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September 26, 2007

Stafford bolstered by 'crunch time' win

ATHENS - Matthew Stafford already had big wins in his short tenure as Georgia's starting quarterback before beating Alabama.

Now Stafford also has a signature big play.

Mark Richt says that big play solidifies the sophomore's status as a leader.

Stafford needed only one snap in overtime to lift Georgia past Alabama last Saturday. After Alabama kicked a field goal to lead 23-20, Stafford lofted a perfect pass to Mikey Henderson in the left corner of the end zone, giving Georgia a 26-20 victory.

Stafford led Georgia to three straight wins over Top 25 teams Auburn, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech at the end of last season. This victory could be more significant for Stafford, according to Richt.

``I think this game was important for Matthew,'' Richt said Tuesday. ``Auburn was important for Matthew because he did play extremely well that day, but it didn't get down to that crunch time in that game.''

Stafford's big pass came in crunch time in the game and in Georgia's season.

The win was especially important two weeks after a confidence-draining home loss to South Carolina. It gave No. 15 Georgia a needed boost as it prepares to play Mississippi this week.

Stafford's big play could serve as a springboard for his career in much the way that David Greene, then a redshirt freshman, stamped himself as a clutch leader with his 6-yard scoring pass to Verron Haynes with five seconds left to beat Tennessee 26-24 in 2001.

``Those games help define your career and define your leadership and your confidence that you are the leader and you can make the play,'' Richt said. ``Just to know for sure that the guys believe in you, it goes a long way. If he knows he's a leader and he knows guys believe in him, then they usually take off and hopefully that will be the case with Matthew.''

Stafford said he enjoys having the ball with the game on the line.

``In high school I always felt like if I got the ball at the end of the game I was going to drive down and score and help us win,'' he said. ``That's what ate me up about South Carolina. I couldn't get us down there and give us a chance to win.

``I got another opportunity and I'm sure I'll have more opportunities here to do some one-minute and two-minute drills. That's what I really have a bunch of fun doing, and hopefully people will start believing in them.''

It's too early to rate the value of last week's win, according to Stafford. He said the Bulldogs must capitalize on the momentum.

``We'll have to see,'' Stafford said. ``As far as its potential to be a big game for us, it definitely has that. It got us back in the SEC race. It was a big win on the road for a young team.

``It could be big but it's going to be kind of forgotten if we don't take care of business the rest of the year.''

Richt said Stafford delivered in another clutch situation before making the game-winning pass in overtime.

``This game where you just had to make plays, he actually played good enough in my opinion to win two games,'' Richt said, noting that Stafford also directed a drive at the end of regulation before Brandon Coutu missed a 47-yard field goal.

``He got us in position to have a game-winning kick,'' Richt said. ``He did what it took to get us to that point, which I thought was outstanding, and then when that didn't happen he made the play in overtime to help us win, too. That was big for him.''

Stafford passed for 224 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama, but he also threw two interceptions two weeks after throwing an interception in the 16-12 loss to South Carolina.

For the season, Stafford is 70-of-123 passing for 845 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions and one signature win.

Maybe.

``For this team it's definitely a good starting point to get a victory like that,'' Stafford said. ``I just hope we handle it the right way and it helps us rather than hurts us.''

Notes: Tight end Tripp Chandler, who had three drops before making a big catch late in regulation against Alabama, will compete with Bruce Figgins to keep his starting job this week. ``I haven't lost confidence in Tripp, but we're going to continue to compete at that position,'' Richt said. ... Tailback Kregg Lumpkin, recovering from thumb surgery, may play only on special teams again this week but eventually will join a tailback rotation with Thomas Brown and Knowshon Moreno. ``When he's healthy enough and can really wrap up the ball and protect it like it needs to be, he'll definitely get some (playing time) back there at tailback,'' Richt said. ``We're not going to forget about Lumpkin.''



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