Happy Thanksgiving! I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Georgia Bulldogs have a game between two ranked teams coming up in Atlanta. Well, two of them, actually, but first things first; before the Red and Black take the field in pursuit of their third SEC crown in the last decade, they first must contend with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, a longstanding season-ending rival with whom we (unlike some schools I could name) were willing to maintain an annual series even after they left the conference we shared for many years. With respect to this year’s edition of Clean Old-Fashioned Hate, I now bring you neither a dollop of data, nor a sprinkling of statistics, but, rather, Too Much Information:
This Saturday’s game is being played at Grant Field. This fact is utterly inconsequential, both because Mark Richt-coached teams are 37-10 in opponents’ home stadiums and because the Bulldogs (who are 17-7 against the Yellow Jackets between the hedges since 1964) are 18-5 against the Engineers at the Flats since Vince Dooley’s arrival in Athens. Georgia Tech simply does not enjoy any home field advantage in this series.
The Bulldogs rank second nationally in third-down defense, allowing their opponents to convert just 28.3 per cent of third downs. The Yellow Jackets are tied for 89th nationally in that same category, surrendering first-down yardage on 44.1 per cent of third downs. This datum did not qualify as the Feel Good Stat of the Week, which should tell you something about how I am feeling this Thanksgiving Day.
The Engineers have attempted 135 passes this season, for ten touchdowns and six interceptions. In Paul Johnson’s first three seasons at the Flats, the Yellow Jackets attempted 165, 168, and 168 passes, respectively, for between five and eleven touchdowns and between six and seven interceptions. In the next two games, therefore, the Golden Tornado will attempt between 30 and 33 passes for one touchdown and one pick. Hopefully, the Ramblin’ Wreck will attempt most of those passes in the fourth quarter this Saturday while trying desperately to catch up, the one remaining interception of the season will be brought in by Bacarri Rambo, and the TD toss will be saved for the bowl game. If this does not happen, math is a lie, and every premise upon which the culture of the Georgia Institute of Technology is based is stupid.
2011 marks the 23rd season in Georgia history in which the Bulldogs have beaten both the Gators and the Plainsmen. The first such season came in 1920, a year in which the Red and Black did not play Georgia Tech. In the intervening 21 autumns in which the Classic City Canines got the better of both Florida and Auburn, the Athenians went 16-5 against the Yellow Jackets. That ledger includes an 8-3 mark against the Ramblin’ Wreck at Grant Field. The ‘Dawgs have not lost to Georgia Tech in a season in which Georgia beat both traditional orange-and-blue-clad rivals in 60 years; since the last such loss in 1951, the Red and Black have taken nine straight against the Engineers after beating Florida and Auburn. Seven of those nine seasons also saw the SEC championship trophy land in Athens, but I am getting ahead of myself.
Contrary to preseason expectations, the Yellow Jackets actually sport a pretty respectable secondary, as the Golden Tornado ranks 23rd in all the land in pass defense. The Engineers concede just 193.4 passing yards per game, barely over a first down’s distance more than the 182.2 permitted by the Bulldogs through the air. If the Red and Black don’t have a healthy tailback who can take advantage of the Ramblin’ Wreck’s 71st-ranked rush defense---and we may not---Georgia Tech has the ability to curtail severely Aaron Murray’s ability to move the ball over the top.
Arguably, Ed Wilson already provided this for you, and oneloyaldawg did, too, but I’d like to add my two cents’ worth, as well. I know it sounded crazy when I said this on the podcast, but the key to beating Georgia Tech is to play good pass defense. Yes, I realize that the Yellow Jackets rank second nationally in rushing offense and 112th nationally in passing offense, but the Engineers rank sixth nationally in pass efficiency. They don’t throw the ball often, but, when they do, they throw it very, very well.
Obviously, the ground game is the bread and butter of Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense, but preventing big plays in the passing game is critical to defending the Ramblin’ Wreck wishbone. Bear in mind that the Miami Hurricanes, who rank 68th nationally against the run, beat the Engineers, while the North Carolina Tar Heels, who rank 18th nationally in rush defense, lost to the Golden Tornado. Those seemingly incongruous results occurred because Miami ranks 29th nationally against the pass, while North Carolina is 84th in the land in aerial defense.
In fact, all three of Georgia Tech’s losses have come against teams that rank in the top 50 in the country in pass defense, while two of the Ramblin’ Wreck’s wins have come over teams that rank in the top 35 in Division I-A in rush defense. The Bulldogs rank second nationally against the run and 13th nationally against the pass. Because Todd Grantham can trust his corners in man coverage, Georgia will be able to bring up the safeties in run support, which is the only way to slow down the Yellow Jacket option.
At the risk of making myself sound even older than I am, I must acknowledge that the 2011 Georgia team reminds me a lot of the 1945 Georgia team. The first postwar edition of the Bulldogs, like the current Red and Black club, was stocked with standout freshmen, such as left halfback Johnny Donaldson, quarterback John Rauch, and fullback Floyd “Breezy” Reid (who was still 17 when he made his first start for the ‘Dawgs).
That team, like this team, suffered setbacks in back-to-back outings before beginning a lengthy winning streak; in fact, Georgia finished the 1945 season with the selfsame 9-2 record the Red and Black presently boast. That young team, like this young team, accomplished its impressive feats for a Georgia program three years removed from its last New Year’s Day bowl appearance, and the ‘45 Bulldogs ended their season in a January game, just as these ‘Dawgs appear destined to do.
The parallels are made still more poignant by the fact that both seasons saw the Georgia program lose longtime friends without whom Bulldog football seemed unimaginable. In 2011, Bulldog Nation lost Larry Munson; in 1945, Athens mourned the passing of Steadman Vincent Sanford.
Despite the tragedy that cast a pall over their first varsity campaign, the stellar freshmen of 1945 restored to greatness a struggling program under a head coach who previously had guided the Red and Black to solid success. Over the course of their four-year collegiate careers, those players went 36-8-1, attended four New Year’s Day bowl games, won two SEC championships and one national championship, went 3-1 against Georgia Tech, and beat the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta in their first year on campus.
Given the opportunity to defeat the Tennessee Volunteers, the Florida Gators, the Auburn Tigers, and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the same season, I don’t believe the Georgia Bulldogs are going to squander their chance.
My Prediction: Georgia 28, Georgia Tech 24.