- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor’s note: Each day this week, we will look back at a memorable moment or series of events from Georgia’s 2012 season. Today we remember the Connor Norman's onside kick recovery that preserved the Bulldogs' narrow win against Kentucky.
ATHENS, Ga. -- There was no shortage of memorable moments for a Georgia team that scored so many long touchdowns this fall. But without one key special-teams play by Connor Norman, it’s possible that the Bulldogs’ season would be remembered in an extremely different light.
The former walk-on’s onside kick recovery late in the fourth quarter against Kentucky helped Georgia escape with an underwhelming 29-24 win -- a game after getting throttled 35-7 by South Carolina -- that allowed the Bulldogs to regroup and battle their way to a second straight SEC East title.
Without question, Georgia was still dealing with a hangover from its embarrassing loss at South Carolina when it limped into Lexington off its bye week. The Bulldogs allowed the lowly Wildcats to score on their first possession and actually trailed Kentucky for most of the second and third quarters before finally pushing ahead 29-17 with a pair of second-half touchdowns.
But Kentucky answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive of its own and trailed by just five points with 3:59 to play as kicker Joe Mansour lined up to attempt an onside kick -- one that easily could have changed the course of the season for a Georgia team whose fans were still seething from the loss to the Gamecocks.
In truth, the Wildcats nearly pulled off the kick to perfection. Mansour dribbled the kick straight ahead for exactly the 10 yards necessary for Kentucky to recover and the Wildcats’ front line did a great job of shielding Georgia’s closest players from the ball. They didn’t shield Norman, though, and the defensive back raced from his spot on Georgia’s front line to pounce on the kick a split second before Mansour and keep the ball away from Kentucky’s offense.
The Bulldogs took over at the Kentucky 45 and were able to pick up two first downs before finally turning the ball over on downs at the Wildcats’ 16 with just nine seconds remaining. Kentucky was able to run just one more play, which the Bulldogs stopped for a short gain, before the game ended with Georgia victorious.
Nobody in red and black was pleased with the victory -- in fact, senior safety Shawn Williams launched into a public tirade about the defense playing soft two days later, which many Bulldogs credit as the season’s turning point -- but the Bulldogs survived the close call with just one loss on their resume.
If Norman doesn’t make that play, however, who knows whether Williams’ words would have even mattered?