Georgia goes for state crown before SEC title game
Georgia is headed to the Southeastern Conference championship
Nothing would put a damper on that trip like finishing second in
its own state.
When the 13th-ranked Bulldogs (9-2) face No. 25 Georgia Tech on
Saturday, they’ll be eager to avoid any sort of slip-up in what has
been a comeback of a season. It started with two straight defeats
and plenty of speculation that coach Mark Richt was on the way
Georgia hasn’t lost since.
”We’ve been very concerned about the SEC throughout the season
and trying to stay in the hunt,” tight end Aron White said.
”Luckily, we’ve put ourselves in position to play for the
championship. But we’ve got to win the state championship
No matter what happens on this quick trip to Atlanta, the
Bulldogs will be making a return trip next weekend to play for
their first conference title since 2005 against No. 1 LSU (12-0).
The Tigers, who routed third-ranked Arkansas 41-17 on Friday, will
be trying to wrap up a spot in the national championship game.
Georgia, meanwhile, hasn’t forgotten what happened to Georgia
Tech two years ago.
The Yellow Jackets (8-3) were in a similar position when they
faced Georgia, having already locked up a spot in the Atlantic
Coast Conference title game. But their big season was left with a
permanent stain when the Bulldogs pulled off a 30-24 upset.
”Even if we win the SEC championship this year but lost to
Tech, I’m sure there would be plenty of people saying, `Ohhhh, but
we still lost to Tech,”’ White said. ”We hate Tech. And Tech
Georgia Tech was eliminated from the ACC race a couple of weeks
ago but still has a shot at a 10-win season. It sure would be sweet
to knock off the Bulldogs along the way, especially with Georgia’s
dominance over the last decade.
The Yellow Jackets have lost nine of the last 10 meetings – and
none of them stung more than that 2009 game.
Time for payback.
”Oh, we would love to,” running back Orwin Smith said. ”Just
the old-fashioned hate. It gets no better than spoiling their
plans. It would be great, something to brag on.”
Georgia Tech hasn’t been able to do much bragging in this
The rare exception came in 2008, when the Yellow Jackets stunned
Georgia between the hedges 45-42, unleashing the triple-option on a
defense that had no idea how to stop it.
Roddy Jones had one of the biggest plays in that game, breaking
a couple of tackles on a 54-yard touchdown run down the sideline
midway through the fourth quarter.
”It was surreal,” said Jones, then a redshirt freshman and now
a senior. ”It all happened so fast. I wasn’t sure I stayed in
bounds. I wasn’t sure if they were going to review it.”
Jones wound up with 214 yards, part of a 409-yard rushing effort
by the Yellow Jackets. Not surprisingly, given Georgia Tech’s lack
of success in the rivalry, he still hears about that balancing act
down the sideline three long years ago.
”People come up and tell me where they were when they saw it,”
he said. ”It’s a very cool feeling. It kind of shows what the
rivalry means to people and it’s very humbling as well to have
people say `that’s my favorite run’ or other things like
Of course, it would be nice to create some new memories. For
that to happen, the Yellow Jackets will have to run wild against
one of the nation’s toughest defenses.
Georgia ranks second in the NCAA against the run, allowing just
81.3 yards per game. Something will have to give against the Yellow
Jackets, who are second nationally in rushing yards (323.6 a
”We like the challenge,” linebacker Christian Robinson said.
”It’s the biggest challenge we’ll have from a run game this year,
just knowing they’re going to continue to do what they do no matter
what we throw at `em. That’s their whole motto: just keep doing it,
whether it’s first down, second down, third down, all the way to
The Bulldogs, led by outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, have held
seven opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground and showed
striking improvement in their second year under defensive
coordinator Todd Grantham. Georgia Tech, on the other hand, has
eclipsed 300 yards rushing five times and been held under 200 yards
only once with its throwback offense, which resembles the wishbone
of the 1970s.
”It’s so hard because you only see it once a year,” said
Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo said. ”There’s so much movement and
once one person messes up, it allows them to make big plays. So
we’ve just got to go out there, do our jobs and continue to hustle
to the ball.”
Georgia Tech’s defense isn’t nearly as imposing, giving up more
than 30 points each of the last two games. The Yellow Jackets have
struggled to slow Georgia on the ground in recent meetings, though
it may be a bit easier this time because of all the uncertainty in
the Bulldogs’ backfield.
Freshman Isaiah Crowell, the leading rusher with 832 yards, is
slowed by an ankle injury. His backup, Richard Samuel, is still
recovering from ankle surgery and can’t go. Disciplinary issues
have hurt the depth even more, allowing walk-on Brandon Harton to
climb into a prominent role.
Special teams have been a major problem for both teams. Georgia
Tech has used three guys to handle kickoffs, two punters, four punt
returners, and a staggering nine kickoff returners. Georgia endured
baffling slumps by its two star specialists, kicker Brandon Walsh
and punter Drew Butler, though both looked much better in an SEC
East-clinching win over Kentucky last week.
Regardless of the outcome Saturday, both teams appear to have
bright futures. Georgia, with only five senior starters, has gotten
huge contributions from its touted freshman class. Georgia Tech’s
two-deep depth chart features two dozen freshmen and
”We’ve had a really, really young team,” Yellow Jackets coach
Paul Johnson said. ”If everybody comes back, I guess we’ll have
nine starters back on offense and we’ll probably have seven or
eight on defense, so we’ve got a good nucleus.”
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