Georgia and the University of Massachusetts meet for the first time ever on the gridiron Saturday afternoon in Athens. The Bulldogs are 9-1 after a 27-10 victory over Auburn, the 11th win in the last 14 meetings with the rival Tigers. UMass comes in at 4-7, as the Minutemen fell 35-16 to Brigham Young.
The Bulldogs are ranked fifth nationally and eyeing something special. This is a classic “tweener” game with arch-enemy Tech waiting on deck and the Bulldogs coming off an electric win. As Georgia coach Kirby Smart preaches to his team, “humility is a week away.” Plus, UMass has a history of putting scares into Southeastern Conference foes. Last season, Tennessee escaped with a 17-13 win over the Minutemen in Knoxville. In 2016, UMass went 2-10 but lost only 24-7 at Florida, had a strong offensive showing in a 47-35 loss to Mississippi State in Starkville and lost only 34-28 at South Carolina. In 2014, the Minutemen lost a 34-31 heartbreaker at Vanderbilt.
Times are great right now in Athens under Smart’s watch, but there are certainly things to be cleaned up. Most notably, penalties and red zone malfunctions. Against Auburn, Georgia was again plagued by the inability to score in close. In the first quarter, the Bulldogs were first and goal on the two-yard line and settled for a field goal, and in the second period, Georgia was second and goal from the one and again settled for three points. But for a second straight week, the Bulldogs posted a 300-yard rushing performance and played outstanding defense and special teams. A healthy D’Andre Swift has gone over the century mark on the ground three straight weeks – wins by 19, 17 and 17, highlighted by 186 on 17 carries against Auburn, with a 77-yard touchdown the back-breaker.
UMass concludes its regular season against the Bulldogs Saturday. The Minutemen defense has had a tough go. In a September three game losing streak, they fell to Boston College 55-21, went down to Georgia Southern 34-13 and got outraced at Florida International 63-24. Following a win over Charlotte, the Minutemen lost by identical 58-42 scores at Ohio and at home to South Florida. One of the highlights of the season came with back-to-back wins in completely opposite fashion. UMass won 22-17 at Connecticut on October 27 and then took a 62-59 triple overtime shootout over Liberty the following week.
A win over the Minutemen would give Georgia 10 victories through 11 games in successive seasons for the first time since 1981-1982.