ATHENS, Ga. — The man most likely to receive the Heisman Trophy this season left the Sanford Stadium field Saturday clutching a piece of shrubbery and yelling, "Woof, woof." Ladies and gentlemen, re-introducing Auburn running back Bo Jackson--gardener, canine enthusiast and, for a change, healthy.
Jackson helped provide the Auburn Tigers with a tidy 24-10 victory over the Georgia Bulldogs and, in the process, solidified his status as the most deserving of the Heisman Trophy candidates. Two touchdowns, both of them impressive, and 121 yards of rushing against the nation's third-ranked run defense should lessen the criticism heaped on Jackson in recent weeks.
"We just did what we had to do," Jackson said. Then, looking at the small branch he took from the hedges that surround the Georgia playing field, Jackson said:"This is something I can put in my trophy case."
Soon he may be able to add a stiff-arming statuette, though, Jackson declined to become involved in conjecture.
"It's in the back of my mind and that's where it will stay," he said. "I didn't come into this game running for the Heisman. I didn't go out there to better my stats for the Heisman."
He could have fooled Georgia, which was a spectator during a 67-yard Jackson touchdown run and later a six-yard scoring effort that included the planting of defensive back Miles Smith into the stadium turf. "I ran over someone," Jackson allowed.
Auburn didn't do too badly for itself, either. Coach Pat Dye received a visit from a Sugar Bowl representative after Saturday's game, but the discussion was brief and almost forced. Auburn (8-2) was eliminated from the Southeastern Conference race and the Sugar Bowl berth that goes to the winner when LSU won Saturday night.
Georgia (7-2-1) had more realistic hopes of a visit to New Orleans. A win over Auburn Saturday was required, as well as a Tennessee loss or tie in its final three SEC games. Instead, scouts from seven different bowls (Sugar, Fiesta, Cotton, Sun, Citrus, Bluebonnet and Cherry) and another sellout audience of 82,122 watched Auburn control a team that only a week earlier defeated then-No. 1-ranked Florida.
Auburn supporters can address their thank you notes to a defense that prevented four fourth-down scoring attempts by Georgia, two of them with less than seven minutes remaining and the game still in question. Auburn also forced one interception, three fumbles and added a blocked field goal that later resulted in a touchdown.
Correspondence also may go to Auburn quarterback Pat Washington and offensive coordinator Jack Crowe, both of whom have received generous amounts of criticism this season. Washington was ranked 13th out of 14 in SEC passing efficiency. Crowe was the coach who called the plays.
Against Georgia, Washington and Crowe did little wrong. Washington passed for 122 yards, which doesn't sound like much until you remember that he averages about 55 yards a game. Crowe also helped his standing by orchestrating a varied attack that kept Georgia on edge. Try this: Jackson caught his first two passes of the season.
It is Jackson who deserves the most attention. After spending the week perched on a stationary bicycle (an injured right thigh prevented him from practicing), Jackson announced himself 95%healed. Dye and Georgia Coach Vince Dooley added to the festivities by agreeing that Saturday's game was a fitting place for Jackson to earn his Heisman Trophy once and for all.
Jackson, recently chastised for his supposed pain threshold (low, said detractors)and his alleged desire to avoid major injury in this, his senior season, obliged Dye and Dooley. As for his doubters, Jackson said:"A person who can't take criticism is a fool. I'll let the team performance speak for itself."
Anyway, Jackson said: "Who else can they pick on?"
Georgia contained Jackson during the first quarter and held a 7-3 lead midway through the second period. A 49-yard field goal by Auburn's Chris Johnson was bettered by a four-yard touchdown run by Georgia quarterback James Jackson.
But Auburn went ahead, 10-7, when the other Jackson took a pitch, broke two tackles and easily outran the Bulldog defense for a 67-yard score. "A thing of beauty," Dooley said.
Later in the period, with time running out, Crowe called a reverse to split end Freddy Weygand. Weygand ran eight yards for another score and a 17-7 Auburn lead.
Georgia added a field goal of 50 yards by Steve Crumley in the third quarter, but Auburn scored once more, this time in the fourth period on Jackson's six-yard run. Georgia was forced to try something unfamiliar: pass.
"We outgained Georgia, but lost in both 1981 and 1982," said Dye, who has a long memory. "Tonight, Georgia was forced to catch up."