Each week, I endeavor to provide you with a measure of statistical and historical perspective on the Georgia Bulldogs’ upcoming matchup. This week, the Classic City Canines will wrap up a disappointing regular season by hosting the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets between the hedges. As we look forward to the 2010 edition of Clean Old-Fashioned Hate, I pledge to bring you not a dash of data or a modicum of minutiae, but, instead, Too Much Information.
Unquestionably, the low point of the season for the Bulldogs was Georgia’s loss to lowly Colorado. Nevertheless, the game in Boulder made 2010 the 23rd season in Red and Black football history in which the Athenians took the field against a team that currently competes in the Big 12. In the previous 22 such seasons, the Bulldogs went 15-7 against Georgia Tech and posted a 9-2 mark against the Ramblin’ Wreck in Sanford Stadium. Georgia’s last loss to the Yellow Jackets in a season in which the Classic City Canines played a present Big 12 club came in Ray Goff’s first season in 1989; Georgia’s last home loss to the Engineers in such a season came in 1954.
In some respects, there isn’t a great deal of statistical difference between Al Groh’s 3-4 defense and Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense. Georgia ranks 40th in the nation in scoring defense, surrendering 22.1 points per game, whereas Georgia Tech is only slightly worse, giving up 24.7 points per game for a No. 57 ranking in Division I-A. Some hope, however, is offered by the fact that the Yellow Jacket offense has been held to 21 or fewer points in three of its last four games, a stretch during which the Ramblin’ Wreck attack has averaged 18.5 points per game. The Classic City Canines, by contrast, have scored at least 31 points in six straight games, putting up 40.8 points per contest in that span. (Included in that 4-2 run were a pair of outings in which Georgia scored 31 points apiece against the country’s 26th- and 59th-ranked scoring defenses.)
There is, though, a wide disparity between the two Peach State squads in total defense. The Bulldogs are conceding 319.8 yards per game---only 20 teams in the land allow fewer---while the Engineers surrender a 66th-place 374.5 yards per contest. The Red and Black are a respectable 25th against the run (126.55 rushing yards per game permitted), as opposed to the 171.09 yards per game given up by Old Gold and Navy on the ground, which strands the Golden Tornado at No. 79 nationally. Even the Athenians’ suspect pass defense is slightly better than the Atlantans’ secondary can boast, as Georgia allows a 29th-ranked 193.3 passing yards per game, or roughly 30 fewer feet per contest than the 203.4 yards per game No. 41 Georgia Tech allows through the air.
For the 51st time in series history, the Red and Black come into their game with the Golden Tornado after having an in-season open date the previous Saturday. The bye week prior to the game against Georgia Tech appeared on Georgia’s slate as early as 1897 and was a regular fixture on the schedule from the early 1950s through the mid-1990s. On the half a hundred prior occasions on which the Athenians met the Atlantans after having a week off, Georgia went 32-18 against Georgia Tech and enjoyed an 18-9 record against the Ramblin’ Wreck at home.
Field position should favor the Bulldogs, who rank second in the SEC in punting and first in the league in kickoff coverage.
If something about this game seems vaguely familiar, it may be because you’ve seen this movie (or something like it) before. Georgia started the season by blasting a Sun Belt patsy at home, fell to South Carolina in a defensive struggle, and appeared to right the ship with three straight wins over Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky before dropping hard-fought games to Florida and Auburn. The Bulldogs are led by a redshirt freshman quarterback who shows great promise and a record-setting junior receiver. Fans know they like Mark Richt as a person, but they’re not entirely sold on whether he’s the right man to lead the program to the promised land. The Red and Black have posted a disappointing record and appear bound for a lower-tier postseason berth, possibly against a Big East opponent, possibly in Nashville. If that script doesn’t strike you as novel, it’s because it isn’t; it tracks almost exactly Coach Richt’s first season in the Classic City in 2001. That year, the Athenians claimed a 31-17 victory over the Atlantans in a night game.
