40: Matthew Stafford, Quarterback #7 (2006 – 2008)
Before Matthew Stafford enrolled early at Georgia in January of 2006, the expectations for the Dallas native were already off the charts. The strong-armed quarterback from Texas came to Athens as one of the biggest recruits since Herschel and only increased expectations on his first pass in Sanford Stadium. During G-Day, Stafford entered the game to a standing ovation from the Georgia faithful and found Mikey Henderson for a 67 yard touchdown pass. The bar had been set extremely high but Stafford would answer most of those expectations in the next three seasons.
Joe Tereshinski won the starting job to begin the 2006 season, but everyone knew it was a only a matter of time before Stafford became the starter. In the season opener against Western Kentucky, Stafford came into the game in the second half and led the Dawgs on a scoring drive that culminated in a touchdown pass to tight end Coleman Watson. The next week, Joe T was injured at South Carolina and Stafford came in. While he was not brilliant (throwing three interceptions) he showed flashes of what he could do. He made his first start against UAB the following week. As Georgia struggled through the ’06 season, Stafford too dealt with pains of being a freshman starter in the SEC. following the loss against Tennessee, Stafford was made the permanent starter and against Auburn a few weeks later, he proved what the hype was all about. In a game dubbed the Massacre on the Plains, Stafford led Georgia to an upset victory over the #5 ranked Tigers. Stafford would help the Dawgs close the season with two more victories over ranked teams (Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech). For the season, he threw for 1,749 yards on 52.1% completion for 7 touchdowns.
In 2007, Georgia had an amazing season that ended with a Sugar Bowl victory and #2 overall ranking. Stafford’s development into the potential he showed coming into college was one of the main reasons. The season opened with a solid win over Oklahoma State, but the season really got going against Alabama. With the Dawgs down 3 in overtime, Stafford threw a perfect touch pass to Mikey Henderson for a touchdown, giving the Dawgs a 26-23 victory over the Tide. A few weeks later in Jacksonville, Stafford passed for 217 yards and three touchdowns in a rousing victory over Florida. He continued his solid play in the Blackout victory over Auburn and the beat down of Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl. Stafford finished his sophomore season with 2,533 yards and 19 touchdowns. In his first full season as starter, he reduced his interceptions from 13 to 10 and improved his completion percentage to almost 56%.
Georgia entered the 2008 season with a preseason #1 ranking and a lot of hype on the duo of Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno. While the Dawgs failed to live up to the national championship aspirations many of us had, Stafford did turn in one of the best single seasons by a quarterback in Georgia history. After a great game in the desert in Arizona State and a solid effort in the loss to Alabama, Stafford earned his first career 300 yard game on 25 of 36 passing performance (69%) against Tennessee. He then threw for 376 yards and three scores, including the game winning touchdown in the final minutes, in the victory at Kentucky. In his final home game at Georgia, Stafford had his finest game throwing for 407 yards and five touchdowns against Georgia Tech. He capped his career with an MVP performance in the Capital One Bowl victory over Michigan State. He finished the season with 3,459 yards (second highest single season total in Georgia history) with Georgia record 25 touchdowns on 62% completion and was named second team All-SEC. Here are some highlights from the 2008 season:
For his career, Stafford threw for 7,731 yards (third all-time) and 51 touchdowns (also third all-time). He also ran for 6 career touchdowns and had a record of 6-3 against Georgia’s rivals (Auburn, Florida, and Tech). Matthew Stafford became the third player in Georgia history to be drafted #1 overall in the NFL draft when he was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 2009 NFL Draft. While he struggled as part of a horrible Lions squad, he did turn in one of the most amazing moments ever caught on NFL Films (according to Steve Sabol, the President of NFL Films):