Georgia football and Ohio State are two of the most well-known football brands out there, and yet they’ve only played each other one other time. They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but that cannot be said for the history of the Bulldogs and Buckeyes.
Individually their history is long and impressive. Only two years separate the births of these two historied teams. Ohio State football’s inaugural season was in 1890, with Georgia football’s just two years later. Both teams are rightly considered among college football blue bloods.
This clash of college football royalty makes this week’s Peach Bowl one that will determine which of these two behemoths will challenge for a national championship — the nation’s biggest game of the season.
Georgia football and its history with the Ohio State Buckeyes
What makes this such an intriguing matchup is that both teams are strangers to each other. In fact, in the 130-odd years of each team’s existence, the Bulldogs and Buckeyes have only met on one other occasion. This solitary matchup came almost 30 years ago, in the 1993 Citrus Bowl. The game was played at the old Citrus Bowl in Orlando, the now Camping World Stadium, in front of 65,861 fans.
The 1992/1993 season was not a dominant time in the Buckeyes’ history. Ohio State was under head coach John Cooper and, going into the bowl game, ranked No. 15 in the country. With a terrible record against the Buckeyes’ fiercest rivals Michigan, Cooper found himself under pressure. In fact, Cooper’s job had been saved mid-season with a tie against Michigan in “The Game.” During Cooper’s 13-year spell in Columbus, the Buckeyes head coach held a 2-10-1 record against the Wolverines.
By contrast, Georgia was in no such slump. Head coach Ray Goff had guided the Bulldogs to a 9-2 record in the regular season, winning 13 of their last 16 games. While Georgia had finished runners-up in the SEC, they had lost only two games in the regular season. These two defeats to Tennessee and Florida were by a combined five points, with Tennessee becoming SEC champions. Georgia was ranked the No. 8 team in the season’s end AP poll.
The undoubted star of the Georgia football team was running back Garrison Hearst. In 1993 Hearst was named SEC Player of the Year, Doak Award winner, and went No.3 overall in the NFL Draft that same year. A true legend in the school’s history.
Hearst featured in a Georgia offense that was potent. Throughout the season, sophomore quarterback Eric Zeier led the Bulldogs’ offense to a then-school record average of 450 offensive yards per game. This would not be the last record that Zeier and the Bulldogs’ offense would set.
On the defensive side of the ball was a very familiar face to Georgia fans. A man who continues his Bulldogs relationship to this day as defensive coordinator, Will Muschamp, played safety in 1993.
On the opposing sideline, an equally familiar face to us all was the Ohio State quarterback, Kirk Herbstreit. If you have read Herbstreit’s autobiography ” Out of the Pocket,” you will know what a challenging time Herbstreit had in Columbus. Faced with living up to his father’s footballing legacy under the legendary Woody Hayes, Herbstreit couldn’t establish himself as the starting quarterback.
In fact, in the previous season, he had seriously considered transferring out of Columbus. However, he stayed, playing one season under center, with the Citrus Bowl game being the final game in his challenging five-year career. Ultimately the game was another disappointment for Herbstreit and his Buckeye teammates.
The game was close, tied at 14-14 well into the fourth quarter. With the Buckeyes 3rd and 11 on the Bulldogs’ 16-yard line, Herbstreit and running back Jeff Cochran had a miscommunication and collided at the handoff. They fumbled the ball, and it ended up on the ground. Georgia’s defense recovered the ball to put the Bulldogs back in the driving seat.
Georgia’s offense put together an eleven-play, 80-yard game-winning touchdown drive, completed by a one-yard touchdown run by Frank Harvey. In the game’s last play, Herbstreit attempted a fifty-yard Hail Mary, which Georgia’s own Mike Jones intercepted. Georgia won the game 21-14 to secure the Citrus Bowl victory.
Hearst was named the Citrus Bowl MVP after scoring two touchdowns and rushing for 163 yards. He ended up in the Georgia history books second only to Herschel Walker. Hearst’s career records in Athens finished with 3,232 rushing yards, 3,934 all-purpose yards, and sixteen 100-yard rushing games — the last of which was his 163 yards in the Citrus Bowl. Not to mention, Hearst scored 21 touchdowns in his three years playing for the Bulldogs.
Zeier threw for 242 yards and completed 21-of-31 pass attempts in this game. His Georgia career continued for a further two seasons breaking almost every SEC record in the process, and this isn’t an exaggeration. By the time Zeier left Athens, he had held 67 school records and 18 SEC records. His 11,153 passing yards have been beaten only by Peyton Manning, David Greene and Aaron Murray.
This Buckeyes defeat continued what was a dreadful record against SEC opposition. The Buckeyes wouldn’t record a bowl victory over an SEC opponent until 2010 when they overcame Arkansas to win the Sugar Bowl.
The Buckeyes’ bowl record against SEC teams should be music to Georgia Bulldog fans’ ears. Since that 1993 defeat to Georgia, the Buckeyes have met SEC teams on nine occasions in Bowl games, winning only three of those games.
So the statistics are in Georgia’s favor for this classic matchup. Without showing disrespect to the Citrus Bowl, there is so much more at stake in this season’s Peach Bowl. The prospect of Georgia going on to defend its national championship is almost too much to think about for fans. Still, it is a real possibility with the Bulldogs’ favored to outwit the Buckeyes. Thankfully the history books back up this theory.
With the sole matchup so far being such a close affair and won by capitalizing off a mistake and then a long winning drive, Georgia fans will hope that the Peach Bowl won’t be such a tense affair — but it will be, whether it is close is another matter.