Earlier this season, Alabama wasn’t much of a conversation-starter. Sure, they were defending champs and a talented, well-coached team. But how many ways could you say the same thing? If not outright boring, the predictable precision with which Alabama dispatched its opponents wasn’t very exciting or fun for a college football audience that thrives on serendipity, upsets, and uncertainty. Instead, we had to create ridiculous parlor games about whether Alabama would beat any number of NFL teams.
After Georgia had opened the scoring against Georgia Tech in a little over a minute, the fan next to me was skeptical – it isn’t going to be that easy, is it? This is, after all, a rival whose obsession with Georgia is woven into the fabric of the institute. Even if overmatched, they’d try everything they could think of to ruin Georgia’s national title hopes. But the challenge never came. There was no sign of the fight that Tech showed in 2008 to turn a 28-12 halftime deficit into a win. Even in the Bill Lewis or Reggie Ball years, you could at least count on total effort and, in the case of 1993, literally a fight. Instead, you got a game that was as free of suspense as any game Georgia has played this year.
That’s been the story of Georgia’s season since Jacksonville. The win over Florida closed a tumultuous period for the program that featured a shootout win over Tennessee, a humbling blowout at South Carolina, an ugly win at Kentucky, and an improbable turnaround leading up to a win over the nation’s then-#2 team. That stretch was many things on and off the field, but boring it wasn’t. But for sluggish starts against Ole Miss and Georgia Southern, November has been relatively smooth sailing. Boring, almost.
We know that something that looks so easy comes from tremendous effort and attention to detail. Alabama talks about their “process”, and Georgia’s very public October crisis was largely about getting the defense back to a way of doing the things required for a certain identity. I won’t pretend that the level of competition in November has been stout, but for a team whose own fans came to expect the Dawgs to play down to lesser competition, the transformation of this team into one that can run off a month of drama-free “boring” football has been more than welcome. It’s also moved Georgia into position to play for college football’s ultimate team goal.
More from a throughly enjoyable win in a series where this never gets old…
- It was the one universal topic of postgame discussions on Saturday: has there ever been a smaller Tech presence in Athens? I couldn’t remember a more subdued and less visible Tech crowd – even before the opening kickoff. We knew that Tech returned even more of their allotment than Georgia Southern, but it was something else to experience it.
- There was never much concern about lack of focus for Tech, but it was reasonable to wonder how Georgia would handle the early start, a late-arriving crowd, and the emotions of Senior Day. The offense came out as sharp as we’ve seen them all year. The defense wasn’t able to get off the field as easily as they’d like, but they made the plays necessary to keep Tech off the scoreboard.
- I had assumed that Tech would at least try to take away the run as Georgia Southern did. Even if they had blitzed Murray relentlessly, I would have understood that there was at least a plan. Tech’s defense showed no resistence against either the run or the pass. The line was relatively unclogged for big running lanes, and the pass rush and coverage was passive enough for Aaron Murray to do whatever he wanted.
- There were a lot of meaningless stats from the game – time of possession is at the top of the list – but the fact that Georgia only faced four 3rd downs in the first three quarters tells you how brutally efficient the Georgia offense was while it was building its lead.
- If you had to guess which of these teams would attempt more passes, you’d probably say Georgia. We expected Tech to throw a little, but Georgia did well to limit what Tech could do through the air. The Jackets were held to about half of their average yards per pass attempt. They had compensated for not having a standout receiver by spreading the ball around, but it was clear that Tech had neither the passing nor receiving talent to get back in the game by throwing the ball.
- Tech did have more success this year with the dive play. A year ago Georgia limited Tech’s B-back to 36 yards on 12 carries with more of their ground coming wide or on inside handoffs to the A-backs. This year with primary A-back Orwin Smith out, Tech’s Sims and Laskey combined for 127 yards. Georgia’s key was limiting the damage – Sims popped a 14-yard run on Tech’s first drive but was otherwise held to just over 4 yards per carry. Laskey averaged even less. Against Duke Paul Johnson was proud of the way his team controlled possession and made the plays to finish long drives. Georgia forced Tech to sustain drives, and the Jackets didn’t make the plays to finish off those drives this time. Though Tech didn’t punt until the second half, they turned the ball over, got stopped on fourth down, or had to settle for field goal attempts.
- Speaking of field goal attempts, Paul Johnson’s clock management at the end of the first half was about as questionable as his team’s defensive strategy. Assured of the second half kickoff, Tech had an opportunity – as Georgia did in Atlanta a year ago – of putting together scoring drives surrounding halftime. It was a longshot, but Tech could have made the score 28-17 before Georgia touched the ball again. Johnson all but wasted his final two timeouts and seemed to play for a field goal that sailed right. Tech got nothing but an immediate deficit out of winning the coin toss.
- It’s easy to look at Ogletree and Rambo now and forget how rough the transition was when they returned from suspension. I guess we assumed they’d plug back in at their current level of play, but there was plenty of rust to work through to get to this point. I had rated the suspensions as one of the more overblown preseason stories, but they definitely shaped the middle of the season. It’s fortunate (and to the team’s credit) that they have been able to keep their goals intact while getting all of the key contributors back in top form. Ogletree’s 15 tackles and Rambo’s two forced fumbles and an interception led a defense that has been dominant since they took the field against Florida.