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Post Georgia 45 – Georgia Tech 0: Pursuit of perfection

Tuesday November 30, 2021

You demanded perfection. Now, I ain’t saying that I’m perfect, ’cause I’m not. And I ain’t gonna never be. None of us are. But we have won every single game we have played till now. So this team is perfect.
Remember the Titans

For nearly two weeks, the season-ending game at Georgia Tech has seemed like a formality. Once Georgia took care of Tennessee, most Georgia fans began looking ahead to the upcoming SEC championship game. The impatience to get these last couple of games over with and get on to the postseason has been palpable. Georgia’s in-state rivalry game had all the build-up of a September guarantee game. Around the tailgate we looked forward to what we might see in the game as if we were talking about objectives for an intra-squad scrimmage: get Pickens a few reps, work on the running game, get experience for some younger players, and stay healthy.

This wasn’t the first time a Kirby Smart team was a big favorite in Atlanta or that there was little doubt about the outcome. But even those games offered some reasons to tune in. The 2017 game was part of the “Revenge Tour” series after a disappointing loss in Athens to end the 2016 season. Georgia had increased the time spent preparing for Tech’s option attack, and the payoff was a convincing 38-7 win. With dominant interior play from Malik Herring among others and ball-hawking linebackers like Roquan Smith, Georgia’s two-year project to dismantle Georgia Tech’s offense was underway. Less was expected of Tech in 2019 as they unwound from a decade of the option. Georgia though was going through a bit of an identity crisis on offense and closed the season with some low-scoring wins. With the high-flying LSU offense just ahead, the Tech game was one last chance to work out some kinks.

The difference in 2021 was the indifference. Georgia fans turned out in strong numbers to see their #1 team, but the sense of rivalry was muted. I even heard some express “pity” for the state of the Tech program before they thought better of it. The color palette of the stadium revealed the apathy of Tech fans. Assured of a three-win season and the return of their head coach, Tech fans wanted nothing to do with this game. The sarcastic cheer for Tech’s initial first down summed it up: how much energy could you put into a rivalry when it’s all you can do to move the chains?

It’s to the credit of Kirby Smart and his team that they didn’t take a perfunctory approach to this game. Instead Georgia looked focused and intent on getting better en route to the big game next week. The Bulldogs had no penalties or turnovers and allowed no points to wrap up an undefeated regular season with a 45-0 shutout win. Smart will point out that this result was far from perfect, and of course he’s correct. Tech had some (relative) success running the ball. Georgia’s interior running game continue to be hit or miss. Still, Georgia did not slop their way through this noon kickoff. Smart wanted to see the team come out strong despite the early start on a holiday weekend, and they did: Georgia scored on its first four possessions and only punted once. Tech’s first four possessions went for a total of 22 yards. Apart from the punt, the Bulldogs added points on every other possession that didn’t run out the clock. This was no contest from the start, and it didn’t look like a team that had let its focus wander.

Georgia has completed its first undefeated regular season since 1982. It’s the first time Georgia has been 12-0 since 1980. There’s still the postseason and hopefully three challenging games left to play which will influence how we end up remembering this season. It’s still worth acknowledging that the team was perfect against the schedule put in front of it, and that hasn’t happened often around here. Congratulations, Dawgs. But they’re not done yet…

I can never overlook or discount a win over Tech – the game means too much to me personally. I admit though that I was ready to have it over with. The old line in Tombstone “Get to fightin’ or get away!” felt like it applied here. Tech – from its fans to its team – had no interest in putting up a fight. That took the fun out of an historic rivalry game, and it made this just another nonconference laugher. Lest I veer towards pity for the White and Gold, Georgia still has a ways to go before it holds the longest winning streak in the series. Keep choppin’.

  • I didn’t do much of a recap last week but did mention that none of the quarterbacks really looked sharp. That wasn’t the case Saturday. Stetson Bennett did it all – the precision downfield pass to Burton, quicker passes into tight spaces, a sideline fade to Bowers in the endzone…Bennett had complete control of the offense.
  • The distribution of receptions shows the growing number of options at Bennett’s disposal in the passing game. Bennett’s 14 receptions went to 10 different receivers. Eight of those players had a reception of at least 11 yards.
  • Of course it was noteworthy that one of those receptions went to George Pickens. Georgia’s star receiver has had a long road back from a spring ACL injury, and we held our breath as he drew contact on the little swing pass that got him in the stat sheet. We’ll see how much his role can grow if not this week then into the playoff. Just seeing him out there stirred the Georgia crowd.
  • I have a half-baked theory that Bennett needs to run once or twice early to get the juices flowing. Georgia got a field goal on their opening possession, but two modest Bennett runs on the second possession started a string of three straight touchdowns. Just saying…
  • Monken’s deployment of the tight ends in the passing game isn’t just about getting them the ball. Washington and Bowers command enough attention now that they can clear out entire areas and leave receivers with at most single coverage. That’s handy with Pickens working back into the rotation. On Burton’s touchdown reception, a Bowers wheel route attracts two defenders leaving no help over the top to cover Burton. Bennett could afford to put some touch on the ball because the only defender in the area was trailing Burton.
  • One of those nagging imperfections Kirby Smart will notice is third down conversions. Georgia faced only five third downs in the game and converted just two. The Dawgs had a sub-par 25% success rate on third down which was night and day from the wizardry that occurred on first and second down. Georgia is a respectable 15th in the nation with a 45.76% conversion rate on third down for the season, and they’ve hovered around that level since the Kentucky game.
  • James Cook’s higher profile this year is going hand-in-hand with his improvement as a tailback. He’s always been a versatile player, but now he’s breaking tackles, showing patience, and gaining yards with strength. I don’t think you see him extend a run with a stiff-arm two years ago. That makes him much more than a situational utility player.
  • Back-to-back tackles for loss by Wyatt and Carter to end Tech’s modest second quarter drive. Just stifling.
  • I liked Bowers and McConkey opening up scoring plays for each other: Bowers had the key block as McConkey turned a swing pass upfield and into the endzone. Then on Bowers’s jaw-dropping touchdown sprint, McConkey created the opening to allow Bowers to explode past six Tech defenders that had him surrounded.
  • Getting Mitchell back in sync with the passing game seems like a priority this week. He was right there with McConkey earlier in the season making tough catches to extend drives. That was the lone element of the passing game that didn’t seem quite right Saturday. He is too valuable as a possession receiver for that to go uncorrected.
  • It was against a tired defense that had checked out, but here’s my weekly appreciation of how tough Edwards runs.
  • It wasn’t a busy day for the secondary, but what an impressive tackle by Dan Jackson on a short swing pass. Jackson’s sprint from the safety position to make a tackle for loss was Tindall-worthy.
  • Tech’s top two backs gaining 4 and 5 yards per carry won’t sit well. Georgia didn’t allow any explosive runs beyond 15 yards, but Tech did have several decent gains through the interior of the Georgia defense.
  • This was a slow game – Tech showed no urgency to get back in the game, and Georgia was content to take their time scoring. Each team ran only 51 plays. Georgia’s defense has only faced more than 75 plays once (@ Tennessee) since the Florida game.

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