ATLANTA, Ga. — It was hardly the perfect tune-up for the LSU Tigers and next Saturday’s SEC Championship Game but 4th-ranked Georgia overcame a multitude of its own errors in the second quarter to go on to a 52-7 pasting of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and push the Bulldogs’ winning streak at Bobby Dodd Stadium to 10 games.
The Bulldogs thus head for the 4 p.m. kickoff in Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a third consecutive 11-1 regular-season record under their belts. With Jake Fromm throwing a personal-best four touchdown passes and the Georgia run game churning out 219 yards against the outmanned Jackets (3-9), Georgia broke away from a 17-7 halftime lead with a 35-point second-half knockout of Tech.
Still, there is much to clean up if the Bulldogs expect to go toe-to-toe with the 12-0 Tigers in Atlanta. Like a fumbled-away punt by Dominick Blaylock that led to the Jackets lone touchdown in the second quarter, like two uncharacteristic fumbles by junior tailback D’Andre Swift, one down at the Tech 4-yard line in the third period when he attempted to score on a direct snap, and like the Bulldogs letting Tech catch them by surprise with the Jackets recovering an onside kick right after their 6-yard scoring pass from James Graham to Tyler Davis.
All of those miscues with the exception of Swift’s second fumble came in that second quarter after the Bulldogs had zipped into a 17-0 first quarter lead on Rodrigo Blankenship’s 49-yard field goal, a 2-yard run by Brian Herrien, which was set up by Jake Fromm’s 25-yard pass to Tyler Simmons, and Fromm’s 20-yard scoring strike to his roommate, senior tight end Charlie Woerner. It was Woerner’s first touchdown of his UGA career. After the Jackets notched their only touchdown with 10:58 left in the second quarter after gaining possession following Blaylock’s muffed punt at the Georgia 17, the Bulldogs went to the halftime break with just the 10-point lead … a margin that could have been considerably larger without the two fumbles and also, Blankenship missing on a 42-yard field goal attempt at the halftime buzzer.
Georgia, though, looked like a completely different team over the final two quarters, dominating the home team to the extent that the Bulldogs set several records in the series with their state rivals. The 52 points beat by one the 2002 Bulldogs scored against Tech in a 51-7 smashing at Sanford Stadium. And the 45-point margin of victory was another record set against the Jackets on an unseasonably warm, perfect afternoon for football on this final day of November.
After the first-half touchdown throw to Woerner, Fromm went on to set a new personal best at Georgia, adding three more scoring passes in the second half … a 17-yard strike to Simmons, a 41-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open George Pickens, the freshman receiver who sat out the first half due to disciplinary action and who will also miss the first half of the championship game due to his action in a melee with Tech players, and a 9-yard scoring toss to Blaylock. Georgia’s final two scores in the fourth quarter came via a 2-yard run by freshman Kenny McIntosh and a fumble recovery in the Tech end zone by Georgia cornerback Tyson Campbell, when the ball got away from the Jacket kick returner following a Jake Camarda punt.
Georgia coach Kirby Smart said there wasn’t a stern talking by the coaching staff at halftime after the Bulldogs’ kept the Jackets in the game in the second quarter with the costly turnovers.
“It wasn’t a big message,” Smart said. “Some players challenging players and that’s what it’s about. When you’ve got leaders on your team and they don’t think you’re playing to your capabilities, we’ve got guys willing to challenge guys and as a coach, I love it. When guys challenge each other, I don’t have to. Second-quarter, hey, a guy fumbled. That’s tough. They hit an onside kick that we should have recovered. We didn’t. It wasn’t like it was a meltdown. You’ve got to deal with adversity. They made two plays and we stopped them on one of those I think and we didn’t stop them on one. Give those guys credit. There was no panic on this team. We understand that other teams are going to take chances and they took chances and they made some plays.
“I’ll address the George Pickens situation,” Smart offered. “He was suspended for the first half for violation of team rules and that’s all I’m going to say about that. Then, unfortunately, he got an undisciplined penalty and when you make undisciplined decisions, regardless of what’s done first, you pay a penalty for that. He won’t be able to play the first half of next week and when you make emotional decisions, that’s what happens. We’re going to help George. We’re going to help him grow up. We’re going to help him make better decisions so he can help our team, but that’s unfortunate.”
As indicated by the final tally, the Bulldogs rolled up big numbers against the Tech defense, in fact compiling 500 yards of offense. Georgia ran for the 219 with Swift going for 73 yards on just 10 carries before sustaining a shoulder injury when he lost the third-quarter fumble, Herrien gaining 46 on eight carries and James Cook and Zamir White each notching 30 yards on the ground. Fromm and Stetson Bennett, who played the entire fourth quarter, combined for 281 passing yards. Although the Bulldogs’ starter was under 50 percent on his passes for the fourth consecutive game, hitting on 14-of-29 attempts, he totaled 254 yards and the four touchdowns, without throwing an interception. In the past five games—all wins—Fromm has connected on 12 touchdown passes without throwing a pick. Senior wideout Simmons led the UGA receivers with three catches for 52 yards including his TD reception while Blaylock, James Cook, and Demetris Robertson followed with two catches each and grad tight end Eli Wolf had a 47-yard catch and run that put the ball at the Tech 8, before Swift lost the handle on the ball at the 4 three plays later.
