It’s the biggest game of them all.
One of the most heated intra-state rivalries in the land has its annual Thanksgiving weekend recommence on The Flats Saturday. Georgia is in the midst of an outstanding season, Tech is a couple of white-knuckles losses away from saying the same, but fully capable of pulling off the upset and breaking the Bulldogs hearts.
This season, Georgia has done a tremendous job of checking off boxes and shedding skins. Winning the East and earning a berth in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game is a big box checked. Bounce back, or revenge wins, is another. Four of the five teams that beat Georgia last season are on the 2017 schedule, and the Bulldogs have blown out Tennessee 41-0, Vanderbilt 45-14 and Florida 42-7. Next up, that other team on the slate that won over the Bulldogs last season. Next up, the most important of goals and games – Tech and the State Championship.
It’s been an interesting quarter-century or so of “Clean Old-Fashioned Hate.”
Dating back to 1991, Georgia is 20-6 against Tech – and not far away from 25-1. There was the Joe Hamilton fumble that wasn’t called in 1998 and a heartbreaking last-second loss at home. That would have been eight straight and matched the infamous drought of 1949-56 for the longest streak in series history.
The following season (1999) came one of the worst calls and officiating snafus in collegiate football history, as Al Ford and the Jasper Sanks “fumble” (which had the blatantly bad call even been a fumble, Tech went backwards into the end zone for what should have been a safety), as Tech came out on top in overtime. The Yellow Jackets dominated the game in Athens in 2000.
But Georgia would then embark on another long streak. The Bulldogs won seven straight against the Yellow Jackets from 2001-2007, highlighted by a 51-7 rout of Tech between the hedges in 2002 en route to the SEC and Sugar Bowl crowns and a No. 3 national ranking.
Then in 2008, Paul Johnson was hired at Tech. Mastermind of the triple option flexbone offense, which he designed for Bulldogs legend Erk Russell at Georgia Southern, Johnson’s Jackets have been a burr in the Bulldogs paw. Again with a chance at eight straight, it got away. Georgia led 28-12 at intermission but lost between the hedges.
Five more wins over Tech followed, and Georgia was on the verge in 2014. But Mark Richt, who had a stupendous 13-2 record against the Yellow Jackets, admittedly made the worst decision of his coaching career with the squib kick. Georgia fans don’t need to be reminded how that turned out.
Then last season, Georgia led 27-14 and had the ball at midfield in the fourth quarter … and lost. That one was a crusher. But that pain and hurt and frustration has helped fuel this talented Georgia squad.
Kirby Smart was a standout player and 3-1 against the Jackets. His final game at Sanford Stadium was that heartbreaker in 1998.
Of course, the Tech faithful will point to 1997, 2006 and 2013 as ones that could have gone their way. And as successful as the Bulldogs have been in the series, the bottom line is, the Yellow Jackets have won two of the last three.
Both in Athens.
Bringing us to Grant Field, where Georgia has won eight straight times over the Yellow Jackets, the last loss coming in the hideous miscarriage of justice of 1999. Georgia won the previous four on The Flats from 1991-1997, so that makes 12 of the last 13 in the Bulldogs favor at Grant Field. With the “Ford/Sanks non-fumble” the lone loss.
Obviously, Tech is hungry to win at home over its arch-rival.
When dissecting what happened last year between the hedges, a silver lining can be found. While Tech players ripped out pieces of the hedges celebrating, heralded tailbacks Nick Chubb and Sony Michel watched and decided they were not going out that way. As freshmen, both standouts had fumbles on the Tech one-yard line. These two elite, beloved Bulldogs, along with outside linebackers Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter came back for their senior seasons to win games like this.
From 2014-2016, the Bulldogs went 2-7 against Tech, Florida, and Tennessee. While their returns have obviously been a huge part to Georgia’s success and the berth in the SEC Championship Game, it also put a huge stamp of credibility on the Bulldogs outstanding young head coach who has come home on a mission to lead his alma mater to greatness.
For that to happen, it starts with winning at home, and that means Sanford Stadium and Atlanta.
Tech is hungry. The Yellow Jackets should have beaten Miami and Tennessee. Those cut blocks and the precise option are extremely difficult to deal with. The Jackets have an outstanding line of scrimmage and defense, and a natural at quarterback for what Johnson wants to do.
Saturday will be one of the toughest challenges, and the most important game the Bulldogs have played.
To be truly great, Georgia must once again rule the state.
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