Jan. 1, 1981
NEW ORLEANS – The day before Georgia met Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl, Vince Dooley was hoping his football players would spend New Year’s Eve night “in their hotel rooms, watching whatever it is they drop in New York, that ball or whatever.”
By the time the two teams had played out Georgia’s 17-10 win over Notre Dame in the 47th Sugar Bowl, Georgia had watched and claimed everything that fell from the heavens of the Superdome, including its first national championship.
The Bulldogs capitalized on two critical Notre Dame mistakes in the first half for touchdown drives of one and 22 yards, then fought back repeated Notre Dame threats in the second half giving 12-0 Georgia its first unbeaten season since 1946.
After seventh-ranked Notre Dame took a 3-0 lead on the game’s first possession, the Irish drove to the Georgia 31 the next time they had the ball. But freshman Terry Hoage shot through the middle to block Harry Oliver’s 48-yard field goal attempt. The play did two things. It led to Georgia’s first score and warned Notre Dame of the strange perils that lay ahead.
The game’s most valuable player, Herschel Walker, ran the ball six times to the Notre Dame 19 before the drive stopped and Rex Robinson kicked a 46-yard field goal to make it 3-3.
Robinson kicked off and drove the ball high and deep. Notre Dame deep backs Jim Stone and Ty Barber drifted away from the ball before it hit near the goal and began bouncing laterally. Stone had called for Barber to take the kick, but the crowd noise drowned out the call. Stone went after the ball but Georgia’s Bob Kelly recovered at the one. Two plays later Walker dove over from the one and Georgia was ahead to stay 10-3.
If the 59-yard onsides kick hadn’t done enough damage, Notre Dame gave Georgia the eventual game-winning score in the first minute of the second quarter.
Notre Dame fullback John Sweeney’s only carry of the game ended in a fumble when he was hit by linebacker Frank Ros at the Notre Dame 20. Chris Welton recovered for Georgia at the 22, the first of four Notre Dame turnovers.
Walker ran off right tackle for 12 yards and quarterback Buck Belue scrambled for seven more to the three. Walker took it over from there, scooting around right end untouched. Georgia had only three first downs and a 17-3 lead.
After Georgia went ahead on Walker’s run, Notre Dame drove to the Bulldog 13 but again came away frustrated. Quarterback Mike Courey’s lob pass for Pete Holohan was intercepted by Scott Woerner in the end zone. Midway through the third period the game’s next serious threat developed when Notre Dame again drove to the Georgia 13. It was stopped when Woerner tipped away a Blair Kiel pass to Holohan in the end zone.
If Georgia’s special teams ignited the win, the Bulldog defense fanned the flames in the second half. Belue went almost 58 minutes of the game without a completion and finished one-for-12. Walker, who gained 95 yards on 17 first-half carries managed only 55 on 19 second-half attempts.
As the third period wore on, Notre Dame’s size began taking its toll on the smaller Bulldogs. Hanging in became an obvious chore.
With five minutes rem aining in the third period Kiel – who quarterbacked the entire second half after Courey broke his right hand just before halftime – drove Notre Dame 57 methodical yards in 10 impressive plays. Phil Carter scored from one yard out and Oliver’s kick made it 17-10 with :54 left in the third period.
On its next possession Notre Dame drove from its 46 to the Georgia 27 in five quick plays. But just when it appeared the Irish had the Bulldogs on the ropes, Woerner made another big play. On third and three at the Bulldog 20, the Georgia safety sliced through and dropped Phil Carter for a one-yard loss. Oliver – who had a one-for-four day on field goals – missed a 38-yard attempt.
Georgia defensive coordinator Erk Russell watched the mounting Irish momentum with a degree of concern. Notre Dame’s domination – the Irish outgained Georgia 328 yards to 127 and had a 78-65 edge in plays – appeared to be mounting with each possession.
With nine minutes remaining Georgia had an opportunity to put Notre Dame out of reach of a one-touchdown comeback. Kiel’s deep sideline pass from Hunter was intercepted by Mike Fisher at the Notre Dame 37. An incomplete long pass and two running plays by Walker gained six yards. Robinson pushed his 48-yard field goal wide to the right.
Most Outstanding Offensive Player
Vagas Ferguson, Running Back
Most Outstanding Defensive Player
Bob Golic, Linebacker