“With D’Andre Swift, think he’s going to be fine,” said Smart. “He’s got a shoulder contusion but we think he’s going to be fine. He should be back.”
Smart lauded the play of Fromm, who ignited the Bulldogs’ explosion in the second half with the three touchdown passes.
“Well, we put a lot on him,” Smart said. “When you start talking about checks, making decisions, doing things, they did a good job adjusting. This defense has always been good at disguising things and giving you different looks. They did some good things and Jake made some good decisions when they got us. They trick you every now and you’re like, ‘Ooh, they got us.’ He threw the ball away a couple of times, made really made good decisions. He’s got to continue to improve and play better and Jake gets us in and out of a lot of situations. That was big for us. Again, he’ll be the first to tell you he’s not playing perfect, he’s got to play better, but we’ve got to help around him. We’ve got to help him with the run game, help him with some passing game to help him play the way he needs to play.”
“For us on offense, it was up to us,” said Fromm. “We were kind of stopping ourselves most of the time and I think we committed to say, ‘let’s go out and play football, have a little fun, and score some points.’”
The Georgia quarterback was happy to see senior wideout Simmons step up with a big game in Simmons’ final regular-season contest at Georgia.
“Tyler is an awesome guy who has been with it all season,” said Fromm. “It’s really awesome. I’m really proud of him to have a big moment here and to play Georgia Tech and to have a really big game. I know it means a lot to him and I’m really thankful he’s kind of come on here.”
Fromm said he’s got great trust with all his receivers.
“I’m with them one hundred percent. I think every single guy that we put on the field is able to make a great play at any given time. We’re ready and I’m behind them one hundred percent. Let’s go play football.”
And the Georgia coach was elated about Charlie Woerner pulling in the first touchdown pass of his UGA career.
“I didn’t realize that was his first,” said Smart. “Awesome. Think about how many blocks that guy’s had for one touchdown. You think about it. He asked me before the game, he asked me, what was your record against Tech? I told him 3-1 or really 4-1 if you count a redshirt year. He was just like, ‘Coach, I want to go out on top so bad.’ For a kid that’s meant so much to our program, golly, I mean. The blocking value he has had and not getting as many catches as he deserves and you want to get him, for him to get that play, I thought that was huge.”
“It was special,” said a smiling Woerner. “The first person I celebrated with on my touchdown was Tyler (Simmons) and then when Tyler scored, I was the first one there to celebrate with him. It was definitely cool. For the last regular-season game, I think it was the first time Tyler scored this year and the first time I scored in my career here, it was awesome.”
“It was so cool to finally score,” Woerner said. “It wasn’t a million monkeys on my back it was more of a, I don’t know. I’ve never really thought about it or let it try and bother me. Now I finally caught that touchdown, I celebrated with Tyler and I remember I just fell to my knees and took in that moment and praised God for that moment. It’s been a long time coming.”
And this Bulldog defensive unit simply continues to shut down opposing offenses at a record-setting rate. Surrendering the lone second-quarter touchdown to Georgia Tech, the Georgia stop-em gang limited the Jackets to only seven first downs—none in the first quarter and a couple of those coming when reserves from both teams were on the field in the fourth quarter – along with just 99 yards net rushing and only 40 yards passing … for a total Tech offense figure of 139 yards. And, the Bulldogs forced the Jackets to punt the football a total of 13 times … a dubious school record for Tech. “Good for them,” deadpanned Smart.
“They (UGA defense) continue to play really well,” he said. “I thought our defensive guys played super hard. Obviously, we’ve got an unbelievable challenge this week. It will be a whole lot different than the team we just played; I promise you that. They have passion, energy, juice, they love just playing football. They love to get in those situations. I think they were 3 of 17 (on 3rd down) or something. Our guys really enjoy that.”
Junior linebacker Monty Rice was again at the top of the Bulldog tackle chart with eight total stops, all unassisted, while perhaps showing the balanced effort of the Georgia defense, freshman linebacker Nakobe Dean, freshman outside ‘backer Nolan Smith and senior tackle Michael Barnett all tied for second in tackles with just three stops apiece. Tyson Campbell had his fumble recovery for the Bulldogs’ final touchdown as well as downing a Camarda punt at the Tech 1-yard line. Converted offensive lineman Netori Johnson, seeing action in the fourth quarter, recorded Georgia’s only sack and chalking up tackles-for-loss were Mark Webb, Bill Norton, Johnson, Richard LeCounte, who also had a forced fumble, Tyler Clark and Malik Herring as the Bulldogs lived in the Tech backfield the entire afternoon.
“We just try to play the same way and execute every game,” said Rice. “We’re going to be playing a great offense next week but we’re going to prepare the same way to face them.”
Smart said his players are looking forward to battling a great football team in the LSU Tigers.
“I’m excited,” he said. “You earn the opportunity to play in this game. People will talk about a lot of games outside this, and this being a defacto play-in game and all these different things. The SEC Championship is the greatest environment, maybe in all of football, OK. You can say the Super Bowl and all of this but there is no greater passion for a game than any place in the country when you talk about LSU and the University of Georgia. It doesn’t matter who’s playing in the SEC Championship – and I’ve coached in a lot of big games in my lifetime. The SEC Championship is the greatest atmosphere with passion and energy, and I’ve been in a lot of them. That’s what you come to Georgia for, we earned the right to be in it so we’re going to roll our helmets out there and give it the best shot we can.”