ATLANTA – Now, there’s no more looking ahead. The Georgia Bulldogs, after capping a splendid regular season at 11-1 with a 38-7 beatdown of state rival Georgia Tech here Saturday, can zero in on the SEC championship matchup with the Auburn Tigers.
Before getting ready for the conference title game this coming Saturday at 4 p.m. at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the 7th-ranked Bulldogs had to dispatch a pesky Tech team that had toppled Georgia two out of the past three seasons, both Jacket wins coming between the hedges of Sanford Stadium.
And swat the Yellow Jackets the Bulldogs did, moving into a 17-7 halftime lead and then proceeding to outscore Tech 21-0 in the second half to quickly turn the contest into a rout of the first order.
While the staunch Bulldog defense limited Tech’s triple-option attack to 188 yards rushing and 38 passing – just 226 yards total offense – and the one touchdown, the Georgia offense mixed the run and Jake Fromm’s passing to perfection, rushing for 247 yards and passing for 224 more for a total offense figure of 471 yards on the afternoon.
“I’m proud as hell of our defensive performance,” said Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. “This is a difficult offense to defend and to keep them under 200 yards rushing, that’s tough to do. The credit doesn’t go to me, it goes to Mel Tucker (UGA defensive coordinator). We didn’t play perfect,” emphasized Smart. “This week, our scout team gave us the best performance we’ve ever had (in preparing the Bulldogs for Tech’s unique offense).”
Smart said the Bulldogs didn’t make any changes after the halftime break, when Georgia clung to its 10-point advantage.
“No, we didn’t make a whole lot of changes,” he said. “I thought we played well in both halves, especially defensively.”
Smart said preparing for the Jackets’ style of offense is perhaps more stressful for the Georgia offense, than it is for the defensive unit.
“That’s because you know you’re going to get limited possessions and you have to make the most of it,” he said. “Because their offense is going to milk the clock when they get it.”
In the first two quarters, the Bulldogs got points on a 1-yard run by Nick Chubb, a 21-yard pass from Fromm to ace senior receiver Javon Wims and Rodrigo Blankenship’s 37-yard field goal on the last play of the half, which came after Tech’s only score … a 10-yard pass from TaQuon Marshall to a surprisingly wide-open Ricky Jeune in the right corner of the end zone. Taking over at their own 30 with just 42 seconds remaining, Fromm’s passing quickly took Georgia 50 yards down to the Tech 20-yard line, from where Blankenship split the uprights as the halftime buzzer sounded to account for the 17-7 lead at intermission.
The Bulldogs then completely dominated the final two quarters, adding insult to the Yellow Jackets’ injury. Georgia’s three second-half touchdowns came on a 4-yard run by Sony Michel, which was set up by Fromm’s 39-yard strike to Mecole Hardman, a 2-yard run by freshman D’Andre Swift when he brought back memories of Herschel Walker by going over the top and flipping into the Tech end zone and, finally, a 78-yard bomb from Fromm to junior college transfer Ahkil Crumpton, who raced the distance down the left sidelines after eluding a Jacket defender.
Michel fronted the Bulldogs’ balanced rushing effort with 85 yards on 13 carries while Chubb, though limited to 53 yards on 12 attempts, displayed his usual power in bulling for key first downs. Thanks to a 31-yard late in the third quarter, Swift showed 37 yards in just four trips and Elijah Holyfield kept the clock moving in the fourth period by going for 35 yards on nine touches.
And Fromm complemented the ground show by posting one of the most impressive passing performances of his freshman season. He drilled 12 completions in 16 attempts for 224 yards including the 21-yard scoring strike to Wims and then the 78-yard touchdown pass to Crumpton. Once again, Wims paced the receiving corps with five catches for 77 yards and the one touchdown while Hardman checked in with three receptions for 51 yards.
And while Wims was at the top of the Bulldogs’ receiver list once more, that man Roquan Smith again fronted the Georgia defense’s sterling performance, with eight solo tackles, one assisted tackle, a sack and three tackles-for-loss. Junior outside linebacker D’Andre Walker rendered one of his best showings with six unassisted stops and then came Natrez Patrick and J.R. Reed, with five and four tackles, respectively. Junior cornerback Deandre Baker managed Georgia’s lone interception when he picked off Marshall in the final quarter in the Bulldogs’ end zone.
“I think it was an awesome performance on the defense’s behalf,” said junior linebacker Smith, who may or may not have played his final regular season game in a Georgia uniform. “We gave up a few plays but you expect that when you play a good team. But we played pretty solid I think.
“It’s awesome to be 11-1,” said Smith. “I haven’t seen this in a while here at the University of Georgia and it’s an awesome feeling here. It doesn’t matter who we’re going to play (Smith saying this as the Alabama-Auburn game was just starting). We’re going to prepare just like any other game. We feel like we’re facing ourselves each and every day throughout the week and then on Saturdays so it is what it is, whoever we play.”
“We feel good about coming here (to Atlanta) next Saturday, just enjoy the bus ride, get back home and then it’s on to the next game,” related senior nose tackle John Atkins. “Facing this kind of offense, you just have to give yourselves up some. They were cutting (blocks) a lot but you’ve just got to get on the center and not let them move the ball.”
Atkins said the Bulldogs’ offensive scout team really gave the defense great looks this week in emulating Tech’s offense. “Throughout the week, they were really fast and they were breaking on us and we had to go back every play and reload, so we had seen a lot of stuff on this offense.”
Like his players, Smart said it “absolutely” makes no difference who the Bulldogs face in the SEC championship game. “The moment is not too big for these kids,” he said. ” The SEC championship is one of the greatest events in this country because I think the SEC is the strongest conference in the country. I think we checked the last box on our list today. We sent these seniors out the right way … all of them but I was especially happy to send Nick Chubb out this way,” Smart said.
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