What happened: The Bulldogs closed out an 11-win regular season with an easy 38-7 win over Georgia Tech and will climb at least two spots from No. 7 in the college football playoff rankings.
What’s next: The SEC championship game against Auburn Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Overreaction narrative: “We beat two lousy teams the last two weeks. Auburn is going to kill us again!”
Reality check: The problem when there’s a lopsided result in a game is that people often consider that the norm. In other words, Auburn beat Georgia 40-17 at home three weeks ago and, therefore, Auburn is clearly more than three touchdowns better than Georgia and is going to win by three touchdowns again. That’s just -- how do I say this -- oh yeah, stupid. As I wrote in a blog Sunday, there’s not a great discrepancy between the two teams, if there’s a discrepancy at all. The Tigers played an extraordinary game and the Bulldogs were dreadful. The game was won/lost on the lines, where Auburn manhandled Georgia’s offensive and defensive lines. The Dogs’ offensive line is young. It has played better than expected for most of this season and didn’t handle things well when the game began to spiral. Auburn’s defensive front probably has an edge there. The bigger surprise was how Georgia’s defensive front got pushed around by Auburn offensive line. I don’t believe that will happen again, but we’ll see. The other significant factor is venue. Auburn is a significantly better team at home than on the road (it lost at Clemson and at LSU during the season). The Tigers’ most impressive wins over three ranked teams -- Mississippi State, Georgia, Alabama -- came at home. This will be a neutral site with a split fan base. I suspect there will be a market correction for both teams this week and the game will be close.
GEORGIA TECH (5-6)
What happened: The Jackets closed out a disappointing season with a 38-7 home loss to Georgia.
What’s next: Decisions for coach Paul Johnson. For the second time in three years, Tech finished with a losing record and will not go to a bowl game and there likely will be staff changes.
Overreaction narrative: “Paul Johnson has to go. I’m tired of him blaming everybody else for Tech’s problems instead of himself.”
Reality check: Most of the criticism of Johnson stems from folks simply not liking the option offense. It generally has nothing to do with wins and losses, which is how all coaches should be measured (factoring in resources and realistic expectations). Johnson’s records stands up nicely against almost any coach in Georgia Tech history. If you’re going to point out the three- and five-win seasons in the last two years, you need to point out the 11- and nine-win years wrapped around those. (There’s a “but” coming...) But: Not playing in a bowl game for the second time in three seasons is a bad look. Johnson has two built-in excuses. He lost the team’s best player, running back Dedrick Mills, when he was dismissed the week of the season opener for what’s believed to be repeated violations of the team’s marijuana policy. KirVonte Benson rushed for more than 1,000 yards as the new starter but Mills’ loss severely cut into the depth of an offense that’s centered on the running game. The other issue was breaking in a new starting quarterback, TaQuon Marshall, whose otherwise strong play was marred by eight fumbles and five interceptions. But ultimately Johnson is responsible -- just as he’s ultimartely responsible for the defense. There’s a good chance defensive coordinator Ted Roof is going to lose his job. Roof may not be Monte Kiffin. Tech blew too many leads this season and the Jackets’ poor tackling and their inability to create some semblance of a pass rush falls on the defensive coordinator. But the bigger issue is a lack of talent on the defensive side of the ball. That goes to recruiting and that falls on Johnson.
What happened: They put on an impressive offensive display with 516 yards and defeated Tampa Bay 34-20 Sunday.
What’s next: After three straight wins to pull to within one game of New Orleans and Carolina (both 8-3) in the NFC South, the Falcons play host to Minnesota (9-2) next Sunday.
Overreaction narrative: “We blow too many leads. I still don’t trust us.”
Reality check: Yeah, there’s some scar tissue there that never will go away. So any time the Falcons see a double-digit leads turn to crumbs in the final minutes, that narrative is going to be repeated. But there were two positives coming out of Sunday’s win over Tampa Bay: 1) The offense, maligned early but showing improvement in wins over Dallas and Seattle, exploded for more than 500 yards against Tampa Bay. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian appears to be finding a comfort level will all of his options now, and it should be noted the Falcons have been without running back Devonta Freeman (concussion) for the last two weeks. (Freeman seemed fine walking on the field in sweats during warmups Sunday but still hasn’t passed the base concussion test.) The defense (led by Dan Quinn and defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel) also has seen steady improvement, but big leads against Seattle and Tampa Bay shrunk. The Falcons were shorthanded in the secondary, with Desmond Trufant (concussion) and Brian Poole (lower back) both leaving the game. But they struggled to get pressure on Buccaneers quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who threw for 283 yards and was sacked once. It wasn’t like the Seattle game, when Russell Wilson often made something out of nothing with his scrambling ability. But the defense made a stop in the end after the Bucs had a second down at the Falcons’ 19, shutting them down on downs. So progress, not perfection.