Georgia ranks last in the league in stopping the opposition on third down; the Bulldogs have allowed the other team to move the chains 62 times in 150 tries, making the Red and Black the only team in the SEC to halt its opponents on third down less than 60 per cent of the time. Nevertheless, the Athenians have given up the conference’s third-fewest first downs (183) and third-fewest rushing first downs (76). Among SEC squads, only South Carolina (71) and Alabama (75) have allowed their opponents to move the chains on running plays fewer times than the Classic City Canines. That bodes well for the Bulldogs when facing a Georgia Tech outfit that ranks first in the ACC in first downs earned rushing (164, or 44 more than second-place Virginia Tech) and last in the ACC in first downs earned passing (35, or 25 fewer than eleventh-place Wake Forest).
That said, while the loss of second-leading rusher Joshua Nesbitt was a blow to the Ramblin’ Wreck ground game, Tevin Washington is the more efficient passer of the two. Nesbitt accounted for 80 per cent of the interceptions thrown by Georgia Tech this autumn, and, in two games as the Yellow Jackets’ starting signal caller, Washington has completed nine of 23 aerial attempts for 191 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. No, that isn’t exactly lighting it up, but, in a run-oriented offense like Georgia Tech’s (and against a suspect secondary like Georgia’s), it’s good enough to cause concern. We don’t want the Bulldogs to give up a 79-yard touchdown pass to the Engineers the way Duke did last week.
Since the end of the Chan Gailey regime at the Flats, Paul Johnson and Mark Richt have gone 1-1 against one another, with each pulling off an upset on the other’s home field. Two games is too small a sample size to declare that the "away field advantage" and propensity for underdogs to upend favorites that have characterized the
Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry are now the norm in the Peach State series, but surely it has not escaped the Golden Tornado’s notice that the game is in Athens and Georgia is favored.
Yes, the Bulldogs are 28-14-1 all-time against the Yellow Jackets in the Classic City, including a 25-13-1 mark in Sanford Stadium, but, of Georgia Tech’s eight series wins over the Red and Black since 1977, five of them have come between the hedges.
From 1959 to 1995, Georgia closed out every campaign with what came to be known as "Hate Season," facing Florida, Auburn, and Georgia Tech in succession. While reasonable denizens of Bulldog Nation, usually differentiated by generation and geography, disagree over the sequence, few doubt that the Gators, the Plainsmen, and the Yellow Jackets are the Red and Black’s top three rivals.
After 1943, when the Second World War interrupted Georgia’s rivalries with Auburn and Florida to mark the most recent break in any of the Bulldogs’ most critical series, Wally Butts went 0-3 through Hate Season three times in 17 years. Thereafter, Johnny Griffith lost to all three major rivals twice in three seasons, Vince Dooley did so twice in 25 seasons, Ray Goff did so once in seven seasons, and Jim Donnan did so twice in five seasons.
The game is being played in Athens at night on Senior Day. The Bulldogs need the victory to attain bowl eligibility and to earn a bit of breathing room for their embattled head coach. Georgia has had an extra week to prepare and get healthy, and Georgia Tech will be playing without injured starting quarterback Joshua Nesbitt. The Red and Black should win this game.
However, no one who is familiar with this series believes it is as simple as that. Although Georgia has been very nearly as dominant over Georgia Tech in the record book over the course of the last two decades as Florida has been over Georgia (and, had instant replay in college football been implemented a few years earlier, the Bulldogs would have been more dominant over the Engineers during that span), the intensity of the in-state rivalry on the field all but assures that the Red and Black are in for a four-quarter battle decided by a single-score margin.
While far from good, the Bulldogs are better than their record, which was attained against a tougher slate than that faced by the Yellow Jackets. The future looks bright in Athens, where Mark Richt’s football team looks to emulate the model established by Mark Fox’s basketball team; the Hoop Dogs have turned last year’s narrow losses into this year’s narrow victories, and a Georgia gridiron squad that has been in every game heading into the fourth quarter hopes to close the deal after demonstrating against Auburn an ability to come back from an early deficit (which literally never occurred in the first ten games of the Bulldogs’ season: Georgia never trailed in any of the Red and Black’s five wins and Georgia never led in any of the Red and Black’s first five losses). A motivated and rested Bulldog squad should succeed in winning this critical contest, but not without a heck of a fight. I think it’s crazy that Georgia is favored by double digits, but, fortunately, I’ll be quite content with even a one-point win. I look for the Bulldogs to prevail by more than a field goal but less than a touchdown.
My Prediction: Georgia Bulldogs 30, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 24.