After Georgia Tech came to Sanford Stadium in 2016 and spoiled Kirby Smart’s debut against the Yellow Jackets as Georgia head coach, by 28-27, Smart’s Bulldogs returned the favor by swatting the Jackets 38-7 last season in Atlanta, thus extending Georgia’s long string of success at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Now, as the Bulldogs welcome Paul Johnson’s Tech team to Sanford Stadium Saturday for the high noon regular-season finale for both teams, will this Dawg-Jacket confrontation be a nail-biter like it was two years ago at Sanford Stadium or, will Georgia’s 10-1 and 5th-ranked 2018 team run roughshod over the 7-4 Yellow Jackets like the Bulldogs did last November on Grant Field?
I’m thinking the final result on Saturday will be somewhere in between those final scores of the past two years. Even though Georgia is a solid 17-point favorite over the bumble bees, you have to realize this is not the same floundering Georgia Tech team the Bulldogs blew out in 2017. Not at all. The Jackets, after a dismal start this season, have really put things together in the second half of their schedule. They’ve won six of their last seven games and are bringing a four-game win streak between the hedges on Saturday.
In the last four games, Georgia Tech has buzzed past Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Mark Richt’s Miami Hurricanes and Virginia. Sure, the Jackets were pounded early in the season by unbeaten and 2nd-ranked Clemson but Tech did put up 21 points against the Tigers’ tenacious defensive unit in a 49-21 defeat. Only two other teams on 11-0 Clemson’s schedule this season, Texas A&M and Syracuse, have been able to score three touchdowns or more.
So the Jackets are motoring to Athens with a great deal of momentum and will be heavily motivated to not only claim their third consecutive win over Georgia at Sanford Stadium but also derail any hopes the Bulldogs have of staying in the College Football Playoff picture.
In Georgia’s rout of Tech last season, the Bulldog defense completely shut down the Jackets’ triple-option offense, limiting Tech to just 188 rushing yards and of course the one touchdown. But as you well know, the Bulldogs then had a heat-seeking missile on defense in the person of All-America and Butkus Award-winning linebacker Roquan Smith. With his great foot speed, Smith simply ran down the Yellow Jacket backs before they could get to the corner after taking the option pitch from quarterback TaQuon Marshall.
Roquan Smith along with those other talented seniors on the 2017 defense won’t be lining up this Saturday for Georgia against a Tech offensive unit that comes in once again leading the nation in rushing with its 353-yards per game average. And, in fact, the Bulldogs will be minus their leading tackler, as sophomore linebacker Monty Rice is still sidelined with the foot injury he sustained in warm-up drills for the UMass game last weekend.
That’s why I don’t see Georgia, which has the SEC Championship Game date with top-ranked Alabama dead ahead, running away from the Jackets again by 31 points or more this time, the way the Dawgs did last fall. Tech won’t be held to a long touchdown again; in fact, I don’t think the Yellow Jackets will be held to less than three touchdowns by a young UGA defense that has had its ups and downs this season.
But on the other side of the ball is where Georgia will win this football game. The Bulldogs enter the battle averaging 39.6 points per outing, second only to Alabama’s 48-point average in the SEC, while the Jackets have been rather porous on defense this season in giving up 27.5 points per contest. Georgia is clicking on all cylinders at the moment, both with the infantry attack featuring D’Andre Swift, Elijah Holyfield, Brian Herrien, James Cook and Justin Fields and also with the air game featuring Jake Fromm, Fields and a very good corps of receivers.
So I can’t see the Georgia Tech defense slowing down Georgia when the Bulldogs possess the football and, who knows, Smart may have his defense coached up and primed to frustrate the Yellow Jacket offense at the point of attack … swarming to the ball and locking up on Tech quarterbacks Marshall and Tobias Oliver — the Jackets’ leading rushers — and the GT B-backs before they can get up a head of steam … the way the Dawgs did in 2017.
There’s simply too much at stake here for the Bulldogs to let these state rivals ruin what Georgia has worked toward all season and they should climb to 11-1 and thus set the stage for the big game at Mercedes-Benz the following Saturday with a 40-24 win over the Yellow Jackets.