Carolina Gamecocks 13-10 to remain undefeated in the 1980 season. South Carolina senior running back George Rogers, who would go on to win the Heisman trophy for this season, was upstaged by Georgia freshman phenomenon Herschel Walker. Rogers (a native of Duluth, Georgia) gained 174 yards, but had a costly fumble in the fourth quarter as South Carolina was attempting to rally. Walker outdid his counterpart by rushing for 225 yards, including an incredible 76 yard touchdown run in which he exhibited his blazing speed by running past three defenders who all seemed to have an angle to force him out of bounds. With this victory, Georgia moved to number two in both national polls, setting up a showdown with arch-rival Florida the following week.
November 8: According to most observers, the most memorable football play in Georgia Bulldog history occurred this day at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. The occasion was the annual Georgia-Florida game. Georgia entered the game unbeaten and ranked second in the nation. Ironically, the number one team - Notre Dame - was playing Georgia’s arch-rival Georgia Tech in Atlanta the same day. Georgia started off like one of the top teams in the land, as freshman Herschel Walker took a pitch out on his first carry of the game and raced 72 yards for a touchdown. Quarterback Buck Belue added a touchdown pass in the second quarter, but Florida then answered with a touchdown and field goal - and Georgia went into halftime leading 14-10.
In the third quarter, Bulldog Rex Robinson kicked two field goals to increase Georgia’s lead to 20-10. However, Florida then began to rally. Scoring a touchdown, two-point conversion, and a field goal, Florida took a 21-20 lead. Georgia got the ball deep in its own territory. With just over a minute left in the game, the Bulldogs were faced with third down on on their own eight-yard line. Hopes for an undefeated season now seemed doomed. Then the miracle happened! Quarterback Buck Belue dropped back to pass; rushed by a Florida defensive lineman, he rolled to his right. Suddenly he saw wide receiver Lindsay Scott breaking open in the middle of the field. Lobbing the ball over a defender’s outstretched arms, Belue saw Scott make the catch, hoping it was enough for a first down. But Scott, who had spent time in Coach Vince Dooley’s disciplinary doghouse early in the year and had been forced to work himself back into the coach’s good graces, came down with the catch, simultaneously turning to look for room to run. He slipped, put his hand on the ground to catch himself, then sprinted for the sideline, hoping to get out of bounds and stop the clock. But his slip had forced the Florida defenders to over commit themselves, and Scott found the sideline wide open. Turning on his blazing speed (second on the team only to Walker’s), Scott out ran all defenders to the end zone for a ninety-two yard touchdown! The normally stoic Vince Dooley ran along with him, pinwheeling his arms ferociously! Legendary Georgia radio announcer Larry Munson abandoned all pretense of objectivity and bellowed “Run, Lindsay! . . . Lindsay Scott!!. . . Lindsay Scott!! . . . Lindsay Scott!!”
As Scott crossed the goal line the Georgia fans erupted into pandemonious cheering that broke all decibel and longevity records, many pouring out onto the field to join in the celebration! But the game and good news were not over. Florida had one final chance - but that ended when Jacksonville-native Mike Fischer intercepted a Florida pass, and the clock ran out. Georgia won by the score of 26-21. But, then came the unbelievable word from Atlanta - Georgia Tech had tied Notre Dame! The Georgia Bulldogs were now the number one team in the nation!
November 15: Ranked number one in the national polls, the Georgia Bulldogs faced a critical road game at Auburn. Since playing their first game in 1892, the Georgia-Auburn game had developed into the longest football rivalry in the Deep South. In addition to Georgia’s national ranking being on the line, the game took additional significance, as Auburn was Georgia head coach Vince Dooley‘s alma mater. In this year’s game, Auburn took an early lead, but Georgia regained the momentum with a blocked punt which was returned for a touchdown. Auburn keyed their defensive efforts on Herschel Walker all day and held him to 84 rushing yards. But Bulldog quarterback Buck Belue took up the slack, rushing for 84 yards and a touchdown himself, while passing for 99 yards and another touchdown. Walker wasn’t kept down the entire game - he iced Georgia’s victory with an 18-yard touchdown run in which he reversed his field after seemingly being stopped for a loss. The 31-21 win clinched the Southeastern Conference championship for Georgia and left them with a 10-0 record, the final regular season game to be played against in-state rival Georgia Tech, after an off week.
November 29: Led by freshman phenom Herschel Walker‘s 205 yards rushing and three touchdowns, the Georgia Bulldogs vanquished arch rival Georgia Tech 38-20 to complete an undefeated regular season. Walker not only led the team to victory, but also broke the national single season rushing record when he blasted up the middle, powering over several defenders along the way, on a 65-yard touchdown run which iced Georgia’s victory. Now the only thing standing in the way of a national championship for the Bulldogs was a January 1 clash with Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.
January 1 (1981): The Georgia Bulldogs used spectacular special teams play, an opportunistic defense, and 150 rushing yards from Herschel Walker to defeat Notre Dame 17-10 in the Sugar Bowl. The win completed an unlikely undefeated season for Georgia, and assured them of being the national champions in both major media polls. Walker played despite having his shoulder separated early in the game; he came to the sideline, had it popped back into place, then returned to the game. He was only able to carry the ball in one hand for the remainder of the game, but carried it very well. UGA coach Vince Dooley was carried off the field on the shoulders of his players, while Georgia fans stormed the field and celebrated well into the New Orleans night. When the team returned to Georgia, jubilant fans were there to greet them. This marked the first national championship for Georgia in the modern era of collegiate football.