Han Vance from Atlanta: At 7:30 a.m. Monday, the Georgia Dome was bid good riddance in the undeniable capital of the South. Mercedes-Benz Stadium will host the SEC Championship, the Peach Bowl, and this year’s College Football Playoff national championship game.
Georgia Football opens the Atlanta experience for the Dawg Nation Saturday at noon in Midtown. Since Mark Richt first arrived in Athens in 2000, Tech has not beaten Georgia in Atlanta. Imagine the agony. Shouldn’t be too hard when you think of what has gone on in our biggest rivalry game, in Jacksonville. Credit where credit is due, Tech has won three times in the Classic City over the last sixteen years, including two-in-a-row.
As I’ve documented here at Bulldawg Illustrated, for all his successes this season, Kirby Smart currently remains a game below .500 in true rivalry games and badly needs a win over Tech to maintain momentum. This past Saturday in Athens, UGA swept the SEC East for the first time since divisional separation, with the only other East powers (Florida, modern; Tennessee, historic) in free fall and without head coaches. Georgia is already a clear favorite to repeat as SEC East champions next year, and probably the following year as well, when a maturing roster could see another peak.
At 10-1 entering Tech week, this is already a clear peak for the program. The blind optimist fan-espoused theory that we will be even more talented next year has absolutely no evidentiary provability to-date whatsoever. Matriculation of this number of starters to the NFL indicates probably not.
I talked about it in honorarium terms last time leading up to Senior Day. Here I’m more talking roster losses.
This year’s upper-class defense is the most experienced in school history and will lose most of its key personnel. Draft eligible junior Roquan Smith is having perhaps the best defensive year in Georgia history and may be our only first-team all-American. While draft eligible lineman Trent Thompson was a top overall recruit in the country and is probably departing with John Atkins. Amongst the three key defensive backfield starters for Georgia for years, Dominick Sanders has the most starts in school history (Saturday will be his 50th!). Pass rushers, etc.
Workhorse Nick Chubb already has 45 total touchdowns scored. Not only will Chubb go out as our number two yardage rusher ever, to Herschel of course, Sony Michel should leave school in third place; he is right behind Todd Gurley and Garrison Hearst. The list itself star-studded, yet Chubb is the only player in Georgia history other than #34 to have three 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
Coaches say Isaiah Wynn is by far our best blocker on campus. Another senior, two-year transfer Javon Wims is by far our best receiver (even his key incompletion should clearly have been ruled a catch under review). We lose our best blocking tight end and stellar blocking fullback. Our only other potential all-American this year, the booming punter Cameron Nizialek, exits, and he is a real field position weapon this year.
This is the year, y’all. Don’t wait for next year!
Lots of Georgia teams have gotten well by playing Kentucky. “The running game is working and the band is playing,” widely-disliked TV analyst Gary Danielson blathered on CBS. By working the middle of the football field effectively with passes, Jim Chaney addressed all of the glaring offensive issues I discussed in my last article, except throwing it to the tight ends, who have been relegated to blocking roles.
Back to the ATL: I will be there with a whole slew of relatives, courtesy of the only other UGA alum in my family (besides my lovely alumna wife, who will not be in attendance this time). We’ve had a great go of it under the skyline at Tech. We’ve lost some Peach/Chicken-Sandwich Bowls and won some. We’ve been bested by upstart Boise and beaten old neighbor UNC. We lost a hurricane-relocated sUGAr Bowl in Richt’s only BCS loss.
We went 2-3 in SEC Championship Games, including two tough beatings by LSU and one of our two worst losses in school history. Four yards from lasting glory, we fell short by a fingertip. Kirby celebrated. Will he celebrate again in the ATL? How often and why?
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