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Georgia Bulldogs 2011 Season Preview: The Georgia Tech Game

(Author’s Note: Before you begin reading this posting, please make sure your sense of humor has been placed in the "on" position. There will be humor in this posting. This will be your final warning before the humor begins. Dawg Sports is not responsible for your inability to take a joke. Please govern yourself accordingly.)

For the benefit of those of you who are too cheap to buy As a supplement to the Maple Street Press annual, I have been previewing each opponent on the Georgia Bulldogs’ 2011 schedule (and garnering a measure of attention in the process when I fortuitously happen to preview an opponent just before Bill Connelly does so with about a billion times more expertise). Believe it or not, we have made it to the end of the season regular season (please let there be a postseason please let there be a postseason!), so the only game left on the slate is the Red and Black’s date with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on November 26 at Mary Tyler Moore Bobby Dodd Stadium at historic Lou Grant Field. To that contest I now turn---on Georgia Tech’s Fan Day, no less!---while wondering whether I will manage to tick off the fans of two Atlanta schools in as many days.

The Ramblin’ Wreck, last seen losing to the ‘Dawgs for the ninth time in a ten-season span, have had an interesting offseason, one that has included being fined, placed on four years’ probation, and forced to vacate an ACC championship by the NCAA, due more to a lack of cooperation than to any sweeping malfeasance. The Golden Tornado’s efforts to sell season tickets have met with only limited success, perhaps due to allegations that season ticket holders sometimes are forced to submit to strip searches and throw away perfectly good Chick-fil-A sandwiches. On the plus side, Georgia Tech students believe their school will have the country’s best athletics facilities in the future, so they’ve got that going for them.

Bulldog Nation enters the autumn secure in the knowledge that 2011 is a critical year for Mark Richt, but, apparently, it’s a critical year for Paul Johnson, as well. Historically, fourth-year Golden Tornado head coaches improve significantly over their prior winning percentage, unless they’re great coaches (John Heisman, Bill Alexander, or Bill Curry Bobby Dodd), in which case they decline or hold the line. In that sense, Yellow Jacket fans are hopeful that this season confirms that Coach Johnson is not a great coach; put differently, Yellow Jacket fans are hopeful that this season confirms that everything they’ve spent the last three years telling us about Coach Johnson is false.

What we know about Coach Johnson based upon his first three years at the Flats is that he intends to run the ball more than any other coach in a BCS conference while hoping to goodness that his backs don’t fumble. The Georgia Tech skipper’s singleminded commitment to running the ball is so unwavering that his offenses have been staggeringly consistent when it comes to throwing the ball. Consider this: Paul Johnson has been a Division I-A head coach for nine years, and his teams completed exactly 74 passes in four of those seasons. I know they’re big into mathematical precision over on North Avenue, but dang.

Likewise, the Engineers have been strikingly steady in aerial attempts over the course of Coach Johnson’s career in Atlanta. Georgia Tech put the ball in the air 165 times in 2008, 168 times in 2009, and 168 times in 2010. Since we play the Old Gold and Navy in the final game of the season, we should be able to figure almost exactly how many times the Yellow Jackets are going to throw the ball against the ‘Dawgs at William Tecumseh Sherman Bobby Dodd Stadium at historic Ulysses S. Grant Field.

Whatever that number turns out to be, though, it’s clear that the improvement, vel non, of the Red and Black run defense will be the key to this game for Georgia, because---you heard it here first---Georgia Tech is going to gain its yards on the ground, without regard to the departures of Anthony Allen and Josh Nesbitt. Roddy Jones, who averaged seven yards per rush against Georgia in last year’s 411-yard ground assault in Athens, returns, and the perennial success of Paul Johnson’s triple option offense speaks for itself.

On the other side of the ball, the Yellow Jackets are liable to be strong at linebacker yet weak in the secondary, from which the Engineers have lost four of last year’s starters. Aaron Murray, who threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns against the Georgia Tech defensive backfield as a freshman, ought to excel again in Atlanta, provided the offensive line holds up and the Bulldogs can establish a semblance of a running game. Both of those are very big ifs.

Though the game is being played at Divine Brown Bobby Dodd Stadium at historic Hugh Grant Field, the venue should not much matter in determining the outcome. As I noted in the aforementioned Maple Street Press annual, the Red and Black have, since 1956, posted records of 19-8 against the Old Gold and Navy in Athens and 20-7 against the Engineers in Atlanta. If the Bulldogs lose this game, it won’t be because of where it was played.

Finally, although I hesitate to mention this for fear of jinxing it, the fact is that, for Georgia, Georgia Tech is the anti-Florida. Just as the Gators’ apparent psychological edge over the Bulldogs in Jacksonville has allowed the Sunshine State Saurians to go 5-1 in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in games decided by a touchdown or less since 2001, so too has the Bulldogs’ apparent psychological edge over the Yellow Jackets permitted the Classic City Canines to go 5-1 in the in-state series in games settled by eight or fewer points since 2003. Both series have been amazingly close in recent seasons, yet the Red and Black virtually never get the better of one rival but virtually always get the better of the other.

Those trends, of course, indicate only tendencies, not inevitabilities; the Georgia Tech game is every bit as losable as the Florida game is winnable, and, at some point, the metaphorical coin-flip that is the fourth quarter of a closely-contested game is going to break the other way. Until that actually happens on the field (as it will, perhaps even this year), though, the Ramblin’ Wreck’s 2008 win in Athens looks more and more like a fumble-fueled fluke, and less and less like evidence of Paul Johnson’s supposed genius.

Whatever cause Mark Richt’s detractors may have to doubt his continued fitness to serve as the head football coach of the nation’s oldest state-chartered university, his ownership of this series remains an article of faith in Bulldog Nation until we are given reason to believe there has been a changing of the guard. While a win in this game is far from a given, there is not presently any basis for believing such a shift has taken place.

Also on Dawg Sports: Boise State game preview . . . South Carolina game preview . . . Coastal Carolina game preview . . . Ole Miss game preview . . . Mississippi State game preview . . . Tennessee game preview . . . Vanderbilt game preview . . . bye week preview . . . Florida game preview . . . New Mexico State game preview . . . Auburn game preview . . . Kentucky game preview . . . Maple Street Press annual!

Go ‘Dawgs!