Heading into this year’s Georgia-Georgia Tech game, the scenario is a familiar one, as Bulldogs fans fret about the defense being able to adjust and contain the triple-option style of offense they so rarely face, as well as whether other considerations involving the SEC might outweigh Saturday’s nonconference game in the minds of UGA players.
When the kickoff with Tech comes, the Georgia players already will know whether Mizzou has won (meaning Georgia won’t be going to Atlanta for the SEC championship) or whether the Tigers have stumbled, keeping the Dawgs’ slim playoff hopes alive. Either way, could their reaction to the good or bad news out of Missouri Friday affect their mindset as they face the Jackets Between the Hedges Saturday?
Talentwise, even with Paul Johnson having his best team in five years and Todd Gurley gone, the Dogs are by far considered the more talented squad, especially with the likes of Nick Chubb on offense, but it’s those intangibles in the annual grudge match for the Governor’s Cup that make Saturday’s game a challenge for the Bulldogs — and keep this a compelling rivalry despite Georgia’s domination in recent decades.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, a relative asked me for a boiled down assessment of this game and I put it like this: If Georgia shows up with anywhere near the intensity and execution that we saw against Auburn, it shouldn’t be much of a contest. But if the overconfident, unfocused Dogs team that got embarrassed by Florida in Jacksonville shows up, all bets are off. Of course, if Georgia winds up facing the Tech team that lost to North Carolina, the results could be 2002 all over again.
But this is Georgia-Georgia Tech and both Richt and Johnson seem to do a good job of instilling hatred of the in-state rivals in their players, so I think a no-show faceplant by either side is highly unlikely, though under Richt Georgia seems to have the upper hand in handling its emotions in these games.
Speaking of bets, Vegas continues to love Mike Bobo’s high-performing offense, and so despite many locals expecting a tight game, as was the case last year, No. 8-ranked Georgia comes in a two-touchdown favorite over No. 16-ranked Tech via the oddsmakers.
Is that point spread a betting outlier or a valid assessment of where the Dawgs stand as they close out the regular season? I’d say more the latter, thanks to a terrific running attack balanced with an increasingly potent passing game and Hutson Mason’s ability to play pretty mistake-free football. As for stopping Johnson’s tricky offense, that comes down to playing basic assignment football on defense — just exactly what we saw the Dogs apply to Auburn.
Tech’s Justin Thomas is no Nick Marshall, but he’s operating Johnson’s triple option better than any QB this particular batch of Dawgs will have seen and he’s shown the ability to strike for big gains through the air just when that relentless running game (ranked third in the country) has lulled you to sleep. And Tech’s defense is improved, though it’s been vulnerable especially to rushing attacks, which works in Georgia’s favor.
Overall, the basics of beating the Jackets remain the same: On offense, take advantage of your opportunities, because Johnson is going to try to play keep-away and eat as much clock as he possibly can when his team has the ball. And, defensively, the Dogs must stop the fullback dive, keep containment on the outside, hit the quarterback hard on every single play and capitalize on every take-away opportunity.
One other factor that’s a bit of an unknown concerns the crowd. It’s a noon game on a holiday weekend when most students will have not yet returned to Athens. These Bulldogs have shown they feed off crowd energy, so Georgia fans need to show up early, loud and wearing red, as Coach Richt has requested. I don’t think any fan hype is really necessary for this game, but if you’d like to get your Red and Black blood running even faster, take a look at Frank Martin’s latest video.
The Dawg Walk is set for 10:25 a.m. and Senior Day ceremonies will take place 20 minutes before kickoff.
It’s Georgia vs. Georgia Tech. What more could you want? See you there!
Go Dogs! Wreck Tech!
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg
Bill King is an Athens native and a graduate of the University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. A lifelong Bulldogs fan, he sold programs at Sanford Stadium as a teen and has been a football season ticket holder since leaving school. He has worked at the AJC since college and spent 10 years as the Constitution’s rock music critic before moving into copy editing on the old afternoon Journal. In addition to blogging, he’s now a story editor.