Hey, it’s Rivalry Week! It’s Installment No. 110 – or, going by Georgia’s count, No. 108 – of Clean Old-Fashioned Hate! It’s time to throw the record book out yonder window!
And enough with the false chatter.
It was no shock that ABC, which held the option of airing Saturday’s game in prime time, relegated it to noon. Both teams are coming off recent 23-point losses. Difference is, Georgia lost to an opponent that ranks No. 6 in the nation; Georgia Tech lost to an opponent that, going by a head-to-head tiebreaker with Pittsburgh, ranks No. 6 in the ACC Coastal.
As much as we’d like to suggest that Crazier Things Have Happened than a 5-5 Tech beating a 10-1 Georgia, they haven’t in this series. Only once have the Yellow Jackets won when the Bulldogs were ranked in the top 10, and that was the squib-kick/Butker-from-53-yards astonishment of 2014, when Tech was itself No. 15.
Yes, Paul Johnson is 1-0 against Kirby Smart. But that was against Smart’s first Georgia team, which bears no resemblance to his second, and the Jackets had to score the final 14 points to win by one. That game was in Athens. This one’s in Atlanta. Know how many times the Jackets have beaten Georgia at Bobby Dodd Stadium this century? None. Apart for the Jasper Sanks non-fumble game of 1999, Tech hasn’t topped the Bulldogs at its place since 1989. That was Ray Goff’s rookie season as head coach.
I’ve seen enough Georgia blowouts this season – both ways, counting what happened at Auburn – that I’d love to predict a down-to-the-wire game. Then I take note of pesky numbers. Both Georgia and Tech scored 41 points against Tennessee; one of them lost. The Bulldogs rushed for 381 yards against a basketball school Saturday; the Jackets yielded 319 yards rushing to a basketball school Saturday.
We can say that the Jackets were unlucky against Tennessee and Miami, games in which they trailed in regulation for all of four seconds. We cannot excuse the loss to Virginia, which had just been routed by Pittsburgh and Boston College, or to Duke, which had dropped six in a row. The Cavaliers hadn’t scored more than 28 points against a Power 5 opponent; they hung 40 on Tech. The Blue Devils had managed 46 points in their previous four losses; they stacked 43 on Tech. If you’re good enough to beat Virginia Tech, you can’t lose to Virginia and Duke. The Jackets somehow did.
Let’s say Johnson’s offense gets a handle on Georgia’s defense. (I’m not sure that’ll happen, but Auburn did score eight times and muster 488 yards.) Let’s say the Jackets score 30 points Saturday. Would that be enough? The Bulldogs have hit 31 or better eight times this year. They haven’t had more than two turnovers in a game this season; they haven’t had more than one since Sept. 9 at Notre Dame.
The only comparable defense Tech has faced is Clemson’s, and here were the Jackets’ possessions that night: Fumble, punt, field goal, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs, touchdown. They finished with 230 total yards, 79 coming on a final drive while trailing 24-3.
Johnson has made his reputation via his offense and its ability to wrong-foot more talented opposition. He has, as we know, beaten Georgia three times. (Always in Athens, always in hairbreadth games.) His three teams that beat Georgia finished 9-4, 11-3 and 9-4. This one carries five losses. If form holds Saturday, it’ll need a waiver to grace a bowl.
If you’re Tech, you’re hoping the Bulldogs will fix their gaze on a game in Atlanta beyond Saturday – the Dec. 2 SEC championship against Alabama/Auburn. Alas, history doesn’t offer much help there. Of the five times Georgia has faced Tech knowing it would be playing again the next week, it’s 5-0. The average margin of victory in those games was 22.8 points. Even when the Bulldogs have had, er, bigger fish to fry, they’ve stayed on task. And most of these guys bore witness to the Jackets’ hedge-clipping celebration last November.
Maybe TaQuon Marshall can complete a deep ball or two. (Georgia’s secondary isn’t the best in coverage.) Maybe Jake Fromm will throw multiple interceptions, though he hasn’t in any game to date. Maybe Johnson’s offense will hog the ball and make the favored Bulldogs antsy. Even if all of that happens, would it be enough?
I’m sorry, but I can’t imagine this not being a two-touchdown game. I can imagine it getting much worse than that.