2013 Georgia Bulldogs Season Preview: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Scott Cunningham

By the time we reach the last day of November, we will know whether Georgia will be appearing in the next week's SEC Championship Game.  Indeed, the question may have been decided for weeks.  We also will know whether both teams' personnel changes (including defensive coaching personnel for Tech) will mean improvement or not over last year.  We have a long way to go before the 2013 Football Edition of Clean Old-Fashioned Hate, but it'll be here before you know it.  We wrap up our game-by-game previews of 2013 UGA football with in-state rival Georgia Tech.

THE TECH SPECS

Head Coach: Paul Johnson

Coach Johnson is entering his sixth year as Tech's head coach with a W-L record of 40-26.  What had been a forty-first win (along with the only ACC title won under Johnson) was vacated as part of penalties for NCAA infractions, based on the Institute's history of getting into trouble and the fact that someone at Tech was arrogant and confrontational in his dealings with the NCAA (imagine that).  Johnson's teams' record against Georgia: 1-4.

2012 Record: 7-7 (including a 42-10 loss between the hedges)

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, specifically, the Flats (a flood plain at the north edge of town, conveniently located across the mighty Connector River from the Varsity)

Mascot: Vespula squamosa

Colors: Old Gold and White (The occasion for Tech's selecting its colors was not a contest in which the school participated, but the 1892 Georgia-Auburn football game -- once again, it's all about UGA.)

Against Georgia: UGA leads the all-time series 63-37*-5.  The record includes an eight-win streak by the Jackets (The Drought from 1949-56) and two seven-win streaks by the Dawgs (1991-97, 2001-07).  First meeting: 1893 (Georgia 28, Tech 6).

Fun Fact: The Georgia Institute of Technology is one of only five schools in Division IA that don't have the word "University" in their official names.

SB Nation Affiliate: From the Rumble Seat

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

Tech football has a history of which its fans rightly can be proud.  Two of its previous head football coaches have major national awards named after them; it is permanently ensconced in the record books as the most lopsided victor in the history of the sport; and it plays its games at the oldest stadium in Division IA.  What happened?

In recent years, by the time Johnson came to town, Tech had settled into a groove, averaging about seven wins a season (but none against Georgia) under Johnson's predecessor, Chan Gailey.  Johnson brought a lot of excitement to the Flats with his option offense, having had remarkable success at the United States Naval Academy and Georgia Southern.  In his first season, he led the Jackets to a 9-4 record with a win over Georgia after seven consecutive losses in the series.  In his second season, the Jackets went 11-3 and captured the ACC title (although, as previously noted, one of those wins (the conference championship game) and the title were vacated).  Things haven't been so rosy (golden?) since then, however: in the last three years, Tech is averaging about seven wins a season (but none against Georgia) under Johnson.

DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS.  AL GROH DIDN'T WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS.

(unless you count the 1991 Super Bowl)

Tech's offense in the option has racked up a lot of yards, so it's reasonable to conclude that at least part of the problem has been the defense.  That's what Johnson concluded, anyway, when he fired defensive coordinator Al Groh in 2012, halfway through Groh's third season in the position.  Groh made some scathing departing remarks about the Tech program, and although we can speculate they were at least partly the product of disgruntlement, it isn't difficult to imagine that Johnson, whose persona could be described as "grumpy", isn't a man with whom one might easily get along.

To replace Groh, Johnson hired former Georgia Tech linebacker Ted Roof.  Roof coached Tech's defense from 1999-2001, the most recent pre-Johnson period of Yellow Jackets success-ish (including a 2-1 record over Georgia).  Johnson wanted to simplify things for his defense from Groh's 3-4, because recruiting players who can pass a calculus class eliminates recruits who can learn an interesting playbook.  It appears that Roof will coach a defense that primarily lines up in a 4-3 and, if things work out as hoped on the Flats, will have more success against opponents' rushing attacks.

The obvious returning star on the Jackets' defense is senior OLB-turned-DE Jeremiah Attaochu, who's recorded 19 career sacks, including one in each of his games against Georgia.  His new position gives him greater responsibility for QB pressure, so Attaochu has an excellent opportunity to shine in his final year.  Senior CB Jemea Thomas will contribute to what already was a decent pass defense, and senior LB Brandon Watts, who played well in spite of a nagging turf toe the last couple of years, returns healthy to round out the Tech D leadership.  They are hoping it can't get much worse, and the Trade School faithful have reason to believe that their personnel will show an improved defensive performance under Roof in 2013.

THE QUARTERBACK OF THE FUTURE IS HERE.

QB Tevin Washington and A-back Orwin Smith, who accounted for more than 1300 yards of 2012 offense between them, are gone, but hope rides high at Tech that the 2013 offensive personnel will mean a net gain.  Sophomore QB Vad Lee has plenty of playing experience already, taking about the same number of snaps as Washington in the latter part of last season.  And Lee has passing skills that haven't been seen at Grant Field in quite some time.  Although Lee's completion record was shy of 50%, he still managed more than 10 yards per attempt.  Nobody expects a transformation to an aerial attack, but just having a more reliable passing option is a plus.

Johnson's done a decent enough job bringing receivers into the program considering the kind of offense he runs, but the system's just not built to develop returning experience.  Newcomer DeAndre Smelter has been turning heads in practice and could be the pass-option target in the vein of Stephen Hill and Demaryius Thomas.  I find it hard to believe there will be more emphasis on the passing game, but with more passing ability at the quarterback position, the airborne component of Johnson's offense should be more efficient and, therefore, more productive.

Smith nearly set a school record for yards per carry, and was a prototypical A-back for Johnson's system.  But senior Robert Godhigh has plenty of experience at the position, so not many beats should be missed.  David Sims, returning to B-back from injury, should be a solid contributor.  Godhigh and Sims are backed up with enough talent and experience to expect continued rushing success by the Jackets.

THE UGA MATCHUP

There is, as they say, a whole lot of football to be played between now and November 30.  Projecting how the 2013 iteration of Clean Old-Fashioned Hate will play out is difficult.  First, there are the Unexpecteds -- injuries, surprise break-out stars, players who don't live up to their hype.  And there are the Intangibles -- e.g., will Georgia be looking ahead to the SEC Championship Game or slogging to the end of a likely good but disappointing season?

I cannot bring myself to get too confident in this game, but if I try very hard to look at the matchup objectively (a fool's errand), it's difficult to see any way that Georgia will not be favored.  Even if Tech's D adjusts well to Roof's plans and even if Lee provides an uptick in passing performance to complement the rambling rushing attack, the Dawgs should be just a bit too much to handle on both sides of the ball.  Whatever questions we're being told to have about our defense will be answered after playing eleven games, and the outstanding talent on that side of the ball should be comfortable in their assignments by then.

What I would like to see, of course, is a Georgia team (and fans) high on having secured a berth in the SEC Championship Game and scoring at will against a demoralized Tech team (think 2002).  It would not surprise me, however, to see a somewhat closer game.

Prediction: If forced, and giving some credit to possible Tech improvements over recent years, I'll say the Dawgs win 44-28.  We miss an extra point and give Murray a rest; Tech scores a late TD.  I have no good reason for that, but I gotta say something.  What say you?

GO DAWGS!

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