It’s one of those rare football seasons when state rivals Georgia and Georgia Tech clash in their regular season finale both sporting a 7-4 won-loss mark.
The Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets of course will battle for state bragging rights Saturday at 12 noon at Sanford Stadium.
Georgia, which hopes to continue its recent mastery of Tech for first-year head coach Kirby Smart after Mark Richt logged 13 wins over the Jackets in his 15 years in Athens, enters the game after a less-than-glamorous 35-21 triumph over Louisiana-Lafayette this past weekend.
Although the Bulldogs pretty much had control of the wind-blown contest for most of the afternoon, they never could really put the stubborn Ragin’ Cajuns away in the second half when ULL tallied two late touchdowns and actually went for an onside kick in the final two minutes before Reggie Davis recovered the ball to prevent any anxious moments for Georgia fans.
But the Bulldogs fashioned enough big plays early on to avoid the upset as Isaiah McKenzie had a 55-yard scoring run as well as an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown to enter the school record book. And junior tailback Nick Chubb also had his share of key plays, running for 108 yards on 16 carries including runs of 35 and 31 yards and also catching a career-long touchdown pass of 49 yards from Jacob Eason.
But take away those big plays, this week’s STATS THAT MATTER aren’t so pretty … especially for a Georgia defensive unit that couldn’t duplicate the brilliant performance it rendered in the 13-7 upset of then 8th-ranked Auburn.
Plays of 20 plus yards (offense/defense)
McKenzie had his 55-yard touchdown run on his first play from scrimmage and also his dazzling 82-yard punt return. Also, in the first half Eason had a 21-yard pass to Javon Wims and Chubb set up the Bulldogs’ third TD with his 31-yard run to the 4-yard line. In the second half, there was plenty more — from both teams. Chubb reeled off a 35-yard run, Riley Ridley ran a reverse for a 21-yard gain, an Eason-to-McKenzie pass for 26 yards set up Chubb’s first touchdown and Eason and Chubb then hooked up on the 49-yard scoring strike to give the Bulldogs four plays of 45 or more yards on the day, as Reggie Davis also returned the opening kickoff 45 yards. And the Cajuns had their share of big plays too as quarterback Anthony Jennings had passes of 64 and 29 yards, Elijah McGuire had three runs of 20-plus yards, Jennings had a 29-yard run and Al Riles raced 28 yards once after earlier catching the 64-yard pass from Jennings.
Untimely mistakes (turnovers, penalties, clock management miscues, etc)
Eason had his one interception on a deflected pass to Isaac Nauta and Sony Michel fumbled the ball away once but the Bulldogs had their best day in avoiding penalties, being whistled only twice all day for 15 yards, one being a holding penalty by freshman receiver Tyler Simmons.
Special teams wins vs. miscues
The big special teams win was of course McKenzie returning the early Cajun punt 82 yards for the touchdown. McKenzie’s punt return was the longest for the Bulldogs since Brandon Boykin returned one 92 yards for a score versus Michigan State in the 2012 Outback Bowl. McKenzie set a school record for his fifth career punt return for a touchdown and moved into a three-way tie in the SEC all-time. He also now has six total returns for touchdowns (5 PRs, 1 KOR), which is a school record and is tied for third in the SEC. Davis returned the opening kickoff 45 yards and the Bulldogs had excellent coverage on kickoffs and Brice Ramsey’s punts.
Not good for the Bulldogs’ defense in this area as it didn’t resemble the unit that stopped Auburn at every turn the previous Saturday. Georgia’s defenders just had too many whiffs on tackles and allowed the Cajun runners to break to the outside for one big run after another … something that, if repeated, would be fatal against the Yellow Jackets’ ground-gobbling triple option attack next weekend.
Yards after contact
Both Chubb and Sony Michel (45 yards on 13 carries) reeled off first down runs after breaking away from initial hits, and McKenzie bounced away from several would-be ULL tacklers on his splendid 82-yard punt return.
The Bulldogs had the one interception thrown by Eason and the one lost fumble by Michel but easily won the turnover battle on this afternoon as Deandre Baker, Aaron Davis and Malkom Parrish all picked off Jennings’ passes and Lorenzo Carter recovered a Cajun fumble that led to the Bulldogs’ third touchdown in the first half.
Red Zone (offense/defense)
Both teams were perfect scoring when reaching the opponents’ 20 as Georgia was 2-of-2 inside the red zone and the Cajuns were 3-of-3.
Third down conversions
Both the Bulldogs and Cajuns were an identical 7-of-13 on third-down conversions but a big stat in this one was Georgia stopped Louisiana-Lafayette short on all three of the Cajuns’ fourth-down tries.
Run/pass attempts (total plays)
The underdog Cajuns whipped the host Bulldogs in this department, getting off 70 plays for 465 yards of total offense (276 passing, 189 passing) to Georgia’s 59 total plays and 400 yards of offense (235 rushing, 165 passing). Thus ULL won the time of possession, 31:22 minutes to the Bulldogs’ 28:38.