Steve Spurrier has some ideas on what Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff should do against Alabama to reverse the outcome of the SEC championship game and give the Bulldogs the national title.
After all, he has experience with that kind of thing.
Spurrier and the Florida Gators bounced back from a season-ending loss at the hands of Florida State in 1996, and then 33 days later they turned around and defeated the Seminoles to win the school’s first national title.
“(Georgia has) to go back and look at what Auburn did for almost four quarters. Auburn stopped (Alabama) a lot, ”says Spurrier. Instead of playing with his normal defenses, this has to be something different.
This is exactly how Spurrier achieved his national title victory, only it was on the other side of the ball.
When Florida and Florida State met in the final week of the regular season in 1996, both teams had 10-0 records. Florida ranked No. 1, FSU No. 2, and the scene was a thunderous Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee searching for blood. Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel was heading for the Heisman Trophy, and he had three wide receivers (Ike Hilliard, Jacquez Green and Reidel Anthony) who would be selected within the top 34 picks of the next two NFL Drafts.
Bobby Bowden and Florida State decided they just weren’t going to let Wuerffel throw it to receivers around the world without paying a price. Drawing on the energy of the home crowd, Florida State hit and hurt the Florida quarterback, winning two passer penalties and recording six sacks.
“FSU, according to Danny Wuerffel’s father, who watched the tape, knocked him down 34 times after he threw the ball,” says Spurrier. “For whatever reason, the SEC umpires only called one or two ‘manhandling passers’.”
Wuerffel had three touchdowns and 362 yards, but he also threw three interceptions. Florida missed a field goal and a punt was blocked, and when the last shot rang out, the goal posts snapped under a scoreboard that read FSU 24, Florida 21.
“We had a returned touchdown (for stamina), but they probably beat us,” says Spurrier.
When the Gators returned to Gainesville, preparations began for the SEC Championship Game against an Alabama team that was 9-2 and allowed only 12.4 points per game. After seeing his star quarterback get hit by a fierce passing run from Florida State, Spurrier feared the same could happen against Alabama. So he spoke to his center, he spoke to his quarterback, and he said it was time to start using the shotgun formation to give his passer a little extra time.
It worked. Wuerffel threw for 401 yards and six touchdowns as the Gators fired the Tide 45-30. It was Florida’s fourth consecutive SEC championship.
“They played run and run, man to man throughout the game,” says Spurrier. “They smothered other teams, but we had receivers that they couldn’t cover.”
The loss to Florida State had left the Gators No. 4 in the AP poll, but the victory over Alabama, along with No. 3 Nebraska’s loss to Texas in the Big 12 championship game, pushed Florida to the No. 3. He also set up for a rematch with No. 1 FSU in the Sugar Bowl on January 2. When Ohio State defeated No. 2 Arizona State in the Rose Bowl on January 1, the Sugar Bowl became the game that would decide the national championship.
Spurrier says that, for the first time in his career, he went to the pregame officials’ meeting and asked the team for their position on the “pass the passer” penalties.
“It was a Big 12 team and the guy was from Texas,” says Spurrier. “He said, ‘Coach, it’s pretty simple. If the guy is throwing the ball and the runner knows it, you can’t hit him. I could collide with him, but he can’t lower his arm. “
Armed with two offensive tackles that missed the first FSU game and the shotgun formation against the same man-to-man defense Alabama employed, plus the umpires “called ‘mishandling the right passer,'” Florida opened a game. tight in the second half and ran away from the Seminoles 52-20. The Gators scored the final 28 points of the game and Wuerffel had 304 yards and three touchdowns passing plus a rushing touchdown.
“We had a little more ‘anger’ after the way they beat Danny Wuerffel late,” says Spurrier.
Twenty-five years later, Georgia will attempt to turn Alabama around in Indianapolis 36 days after suffering a 41-24 loss in the SEC Championship Game. Alabama quarterback Bryce Young threw for 421 yards and three touchdowns at Atlanta, and Georgia’s fierce defense had no sacks despite Young throwing 44 times.
“Alabama has outstanding receivers. But Georgia has good defensive backs, ”Spurrier says. “Good passing teams are hard to stop if you don’t put pressure on the quarterback. You have to disguise your toppings. They have to do something different. “
Spurrier doesn’t think Georgia has to overcome any mental blocks. He said his best Florida teams thought they could beat everyone they faced if they played well, and he believes the Bulldogs have the same mindset.
Georgia is yet to come. They just beat them the last time they played Alabama, ”he says. “I think Georgia has a good chance of winning the game. At some point, Alabama is going to play a not-so-great game. It seems like every year they play that national championship game and they have an excellent game. “